Numenera: A Piezoelectric Energy Syrup Cooler Conversation

SCENE: Space Station Break Room. A bulletin board on the wall says ‘Security is Our Priority. It has been  days since an Incursion.’  PCEJ1 and PCEJ2 sit at the break table scooping paddles full of an unidentified glowing piezoelectric energy syrup into purple orifices.

PCEJ1: (sits down at the table and begins slurping his energy syrup) ….Hey, morning. What’s up with Doug? He’s been shut up in his office all morning. Usually he comes down about now to tell us how to do our job and make himself feel all important.

PCEJ2: (mouth full) ….yeah he was looking kinda amethyst when he got back through the portal.

PCEJ1: (coughs and spits out syrup)….he went through the portal? (looks over his shoulder at the door to make sure no one is listening.)  No way, I never thought he would get off his ass and do it.

PCEJ2: (sets down his paddle) What did you do?

PCEJ1: I may have ‘insinuated’ that some of the crew were talking about forming a union. You know, because of all the extra Boarder-Repelling and Corpse Disposal we’ve been doing that is not in our job description. I looked it up in the manual.

PCEJ2: Oh yeah, just now he totally went down there to put up a sign. Said there was like a whole meatbag village on the other side…. no wonder there’s like a steady stream of them….said they started screaming and pointing and getting all agitated and he shot a few of them and then scampered back to his office.

PCEJ1: Think anyone followed him?

PCEJ2: So what if they did. What are they gonna do, come stab me with their pointy stick? Wait did you hear that?

PCEJ1: (listening) What?

PCEJ2: For a second it sounded like some big wanna-be hero meatbag smashing his way through a bunch of our guys….

(They both laugh and slurp at their energy syrup)

First T-Trak Module

I picked up some T-Trak modules from CMR Products. They are really great. Plywood is nice and flat and they have pre-drilled holes so it is really easy to get the uni-track set to the module. My son and I finished the first one last week. I took a few pictures along the way to show how they progressed.

After we assembled the module, we added a good-sized hill. We wanted to have a road cut and the initial hill (pink foam) we made was too far away from the tracks. We added a little more foam (white) to push it forward a bit. I also cut a piece of plywood and glued it to the back of the module to “dress it up”. After we got it to a place we liked, we glued everything in place with Gorilla Glue.

T-trak 1

Next, we added some plaster bandages to cover up the foam. The plaster bandages smooth out the terrain and help the sculpt-a-mold (next step) stick a little better.

T-trak 2

The next step was adding the sculpt-a-mold and the plaster castings of the rock faces. Sculpt-a-mold seems like a paper-mache product. It sticks to the plaster bandages well, but didn’t like the raw plywood of the module. (There’s been no problem with it since it dried though.) I’m not sure if I should cover the plywood of future modules with the bandages to help the sculpt-a-mold adhere better. Maybe a bit of spackle would help? The module really started coming together at this stage. The picture doesn’t show it…

T-Trak 3

The cliff faces came next. I watched a lot of You-Tube videos and practiced on a spare casting before giving this a go. I settled on a staining technique. First, I wetted the whole rock face with water. Next, I gave it a gray wash. After that I hit it with some brown and orange-brown washes in various spots. I also put some greenish tints here and there to represent moss. Finally, I washed the whole thing with black. I am pretty pleased with the results.

T-trak 4

Here’s where I dropped the ball on taking pictures… After we’d gotten the rock faces painted, I used some brown interior paint (a sample we had left over) to cover the sculpt-a-mold. We added some rocks (actually bits of plaster from the casting process that we broke up and stained) below the rock faces. This is where the whole process ground to a halt. I’d ordered a bunch of supplies from an on line company and they took ages to arrive (I’ll do a review on them later).

When we finally did get the static grass and turf, we set out to finish the module. I built a static grass dispenser out of an old sieve and a 9-volt battery. I mixed up various colors of static grass (Woodland Scenics: 1 tbsp Dark Green, 1 tbsp Medium Green and 1 tbsp Wild Honey), brushed on some glue and got shaking. It looked like it was working ok, but when I shook off the excess, the module looked a lot like my head: a whole lot of bald spots.

Hastur knows why it didn’t work. My best guess is there wasn’t enough texture in that paint to actually hold the glue. I laid down more glue and dumped more grass on the module. I didn’t worry about it standing up anymore – I just wanted to cover that bare ground. The second coat of static grass looked a lot better. I shook off the excess and used a toothbrush to tease some if it into a standing shape.

Finally, we added a bunch of bushes, blended turf (for bare ground) and small trees. Here is a shot of the final result:

T-trak 5

And a close-up of the road cut:

T-trak 6

This isn’t going to win any prizes, but the result looks pretty good. This was a fun project and we learned a lot.

Lessons Learned

  • Dry fit everything first. The small modules went together well and tape held them while the glue dried. For the larger modules (I got a couple end caps), clamps really help keep them square. I also needed to do some sanding on the end caps to get them to fit nicely.
  • Attach the levelling screws and run them up through the holes in the top of the module while the glue cures on the little pieces of wood that hold them in place. I’ve got at least one place where the levelling hex bolt doesn’t quite line up with the hole in the top of the module.
  • Paint the area between the tracks black and use your base coat color next to the tracks before you lay them down. It’s much easier to paint in advance than to mask and paint after the track is laid. I had some paint seep up the side.
  • Read the T-Trak information on wiring and then read it again before putting down your track. I messed up (wasn’t “blue to the outside”) and needed to re-lay the track.

Review: Internet Hobbies

TL/DR: Don’t be drawn in by the deal – they don’t deliver.

My son and I have recently gotten into model trains. We had an abortive foray into HO a couple years ago. This time were are going with N-scale. We’ve settled on the T-Trak system for the layout. I really like the idea of this modular system. I can actually wrap my head around finishing a T-Trak module (I’ll post my first one later) rather than look at a large table and despair about all the work that needs to be done.

Anyhow, this brings me to Internet Hobbies… I ran across their website whilst looking for model train supplies. They had a (seemingly) great selection and lucky me – a sale was going on. Oh shiny! I bought a pile of stuff. Everything I ordered was listed “in stock” and had estimated shipping times of 1-2 days. Internet Hobbies happily charged my card on the day of purchase and I got an e-mail confirmation about the order.

So I waited.

And waited some more. “Hmmm, they’re having another sale…” Wait… Check the order status. Wait…

I wasn’t impatient. I gave them a couple of weeks and sent them an e-mail for a status request. They responded the next day telling me the order was scheduled to ship “this upcoming week”.

Before I get into the rest of the story, you should know that they do not answer calls. The website has a phone number, but it goes straight to voice mail. They do advertise a 24 hour turnaround on e-mail responses (weekends included).

So I wait another week.

“Hmmm, they’ve had about four of these fucking sales since I ordered. Why can’t they send out my damn order?” I’m getting a bit fed up and I finally search on reviews. Uh oh… No positive reviews… Anywhere…

I spent the next week e-mailing them asking for an update or a refund.

No response.

Finally, I e-mail them saying I am disputing the transaction with my credit card company.

Now I get a response:

“We’re sorry it came to you doing this. You’ll get your money back but you lost $163.00 in discounts that you won’t get anywhere else.”

That’s rich. I’m still trying to figure out how I lost $163.00 in discounts when I was never going to get any product.

I did get my money back at least.

Stay away from these jokers. Hastur only knows how they stay in business.

Numenera: Purple Crystalline Space Janitors

SCENE: space station interior hallway. Broken bowstrings, broken primitive wood-hafted weapons and shredded pieces of leather armor litter the floor. Blood globules float almost weightlessly around the room, then gently land and spatter against the walls, painting abstract patterns. Two Purple Crystalline Entity Janitors drag the lifeless bodies of five people toward the airlock.

Purple Crystalline Entity Janitor 1: SO, who do you think these guys were anyway? Like what were they thinking? “Today I’m gonna take my backward-fishing-village-ass up into space and see who lives there. Should definitely NOT be a problem crushing any enemy I run into with my wood cudgel and spear.”

Purple Crystalline Entity Janitor 2: Yeah, they’re all, “‘I’ll bet I can totally maneuver in near-freefall and I’ll totally be on equal footing with whoever lives in space all the time.”

PCEJ1: Somebody should put a sign on the other side of that portal. “DO NOT ENTER. Danger! For REAL.”

PCEJ2: I know, I told the boss that like two million years ago. It’s probably still in the suggestion box. Hold up, plug your nose. (he punches the airlock actuator button and a loud WHOMP is felt from within the airlock. The dead bodies are launched tumbling into space orbiting a blue and green planet). I think the seals are going bad on that door. Always makes my ears pop whenever we have to ice these poor bastards.

PCEJ1: (smirking) The manual says we’re supposed to call them, UV’s. ‘Unwanted Visitors.’

PCEJ2: Wait, the boss updated the manual so we gotta call them UV’s, but didn’t bother to put a sign up on the other side of the portal?

PCEJ1: I know. Did you know Doug used to be on the cleaning crew too? Now he just sits in his office writing emails all day…

PCE2: Yeah, I bet if Doug was the one who had to vacuum up all that blood, he’d get a sign on there by the end of the day.

PCEJ1: Totally…

Deadly Sins & Heavenly Virtues

I’ve wanted to incorporate the Seven Deadly Sins into a RPG (or should I say a RPG other than Pendragon) for a long time. Ghastly Affair strikes me as a perfect game to try out some of these ideas.

Determining Sins & Virtues

With the exception of the True Innocent, all characters are predisposed to sin. Each has one vice that is particularly troublesome. True Innocents, on the other hand, have a particular virtue the hold above the rest. The player may choose a sin/virtue or roll on the table below.


























Player’s Choice

Player’s Choice

Gaming with Sins & Virtues

Sins and virtues are roleplaying aids. For example, a wrathful character may have a short temper, and be prone to violence or fits of rage. A prideful individual is always trying to “one up” his enemies and may challenge people too duels over slight offenses.

The Presenter should keep a list of the character’s deadly sin and use them in the game. Confront the character with situations where their sin will get them into trouble or complicate the adventure. Characters may attempt to resist their predilection. Roll 1d20 against the character’s Perversity score. If the die roll is lower than the character’s perversity they will succumb to temptation.

The presence of a True Innocent will help characters resist their sinful ways. If a True Innocent makes an impassioned speech (and succeeds in a roll against Charisma on 1d20), the player of the sinful character may roll 2d20 and choose the highest value for the Perversity roll. True Innocents automatically pass their Charisma test for the virtue they hold dearest.

Review: Travellers on a Red Road

TL/DR: A really cool little game!

I stumbled across Lukas Sjöström’s Travellers on a Red Road whilst lurking on Flintlocks and fantasy has been an interest of mine back from the days of the old Filbanto Stew website. This isn’t a Napoleonic game like Flintloque or the Powder Mage RPG however. It’s a really enthralling world based on the cultures of Siberia and the North American Inuit.

I purchased my copy from Lulu. It is a 6×9 inch paperback. A lot of people like to bitch about the quality of Lulu bindings, but I’ve always had decent luck and this book looks ok to me. The interior is laid out in a two-column format with some very nice illustrations. I’m particularly partial to the warrior on page 54.

The author has broken the game up into several chapters. I’m not going to go into detail on each of them, but rather discuss the book by various (arbitrary) sections.

The game begins with a short introduction. The author really nailed this. It is a great example of concise writing that packs an overview of the rules, the setting and a “what is roleplaying?” section into two pages.

The next section is character creation. Characters are defined by five attributes: Blood (strength/dexterity), Instinct (perception), Presence (charisma), Steel (combat skill) and Wisdom (smarts). This is my first minor quibble with the game. “Blood” and “Steel” are evocative names for attributes. The other three seem somewhat pedestrian by comparison. I honestly like games that stick with easy to understand attribute names. (Heck, I’m planning on selling all of my Eclipse Phase books to Noble Knight Games primarily because I can’t remember the definitions half of the attributes or skills.) Attributes and skills are rated by a die type and range from 1D4 to 1D12. Character generation is fairly detailed – it’s four chapters and 41 pages long. You determine Homeland, Background (previous profession), advantages and disadvantages during the process. The author has considerately created tables for many of the choices so you can do a fair amount of random generation to speed things along.

The rules come next. At first glance, I thought Travellers on a Red Road was going to be some kind of Savage Worlds clone, but the system is a little more nuanced. Skills and attributes are all rated by a die type. You roll your attribute and (not plus) your skill die against a target number of 4. If the score on both dice misses the target the character fails, if one of the dice succeeds the character gets a partial success, and if both dice beat the number a full success. It’s a clever little system. Combat, Spot Rules (fire, falling, poison, etc.), Travel, Magic and Campaigns (downtime) are all described in this section. I do want to do a special “shout out” for the magic section. There are some really interesting abilities and I really liked the rules for familiars in the game as well.

The Game Master section follows the rules. There are some very interesting monsters in the game. An overview of the world follows and then there is a chapter on referee advice. There is also a sample adventure. I’m really grateful the author included one. I’ve picked up so many games that are really cool, but always leave me stuck for “what the heck do you do in this world?”

A glossary, afterward and much appreciated index round out this game.

I really like this game. It draws from cultures that I have never explored in a RPG setting. I think if I did run this, I’d dial the technology back a bit – get rid the flintlocks and some of the industry. I’m not sure why, it just matches my picture of how I’d run a game set in this world.

Travellers on a Red Road is available in PDF from DriveThruRPG or in hard copy from Lulu.

Review: Aquelarre

TL/DR: It’s great!

The English translation of Aquelarre was kickstarted by Stewart Wieck back in 2015. Aquelarre has a venerable history. It was published in Spain nearly thirty years ago. Tragically, Mr. Wieck passed away before it was fulfilled. Fortunately, Nocturnal Media and (I think) Chaosium stepped up to see this project completed. I do know they’ve had some trouble shipping to international backers.

Aquelarre is a mighty tome. It weighs about five pounds, over 560 pages long, glossy interior, beautiful illustrations and layout. The binding looks good, but with a book of this size you will want to treat it with care. The campaign did offer a “Brevarium” – a black and white rule book that was supposed to be half the size. I sure wish I had picked up a copy for the gaming table.

Before jumping into the review, I want to take a quick detour and talk about the language of the book. The author is loquacious. I’m pretty sure this book could have been half the size and lost none of the content with a tighter writing style. Here’s an example from the section on Poison:

As if there weren’t enough situations that can injure a character, one more must be added: poisoning. Whether administered with malicious intent, used by certain animals or creatures, or consumed totally by accident, characters may encounter the pernicious effects of poison on a multitude of occasions so that they might wish to raise their Taste percentage and different Knowledges, if they don’t wish to end their days with their face planted in the bowl of hot soup they were savoring.

The Introduction contains many of the standards you see in role-playing games: what is a role-playing game, dice conventions, glossary, history of the game itself and an example of play. After that, the book is broken into five sections each consisting of several chapters.

Liber I: Mechanica describes character creation, the game system, healing and combat. Characters can be generated randomly or with the “free choice” method. Throughout the chapter they provide examples of each. Characters are fairly detailed, you determine the kingdom you are form, religion, profession (which determines your starting skills), and so forth. There are “Boons and Banes”, essentially advantages and disadvantages. The game system is described next. Aquelarre’s game system is obviously derived from Chaosium’s Basic Role Playing system (BRP). If you are familiar with BRP, you will find Aquelarre and easy game to pick up. If you are not familiar with BRP, I am not sure if this is the best presentation to learn the system. It depends on how easily you can digest the author’s prose. Healing and damage are described in the next chapter. As the game is set in medieval Spain and there is not a lot of magical healing available this is a pretty important chapter. This is not a game where your hit points quickly regenerate after a fight. If your character is injured, you can expect to be laid up for a while. The final chapter in this section is devoted to combat. Again, those familiar with BRP should be right at home here. Combat looks deadly. Wear armor if you can.  From a mechanical standpoint, Aquelarre is one of the crunchiest BRP variants that I have seen. It’s got hit locations, major wounds, a different damage bonus system based on weapon type, a fairly lengthy selection of skills and character choices.

Liber II: Metaphysic describes the character’s world view, magic and theology. Your character’s world view plays a central role in this game. Do you believe in an orderly universe, ruled by God? If so, you are rational. Conversely, if you believe in magic, and the fae, you are irrational. There are game mechanics around this choice and they are on a sliding scale of 100 points. As you become more irrational, you lose points in rational. This remind me of traits from Pendragon such as Chaste/Lustful. Irrational characters are drawn to magic, and if you desire to play a magician that is the path you will take. Rational characters are drawn to God and may perform miracles of faith. It is very hard to maintain rationality in the game. Seeing demons will often cause you to become more irrational. It’s a really cool system. The next two chapters in this section describe magical spells and the powers of faith. The spells and rituals are very evocative.

Liber III: Cosmograpica is the “Monster Manual” of the game. There are over 100 pages of creatures to spring upon your characters. An entire chapter is devoted to devils and demons. Angels get their own chapter too. The last chapter in this section is devoted to the monsters of medieval Spain. While many of the creatures are familiar, they all have an Iberian spin and are sure to surprise and challenge your players. You could build a great scenario around each of these creatures and ideas kept popping into my head while I read this chapter.

Liber IV: Medievalia describes the game world. Aquelarre is set in reconquista Spain in the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries. The actual time of the game is left vague, but timelines of major events are provided to help game masters give a sense of the campaign. This section was fantastic. It is a period I know very little about and I am impressed with the detail presented by the author. There are descriptions of all the kingdoms of the period, the various social classes, what it was like for Jews and Muslims during the time, life in general. The author wants your game to live and breath the medieval and provides you with all the tools you need to immerse yourself in this period. The section ends with a chapter on game mastering Aquellare. It’s great stuff!

Liber V: Tales contains three adventures. The first is a solo adventure, the other two are more traditional adventures. I don’t want to describe the adventures too much for fear of spoilers, but they look like fun and will at least help game masters come up with ideas on what to do with this game.

The final section is this book is a series of appendices containing information on equipment and goods, the monetary and measurement systems, names, locations, a battle system, maps and character sheet.

I highly recommend this game. Even if you do not run it, this is a beautiful book chock full of terrifying monsters and history. At the time of this review, Aquelarre does not appear to be for sale. There is a translation of the introduction available at DriveThruRPG. Keep an eye on the Kickstarter I guess.

Review: Elizabethan Adventures

TL/DR: Great resource, kludgy system

Elizabethan Adventures is a roleplaying game set in 16th century England. This is a great and somewhat underserved period for gaming. Adventure abounds: court intrigue, the Spanish threat, friction on the Scottish border, exploration of the New World and piracy are all possible campaign types. The game is written by Matthew Walhead and it is truly  a labor of love. There are two volumes to the game: the Player’s Book containing the basic game rules and character generation and the Gamemaster’s Book which describes the world, ships, travel and so forth. The game system appears to derive from the Basic Roleplaying System (BRP) that Chaosium developed for Runequest and Call of Cthulhu.

I have the hard cover volumes from DriveThruRPG. The covers are simple and elegant. The interiors are full color. Illustrations are mainly pictures (I’m pretty sure they are culled from movie stills), period engravings and some really nice line drawings of weapons and ships. These are print on demand books, so you’ll need to take care on the binding. I’m really glad the author chose to spilt the books into two volumes for this reason. Overall, the quality looks good.

The Player’s Book begins with a short introduction and then jumps into Character Creation. This is very much a “traditional roleplaying game”, but it does have a bit of a twist. All players must come up with a concept of a “Hidden Character”. What this really boils down to, is that every player in the game has some sort of secret – unknown to the other players – that may put them at odds with their fellow adventurers from time to time. It’s a cool idea and will engender a healthy level of paranoia amongst your players. Next, players choose gender, social class (called Social Estate) and roll or use a point-allocation system to determine attributes. There are ten attributes in the game: Agility, Appearance, Charisma, Confidence, Constitution, Instinct, Intelligence, Memory, Quickness and Strength. The sheer number of attributes was my immediate clue that the author was a “splitter” rather than a “lumper” when it came to game design. Secondary attributes such as Fate Points (a luck mechanism), Hit Points and Damage Bonus come next. After that the player can choose from a short list of Special Traits – basically advantages. Finally, the player chooses one or more Professions for his character to determine the skills he begins play with. The section wraps up with determining other character traits (age, name, etc.) and a discussion on how the experience system works.

The next chapter is Professions. There are 45 pages devoted to the professions available to characters; serious overkill. I guess somebody, somewhere may wish to write up a dairymaid or a cheesemonger… I’ll be honest. I skimmed over most of this section, only spending time reading the more adventurous or interesting careers. There are some really cool pieces of information in this section. For example, I knew that barbers and surgeons were closely related in the middle ages. I didn’t know that many barbers ran bath houses and effectively doubled as pimps.

The next chapter is devoted to skills. It begins with a discussion of the game system. Elizabethan Adventures uses 1D20 for the primary die to resolve tasks. The player attempts to roll below their skill level (there are the usual modifiers and such) to see if they succeed at a task. There are rules for critical success and failure. The game system will feel very familiar to anyone who’s played BRP; it basically replaces the percentile roll with 1D20. Next we’re onto an exhaustive list of skills. Combat skills, in particular, have a crazy number of combinations. You don’t choose weapon skills (like Rapier), but rather a fighting style. All fine and good, until you see the list: Broadsword & Broadsword, Broadsword & Cloak, Broadsword & Dagger, Broadsword & Shield. Now repeat, replacing Rapier for Broadsword in the previous sentence… There are a large number of skills for crafting, social and other areas. I’ve gotten to the point in my gaming life where detailed lists of skills just turn me off. I like like skills that have a broad application, rather than specializations.

Combat is the focus of the next chapter. I found the Combat Matrix a little tricky to read at first. It is similar to Legend from Mongoose – an implementation of BRP that I never cared for. All weapons have damage for slash, thrust or bashing attacks. There didn’t seem to be an advantage to using any mode over the other, so I am not sure why a player would ever choose a lesser damage attack. Parrying is also a little complex. Each weapon has a decimal multiplier that you apply to the character’s skill to determine his chance to parry. It’s similar to GURPS, but varies by weapon. I like the idea, but I am not a big fan of how it is implemented. Overall, I think combat would be slow.

The final chapter in the Player’s Book is on Injury & Health. The game has hit locations and a major wound system. Combat looks like it would be pretty deadly and in a world where there is no magical healing your character can expect to be laid up for some time after a skirmish – if he doesn’t die from infection that is… Other sources of damage such as falling and poison are detailed in this chapter. It is rounded out with how to recover damage from the quackery that passes for medicine in the sixteenth century.

The Player’s Book ends with a series of tables for character creation, weights and measures, weapon statistics and so forth. It’s handy to have all this in one place so the GM doesn’t need to flip around chapters to find it.

The Gamemaster’s Book begins with a chapter on – wait for it – Gamemastering. The author assumes that you are not purchasing this game as your first foray into roleplay, so it is relatively brief. It has information on how to motivate your party and keep them “on task” with good group goals during the session. One of the things that I liked was how the author encouraged the GM to consider the edges of the world as an area where more fantastical things could happen. For example, the kingdom of Prester John may lie somewhere beyond Tartary and King Solon’s Mines are surely hidden somewhere in deepest Africa.

The next chapter focuses on the Game World. The author discusses the various Social Estates and religions of the time. Next, he launches into Witchcraft. The GM is free to allow more otherworldly aspects in their game. Witchcraft and religion can be more than just mummery for those who believe. A note for the faint of heart, Witchcraft is considered the worship of Satan in this game – no nature-worship here. An overview of the world comes next. I really enjoyed this section and honestly learned a lot of history while perusing it. Transportation and travel speed, money and prices and a small bestiary round out the chapter.

Ships & Sailing is the next chapter. This is the time of the Sea Dogs. Hawkins, Raleigh, Drake and many others were commissioned as privateers and preyed on Spanish shipping mercilessly. There are rules for building and outfitting a ship, navigation and combat.

London is the focus of the next chapter. There are period maps of the entire city along with a gazetteer of many of the most famous and interesting locations. Anyone who wishes to run a game in London in this time period would be well-served to pick up this book. Quite frankly, I felt it was the best part of the whole game. The author could easily cut this out of the GM book and sell it as a systemless setting guide. And maybe he’s done it… There is a PDF of the London Map available for sale; I am not sure if it contains the gazetteer.

The final chapter is an introductory adventure. The characters spend a night at a coaching inn and where all sorts of skulldrudgery takes place. I got a strong “Rough Night at the Three Feathers” vibe from this adventure.

I’ve long noodled over running a game set in this time period. I’ve read a fair amount of history and historical fiction set in this time period. The author really knows his stuff! I’d highly recommend this game as a resource. I’m less sold on the system itself. This is really a matter of my own tastes. It is built on BRP so I know it is going to work. It’s just a lot crunchier than I like now-a-days. If I were to start a game in this period, I’d start with FGU’s Flashing Blades and tweak appropriately.

Elizabethan Adventures is available at DriveThruRPG.

Review: Shotguns and Sorcery

TL/DR: It’s good, but don’t buy yet…

Shotguns and Sorcery the Roleplaying Game is based on the fantasy-noir novels from Matt Forbeck. Mr. Forbeck is credited as the lead writer on the game, while Robert Schwalb (of Shadow of the Demon Lord fame) has written the rules. The game was kickstarted in November 2014 with a delivery date of December 2015. I got my copy a few months ago and finally read through it. Was it worth the wait? Nope. Is it any good? Yes.

If you are not aware of Forbeck’s stories, the Shotguns and Sorcery universe is a bash of the fantasy and detective-noir genres. The author has created a world where only one city still exists. The rest of the continent is overrun by hordes of zombies. The action takes place in a crowded metropolis. Various fantasy races all occupy this city and there is a pretty strict class system with Elves at the top, Goblins at the bottom and humans somewhere in the middle.

Shotguns and Sorcery is a 270+ page hardback, with a nice matte-finished cover. The interior is full color, non-glossy paper. The illustrations are nice; kind of a comic book style. The artist, Jeremy Mohler (who is also the creator of the kickstarter), farmed out some of the coloring of his work to other artists. It shows. Many images are a lot “flatter” than others. The book itself looks ok. I don’t think the binding will put up with much abuse at the game table. It feels like the kind of product I’d get from a print on demand company.

The books is divided into seven “parts”, each composed of one or more chapters, and an appendix. I’m going to sum up some of the “parts” quickly. Part 1: Getting Started, is the introduction most role playing games start with. Part 3: Playing the Game, is pretty much a cut-and-paste of the Cypher System rules. Part 7: The Game Master, offers advice on how to run the game; again similar to what many RPGs do. The appendix has a character sheet and the backer list from the Kickstarter. I’ll go into a little more detail on the other parts since they are really where the “new stuff” is located.

Part 2: Character Creation is composed of five chapters and the layout and contents should be familiar to anyone who has played a Cypher System game. Characters in Shotguns and Sorcery follow the “I am a (descriptor), (type) who (focus)” model, but also adds “race” to the mix. Race does add some new cruft to the system. It determines the character’s starting stat pools and sometimes gives them a mechanical benefit akin to a descriptor. The races outlined are dwarf, elf, halfling, human and orc. I do wish the author could have added gnomes, goblins and a few other races that inhabit Dragon City instead of punting it to the GM. Type is the next chapter. Players may choose from Freelance (thief/fighter/mage), Veteran (warrior) and Wizard (magic user). I got a strong Jack, Glaive, Nano feel from the types, but overall I think they work with the game. I do wish they’d done a full-blown thief-type instead of rolling it into the Freelance. Chapters six and seven describe the Descriptor and Focus. They look like they were pulled or reskinned from the Cypher System (version one) rulebook. Finally, chapter eight describes equipment. This chapter looked like a standard list of medieval adventuring gear with firearms tacked on. Now, I haven’t read all of the stories in this universe, but from the couple I did read I got a pretty strong 1930’s vibe for technology. Yeah, magic replaces a lot of it – glow globes instead of electric lights and flying carpets instead of cars, but still…

Part 4: Setting outlines the Dragon City, the many organizations and peoples in it. It also expands upon the world in general. As it turns out, there are far away kingdoms that have not been overrun by a horde of zombies!

Part 5: Creatures and Characters, is chock full of monsters. This is a pretty comprehensive “monster manual” for any fantasy game using the Cypher System. It’s something we really haven’t gotten in any published product to date and I think it’d be very useful to any GM who wanted to run D&D under these rules.

Part 6: Magic Items, has a good 10 pages of interesting magical items. Cyphers exist in Shotguns and Sorcery: they are one-use magic items like potions or scrolls. I really liked how some of the magical items were implemented in the game. You can actually get gear that doesn’t have an exhaustion rate to worry about. Again, this is all useful information for any GM who wants to run a more standard fantasy campaign using Cypher System.

If you’ve read through the Zaibatsu game posts, you’ll see a couple jabs at the Kickstarter campaign. I think Mohler went into this with the best of intentions, but fumbled the execution. I was sure I’d never see the book. By the time I got my copy, the excitement had worn off. I doubt I’ll ever run this, but I can mine it for ideas.

I really want to recommend this game, but won’t. Reason: The non-US backers are still waiting for their hard copies. Don’t give this guy your money until he squares up with the folks who helped fund this game.