Friday, 29 November 2013

Two-Fated Tales

November has been quite a busy month for me, what with playing Tremulus at the beginning of the month (hoping to play it again in December); getting my haircut and my right-side wisdom teeth pulled out that week; gaming at Concentric the weekend following; and going to a wedding party, the 4th Day of Boardgamers, and a staff party all last weekend. That on top of the increased traffic at work and the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping starting this weekend, I've only had time for two posts this month!

Anywho, I just wanted to check in before this month is over with my current intentions:

One thing I hadn't mentioned beyond my social media outlets is that my FATE Core kickstarter bundle arrived a few weeks ago much to my elation. After some minor indecision, the first book of the bunch I chose to dive into is Strange Tales of the Century, a semi-supplemental book to the FATE-powered pulp game Spirit of the Century, one of my personal favourites.

I'm about a third of the way through this 500+ page volume; I intend to read it cover to cover and write my Impressions on it. Alas the material I'm making my way through (a global gazetteer of the years 1935 and 1951) has slowed my progress a bit because, though interesting, is rather dry. I'm hoping to read more action-oriented sections of the two-fisted variety coming up. Skipping briefly ahead I did also see that STotC explains how to (easily) update SotC to the new FATE Core ruleset, a concern for some of us fans.

On that note, I've found myself taking breaks from STofC and reading The Day After Ragnarok, another FATE-powered pulp game, although more post-apocalyptic. Having backed the FATE Core kickstarter, I had received DAR a few months ago on PDF, which I briefly browsed but never spent the time to fully read; although I did like it enough to pre-order it in print at discount (hopefully it'll be arriving sometime soonish). 

Again I hadn't spent the time thoroughly reading through the PDF, that is until I read this top-notch review of the FATE version. At that time I was fully into pulp again having begun to read STofC, listening to Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze audiobook and The Red Panda dramas by the Canadian outfit Decoder Ring Theatre, and watching the 80's series Tales of the Gold Monkey. So much Pulp!

I saw in the aforementioned review and confirmed for myself in the PDF that DAR contains a section for GMs who'd like to transition their Spirit of the Century game into the settings and themes of The Day After Ragnarok! Something I think I'd like to try if and when I ever run SotC again...

Onward and Upward! ;{١

Monday, 18 November 2013

Numenera - Convention Tips & Cypher Deck Houserule

This past weekend I had the privilege of running Numenera at the local ConCentric event.

I decided to run my first two-slot adventure at a convention, and that adventure was Vortex. I was planning on running the original two-halves of the adventure; The Temple and then Through the Vortex; but the time I spent introducing the setting and system after a late start combined with my players' slow progress through the story meant I ended up splitting just The Temple between the two-sessions; finishing off and picking right up after they dealt with the whispering lurker in Jutte. I felt no need to rush my players as we all seemed to be enjoying ourselves very much. :)

At the beginning of the first session I gave my four players 2 XP each so they had the option to spend them on rerolls, denying GM Intrusions, short-term benefits like specific skills, and my cypher deck houserule (see below).

At the beginning of the second part I awarded my players 3 XP each (on top of their 3 XP from the previous session), for discovering the mystery behind the whispering lurker as the source of the disappearances in Jutte, to spend on a taste of character advancement benefits. One of the players didn't show up due to illness, but a buddy of mine got the chance to try out Numenera by filling the vacant seat.

Our second session ended with my clever players using a visage-changing cypher on their Clever Glaive Satha to disguise her as Evanna to find and assassinate Abrassal, whilst the rest of the group snuck through the darkened areas of the narthex to find where Evanna's brother was being held. The disguised Satha ran into her male doppelgänger Norrid, and fainted from shock to later to awaken alone in a dormitory with Abrassal; whilst the rest of the party dealt with the dangerous mysteries of the facility. Everything culminated in a big climatic showdown in the dwelling area between Evanna (Satha) vs. Abrassal on one side, and the rest of the group vs. Gregor and Relle on the other with the remainder of the stunned worshippers looking on. I pushed the PC's limits and their player's did not disappoint.

I ended with the teaser to the beginning for Part 2: Through the Vortex with a telepathic message from the Vortex itself... ;{١

A few of my students players. It was fun running my sessions from a lecture hall, I got to use the blackboards and feel like a professor!
They were both awesome sessions; and I think my players really enjoyed both the system and the story. I am also happy to report one of my players informed me at the end that she hadn't played many RPGs before (she could've fooled me though, she had the cadence of a seasoned veteran!) and she really liked Numenera as well as my friendly and animated playstyle! (I might have blushed...)

And since we only made it through the first part, I'm hoping to run a local game in the future with all of my players to conclude their character's adventure. Again I thank everyone who showed up to play Numenera last weekend!

Enough about me gushing about my con games, onto more tips and my houserule:


To bookkeep my play sessions better, I prepared a one-sheet reference following the guidelines listed on page 345-346 of the corebook, with focus on recording player/PC names with any personal GM Intrusions; a list of NPCs/Monsters with their base level, modded levels, gear, disposition and appearance. I borrowed some pointers from convention advice by Mr. D. W. Brown at the Ninth World Hub topic on Vortex.

I also printed out a very concise rules reference from The Alexandrian.

My tools: print copy of adventure, reference sheets, notepad and pencil, bag of glass XP beads, cypher cards, and my iPad with my Numenera playlist!

Numenera is also a great game to GM from a podium because you don't need to roll dice!

Cypher Deck Houserule

I came up with this houesrule idea when I was printing out cards from the Cypher Deck (I am looking to order a full copy in the future) for the con game. As I was running Vortex's provided pre-generated characters, I decided to search through the PDF I had of the Cypher Deck and print out a copy of each card that lists the rules for each cypher the pregens had, sleeve them, and clip them to each character sheet. I did this to avoid the hassle of looking up and referencing cypher's effects, and having each player or myself write it all down. I also printed 10 additional cards that could be drawn to replace the cyphers the players use with ones their characters discover.

A frequent concern is that each card lists two, sometimes three different cyphers and their effects; and one might not want their players spoiled with the knowledge of other potential cyphers. I read a DTRPG review where the solution their group came up with was to sleeve the card and then cover up the other cyphers listed.

This wasn't a concern for me at a convention game, where I figured that additional insight into the cypher possibilities for players may increase their general interest in Numenera. I decided to take this concept one step further and introduced this houserule:

When a player receives a new card after discovering and identifying a cypher, determine (randomly) which of the cyphers listed on the card their PC now has, as well as its level. After the outcome has been determined, the player has the future option of spending 1 XP to select another cypher option listed on the card. All the cyphers listed on a card share the same level. A player may not elect to change from an Anoetic cypher to a Occultic cypher, or vice versa.

This houserule allows a bit more versatility and player choice when acquiring cyphers via the Cypher Deck, particularly with smaller groups, as well as eliminating the concern for cypher "teasing". Of course the GM is well within his bounds to curtail this option if the "metagaming" aspect of it is unappealing, or if the constant selection the PCs make of cypher types appears to be uninspired and/or repetitive; although I do see this option as costly in XP for the players to be constantly tweaking their ideal cyphers, so I don't believe it would be a huge concern. (I believe it only happened twice in each of the two sessions I ran, once per.)

I also think this houserule probably works best over a limited number of sessions rather than long-term campaigns, to avoid the players seeing the majority of the cypher options available in the deck and dulling the mystery therein.

Have any tips of your own or thoughts on my houserule? Leave a comment!

Cheers! ;{١

Friday, 8 November 2013

Hillfolk: DramaSystem - Read Impressions & Storytelling Theory

Many of you have probably seen the popular 11 Ways to be a Better Roleplayer article I linked to back in June. If you have or have not (which you should), it doesn't matter because this post does not pertain to it as much the lesser follow-up article: Stanislavski vs Brecht in tabletop roleplaying.

It may not be as catchy as 11 Ways (we all love lists), but Stanislavski vs Brecht focuses on roleplaying and narrative in RPGs. It's advice for any game; for both GMs and Players; and focuses on a vital component greatly under-written in the majority RPGs: Storytelling.

Many systems offer pretty good (if similar) advice on roleplaying, but don't go as far I believe the article does because they're heavily rooted in presenting setting and resolution simulation. Story, narrative, and roleplaying theory take back seat to the game and is something the GM/Players might be given common basic advice on how to handle, but otherwise left to their own devices.

Without repeating the article's points verbatim, it reminds the players to think beyond just their characters' motivations and into the narrative as a whole and what's best for it. What it doesn't mention is that it is equally important for GMs to allow them ample opportunities to do so and encourage it.

Myself and fellow player, GM, game designer and friend of mine were pondering over this given advice and how it's similar to what we've experienced in our Dresden Files game group. I had concluded that I didn't believe it was so much the Dresden Files RPG itself, but our actual group. I think we (consciously or not) had been applying most of these narrative techniques to our game.

Thus this is one of the reasons I think know why gaming with this group has been the most satisfying for me: The actual game we play doesn't matter, only the story we create.

This ties into Hillfolk and my impressions of it:


A Game of Iron Age Drama, is an RPG that is vastly different than any other RPG that I have read (and I've read a few in my day). It can shatter preconceptions one might have of RPGs, because such preconceptions can initially make it difficult for a reader to grasp what the author Robin D. Laws is presenting to you. Even coming into it with an open mind, I can see it taking time to wrap one's head around. It took me a bit.

Hillfolk is not a game where your character is a collection of numerical stats on a sheet with an assortment of abilities and gear. Hillfolk is not a game where dice chance is used for mechanical resolution, in fact the only random element is a seldom-used deck of playing cards. Nor is it a game where the characters explore a fantastical setting.

Hillfolk is about refusing or giving into your character's desires and those around them. Hillfolk is where telling your characters' story as they seek fulfilment has greater import than succeeding at practical or material goals. It is where the characters explore the relationships they have with others.

Hillfolk is truly about the journey, not the destination.

No other system up to this point has made me think as deeply about roleplaying and narrative theory as much Hillfolk has. I came across the aforementioned article on Look, Robot and Ron Edward's GNS Theory about the same time I began my dive into Hillfolk, and I found both sources helpful in my greater understanding of not only Hillfolk, but both story in RPGs and Storytelling games in general. They're both worth a good read.


I can best sum up that Hillfolk's DramaSystem is an amalgamation between traditional multiple-session RPGs and one-shot Storytelling games: providing longer play for developing characters and heavy focus on episodic drama, with mechanics to make these two seemingly disparate things function together. Looking at it from a strict GNS categorical standpoint, I'd say that Hillfolk would appeal most to the Narrativist, although the Simulationist that enjoys story development will find appeal as well. Gamists that share neither of the other two views will find little of interest.

I first heard about Hillfolk's kickstarter when it made it's way around my gaming circles over a year ago. I was intrigued by what I heard of an RPG that aimed to recreate the story and drama of movies, theatre, and television; and that the DramaSystem is the practise to the theory presented in the author's book on narrative called Hamlet's Hit Points (a book I intend on getting in the future).

I didn't fully decide to back it until I had read Mr. Lowell Francis' experience with it; that and it was inexpensive at $25 (heck it still is, it's listed as $30 on that back, considerably cheap in comparison to most RPG that cost around double that price.). Having backed it I gained access to the PDF, which I read a few pages of but couldn't digest it the way I could spending time with a print copy. And mine finally arrived last week.


The book is laid out as follows: The first third of it contains an introduction followed by all the minutiae for creating characters, laying out episodes, the scenes (dramatic and procedural) that comprise episodes, the remaining notes on play, and finally the background for the eponymous iron age setting of Hillfolk. This Gnome Stew review does a good job of presenting a basic run-down of the mechanics, so I shan't go over them here in detail.

A Drama King?
Every few pages are interspersed with beautiful full-page sepia-toned art depicting denizens of this iron age setting in various dramatic poses. Also peppered on every page or so is a small amount of dramatic dialogue that provides flavour and possible inspiration.

The latter two-thirds of the book covers over 30 additional settings ("Series Pitches") written by various known authors, such as Kenneth Hite (of Trail of Cthulhu), James Wallis (of The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Münchhausen), Chris Lackey (of The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast), Wolfgang Baur (of Kobold Press and Midgard), Keith Baker (of Eberron and Gloom), and Ed Greenwood (of Forgotten Realms) to name a few. I personally think that this is a large selling point for Hillfolk to GMs and players alike who aren't really interested in telling stories in the prime iron age setting (it didn't seem that appealing to me at first, but then I realised this low-flash, alternative history theme was to keep new players focused on exploring narrative than a fantastic-but-detracting setting), nor those up to or yet ready to create their own series. Each Series Pitch is accompanied with a full-page (occasionally coloured) art piece.

I'd love to give The Whateleys Series Pitch a run. I imagine them more monstrous than The Munsters, and creepier, kookier, spookier, and ookier than The Addams Family.

30+ additional Series Pitches have been collected in the companion volume Blood on the Snow, which also contains additional rules, including LARP rules. These additional Pitches further extend the versatility of Hillfolk as a system to tell any variety of story.

Hillfolk has also been released on two open licenses: Open Gaming License and Creative Commons; so I have to give Robin D. Laws props for making the DramaSystem engine free to aspiring designers.

Final Review Impressions

If I have one possible misgiving about Hillfolk, beside its initial learning-curve, is that its uniqueness does make it an oddity amongst RPGs. Unless one has a gaming group that is big on heavy storytelling/roleplaying over multiple sessions, is open to trying out new games, and/or can leave the dice and stat blocks at home, one might be hard pressed to get the chance to actually play it consistently, let alone at all.

One of the draws of Storytelling games I believe is that they're single-night affairs; something to perhaps fill some time or play when the fancy strikes, and then put back on the shelf until next time. I wouldn't want to play a Storytelling game like Fiasco, Baron Münchhausen, Umläut, or Dread continually at every game session; I believe I would begin to crave the numbers, abilities, and randomness of dice that make up the common traits of standard RPGs, not to mention longer-term characters.

One could always inject those RPGs with a healthy dose of storytelling, though it might not be as dynamic or dramatic as what Hillfolk can bring to the table. Although Hillfolk suggests ways to import some or all of its concepts into traditional roleplaying games; which may be an excellent way of introducing the DramaSystem gradually to a gaming group or providing your game with a little more narrative 'omph' without entirely discarding the system/setting. This cross-system hack allows more versatility with the DramaSystem, making Hillfolk a decent addition to any gaming library just for the concepts contained within.

That all said, Hillfolk is different than the all of those Storytelling games I just mentioned. Sure they may have their similarities and they all focus on telling stories, but Hillfolk's intention is to bridge the gap between those games and traditional RPGs. It looks to fill that niche, and although it may never reach the popularity of traditional RPGs and/or Storytelling games, it fulfils that purpose very well.

A related concern is somewhat addressed under the Notes On Play section, which suggests if a local group is unsuitable (for a variety of possible reasons) for play that an online group might be found via the internet using a real-time medium like Skype or Google Hangout; Hillfolk's emphasis on character dialogue and simple mechanics make it an excellent option for an online conference game over traditional RPGs that require more work on the GM's part to moderate online tools like virtual tabletops, as well as the game itself. Also since Hillfolk is heavy on collaborative storytelling, the online players can be made more engaged in the game than simply stating how their PCs react to the descriptions and events provided by the GM: together they are actively creating the story rather than controlling characters in the story.

I think considering it's potential as both an online game and a system hack was one thing that helped me grasp the theory behind the DramaSystem, despite it being written out for me: This isn't an RPG that uses mechanics to simulate narrative, this is an RPG that uses narrative to simulate mechanics. The rules of the game aren't tied into stats, abilities, and numbers, but desires, relationships, and dramatic poles.

Hillfolk shall have a special place on my bookshelf, partially because it doesn't fit normally.
It is taller than your average RPG book.

As it is, I'm really not one to judge/predict Hillfolk's future popularity with gamers by alone reading it and not having played it. I aim to give Hillfolk an honest try when I have the time and the players, and if you get the chance I think you should too. We only learn and experience new things when we branch out from what we're familiar with: personal growth through drama. :)

Played Hillfolk? I'd love to hear your thoughts and impressions! Leave a comment!

P.S. I dedicate this post to my Dresden Files group for helping my greater understanding and appreciation of storytelling in RPGs.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Music To Roleplay To: Sci-Fi Horror

Happy Hallowe'en! Today is the perfect day for a terrifying instalment of Music To Roleplay To! They say in space no one can hear your PCs scream, but that doesn't mean all of you should be listening to dead silence! The right tense background music can add the perfect level of atmosphere to any Sci-Fi Horror game!

For best listening arrange your playlist by degrees of intensity: from slightly creepy to full blown horror. That way tense scenes that demand a brooding theme laced with dread aren't overblown by sheer terrifying pandemonium, and vice versa.

..ppressss plaaayy...
  • Alien by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Aliens by James Horner
  • Alien 3 by Elliot Goldenthal
  • Alien Resurrection by John Frizzell
  • Cube by Mark Korven
  • The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008) by Tyler Bates
  • Dead Space, Dead Space 2, and Dead Space 3 by Jason Graves
  • Doom 64, Doom & Final Doom for PSX by Aubrey Hodges
  • Event Horizon by Michael Kamen
  • The Fly by Howard Shore
  • From The Depths by Cryobiosis
  • Pandorum by Michl Britsch
  • Prometheus by Marc Streitenfeld
  • Quake by Trent Reznor
  • Sensitive Document by Tillinghast Laboratories
  • Sphere by Elliot Goldenthal
  • System Shock 2 by Eric Brosius
  • The Terminator, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day by Brad Fiedel

RPGs these tunes could work well in:

An Eclipse Phase or CthulhuTech game that focuses heavily on horror would be excellent, along with any generic horror system using a Sci-Fi setting, such as Dread. Other games include Dark Space, Yellow Dawn, Maschine Zeit, Abandon All Hope, Chthonian Stars, and Rapture: End of Days.

Leave a comment if you have any suggestions for additional listening! ;{١

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Shadows and Dread - Play Impressions

Tons of gaming fun before Hallowe'en the past couple days, with some old and some new games:

Shadows over Camelot 

Last Saturday I met a bunch of my friends that had gathered together for few board and card games. I joined them just as they were finishing a game of Carcasonne. After that the six of us played Shadows over Camelot. I've played SoC once before to much hilarity and enjoyment, and this time was no different.


Unlike last time, this time the knights of the round table triumphed over the forces aligned against Camelot; but like last time it came to great surprise to discover when the game was finished that not one of the players was a traitor in disguise. Perhaps our next game we'll actually have a traitor in our midst...

The first time we played, our downfall was partially due to suspicion getting the better of us as we began to question each other players' actions and motives.

Shadows over Camelot is definitely in my top favourite board games for a couple of reasons: It's a co-operative game where the player's play against the game itself; there's a chance it might have a traitor to throw a wretch in the works, making it a social/deduction game like The Resistance or Battlestar Galactica; it's got a great looking modular board with fun components; and probably my favourite of all, is how much bloody fun we have getting into character by laying down banter and insults in Ye Olde English accents. Zounds!

Rune Age

Afterwards we attempted a deck building called Rune Age. Normally a competitive game I believe, we opted to play the cooperative scenario, whose title I can't recall. Rune Wars I think.

We were obliterated in the first couple rounds to much of our dismay. We went with a ruling that made it a tad easier for the beginning of our second play, but the game was still merciless to us and we lost.

As a co-op card game, I don't think I enjoy Rune Age that much, especially when compared to...


My friends and I have played ShadowRift many times, and I quite enjoy this co-op deckbuilder. It has a variety of scenarios, options for customizing your card selection, and interesting monster and village mechanics.

I haven't tried any other deckbuilding card games beyond those two, but the whole concept has a neat mechanic.


Yesterday Fraser and I took part in a game of Dread that a newcomer to Victoria was hosting. Larry (our Host [GM]) had run Dread several times before, most recently at PAX East and he was quite proficient in both running in the game and in the narration style of horror stories and their common tropes.

Lazarus Rook, a technician.
Our tower at the beginning.
We played a scenario called Beneath a Metal Sky, one of the three pre-written ones provided in the book. Despite having read the book and the scenarios before, my enjoyment was not diminished at all. Part of me was excited where and how us players' and our Host were going to take the story next. That said some basic plot elements may be spoiled in the following; but then again, nearly all horror movies seem to follow many usual tropes; what makes it interesting is how each film arranges them. (perhaps like the pieces of the tower in Dread...)
Andrew deftly removing a piece...
...and placing it on top.

The basic premise is that the characters were the crew of a small spacecraft that happened upon apparently abandoned & powered-down space hulk, which they were sent to investigate. After searching the vessel and finding only one survivor, we eventually realized that someone (or something) boarded our own ship and absconded with it. We had decided to restore power to the hulk in attempt to broadcast an SOS and possibly fly it to the nearest part of civilized space.

Fraser making an attempt on the tower...

...and succeeding. Look at that curve!

After we repaired the blown conduits and switched the reactor back on all hell broke loose and we were attacked by deformed, skinless creatures that used to be the crew of the ship controlled by parasitic entities!

We fled engineering and sealed the door behind us, but not before one of the creatures slipped through the gap. Rufus, the researcher (Andrew's PC), drove his emergency axe right through the spinal parasite, killing it but also hacking into the ex-medic Glenn's (Fraser's PC) leg, badly laming him.

We made our way to the bridge, where we met up with the (as yet uninfected) Pvt. King (the one whom we rescued) and decided to make a break for the escape pods. Here's where the action both in the story and on the table got really tense; the tower was very rickety at this point! Making our way down the corridor we were stalked by the creatures using the overhead ventilation ducts. During a social conflict one sprung out right between us; Rufus and Glenn on one side, Lazarus and Pvt. King on the other.

I told King to run whilst the technician met the creature with his plasma torch, he succeeded in killing it but it knocked him unconscious. The ex-medic ran back to check on Lazarus, whilst Rufus (who never paused) kept running for the hangar with King limping behind him.

Glenn was relieved to find Lazarus still breathing and administered a stim (which the tech is also addicted to) to wake him up. The tech started awake confused, and screaming when he saw a creature hanging above the medic on the ceiling.

Luckily Glenn saw the reflection of it in his companion's helmet visor and dodged out of the way and fired on it with the recovered shock-rifle he had found.

Alas, the tower was too rickety to risk the pulls needed for the two of them to get out alive, so Glenn slew the creature only to have his throat slit when a parasitic claw burst out from Lazarus' flesh as he bent over to help him! Lazarus was so horrified a the death of his crewmate from something that was inside of him (he had a serious problem with germs, parasites, and disease) that it took him a bit of time to stop screaming and retching to regain his senses.

Fraser willing toppled the tower so his character (the ex-medic) could succeed in his task to protect my character whilst dying in the process. A noble and heroic sacrifice.

During that time, selfish Rufus was confronted by three creatures outside of the entrance to the hangar. He grabbed King and cruelly threw him into the trio as a distraction whilst he dodged through them into the hangar, killing one in the process.

Perhaps it was seeing this vile act that finally snapped Lazarus out of his hysteria, and he scooped up the shock-rifle and a few stims off his fallen compatriot. By the time he reached King, one of the creatures was injecting several of its tendrils into him, and the other rushed at the technician. It received peppering of shock blasts from the rifle, and the one on King was likewise removed. Lazarus resuscitated King within an inch of his life and revived him with a stim, they then both proceeded to the hangar.

Rufus had made his way through the hangar and was priming the escape pods (to his credit he did set two). After jumping into the closest one, sealing the door, and strapping himself in he discovered to his horror one of the creatures was in the pod with him. From his awkward seat he fought it off with the axe, and succeeded in bisecting it. (At this point, after Andrew had placed his third pulled piece on top of the tower, its weight caused it to tip and collapse) Thinking it dead, Rufus breathing a sigh of relief that was caught short as the parasite leapt from the carcass onto his face!

Most appropriate image I could find.
At this point with two PCs dead (as there were only three players) our Host offered to sum up the remainder of the story with King and Lazarus escaping, but I asked for the tower to rebuild because I had a specific idea in mind for a good horror ending; I wanted to see if Lazarus could fulfil it, or die attempting.

Once the two of them made it into the hangar, they searched for any spacecraft equipped with cryogenic stasis pods, as Lazarus reasoned if he, maybe both of them, were infested with alien parasites they wouldn't last long even if they made it off the hulk in escape pod. They found the ship they needed, a small long-range scout vessel, and began starting it up and completing launching procedures.

Once free of the hulk, Lazarus sent King to the cryopods when he began complaining about weird feelings (similar to the ones the technician himself experienced back when they regrouped on the bridge after shit got real). He programmed in a FTL destination (the port location of his sweetheart) whilst fighting off a brief emergence of the parasite, made a brief explanatory entry, and prepared to settle into his cryopod.

Suddenly rudimentary arms burst from his lower abdomen, keeping him from getting into the pod! The parasite was now in his brain and it knew is intentions! Through sheer force of will (and some very lucky final pulls) Lazarus greatly injured himself forcing himself into the cyropod! Through the pain, the sight and sound of the pod's mist descending was the last thing he witnessed...

*End of Story (and possible Spoilers)*

We had an amazing time playing Dread! I want to again thank Larry our Host for blowing us away with such an horrific and awesome story! My play impression/review lets me state confidently that Dread is truly a game experience different than any other horror RPG; one that should must be experienced. As of this post the PDF is $3. $3! Get it and Play it!

Soon, Tremulus...

Afterwards we relaxed a bit talking about and looking through his collection of (mostly horror) indie games.

We might play with Larry again soon in the future, as he mentioned he'd be willing to run Dogs in the Vineyard for us after we expressed our interesting in trying it. I'd also like to learn more about many of the games he showed us, as they all looked really interesting and I love RPGs. :)

This has also fanned the flames of running my own Dread game! Possible a sequel to this story because there are so many loose ends to wrap up! I'm also further driven to finish working on my homebrew idea for it the game... Stay tuned!

Boo! ;{١

Friday, 25 October 2013

News & Nostalgia

Ever since my work schedule got changed around a month or so ago; combined with feeling under the weather; I've dropped from three RPGs a week, to one (occasional) biweekly game. It's been making me ancy for gaming and socialising, especially with all the interesting news lately. In the meantime I've been filling in the void of RPGs with other games, chiefly board games and retro video games:


A lot of stuff recently, which I'll try to keep concise:

  • The Strange RPG has broken more stretch goals and released much more setting info. The setting still hasn't grabbed me and I'm still iffy on the value of backing the project.
  • Speaking of kickstarters, the adventure game Obuction by the creators of Myst and Riven is one I'm more inclined to back. Game and soundtrack for less than all the Ebooks from The Strange? Count me in.
  • Whilst on the topic of kickstarters, news has finally come out that Robyn D. Laws' Hillfolk: DramaSystem RPG that I backed almost a year ago is finally being shipped, and should hopefully be landing on my doorstep soon. The Series Pitches are beginning to roll out as well.
  • Though I didn't back the lovecraftian horror storytelling game Tremulus, a buddy of mine got his copy and is looking to possibly run it in the coming weeks!
  • Speaking of horror storytelling games, I mentioned a few weeks ago about possibly running Dread. I haven't been able to organise a game of my own, but it just so happens a local gamer has! Next Tuesday my friend and I are hopefully going to be playing a spooky game of Dread!
  • The adventure book The Devil's Spine for Numenera was just released, and I picked up a PDF on DriveThruRPG for cheap. I'm a couple pages into it and like it so much I want to get it in print!
  • On the topic of Numenera, I've decided to run a couple sessions of it next month at ConCentric at UVic on the 15-17th. I've yet to make my choice what adventure exactly I'm going to run, but right now I'm learning towards Vortex spread over two slots if I have enough interest. Otherwise I might do The Nightmare Switch and/or The Beale of Boregal possibly with the In Strange Aeons: Lovecraftian Numenera glimmer releasing next week. [Post by Numenera.] I'm also considering The Devil's Spine if I can find a print copy in time and see if I can make it work.
  • Finally now that things have slowed down for my buddies and myself work-wise, I'm hoping we can begin our continuation of our Vortex adventure online via Google Hangout. The Numenera CC App has been updated on iOS, hopefully correcting the bugs we encountered last time, and making long-distance character tracking easier for us.


I'm in the process of sorting through my collection of video games, and deciding which to keep and which to sell/trade. I don't play video games really at all any more, so I decided to reduce my collection that has mostly been gathering dust the past several years. 

Heh heh, Snoopy's dead.
First I started with my two dozen or so NES cartridges; cleaning, testing, and sorting by the one's I can't get working, the one's I'm going to keep, and the one's for sale/trade (which also include copies of Super Mario Bros. 3 and a gold-cartridge of Link's Adventure, so it doesn't seem like I'm hoarding all the good games to myself).

After that I'm moving on to my Sega Genesis, then GameBoy collection (Colour, Advanced, and DS), then on to XBox and Wii (I'm skipping my SNES & N64 as I'm hanging on to what I've got.)

A couple of people I know would like to have a browse to my selected pile and buy any games they'd like off of me before I bring them in to Fan Favourites to sell/trade.

I think one of the reasons why I don't play/enjoy modern video games as much as retro games is part nostalgia, but also that they're games I never feel I have to dedicate much of my time to, I can just pick up and play whenever I feel like it. Also their simplicity appeals to my imagination.

Cheesy as it is, this marketing image does have a point.

I find video games (even MMORPGs and other such games you can play online) are a fairly solitary activities; growing up as a only child in a rural area, I spend most of my free time playing video games. But retro games are believe are more physically social than most modern games; before the advent of online play if you wanted to play a video game with your friend, he'd come over to you house or you'd go over to his, sit down in front of the same screen, and play it together. And being an only child, that's what appeals to me in retro games the same way as RPGs and board games, they bring people together to play and socialise face to face

Even though my girl doesn't join me playing, she always mentions how she likes watching my play video games, and I do enjoy myself much more having someone share the experience. :)

Starships, Deserts, and Timelines

Last Monday was a buddy of mine's birthday and we hung out at his place and played a few board games, starting with X-Wing.

I finally ended my losing streak against my friend in our game with my thrown together squadron: Turret Trio. He made a bad tactical move early in the game and my Ion Cannon Turrets were punishing him for it. I was surprised my half-baked squad idea actually held some water: Kyle Katarn in the Moldy Crow with an Ion Cannon Turret supporting Horton Salm with R2-D2 and the Blaster Cannon Turret worked well together focus-firing on one target at a time; Dutch wasn't that useful aside from soaking damage, and I didn't use his ability combo with R5-K6 as neither his two allied ships really needed target locks, and the 2nd Ion Cannon Turret though useful for stunning ships, was an ineffective damage dealer. I'm considering swapping him out for an A-Wing, B-Wing, or X-Wing with good synergy.

We called the game early as a victory for me since me wanted to get more people into board games. Next we played Forbidden Desert that I picked up earlier that day at a discount because the tin case was damaged (but I was shown all the components were undamaged*). The four of us were making our way through the game when we discovered one of the Part Location tiles had been doubled in place of standard Gear tile. Nevertheless we succeeded in finding all the parts and escaping the desert. I find it kinda funny that the damaged case game would also contain this misprint; I send feedback to the company so maybe I'll get a replacement tile. Either way I wouldn't care too much, it's an easy enough problem to fix.

My friend told me she received two copies of the storm track in her game, so I wonder how frequent these kinda misprints are?

Finally we ended the night with a couple games of Timeline (his recent copy of Historical Events and the copy of Diversity I bought for him). Timeline is a fun little trivia card game.

  • Pros: It's quick, light, and easy; great for non-gamers; semi-educational.
  • Cons: It's not really an even playing field for those less inclined to trivial facts and historical minutiae (like most trivia games) against those who are; after enough plays one gets familiar with the cards and their corresponding dates, though this dilution can be avoided somewhat with additional expansions.

Cheers! ;{١

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Strange Impressions

Okay, so here's a fully-backed kickstarter that I'll throw my two cents in before it's finished it's pledge period:

The Strange is an RPG devised by veteran designer Bruce Cordell, co-designed by Monte Cook who's own Cypher System from Numenera will be doing the heavy-lifting in The Strange.

My initial thoughts were to jump on the bandwagon for another Cypher System-powered RPG (having missed my chance with Numenera), but after looking over the presented material and the kickstarter info I've come to a bit of a standstill:

Both the setting and the kickstarter are HUGE and somewhat bewildering. There are so many pledges, packages, and kit options (with more material to come from stretch goals) for a backer to choose from (the chart near the bottom simplifies it a bit), although the majority of them are out of my budget. I'm tentatively leaning towards the $80 BASIC STRANGER pledge (along with the current majority of backers) which would net me the corebook in print, all the books in electronic format, plus other perks; but I'm not prepared to lay down cash for this just yet; is this worth $80 + shipping when I can get the corebook at my FLGS when released for ~$60? I'd be much more inclined if it also included a physical copy of the Player's Guide. A lot of pledges aren't a great deal for the amount of money they're asking for, but this may change once more stretch goals have been reached.

If I choose to back The Strange I'll probably wait till its final hours before making my choice to view all the options, much like the option-bloated Call of Cthulhu - 7th Edition kickstarter at during its final countdown.

The designers have stated that results of the online quiz How Strange Are You? will determine the outcomes for special stretch goals. (Reminds me of something similar done in the Hillfolk kickstarter)

Apparently I am an Ardeyn Ally..?
The general theme behind The Strange is that your characters have the ability to travel between worlds (referred to as recursions) that may have different laws of reality. The setting presents three recursions: one based upon modern Earth, a fantasy world called Ardeyn, and an alien world called Ruk. It has also been hinted players can create their own recursions.

To me this pretty much sounds like four huge settings crammed into one book: you have their take on prime Earth, two for Ardeyn and Ruk, and one for the whole Strange multiverse thing. With such a grandiose theme I feel reticent, perhaps maybe intimidated, to back it right away. Personally, I like to back RPGs with a clear (don't mistake that for simple) setting that goes hand-in-hand with the system. The Strange sounds like the GM and perhaps the players have to wrap their heads around a multitude of settings/themes, and although I can see the Cypher system easily handling transitions between recursions well (arriving in a recursion changes the Focus of your character descriptor, I think cypher abilities change as well), I don't think I like the whole 'multiple worlds' concept. Too much juggling.

This probably harkens back why many multiple-genre/theme RPGs don't interest me as much as their basic counterparts. Here's an example: I like Fantasy; I like Cyberpunk; but put those two together (such as Shadowrun) and I'm less interested than if it was just one of those genres. Mind you I have yet to actually play Shadowrun, and I am sure I'd enjoy it as much as any other RPG, but I feel that certain themes from either genres become more diluted in hybrid genre RPGs. Another example would be: I like Cthulhu; I like Mecha; I don't really like CthulhuTech. Or any genre and Rifts; yikes.

This isn't always true though, I do like Deadlands, which is Western and Horror with a little Steampunk thrown in..

Anyway, at it's core The Strange's three 'vistas' makes me think "Do I want to do a Modern, a Fantasy, or a Sci-Fi-themed game?" and if so "Aside from the option for characters to traverse between these worlds, the multiverse trappings, and the Cypher system, what draws me to running my game in The Strange as opposed to d20 ModernPathfinder, or Eclipse Phase for example? Why?




These questions may seem minor to some, but they are pretty important to me in this stage. If anything The Strange certainly lives up to it's name. What does everyone else think so far of this game? Am I just confused?

What do you think of The Strange?

Monday, 14 October 2013

Thanksgaming Weekend 2013

Happy Thanksgaming to all my fellow Canadian gamers! I hope you enjoyed the long weekend with friends and family, perhaps with a bit of gaming?

Saturday the 12th 

This was the grand opening of the new Interactivity Board Game Cafe, and I swung by to check it out after having a thanksgivin' sammich at Chef's Quest. Pretty much all my friends were out of town so the only chance I got to give the extensive game library a whirl was by playing a bunch of rounds of the co-operative game Escape: The Curse of the Temple with a pair of friendly blokes. We had all seen of this game on Shut Up & Sit Down's review of it and thought to give it a try.
Here are my impressions:

We lacked a CD player for the narrated disc and also the hourglass was missing, so we ended up accessing the timed audiotrack online via smartphone. The rules were a little vague in some respects, although we were more so quickly taught the rules by a staff member than reading them from the beginning.
Our first game we easily won only because we had missed the prompts in the track when to return to the starting room within a time limit or lose a die from your die pool. Also we randomly drew a lot of rooms that allowed us to place a lot of gems co-operatively on our way to discovering the exit.
Thus our second game was thus much more difficult, and we lost handedly. There was also more confusion on the prompts because it's easy to ignore them because of the frantic nature of the game and how they can blend into the rest of the ambient background noise of the track.
By our third game we found a track that was just the prompts minus the ambient noise (which made it easier to know when to flee back) and we all managed to succeed in escaping the temple.
On our forth and fifth games we decided to add the cursed and treasure rooms, which added more interesting elements. The challenge was far too great and we failed both times for all of us escaping, though usually just from time running out on our final mad dash to the exit.

Escape: The Curse of the Temple's concept is quite simple and I enjoyed the frantic nature of it; both a good family and/or party game. There's not much else I could say beyond SU&SD's review which covers the pros and cons of it.

Sunday the 13th 

After purchasing and getting some assistance transporting our new coffee table home, the Missus and I attended thanksgiving dinner hosted by her cousin and wife. After a wonderful traditional feast and homemade pie for dessert, a bunch of us got together and played The Resistance, the party game of deception and deduction in a totalitarian dystopia.

For those uninitiated, The Resistance is very similar to mafia or werewolf minus player elimination and with greater social interaction. Again I'll reference Shut Up & Sit Down for their excellent review of it and TableTop for their superb example of play. This was a game I had bought so many months ago but never had a chance to play until now. Here are my impressions:
It's an excellent party game IMHO, and one of the things I love the most about The Resistance was that all the players in our game apart from me don't frequently play games, if at all, but they were all quickly brought in by it's simple concepts and kept engaged by it's social aspects. 
Next time we play The Resistance, it'd like to give The Plot Thickens expansion a try, which looks to add more interesting fun. I'm also keen to try out it's newer fantasy sibling The Resistance: Avalon.

Monday the 14th

Thanksgiving Day the Missus and I mounted our bicycles and together rode down to Interactivity Board Game Cafe. There we played three games: Forbidden Desert, vanilla Carcassonne, and Tsuro.

I'd twice previously purchased Forbidden Desert's older brother Forbidden Island for friends of mine, and thus had numerous chances to play that well-made co-operative game. So when I heard that a sequel had been recently released I was eager to try it out.
A fellow patron joined us for the game we played. Forbidden Desert takes the core gameplay concept from it's elder but adds on a layer of additional survival aspects without making it overly complicated. I'm working on introducing Missus' to board games and this game was very easy for her to pick up, and only took brief consultation of the rules to answer any questions. Hallmarks of a good family game.
Despite being easy to learn and play, like it's predecessor it's hard to win, possibly even tougher with the increased ways to fail. We did lose our game, but only with victory near, so it wasn't a hallow loss. Even with one game under my belt I think I can safely say I prefer Forbidden Desert over Forbidden Island as it's additional strategy keeps it from being too simple.

I've played Carcassonne several times with friends, and thought it'd be a relatively simple game to introduce, especially just the vanilla version. Our companion had played it before many times but only on Xbox Arcade, so this was the first time he played the actual board game version, which he preferred being able to sit down together with live players.
Not much to say about Carcassonne that hasn't be said before; I quite enjoy it and I think my better half did too. Our companion emerged the winner, with the Missus 4 points behind him, and me more than a score behind the both of them.

Finally just the two of us played three rounds of Tsuro, an abstract tile game. It's an incredibly simplistic game, that'd be perfect for introducing to the very young. I also find the simple concept, abstract gameplay, and beautiful artwork very Zen. 
My better half beat me best 2-out-of-3. An excellent game if you're in the mood for playing something simple and not complex, or want to play with a diverse age-group of players.
Afterwards we rode our bikes around a bit more, and then returned home to our own private Thanksgiving supper. Yummy!

Other Recent News

Patron Pride

Here's a brief story: around 6 years ago when the word had spread that WotC was to be discontinuing the print versions of the both Dragon and Dungeon magazines and reverting to a online subscription format, many fans of those publications like myself were dismayed over the end physical periodicals. Along came game designer Wolfgang Baur and his radical concept of creating a magazine called Kobold Quarterly to fill the large OGL content niche both Dragon and Dungeon were leaving in their wake via a patronage business model. Needless to say it was a hit and two years later was an 5-time ENnie Award winner.

After a five year run, sadly it was announced the magazine would fold after its 23rd issue. But Open Design lives on and Kobold Press was created for the purpose of creating and publishing RPG adventures, sourcebooks, content, etc.

I have a small measure of pride to know that I was a patron of KQ in it's initial run, though at the time I did not have the finances to keep up my subscription beyond the first four issues I received, I still have them on my gaming shelf.

Recently when I saw that more Kobold Unit Patches available I leapt at the opportunity to order one and now I flaunt my loyal pride to the Small But Fierce fanzine that I supported. :)

Star Wars RPG News

Still with no news on the Star Wars: Age of Rebellion Beta book arriving locally, I was disheartened when I discovered that FFG had already released their first Beta Update for it. I fear that by the time I get my hands own my copy the majority of the Beta test period will be over, and I'll have wasted money on a sub-par version of the final product that I won't even of had a chance to submit feedback on. The initial excitement I had has now been dulled by my impatience, and thinking about it realistically the AoR Beta isn't as big a deal as the EotE Beta because I/we already know all the core mechanics of the system. It's that fanboy completionist side of me that wants it.

Speaking of Edge of the Empire, the first FAQs & Errata have been released as well. One thing I have of contention is how the errata treats the Pierce and Breach weapon qualities versus how myself, other GM's, and some forum posters have interpreted it: ignoring Soak vs. reducing Soak. I prefer the ignoring interpretation as it makes the quality more useful by making the weapon more effective against high Soak targets by at least dealing the Pierce value in damage to a target on a successful attack, even if it doesn't initially deal enough damage to overcome its Soak.

This errata ruling might be the better way to go in the long run (especially if you apply the ignoring Soak to Breach weapons), but it still seems to be a stable (if stopgap) balance against really high Soak PCs and NPCs and preventing combat escalating into a proverbial arms race.

If character with high enough Soak can take an average shot to their unarmoured body from a blaster pistol and walk away unscathed, that's immersion breaking. Blaster technology has always outmatched armour technology in the Star Wars Universe, that's why despite wearing armour Stormtroopers fall to a well aimed blaster shot from an unarmored Han Solo (and cinematic license of course).

March Against Darkness

I am really poor at mentioning RPG kickstarters until I get a reminder email that it's in its final hours: March Against Darkness is a Canadian designed dark fantasy RPG that was brought to my attention a few weeks ago by a local gamer. It cleared it's funding and cleared two stretch goals (neither of which was cast custom dice I'd like).

March Against Darkness seems pretty cool setting-wise though I'm a little wary of the system; sounds a bit crunchy for my tastes but I could be wrong. I'll find out once I receive the print copy I backed hopefully around May 2014.

Happy Thanksgaming everyone! ;{١