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.
I’m looking forward to the new version of Numenera. While I’m not obsessively following the developments of the game, I do read the news at the MCG website about once a week. I like the way the new version is shaping up.
One thing that hasn’t changed (as far as I can tell) is Effort. I’ve never cared for the implementation of Effort. The cost of three for the first level and two for each subsequent level isn’t elegant. Players rarely used it at first tier. You’ll only have an edge of one at that tier, so getting that +3 bonus for the cost of two stat points is pretty pricey. You also need to declare it before you use it so when you blow your die roll, you are doubly disappointed.
When I ran The Strange, I house ruled that Effort cost a flat 2 per level. The players tended to use it a lot more at first tier. By the time they hit second tier, and raised Edge, they could perform one kind of action with a +3 bonus “for free”. I always wondered if this rule would encourage players to “branch out” and take Edge for one of their other stats. We stopped the game around tier 3 so I guess I’ll never know.
I’ve been thinking about the “I add two levels of Effort and roll a 2” problem. What if Effort was retroactive? You declare that you use it after the dice are rolled. This can take a narrow miss and turn it into a success. You can also make sure you punch through the 6 armor points on that raging automaton you just shot and do some real damage to it.
I may have to dust off the old The Strange game and give this a go.
Ah Crackstarter – what would I do without you? Just when I think I can keep some extra cash in my wallet you pull me back in. Both of these look great and I’m most likely going to pull the trigger on them, I just don’t know at what level…
First off: Vurt by Ravendesk Games. This is based off the writings of Jeff Noon. The artwork looks phenomenal. The premise looks like it has a lot of similarities with The Strange from MCG. The existing tiers are a little confusing if you are hoping to get print and stretch goals. The guys at Ravendesk mentioned clarifying or adding some new levels, so I am holding off for now.
Next we have Numenera: Into the Ninth World. Monte and the gang are taking Numenera into outer space. This looks very promising. I’d been toying with the idea of running a space game using the Cypher System Rulebook, so it’s great to have MCG do all the heavy lifting for me! My only problem is what tier do I pledge at? I’d love to get the maps they are offering, but since I pledged super-fan on the box set I’m already getting 2 of he books and the artifact deck. MCG is offering super-fans a $100 store credit, but I’ve got so much of his stuff already I can’t figure out what to buy with the $20 I already have… Too bad they don’t have a better option for super-fans, but I’d imagine it’d be a logistical nightmare.