Tagged: Reviews

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 RPG.net. 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.

Review: Lemurian Chronicles

TL/DR: Buy it now, before the machinations of the Red Druids sink fair Lemuria beneath the waves!

I am a big fan of Barbarians of Lemuria. I backed the kickstarter for the Mythic edition and have run nearly every published adventure for my gaming group. BoL is a great game to break out when another GM needs a break and you don’t feel like playing a board game. I only wish it had more adventures… Well, I guess my prayers to Morgazzon have finally been answered by the good folks at Ludospherik!

The book begins with some interesting background information on the world of Lemuria. Five pages are devoted to the discussion of the calendar of Sartarla, the holidays and a few adventure seeds. It’s little tidbits of information like this that can really make a game come to life.

The next sixteen pages are devoted to the Khanate, that stretch of plains lying to the east of Valgard. Rules are provided for players that wish to create heroes from this region. The cities, wonders and creatures that inhabit the lands are sketched out as well. The chapter ends with more adventure seeds.

Finally, we get five fully detailed adventures (about 100 pages of material) that will test the mettle of the stoutest hero. The adventures take the characters all over Lemurian, and even beyond!

I think “Bored to Death” may be the hardest one to run. It requires the GM to be “on it” in order to keep the action moving along, but not let the characters figure out who is responsible too soon. I really think a timeline of events would help me run this adventure more effectively.

“The Three Chests” is going to make a great “one-shot” adventure. The players portray Kalukan slave-warriors of the Witch Queen. It’s an interesting adventure with a cool twist. Pre-generated characters are provided for the players, and I would probably stick with them for the adventure. I do have a Kalukan player in my current game and this might be an interesting adventure to have him go on though…

I purchased the standard, hard cover book. The binding looks pretty sturdy. The interior artwork is great. I didn’t notice a lot of typos. This is a solid translation from French by someone who clearly knows the game system. Kudos to Jeffrey Probst to his work on this book!

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I highly recommend this book. Lemurian Chronicles is available from DriveThruRPG.com

Deepest, Darkest Eden

TL/DR: It’s really good!

I, Filbanto, shall type with my left hand…

I love the Hyperborean cycle tales. Set in the dim reaches of the past, in a land that faces destruction by an advancing sheet of glacial ice – I guess it ticks all the boxes of what interested me in college (I dual majored in Archaelogy and Geology).

Deepest Darkest Eden is a collection of short stories and poems set in the proto-continent envisioned by Clark Ashton Smith. As with most anthologies there are some tales that really struck a chord with me and others that (pardon the pun) left me cold.

My favorite tale was “Daughter of the Elk Goddess” by John R. Fultz. This was a great adventure that really channelled the ‘sword and sorcery’ tales of the old pulps. Atanequ could certainly hold his own against Kull or Elak if push came to shove. I shan’t spoil the ending of the tale, but anyone who appreciates Smith’s work will certainly chuckle at it.

“To Walk Night…Alone…” by Joseph S. Pulver Jr. was, quite frankly, a slog to get through. Being the second story in the anthology, I started to despair that I’d bought a real stinker. I think I know what the author was trying to accomplish with this style of writing, but it just didn’t work for me.

Overall, I’d recommend the anthology for lovers of Smith’s works. Deepest Darkest Eden is available at Amazon.com.

Zothique via Ran Cartwright

TL/DR: They’re ok.

Every now and again I think about how cool it’d be to run a game set in Zothique. I’ll dig out my Clark Ashton Smith books and read through the stories looking for inspiration. When the bug hit me this time, I figured “surely somebody has written up a story since the Toad God took old C.A. Smith to his bosom”. I stumbled across a novel and two collections of short stories written by Ran Cartwright: The DarkeningSorceries Gnydron, and Sorceries Zothique. Technically, the first two, being set in Gnydron, predate Zothique, but what’s 850,000 years when we’re peering a billion years into our future.

I didn’t go into these books with high expectations. Smith had a way with words that few authors can capture. Cartwright has some interesting stories in these collections, but none of them capture the black humor you get in a C.A. Smith story. In fact – and I guess I should insert a spoiler alert here – most of the stories just end in a bloody mess. I almost felt like the author couldn’t figure out a way to end the tale, so he just killed off all his characters to wrap things up.

Out of the three books, I think The Darkening was the best. The collections of short stories can be mined for adventure ideas for games like Barbarians of Lemuria or Conan, but beware of a TPK.

As for gaming in Zothique, G.R. Hager has written up guidelines for D20. I’d likely use Barbarians of Lemuria.

Review: A Ghastly Potpourri

TL/DR: Buy it.

A Ghastly Potpourri is a supplement for the A Ghastly Affair role-playing game. Written by Daniel James Hanley, it contains a collection of material that will be useful for any game set in the late 18th century. It also holds a short story by William Rutter, author of Hunter’s Song. I picked up the printed version, a 6″ by 9″ perfect-bound book.

Please bear with me, because I’m going to veer off course and talk about the title for a minute. It puzzled me. A “potpourri” is a mix of herbs and flower petals. Was it a veiled reference to personal hygiene of the 18th century? This book offers a mix of random material that all blended nicely together. Was this the reason for the title? I hopped out to Wikipedia and took a look at the definition and I saw this gem: “[…] the word pourri means rotten”. Hmmm… So like the stories told in the world of A Ghastly Affair. Dig below the surface and you will find the rot. Maybe that’s closer to the mark?

The contents of the book are certainly not rotten! Much of the material in this collection has appeared on the author’s excellent blog The Engine of Oracles. I haven’t done a side by side comparison of the content, but if you’re a cheapskate, you can probably get all the gaming material for free. I love having it all edited and collected in one place. You’ll also miss out on the short story if you pass this by!

The book starts with several character options. The chapter begins with a short section on “Bildungsroman” character creation. It’s an interesting concept, but there are no real “rules” for how to do this. An example of play would help convey this concept a little better. Next, there are suggestions on how to tweak character classes to better suit the player’s concept. It also has extensive entries for historical, literary, and movie/television inspirations for each class. Scattered throughout the chapter are interesting “sidebars” related to the various professions. As a former archaeologist, I enjoyed the “Mummy Manufacturing” one a lot.

The second chapter is all about magic. The new spells look very interesting. I’m a big fan of how the author has handled OSR magic in his game. He also discusses a couple new magic items. The chapter left me wanting more. I hope will see a Ghastly Grimoire in the future!

Chapters three and four are the monsters. There are a variety of very interesting creatures you can use to bedevil your players. I really enjoyed the “Incarnations”. You could create an intriguing, opium-laced scenario around Kubla Khan. My favorite is Saint “Punch you in the Face” Nicholas.

Chapter five collects various random tables that have appeared on The Engine of Oracles blog. These are really designed for “sandbox” adventuring or to inspire a scenario when your imagination is flagging. “Twenty Dubious Statements by Questionable Occultists” is the hands-down winner here.

The book concludes with a short story by William Rutter. Our heroine, Lila Davenport from Hunter’s Song, is taking the waters at Cheltenham spa when murder most foul ensues. Is it a jealous wife, or is there something more sinister at hand? I’m very pleased to read more about Miss Davenport’s adventures and do hope her chronicler will oblige is with more of her exploits in the future.

I highly recommend this one!

A Ghastly Potpourri is available in print and PDF at RPGNow.

Review: The Experiments

TL/DR: meh

“The Experiments” is a “one-shot” scenario for Traveller by Felbrigg Herriot. I stumbled across it on Lulu.com while looking for adventures that might go well with Zozer Games “Hostile“. It was described as a horror-survival scenario, so I figured it would fit the bill. My copy is a 24-page saddle-stapled book (6.5″ by 8.5”) that reminded me of the old “LBB” version of Traveller.

The premise of the scenario is the player characters have volunteered to help colonize a planet, but instead wake up in an underground facility that is rapidly flooding and crawling with monsters. It’s a cool idea, but as presented the adventure looks like a “reverse dungeon crawl”. The characters start at the bottom level of an underground facility and must fight their way to the top.

Now, I like a good dungeon crawl as well as the next goblin, but “The Experiments” doesn’t deliver one. The facility is boring – it’s basically a box full of rooms. It’s flooding, but I couldn’t find any rules or suggestions for how fast the water rises. There’s nothing preventing the characters from checking out all the rooms. There are no cool gadgets or anything that makes me think this is a high-tech complex. There is nothing gory or scary at all.

What this adventure really needs is for the author sit down and watch “The Poseidon Adventure” and then turn all the dials up to eleven. Underground complex? Screw that, this is an ocean floor facility. Is it flooding? Hell, yeah. There are also fires burning out of control, visibility is only a few meters, and the whole structure is groaning audibly under the weight of a mile of water pressing down on it. Are there monsters? Oh yes! Nasty SOBs that don’t seem to have any trouble ambushing you. There are no guns down here, you need to improvise weapons. You need to swim through a flooded chamber full of xeno-piranhas to get to the escape pods. Oh, fuck! There are no escape pods, the rat bastards who brought you down here took them all. How the heck do you get to the surface??? Did the AI just announce that the reactor is melting down?

It’s hard to pull off a survival adventure. I’ve never done it successfully myself. There’s a lot of pacing involved. As soon as the players are about to solve one problem, they should be confronted with something worse. If your group is swearing at you and threatening to play a board game next week, you are probably do it right. I do have some ideas for how I’d change this one. I may need to write this up when we play Hostile.

The Experiments is available at Lulu.com.

Review: Dust, Fog & Glowing Embers

TL/DR: Looks fascinating, but I can’t grok it.

“Dust, Fog & Glowing Embers” is a roleplaying game written by Slade Stolar and published by Scablands Press. The game was kickstarted about a year ago. I didn’t participate in the Kickstarter, but it was one of those games that I found hard to resist. The art really drew me in. The style said: “This is some pretty screwed up shit, you’ll want to give it a read.” When it became available on RPGNow, I picked up the softcover B&W version.

The basic game system is pretty easy to grasp. When a player wants to perform a task, he rolls two different colored D6. The light-colored die is the difficulty of the task. The dark-colored die is how well the character performed the task. There are modifiers thrown in as well.

Ok, now we get to the confusing part… Depending on which die comes out on top, the GM or the player gets to add a “detail” to the scene. There are hard details, soft details, and scene details. The number and type you get to add depends upon the difference between the die results. There’s a little table you’ll need to refer to in order to figure this out (I’m too old to memorize stuff like this). So what are the details? There are examples, they provide bonuses or penalties, but I just can’t wrap my head around it… My feeling is this is a game that you need to sit down and play with someone who is already familiar with the rules in order to really understand it. Alternately, I’m just reading way too much into it… As a GM, I make stuff like this up on the fly when characters fail their rolls. Maybe it is the codification of the success or failure into these various “levels” that I can’t grok?

The character creation rules are dead simple. You pick an archetype and that determines your attributes. The attributes are Tough (strength), Precise (dexterity) and Clever (intelligence). Characters are assumed to come from the bottom rung of society. The only way to advance is to find a rich and powerful patron who employs you to do his dirty work, so once the players have created their characters, they work out the manner of patron they serve. There is a lot of player agency here. You’ll need a creative bunch to get this to work.

Next, come rules for alchemy or the “Spagyric Arts“. Your patron will provide your character with various concoctions that allow them to defy the laws of physics. These potions really “buff” your character and it is assumed that you can squirrel away a few to use when pursuing your own goals. There is also a chapter on the humors and how they relate to your character. I’m a total sucker for any game that includes humorism and enjoyed seeing how this quackery is incorporated into the rules.

After this, are chapters on the game world (it strikes me as a late Georgian or early Victorian era) and the city of Stome where adventures will take place. The districts of Stome are sketched out and there are random encounter tables for each. A chapter on the foes your characters may run into follows. There are some very cool takes on traditional monsters, like the Vampire, and how they fit into this world.

Next, we have what I’ll call “chapters on random stuff” – a couple noble houses are described, Systems of Thought (which appear to be a real “loosey goosey” magic system) and an entirely new Spagyric Art.  I think that these were authored by people who kickstarted the game. They are not incorporated into the main rules and feel more like a bunch of notes that were “tacked on”.

The game ends with a chapter on GM guidance and a scripted example of play. This helps you understand a bit more on how to use the various “details”, but it didn’t bring me full enlightenment on how it all works. I think a scene with some combat would have helped me a lot.

Honestly, “Dust, Fog & Glowing Embers” doesn’t feel like a polished roleplaying game, as much as the author’s notes or rough draft. Those “random stuff” chapters should either be incorporated into the game as a whole or excised completely. I’d like more discussion on how to use the system – what the “details” are, what is hard versus soft versus scene (and why do we even need “scene” details?). What the heck are “scars”? Finally, I would have loved to have a sample adventure. Even if I don’t use it “as is”, it’d sure help me figure out what kinds of things characters should be doing in this world.

Overall, I’m glad I picked it up. It exudes atmosphere and I will mine it for ideas for other games. I don’t understand the system well enough to run it and I don’t think it’d go over well with my game group.

“Dust, Fog & Glowing Embers” is available at RPGNow.