Category: Role Playing Games

Alien RPG: Liars & Shadows, Act 3B

Our GM keeps telling us that we’ll finish the scenario “that night”, but we still haven’t wrapped up. Now I get why “Liars” is in the scenario title:-)

Last week we had entered a pirate complex. It was converted from an old mining works. The portion we had explored was shaped like an “H”. The entrance was in the lower right leg. We went in, turned left at the first intersection, turned left again into what looked like a crew lounge where we had a big battle with some terrible mutant. We had not explored either of the upper passageways. We picked up the game from here.

The characters are all catching their breath from the fight. Miller is trying to calm some of them down when Addie gets pings on the motion tracker. Multiple bogeys coming from both of the upper passages. After a collective “oh shit” we decide to get the hell out of Dodge. We’ve got no place to retreat where we are now. We make it to the first “T” intersection when the mutants hit us. Four of them:

The Marines are brining up the rear and open up on the things. We decide to “shoot and scoot”. I’m pretty sure Rye pegged that centaur-looking thing with her bolt gun for 6 points of damage and it was hardly phased. They jumped the Marines and brought them down. The rest of us hauled ass towards the entrance. The best part of this combat was Miller’s character tried to trip up Fowler during the panicked dash outside. Her player flubbed both the original roll and the push. He used s story point to make it happen. As it was, this tactic probably saved the original crew. We all got outside and tried to pile into the Daihotai tractor.

Here’s where the game system let us down. The Marines were overwhelmed in hand-to-hand combat and the GM decided that Pvt. Asaph would pull a “Gorman/Vasquez” and set off a grenade. He rolls 9 dice for blast power and not one success.

The grenade rules need some serious help, or we interpreted them incorrectly. I’d like to house-rule that grenades do their blast damage (e.g., 9 points) to anything in the square it lands in and immediate surrounding squares. They do 3 points to anyone up to 20 (?) meters away. Armor and cover can be used to mitigate damage.

Padilla lost it and ran off to hide in some of the crates. Miller was behind the wheel of the Daihotai. When she saw that Padilla wasn’t going to make it, she gunned it and smashed into one of the mutants. We reverse and holler at Padilla to get into the car. Now Monroe opens up on the mutants with our plasma gun and (you guessed it) “click” out of ammo. He loses his shit and goes berserk. “Rye, I’m going to kill you!” Rye, retreats into the rear of the tractor to get away from Monroe. Addie freaks out and jumps out of the truck running as fast as she can move. Miller jams it into drive and hits another mutant. Basically, we ended up killing all of the damn things by running them over. Monroe and Addie had gone catatonic by the time the battle was over.

We gathered up enough stims to get everyone calmed down and assess the situation: The Marines are dead. Monroe went in to check on Fowler and we hear shotgun blast. Fowler’s dead, his head blown off so he won’t come back as a mutant and Monroe has more of the black goo on him (and guess who failed his Stamina roll this time…). We don’t have the parts we need to repair our ship. Our Daihotai isn’t running anymore. Oh yeah, remember that we are going to all be cooked alive when the planet turns to face the dual suns? Yeah, that’ll happen before we can get back to the mining colony in our mostly destroyed tractor…

We go back into the complex. We really don’t have any other option. We take the right passage this time and come into a kitchen/dining area. The place looks like an abattoir. Dead bodies, blood and some of that goo all over the pace. We take a passage off to the right and find the reactor room and an armory. The door to the armory has been blocked off due to a cave-in. Rye and Padilla manage to get the reactor started, so at least we can see now. We head back down and determine we’ve pretty much explored this level, but there is a ramp leading down to a sub level. We end the game looking at a big set of doors and Addie noticing a ping on the motion tracker.

Review: The Powder Mage Roleplaying Game

TL/DR: Buy if you are a fan of the novels.

One of the cool things about Christmas is you’ll occasionally get a present you’d forgotten you’d even put on your “wish list”. This is how The Powder Mage Roleplaying Game made its way into my collection. In case you are unfamiliar with Brian McClellan’s work, the Powder Mage series postulates a fantastic world where magic exists alongside technology similar to the Napoleonic period in Europe. I read the first trilogy set in this in this world several years ago. They are well worth a read. A Kickstarter for a Savage Worlds roleplaying game set in this world was done back in the Fall of 2016. I had weaned myself off jumping on every RPG Crackstarter by then, but always intended to pick up a copy.

My copy was from DrivethruRPG. It is a 6×9-inch, full color paperback. For the most part, the art is nice. There are some really good maps that have appeared in the novels. The size of this game limits their utility for actual gaming, I’d love to have larger copies of these, even if in PDF form. Much of the art looks like “watercolor sketches” of the various peoples of this world. The artist has concentrated on the military uniforms and this is a great choice, both given the nature of the Powder Mage stories and because the uniforms are quasi-Napoleonic in design. Most of the art appears a little dark, or “muddy”. I think this is less an issue with the art itself and more due to the paper quality and printing process.

The game begins with brief introductions from Brian McClellan (who I think did most of the work on the background chapters) and Alan Bahr (who I am guessing wrote all the rules). After that we get four pages on how to be a GM in this universe, including a page and a half about using the X-card. It is an interesting tool and could be useful for some groups Given the stuff that is missing from the game, it would have been nice to spend less space on it. The last two pages of the chapter are a concise overview of the Powdermage universe.

Character Creation is the next chapter. I haven’t played Savage Worlds in years, but it looks like you generate characters pretty closely to the core rules. There are no non-human races in this game. Characters do get some starting skills, based on their homeland, to add a little variety to the game. There’s a new skill, Third Eye, which characters with arcane backgrounds have access too. Unfortunately, it didn’t make it onto the character sheet. There are also two prohibited skills, Driving and Piloting, but (you guessed it) they are on the character sheet… Next we dive into the rules for the new arcane backgrounds. Powder Mages gain their abilities by ingesting blackpowder. The rules handle all the “normal” abilities that I recall from reading the novels (faster, stronger, more observant and able to do amazing things with a firearm). The special abilities that Taniel and Tamas have are not discussed. Privileged are very similar to mages in other games. The conceit of this universe is they can reach into “The Else” and manipulate reality. They must where special gloves to do so, or they will burn their hands on the raw magic. Knacked are characters with special abilities. For the most part this means they have an Advantage. Many of the Knacked advantages, like Darkvision, would not require an arcane background in other games. The final arcane background is the Magebreaker. These are characters who gave up the ability to be Privileged, but can instead suppress magic if they are near to the caster. You’ll notice there are no rules of “Bone-eyes”, the type of magic that Ka-Poel uses. This type of blood-magic is supposed to be rare and powerful, but it is a shame that we didn’t get a hint about how to run a character like this. The chapter rounds out with a few rules changes for the game (update to Shaken which always seems like a contentious condition in Savage Worlds) and tables for weapons. I’m going to go off on a little rant about this section: there are no Muskets only Rifles. My bet is Mr. Bahr doesn’t know what the distinction is, but it is important in a game using this technology. Muskets should have shorter range and be quicker to reload than rifles. Also, the melee weapon table is predominantly a list of medieval weapons. I don’t think anyone was swinging a great sword in these tales and there is no entry for a bayonet – a crucial weapon for armies of this period.

The next three chapters: Nations of the Nine, Lands Beyond the Nine and A Brief History of the Nine contain the background and history for the world of Powder Mage. I’m spending the smallest part of the review on this section, but honestly this is the best part of the book. The chapters form excellent reference material for fans of the novels and give a lot more details on some of the nations and peoples that the novels have only touched on. I really loved the “current schemes” sections and all the adventure fodder they contained.

The Pregenerated Characters chapter was a considerable let down. It looks unfinished. There are five characters, but they are just the stats, hindrances, etc. There are no names, background or sketches to go with them. Each of the characters takes a full page up in the book, but half of that page is blank. As is, this chapter feels like a waste of space. If the characters had been named and had a background fleshed-out they could be handed out to players for a quick gaming session. Even if we were only to get the stats, these characters could fit two to a page to avoid the white space.

The final chapter, Adventures, has four scenarios for the game. I’m always happy when a game book includes some sample scenarios. Even if I don’t use them “as is”, they give you ideas on how to structure your own scenarios. Each scenario looks like about a single session’s worth of play. None of them really knocked my socks off. They felt a little unfinished and the endings… Well, there were so many loose endings that the GM would need to do a lot to resolve them. I’ll give an example. (I can’t figure out how to do “spoilers” in wordpress, so I’ll change the background to black. Highlight the next paragraph and hopefully you can read it, but only if you don’t plan on playing the first scenario.)

Spoiler:

The first scenario is a murder mystery. A nobleman has been murdered. When the characters track down the killer they discover that he was not murdered. He has a Knacked ability to switch appearance with another person. He faked his own death because his sister was trying to poison him. Well… He is still a murderer and there is no information on checking out the story about his sister the poisoner. The premise of this adventure is really interesting and I think it could be made to work. First, let’s make the nobleman a more sympathetic character. Instead of him murdering someone and switching identities, what if he was attacked and killed the assailant while defending himself? Seeing an opportunity, he switches identities with his attacker. He has a manservant who can vouch for the story and the characters could try to locate a Knacked that can detect lies if they still don’t believe him. Now we can move onto the sister… What if she was getting tired of failed poison attempts and hired that thug to murder her brother? They find evidence of it… Maybe a handwritten note explaining where to collect payment? The nobleman suggests switching appearance with the character with the best social skills to talk to his sister and get her to admit to the deed. Of course, the sister wants no loose ends and has planned to get rid of the assassin. She springs an ambush after admitting the deed and all hell breaks loose.

I’ve already mentioned problems with the character sheet; it is also nearly too small to be usable. The lack of rules for Bone-eyes is disappointing. All magic in Savage Worlds uses the same mechanic, so we really just needed the types of spells that blood magicians can utilize and some ideas for “trappings”. The lack of information on Wardens is a real oversight. They play a significant role in the novels and stats for these sorcerously-warped beings should really have been included. Heck, they show one on the cover of the game for Hastur’s sake!

If you are a fan of the series and want more information on the world this game is certainly worth picking up. I don’t think the rules for playing Powder Mages, Privileged, Knacked or Magebreakers are revolutionary enough that they are worth the price alone. This game could have been a lot better and it would have only taken a little polishing on the adventures, characters and inclusion of Wardens and Bone-eyes to take it to that level.

The Powder Mage Roleplaying Game is available at DriveThruRPG.

Alien RPG: Liars and Shadows Act 3A

We continued the Alien game last week. As a reminder, a couple of the characters that survived the Chariot of the Gods scenario are trying to recover the Montero that had been lost at the end of that adventure. We took work as smugglers to a distant star system where the Montero is supposed to be. After a tangle with a Marine Corvette, we crash landed at an illegal mining colony and our smuggling ship, the Demeter, needs parts badly. We needed to travel to a “pirate base” several hundred kilometers away to try and secure parts for our vessel. Marines are on patrol for these pirates and we were pretty sure that they engaged them at their base since we overheard gunfire and screaming when we tried to raise them. Out of options, we decided to drive on over there and see if we could scrounge anything. We were nearing the base when a Cheyenne dropship crested a ridge a few klicks in front of us. We picked up the session from there…

The GM described the dropship as listing and smoking. I think Icculus was really hoping we’d be spoiling for a fight here, but we all decided that discretion was the way to go. We handled the encounter by laying out the starship combat map. I’d made a few tokens for Icculus of some ground vehicles and a dropship. We needed to “sneak” by the Cheyenne by opposing Monroe’s Pilot skill against the dropship pilot’s CommTech. Addie was able to run interference by jamming sensors (when she wasn’t dropping her tablet due to stress). Rye tried to get the pirates to help out, but there wasn’t anything they were able or willing to do for us. After some incredible piloting rolls from Monroe’s player and some lousy sensor rolls from Icculus, we slipped by the dropship and made it to the pirate base.

Addie is our sneakiest character and we sent her out to check out the base. It was basically a landing area in a mountain pass. The base was dug into the mountain face – probably an old mine drift. There were crates and shipping containers scattered about, but she didn’t see any sign of life. We got on the horn with the pirates to see if they would have bolted to a safe location if they were hit and Danko Morrison told us “yep” and gave us coordinates. We decided our best option was to check out the base while it was clear. If we could help ourselves to any supplies we needed and cut out it would be the best option.

We pull up to the front of the base and suddenly three marines pop out from behind an overturned APC and tell us to get out of our vehicle. “Fuck that.” Padilla says cutting loose with the plasma gun. The Marines decided that it wasn’t worth fucking with us since they were so outgunned and they had a wounded man to deal with. Miller and Rye got out to see if they could help. The Marines were Sgt. Pat Yeong, Pvt. Harold Asaph and Cpl. Isa Detroit. While we were trying to patch up their squad-mate (who’s throat was practically torn out), another Marine stumbles out of the pirate base and raises his pulse rifle at Padilla. The gangster opens up with the plasma gun again, making short work of him. As if on cue, the guy with the wounded neck gets to his feet and grabs Yeong in a bear hug. With a sickening crunch, we hear the poor bastard’s spine snap. Rye bolts for our vehicle and Miller follows suit. With the help of the Marines we eventually put down the maddened Marine.

Tensions are running high. Rye thinks we can call down the Montero’s shuttle remotely if we can get the radio in the APC working and if we can find out where the damned ship is. Fowler, one of the men from the mining colony, tells us that this base was their listening post and there should be plenty of sensor and radio equipment inside. If nothing else, we can probably find the equipment we need to repair the Demeter in there. Of course, a squad of nine Marines went into that hole in the ground and the only one to come out started shooting randomly. Something is seriously fucked up in that place…

We make a deal with the Marines: let’s not kill each other, find any survivors and get our asses off this rock. They take point and we head in. The base is in shambles, the interior lit by dim red emergency lighting. It’s hard to see anything and only the Marines have flashlights on their suits… The first thing we encounter is a pair of horribly burnt Marines sitting in a pool of black gunk.

Addie manages to find a motion tracker that has somehow escaped destruction in the mess. We go deeper into the complex and eventually come into the living quarters. Abbie gets a ping on the motion tracker. The jarheads kick open the door. Holy fuck! What is that thing?

After a lot of ineffectual blazing away, Cpl. Detroit finally gets it in the sights of her smart gun and cuts it in half. The thing splatters the whole party (except Rye who was still out in the hallway) with black goo. Stamina saves anyone? Fortunately everyone succeeded, although Monroe needed to use a story point for it (his player is not quite ready to swap out this character for another one I guess).

As you can guess from the title of this post, Act 3 is not quite done. We still need to make our way through this complex without getting killed by horrible mutants or turned into horrible mutants. Oh, did I forget to say the base looks structurally compromised after they lit it up with grenades earlier? Assuming we make it through this deathtrap we need to either loot it for spacecraft parts or find out if the Montero is close enough that we can call in its shuttle for extraction.

Review: Paleomythic

TL/DR: Another winner from Osprey!

Paleomythic, written by Graham Rose, is the second role playing game from Osprey Publishing. I picked it up at the same time I picked up Romance of the Perilous Lands and I am glad I did. The title of this game immediately drew me in. “Paleo” roughly translates to “ancient”, so I started thinking about a game of ancient myths. The sub-title: “A Roleplaying Game of Stone and Sorcery” sealed the deal.

Physically, Paleomythic is a great product. It is a “novel-sized” hardback clocking in at about 280 pages. The formatting is well done. (I could quibble over the lack of column headers on some of the tables, but they are easy to make sense of.) The book is very readable, with black font over a light tan background. The art is top notch and sets the tone of the game perfectly. It is a mix of color plates and “stone age” art that reminiscent of the cave paintings at Lascaux. Again, Osprey has chosen to include a racially diverse mix of people in the art which is nice to see.

The Introduction explains the premise of the game (Stone & Sorcery – I love it!), role playing games in general and an overview of the ancient continent of Mu. The author covers a good bit of ground in the first few pages. I’m very much a fan of concise introductions that set the tone so quickly. The remainder of the chapter is an overview of the game system. Paleomythic is a “Roll A Six to Hit” (RASH) system. Characters are defined by their Traits and Flaws. When a character attempts a task, they gather up a number of D6 equal to the total number of Traits the character has. If they have an applicable Trait (for example, the character is Strong and is attempting to shift a heavy boulder) they add a bonus die. If they have an applicable Flaw (Weak if we use the above example) they subtract a die. If they have a tool (maybe a lever?) they add another bonus die. Now roll that handful of dice and hope for a six.

Characters, the next chapter, includes rules for creating the heroes that populate the ancient land of Mu. Character generation can be completely random, player-controlled or any combination. Paleomythic does not attributes like many other games. Instead, they are defined by their Traits (advantages), Flaws (disadvantages) and Talents (skills). Characters can have 5 Traits and 1 Talent, 4 Traits and 2 Talents or 3 Traits and 3 Talents. You can choose to increase Traits by up to 2, but you must take an equal number of Flaws. I am not sure if it is well-balanced. You give up 1D6 for all rolls when you take a Talent, but they are pretty limited in scope (they do give you extra starting equipment though). There are also a lot of Talents in the game: 36 of them. Each of them have special snowflake abilities. Some seem much more useful than others. I think it was about this time I decided that Paleomythic was not a game I would want to run. Paring that list of Talents down to about 12 or so and making them more broadly applicable would help.

Adventuring in Ancient Mu delves into the rules of the game. It begins with combat and there are a surprising number of tactical options in the game. For example, all weapons have special effects that come into play if you roll a “6” on your “tool die” during combat. It’s a very cool mechanic. Special effects are based upon the material your weapon is constructed from. The problem is there are many variations of weapons; six, yes that is right, six kinds of spears for example! It makes you look at the list of polearms in the old D&D books with new respect… Anyhow, it looks like a lot of time will be spent mastering the combat system and referring to the special abilities each weapon has. You’re also going to need to do it a lot during fights. Weapons break if a “1” comes up on the “tool die”, so combatants will be using different weapons during the fight and probably finishing off their enemies with bare hands. Characters don’t have hit points, rather when they are wounded they temporarily lose a Trait. This is an interesting mechanic since each Trait lost will make your character weaker at everything. The rest of the chapter discusses pretty much every other action your character may do in the game. Climbing, hunting, crafts and so forth are all detailed. There are some great random tables in this section for hunting as well.

The World of Ancient Mu describes the people and places that inhabit this primordial continent. In case you’ve never heard of it, Mu is purported to be one of the “lost continents” of earth (along with Atlantis and Lemuria). There is no map included in the book, the people of Mu do not make them. The author divides the continent into four areas. The north is snowy and mountainous, the east is a lush jungle, the south is an arid desert and the west is a temperate region. The people of Mu, their beliefs, customs and so forth are described next and the author provides a method to randomly generate the various tribes and settlements the characters may encounter in their travels. The spirit world is discussed at length as are the stranger places of the continent. The chapter rounds out with a section on the gods of ancient Mu. This is really great material and the tribe/settlement generators can be purloined for any game.

Adversaries in Ancient Mu discusses all of the foes and creatures that stalk the continent. For the most part, the fauna of Mu is derived from the Pliocene and Pleistocene. They even have Glyptodonts! Creatures have Traits just like characters. Big creatures (like mastodons) can have “double traits”. This makes them harder to bring down, but they don’t add any extra dice in combat. I’m not sure how I feel about this… Creatures don’t use tools so they feel a little underpowered when facing a group of warriors. There are plenty of monsters for your players to engage too. Beast men, serpent people and other primordial beings stalk the dark places of Mu. Finally, there are plenty of spirits to tangle with as well.

The Game Moderator Section is all about running exciting adventures in this fascinating world. The author provides a series of tables to help generate adventures and even dungeons (called “paleo-delving”). I really appreciate all the work the author put into this section. I’ve purchased so many games that don’t explain what kinds of adventures work well in the world. This is great stuff and can be mined or lifted for almost any fantasy game. The chapter rounds out with ideas for how to use the game in a couple other genres: the “real world” Pleistocene (including rules for Neanderthal and Homo floresiensis) or for running a more traditional “sword and sorcery” game.

The game ends with an adventure (an old-fashioned “paleo-delve”) and an appendix of useful tables, character sheets and so forth.

Paleomythic is chock full of adventure ideas that you can mine for other games even if you don’t plan on playing in Mu. I’m not sold on the system. Don’t get me wrong… This looks like a solid game and certainly doesn’t seem any more difficult to learn than Coriolis for example. I’ve never been keen on “RASH” systems – especially GMing them – since I have trouble figuring out the odds. I’d probably use Savage Worlds as an engine to explore the primordial continent of Mu.

I have degree in Archaeology and Geology, so it is not surprising that I enjoy prehistory. I think I love “fantastic prehistory” – those imaginings of Atlantis, Lemuria, and Hyperborea – even more. Did you watch 10,000 BC? Did you enjoy Farmer’s Hadon of Ancient Opar books? Does the idea of the stories of Kull or Conan taking place in a stone-age era appeal to you? If the answer is “yes” this is a game you’ll want to take a look at.

Review: Romance of the Perilous Lands

TL/DR: A great little game!

Osprey Publishing has been supplying gamers and modelers with reference books for almost as long as I’ve been alive. The Men at Arms Series books are thin volumes (60-70 pages) with a little history of a unit and several glorious color plates of the uniforms. They are awesome for any miniature painter and I’ve got a shelf-full of them. It was maybe ten years ago that Osprey jumped into gaming proper. Frostgrave is probably their biggest game… They’ve partnered with NorthStar to make miniatures and have a ton of supplements for it. Their first published game was Dux Bellorum, an Arthurian miniatures game. Osprey recently (last year) made the jump into role playing games and it seems fitting that the first RPG, Scott Malthouse’s Romance of the Perilous Lands, is also based on Arthur.

The book itself is excellent. It is a hardcover volume about the size of a small novel (~250 pages long, dimensions 6×9 inches). The book is laid out and information was presented very well. The text is dark and has a high contrast against a lighter background making it easy to read (something that is getting more important as my eyes get worse). Osprey is known for its high quality art, and this game is no exception. Everything is in full color – battle scenes, monsters, characters – it is very evocative and certainly sets the tone of the game. The cover art is a prime example. It features a female knight front and center, next to her is a male archer and a black wizard brings up the rear of the party. This is a long way from Malory’s Le Mort d’Arthur. It’s refreshing to see Osprey take an inclusive position with their games.

The book begins with a brief introduction to role playing and an “example of play” that all games apparently need to include. It then launches into a description of The World of the Perilous Lands. This is a great section. The author outlines the history and current state of the world in about eight pages. I really applaud this work. It’s concise and makes me want to get out in game instead of feeling like I am slogging through a history text book. You can also tell right away that this world is not the traditional world of Arthurian myth. This is a firmly fantastical world that bears many similarities to the stories of Arthur, but it is definitely not a “fantasy earth”. I really enjoyed how the author combined the world of Arthur with the world of Robin Hood. I read these stories back-to-back when I was young and they’ve always been tied together in my mind.

Character generation comes next. Characters have five attributes: Might (strength), Reflex (dexterity), Charisma, Constitution, and Mind (intelligence). Attributes use the classic “roll 4D6, take the best 3” method, or players can choose an “array” (9, 10, 12, 14, 16) and allocate the scores. I would have been happier if the game had combined the Might and Constitution attributes. There are six classes for the game: knight, ranger, thief, cunning folk (wizard), barbarian, and bard (why is there always a bard???). Each of the classes gives the player skills, talents (special abilities) and determines their hit dice. As characters adventure, they will gain levels and become more powerful. It’s a pretty slick system and allows enough customization that two characters of the same class won’t feel the same.

A chapter on equipment follows. Suffice it to say the weapons, armor and other gear are listed. I’m not a fan of how armor works in this game. It’s “ablative”. For example, chain will absorb the first 10 points of damage and then be useless for the rest of the fight. There are talents that let characters “rejuvenate” their armor during a battle though. I also don’t think there is enough difference between heavy armor and medium armor. Knights are supposed to be the tanks of the game, and plate plus a tower shield grant 16 armor points. A barbarian with chain and wooden shield can get 13 points of armor (and catch up to knights at level 5 due to their natural armor ability granting 3 AP). The easiest way to balance it out is to make chain a heavy armor and make leather into medium armor.

The game is very easy to understand and anyone with experience in D&D should have no trouble learning this system. Attributes are very important in this game because players must roll below the “associated attribute” on 1D20 to succeed on a task. For example, if my character wanted to spear a bandit, I’d need to roll below my Might attribute to succeed. There are situational modifiers of course. There is also an Advantage/Disadvantage system (roll the D20 and take best or worst outcome as appropriate).

The Spellcasting chapter outlines the spells available to Cunning Folk in the game. There aren’t huge reams of spells in this chapter and honestly, I think that is a good thing. I’m not a fan of D&D lists with dozens of subtly different “blast ’em” spells. Spells each have a level to denote how powerful they are and each has a cost (in spell points – a currency that cunning folk use to power their magics). An interesting approach this game takes is that cunning folk can attempt to cast a spell of any level; even if it is higher than their character level. If the player fails the casting roll though, watch out. They will need to roll on a backfire table to see what happens.

The World is described next. This chapter weighs in at about 50 pages and contains a lot of info about the Perilous Lands. It describes magical artifacts, locations, deities, factions and the major personalities of the world. The locations were particularly fun to read. The author has included a lot of adventure seeds in this section and a talented GM could probably let his players “hex crawl” and uncover adventure anywhere they go. The deities are based on the old Celtic gods. The rules suggest that characters have a patron deity, but there are no mechanical advantages too doing so. I think allowing players an advantage on a skill roll in the deity’s “domain” might be a nice touch. Of course, there should be some kind of geas to go with it and a disadvantage to those rolls when a character breaks the geas. Factions are next and there are some really great organizations for the players to get involved with. Of course the Knights of the Round Table are an option, but there are intriguing groups for non-knights to get involved with too. Adversarial factions that look to bring down Arthur’s rule or are not aligned with either the light or dark powers are described as well and will certainly inspire any GM with adventure fodder. Finally, the major characters of the world are “statted out”.

A very comprehensive bestiary is included. There are about 50 more pages devoted to adversaries (human, animal and monstrous). Most of the monsters are taken from Celtic Mythology, but some of the old classics like vampires and werewolves make an appearance too. GMs who wish to focus their campaigns around monster hunting will have ample creatures for their players to battle.

The final chapter is a guide for game masters and gives advice on how to structure the campaign, write adventures and some advice for running exciting combat encounters. I’ve deliberately avoided drawing a comparison to Pendragon in this review, but I’ve opened that can of worms and might as well address it here… Pendragon is a tightly defined game about playing knights in the Arthurian setting. Romance of the Perilous Lands allows you run more traditional adventures against a backdrop of an Arthurian-inspired setting.

Romance of the Perilous Lands is great game and well worth picking up for the art and setting material even you don’t choose to use the system. I think it’d be easy to convert to D&D (if that floats your boat). I don’t think I’d run this as written because the armor system grates on me too much. It wouldn’t take take too much hacking to turn it into a system that I’d want to use though.

Alien RPG: Liars & Shadows, Act 2

We picked up the Alien game last week. As a refresher, we’re working as smugglers for a Brazilian crime lord and have taken a run to the wildcat mining colony in the Gamma Geminorum system, about 32 parsecs from Earth.

Apologies, but I’m going to veer into some science for a bit… The Gamma Geminorum system is a binary star system. The primary is a Type A sub giant and its companion is a Type G about the size of our sun. The companion has a pretty eccentric orbit. At its closest it is about 1AU from the primary and at its furthest, about 20 AU. The colony, colloquially known as Alhena is on a Luna-sized moon orbiting an ice giant. While the moon is about the same size as Earth’s, it is far denser and gravity is about the same. The atmosphere is dense enough that a pressure suit is not required. There are some pretty nasty trace elements in the air, so everyone needs a filter mask to avoid choking to death. There is life on this moon. Several native plants grow on the surface. No animal life has been detected. The colonists do have some bioengineered cattle that can tolerate the surface conditions.

Back to the adventure: We (crash) land The Demeter at the colony site. They quickly cover our ship with a camouflage net while Rye gets a damage report. It’s not good. We’ve wrecked a lot of critical components and we don’t have any spares. We’re not getting off this rock without help. The colonists have gathered around the ship and look like they are getting antsy to get all of their stuff. The first thing we notice is everyone is packing a gun. The second thing we notice is almost everyone is periodically lifting their filter mask to spit a stream of juice out. (We find out later that one of the native plants – pilgrim plant – gives a good buzz when chewed. The bigger bulbs can get you pretty lit.)

Miller, Monroe and Padilla go down to talk to the colonists, while Addie and Rye stay on the ship to effect as many repairs as we can. The leader of the colony is a woman named Singh. She was described as “compact”. Her second is a man named Fowler. (I don’t recall his description, but I picture him as a tall, scruffy douchebag with wild hair.) After a quick meet and greet, we learn they don’t have any of the parts we need to get The Demeter off this rock. They do mention there is another band on this moon. They have a base called Dis Pater and it is about 500 klicks away. Rye thinks we should hold onto some of the cargo so we have something to bargain with the other colonists, but Miller overrules and we start unloading the ship. Singh invites us to the mess to discuss options.

One of the cool features of Roll20 are “player hand outs”. Icculus and our Numenera GM use this to great effect. We got a bunch of shots of the interior of the mining colony to really help set the tone. I don’t know where they find all these great pictures, but it really adds a lot to the game.

We have a drink with Singh and she lays it out for us. Apparently the people at Dis Pater were former colonists and are led by a man named Danko Morrison. They had a small ship and had been making a living salvaging wrecks for years. They hit it big when they found an armed freighter and were able to repair her. It didn’t take them too long to make the jump from salvage to piracy. Singh is royally pissed at them. This mining operation is already illegal and piracy is only going to draw the attention of the authorities sooner. In fact, it has. That corvette we tangled with wasn’t in system to intercept smugglers. They were looking for the pirates. Singh wants the pirates taken out. She offers us a vehicle, weapons and a little backup (in the shape of Fowler). Rye is dubious… There are 20 pirates and while Miller, Padilla and Monroe can handle themselves in a fight, Rye is a mechanic and Addie is just a kid. It’s about now that Rye thinks Miller is losing it. She probably thinking those pirates have found the Montero and is willing to take any risk to get it back. Oh, there’s another snag… Remember that wildly eccentric orbit of Gamma Geminorum’s secondary? Yeah, it’ll be at perihelion in a little while and nothing can be out on the surface when that happens or it’ll get fried to a crisp.

While we’re absorbing all of this, suddenly the miners start mobilizing. Singh tells us she has to go and Fowler will meet us with a vehicle and gear near the main entrance. We make our way towards it, but we get separated during the trip. Miller is on her own when two asshats, high on pilgrim plant, decide to attempt to rape her. About 30 seconds later, their brains are splattered all over the tunnel walls (literally – 2 head crits against these douchebags). We collect Miller and meet up with Fowler who doesn’t seem all that apologetic about the incident. We push him for info on why everyone is scrambling about the base and he tells us they got a message from Dis Pater that they were under attack. Addie patches into the comm system and we hear calls for help, gunfire and finally the line goes dead. Awesome, now instead of a bunch of pirates, we’ve got a band of pissed-off Marines to deal with. We really need those parts though, so we decide it is worth our while to go out there and at least have a look around. Maybe we can steal what we need if the Marines aren’t watching too carefully…

Travel to that pirate base is 500km over a bladed “road”. It’s dark (as if you’d ever set this game in a well-lit environment) and a big storm is brewing. Fowler climbs in the back of the rig and promptly falls asleep. Monroe takes the wheel and heads out. We’ve all accumulated a lot of stress and Miller tries to talk us off the ledge to varying degrees of success. Of course there’s no smooth traveling. First we run across this horde of eerie-looking plants slowly rolling across the road. Damn things are everywhere. Monroe wants to barrel on through, but Miller tells him to wait. We finally shake Fowler awake and he tells us not to drive over them. There are filled with acid and will blow out the tires. They finally thin out enough that we can continue the journey and then the storm hits. It is raining buckets (cue Eddie Rabbitt’s “I Love a Rainy Night”), visibility is next to zero and we need to slow way down. Next comes the hail. Big hail. Like softballs. WHAM! We’re hit and warning lights on the dashboard go off. We’re leaking atmosphere! Everybody masks up and Rye climbs out to fix the leak. She totally loses it due to stress and winds up curled up in a fetal position in the truck. At least she patched the leak. We find a sheltered spot to hole up and wait out the storm. As it clears, we spot a UD-4 Cheyenne dropship. We lay low and wait until it passes. Addie is pretty sure that the interference in the atmosphere is scrambling their sensors or they would have caught us by now. We really don’t have any other course of action, so Monroe puts the pedal to the metal once they are out of sight.

Addie picks up a tight beam transmission that should be aimed at the colony. It’s the pirates. Danko Morrison is trying to find out what the hell happened at Dis Pater. We ask Fowler* if he can speak for the colony, but he says “Fuck that guy, I hate him.” So we hail the pirates and let Morrison know the score. “Dude, your base was likely hit by the Marines. We need parts for our ship. Can we do a deal here?” Morrison is not in a great position to help out. His ship tangled with that Corvette and is pretty shot to shit. He’s sure he hit them hard too, but he has no sensors and can’t land until he repairs. He’s playing hide and seek with the Corvette. The only “good news” he has is that the Corvette only holds one dropship – so that’s what? Only a dozen Marines to deal with??? Anyhow, we cut a deal. We’ll scout Dis Pater, look for and/or collect any survivors and be his eyes on the ground. In return, he’ll help us get our boat back into the black.

We keep trucking; like the do-dah man. Monroe comes to a stream that is swollen thanks to the recent deluge. Fowler says we can ford it and we just barely make it across. We’re nearly a craggy range of hills and judge that Dis Pater is just up ahead, when that Marine dropship comes over the rise.

It’s getting late, so we call the game there. I spend the next 5 minutes regaling the group with the various types of rockets available to the UD-4 dropship from my copy of the Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual. Again, a really fun game and Icculus is using the Stress mechanic to ramp up the tension. We’ve not encountered anything horrifying**, but my character is already up to 5 stress from the journey. Hastur knows how Rye is going to hold it together in Act 3…

*It’s going to be satisfying when that dickhead catches a bullet – hopefully my character will outlast him.

**That’s not true… The attack on Miller was terrible, but only she had to deal with that.

Alien RPG: Liars & Shadows, Act 1

ACT I, SC. I

FADE IN:

A pair of women’s muscular, barefoot legs striding up a tropical beach. We see VANESSA MILLER (48) pants rolled up, a sweat-stained tank top, a shirt slung over her shoulder approaching a wood shack on stilts on the beach. A fishing boat tied up to the pier is painted with the name ‘WRY BRED’. She slips on her shoes and goes inside.

— WOOD SHACK — INT.

KAYLA RYE (25) lounges in a rocker behind a counter, a desk fan blowing her dark bangs poking out under her W-Y ball cap. An empty whiskey bottle sits on the counter. She sits forward in her chair.

RYE: The fuck you doing here?

MILLER (looking lazily around the shack): I found her. I need you. You in?

RYE: Fuck no. (slurring) ..the fuck outta here ‘fore I call the policia…

MILLER (picking up empty bottle): C’mon Rye, you’ll be dead before you’re thirty here.

RYE: No! Fuck outta here Cap’n! I don’t wanta go back there. It’s just darkness and blood and… (chokes back a sob)

MILLER: On your feet, crewman! Shift starts now! I need you! And you need to get back out there. You know I’m right. So c’mon girl, we got work to do.

RYE: Stands unsteadily, looks green and pukes on MILLER’S shoes

RYE: Sorry cap’n. I’ll buy you some new ones.

MILLER (unfazed): If we get to her, before anyone else does, you can buy me some real fancy ones, buy yourself anything you want.

RYE: yeah unless…(chokes)…you know, there’s still…something out there.

MILLER (frowning): Only one way to find out, girl. Let’s pack you a bag and get goin’. First things first, we gotta round up a crew.

RYE: The fuck you gonna get for this run? They’d have to be crazy or fuckin’ desperate… or both.

MILLER: I got some leads.

We played the Chariot of the Gods scenario months ago and had a blast. Literally – one of the spaceships blew up at the end of it! Two crewmembers of the Montero made it out alive, but we left our vessel in the depths of interstellar space. When Icculus sent out the “after action” report, I suggested we should put together an expedition to try and recover the Montero. I’m sure that Miller would have done so. Not one to disappoint, Icculus wrote up an adventure to do just that. We started it last week when our Numenera GM needed a break.

Cast of Characters

Vanessa Miller: Captain of the ill-fated Montero. Cashiered as a captain after losing the Montero. For the past two years she’s been smuggling for Brazilian crime lord Ruth Santos. All the while, Miller has been looking for the Montero.

Kayla Rye: Mechanic on the Montero and one of the two survivors of the original crew. Rye hit rock bottom. She’s suffered greatly and turned to alcohol to help her forget the horrible things she saw and did during the previous adventure. When Miller discovered the Montero, she recruited Rye and got her sobered up. Rye’s still scared as hell about going back “out in the black”, but feels like she owes Miller one for actually giving a shit.

Kiefer Monroe: Hot shot pilot who’s been working as a smuggler for Ruth Santos for some time. Monroe is too much of a risk taker to be hired by a legitimate outfit. He’s a real cowboy. He even wears a Stetson and packs a revolver.

“Diya” Padilla: Former street punk from Buenos Aires, Padilla was “rescued” from the street by Ruth Santos. He represents her interests and conducts most of the negotiations for his boss.

Addie: We don’t know much about her. She stowed away on our ship with a backpack full of canned food. She’s told us she ran away from her pimp on the Titan colony. She’s a wiz with electronics.

Act 1

The Montero is not where we left her. The ship is now in the Gamma Geminorum system – parsecs away from the last adventure. Someone moved her and god only knows how Miller figured out her new coordinates. Miller wants that ship. Badly. If the cargo is still intact, she’s set for life. Her problem has been getting to the system to recover her ship.

By hook or by crook, Miller has finally landed a smuggling run to Gamma Geminorum. The system is 11.9 parsecs from Earth and well outside what would be considered the frontier of known space. There is a colony of wildcat miners on Alhena, a moon orbiting a Neptune-sized ice giant in the system. Needless to say, this colony is highly illegal. It is outside any government or major corporate control. They are extracting heavy metals from the moon and deal with Santos for food and supplies.

Our ship is named The Demeter. She’s a Corvus CM-90 salvage ship that has been converted into an armed smuggler. The vessel has got a pretty good engine and sports some sensor drones, a light rail cannon and a particle accelerator.

We started the adventure picking up supplies and cargo on Titan. We had a long burn to get out of the gravity well before we could engage the hyper drive, so we did a little research on the colony and caught up on some rack time. Rye was apparently passed out in her bunk when the rest of the crew heard some noise coming from the air ducts. The gang grabbed weapons and went to check it out. Miller ordered Padilla into the vent to “check it out”. One gunshot later, they find a stowaway aboard the ship. She’s a teenage girl and she immediately proves her worth by bypassing the hole Padilla had blasted in one of the electrical conduits.

We decide to hit the cargo deck and figure out exactly what we are carrying. There’s plenty of food, alcohol and porn for the colony. There’s also enough weaponry to arm a small mercenary company. We’re not just talking pulse rifles and grenades. Plenty of RPGs and missiles as well… There’s got to be something going on at Alhena to warrant all this firepower. Rye speculates that one of the big corps has found out what the wildcatters are up to and want a piece of the action.

There’s not much more to do – Miller isn’t going to give up this chance to get back the Montero and none of us want to fuck with Santos. We prep the ship for hyperspace, transponder and engines off – we’ll come into the system dark and see what awaits us.

Emerging from hyperspace in the Gamma Geminorum system, we soon encounter a USCMC Corvette. We’re ordered to stand down and prepare to be boarded. Fuck that! We’d be imprisoned for life with what we’re carrying. We fire up the engines and make a run for it. A tense chase ensues. Addie is ace on ComTech* – breaking every sensor lock the corvette gets on us and scoring a lock of her own. Padilla cuts loose with the particle beam and fries some of the corvette’s systems, but the Marines are still spoiling for a fight. Monroe proves his mettle as a pilot** outmaneuvering and finally losing the corvette.

Roaring up on the moon, we send a tight beam communication to the colonists and get coordinates to the LZ. We enter Alhena’s atmosphere way too fast. Claxons are sounding. Engines 3 and 4 flame out. Rye’s got a fire in the engine room and is on the edge of losing her shit*** when she finally gets it under control.

We finally touchdown on a hidden landing pad and the colonists drape our ship with camouflage netting. The ship is grounded. Key components are burned out and we don’t have any replacement parts. Icculus tells us landing usually takes a full shift and we did it in 30 minutes. Any landing you can walk away from is a good one, but our asses are firmly planted on this rock unless we can scrounge or machine some parts to repair our boat. The characters gear up and get ready to go outside when we call it a night.

I got to say, Alien is a ton of fun. I’m not a big fan of the system – it is way too swingy – but I also don’t know of any way to emulate the genre as well as it does. The stress mechanic is really awesome. It really does send a shiver down your spine when those damn facehuggers turn up on the dice…

*I don’t think Addie’s player rolled fewer than 3 successes when rolling this skill. Picture a scrawny teenage girl is outwitting the Marine sensor operator. I’m willing to bet she’s actually synthetic…

**Monroe’s player was rolling multiple successes on each pilot roll. Icculus couldn’t match it.

***I rolled 7 skill dice plus a stress die for heavy machinery to put out the fire – no successes. I push and end up with no successes and 2 facehuggers! Luckily, I held it together on the panic roll and used a story point to save the ship from burning up on reentry.

A Little Self-Actualization (or Some Shit Like That) from Maga

This here is Maga talkin again. I’m self-actualizin’ with Ildrak. On account of you was pretty zoned out the last couppla hours. Like I saw you walkin’ around, but nobody was behind the rudder, if you catch my drift. Like you was here in the room, but only your body, like. So Ildrak, here’s what happened whilst you was bein’ carried around by the tides. 

First thing, we was lookin’ around that nice office room and we done found a door that was like a secret and it lead to a vault room that had five chests or boxes or something, and each was real hard to open. But we got ‘em all open pretty quick. And they all had differnt weapons from some kinda weird ass-faced lookin’ race of people called the Yautja. Their weapons were pretty cool and they even had a cannon you wear on your shoulder and like a spear that shrinks down and fits in your backpack and some kinda thing that makes you invisible, and other stuff I forgot. And then we looked in a hallway that had a bunch of doors like cells, and each cell had a robot that was sleepin’ in it. The robot lady woke ‘em up and put ‘em straight to work like they was sposed to be. At the end of the hall was a room that had a couple of them ass-faced Yautjas asleep or dead in some liquid tanks. And everyone really wanted to turn a red valve open, but I told ‘em not to. Then, one of them cell rooms had like a tunnel from some of them ice cold critters and so Dudley went to fight ‘em and I shot a couple with my crossbow and Dudley got real cold. And the tunnel from whence the critters came was a big ole infested dark hole. And we had a good laugh ‘bout that. So we crawled into the hole and it leaded to another secret tunnel that went into a liberry. It was a liberry for studyin’ the Yautja and all the stuff and critters in the world they live on. And then that went into a room filled with a big machine with a buncha balls on sticks, kinda like a clock, but like with a buncha ball on sticks. And then I found a secret ‘partment in the machine with like a map of how to make that machine find another even differnt world called Yarri or some shit like that. And then there was another door that was hidden and it went into a big room filled with like a tunnel or hole right into thin air that was supposta open right to the Yautja planet, which I guess I forgot the name of. I kept hearin’ them say Laurel but everyone else said it really started with a Y.

Then we decided to wait until you came to your senses and stopped sleepwalkin’ around, and hopefully Jemmy will show up from wherever he bin and strap that shoulder cannon on and help us blast some shit up. Think we’re maybe plannin’ to jump into that tunnel in the air and checkin out the Yautja planet, or maybe going to the last lab place so the robot lady kin wake up more sleepin’ robots.

Review: Lex Occultum

TL/DR: Great art and atmosphere – dodgy system

I debated even doing a review for this game… It’s been out for three years and there are much better reviews out there than this goblin’s poor scratchings. Like other reviewers, I’ll say the game looks incredible, but the system lets it down.

The core rules are split into two books: Alter Ego is the “player’s manual” and has all the rules for creating player characters. Lex Libris is the “game master’s manual” and contains the game system, background, monsters and spells. Both books are gorgeous.

Combat is over-engineered… Each combatant has a number of “action points” based on their combat skill. They use these points to move, draw weapons, attack, defend and so forth. I can recognize what the authors are going for – an action economy where skilled characters can dominate the battle. It looks like it will fall flat. It will take dozens of adventures for characters to become skilled enough to do anything than a simple “to hit” roll. If I did my math right, I think the maximum skill level can reach 25. Die rolls are based on 1d20, roll below the target number. So a master swordsman can take 2 attacks per round – one at 13 “to hit” and another at 12. Pretty meh for someone of D’Artagnan’s level… Oh, and if you don’t put any skill points into the fighting skill you can’t do anything during combat. Not even move (if I read the rules correctly).

There is a limited chapter on monsters. Lycanthropes, phantoms, wraiths (a spirit that possesses a dead body), and vampires are described. There are several options for each creature to help keep them varied. I was pretty disappointed with this. I pictured monster hunting to be a big part of this game and would have liked some more creatures to challenge the players. RiotMinds has released a “monster manual” for the game however.

The Secret Arts include spells, religious ceremonies and scientific inventions. While very evocative, they all look incredibly difficult to pull off. There are skill penalties to perform any secret art, the character typically needs to know a host of different skills and obtain some pretty wild material components to actually utilize them as well. My favorite has got to be the tears from an innocent man who was killed for a crime he didn’t commit. I bet these are a lot more common than you might think… Most of the powers don’t seem to give a lot of “bang for the buck” either. For example, there’s a spell to call a bolt of lightning from the heavens. It is -9 to the caster’s skill and grants them the ability to cast 3 bolts per week that do about the same damage as a musket.

Enough of the complaints! Let’s talk about where this game shines: the world. Lex Libris has a really nice overview of 18th Century Europe. The major powers and exciting adventuring locations. There are extensive write-ups on the secret societies of the age (both real and imagined). The art is fantastic. The whole setting is just packed with ideas for adventuring.

So, what does this goblin think? Overall, I’d say buy it. The background and the art are just that good. I’ve spent a lot of time railing about the rules, but they actually don’t take up that much space in the books. The basics of the system are solid and if you like tinkering with rules, you could probably get a playable game. If you ditch the game system entirely and use something like Renaissance or Ghastly Affair you’ll be a lot happier. This game compliments Ghastly Affair perfectly and would add a lot of ideas, adventure seeds and background for any presenter. I picked up my copies at Noble Knight Games.