Monday, December 30, 2013

Lords of Gossamer and Shadow

I played the Amber diceless RPG as a student and I was fond of the system and it was definitely ahead of its time. Lords of Gossamer and Shadow is a revival of the system shorn of the Amber setting and with a new background that is meant to be a better playground for demi-gods of the system.

It is a good looking book and I went for an attractive print-on-demand hardback version. The revamped setting with its interpretation of order and chaos and many worlds connected by an infinite staircase and divided by Shadow feels are more appropriate to cosmic dimension-hopping and the emphasis on magic is baked deeper into the setting now.

However a lot of the issues with the previous game are still present. The attribute auction is fun but makes less sense now that characters are not necessarily a generation of celestial lords and means that you essentially need the same group of players for all the sessions for it to be much fun. Houses of the Blooded dealt with the circle of equals better mechanically.

The magic and world-hopping seems to make more sense and to be introduced better as fundamental to the game. The conflicts between the cosmic forces are also better integrated into the character's background.

I'm still fond of the game and its nice to see a modern edition of the system. However I would have preferred to see a more radical attempt to update the system.

Monday, December 23, 2013


My Kickstarter edition of Becoming has arrived and it's very exciting. It's a game for one protagonist and the forces that are arranged against them with a fixed story structure and a victory token system to determine which of the forces have dominated the outcome.

The system seems to be an attrition against the hero with only a few ways for the hero to recover. It's not really the hero's journey game I thought it was going to be but the Blair Witch influenced scenario looks pretty interesting.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Valiant Girls & NanoWorld

You wait for one A7 game and then you get deluged by them. Following on from Vast and Starlit are Meg Baker's Valiant Girls and Marshall Miller's Nanoworld.

Valiant Girls has the players taking on the role of Ethopian girls and the perils they overcome. As a game that is pro-people and anti-game nerd the setting feels more intimidating to play for me than the typical genre games since making stuff up about Ethopian girls feels a lot harder and more culturally loaded than pretending to be an orc or a robot.

NanoWorld, by comparison, is safer ground with the players taken on the roles of clones who are just about to have their dystopian world shaken by unusual events.

It is an Apocalypse World hack and is unusual in that each player's character is identical and when one player discovers a limitation or ability to the clone line all the characters gain the same trait.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Murderous Ghosts

I finally got round to reading my physical copy of Murderous Ghosts, the game of an urban explorer discovering more than they can handle in an abandoned factory.

The game comes in a DVD case, echoing The Ring movies with its haunted video tape. Inside are two books and a CD with the electronic files.

A game for two people each player takes a book which consist of numbered entries. Play then revolves around each player reading an entry, playing out the requirements of the entry and then sending the other player to a new entry.

It's a neat way of heavily codifying the gameplay and structure but one that makes for poor reading and a need to actually play the game.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Vast and Starlit

Vast and Starlit is a nano-game from Epidiah Ravachol and comes on four small full-colour cards that can be folded in half to create the game and its three supplements.

The base game is essentially a riff on Blake's 7. The players take the roles of prison escapees and mysterious rogue ship that allows the misfits to run and hide from those who pursue them.

Each player takes a turn to frame a scene and select who is in focus on that scene. Conflict resolution is really simple and involves either selecting a player to tell you the consequences of the action or alternatively having all the other players collaborate on the consequences.

There is a clever provocative questions system for creating alien encounters and the three supplements have detailed sub-systems for love and conflict, travel and technology. These use a twist on the core system of player-driven consequences, introducing tracks and a system of "achieve this before this to succeed".

The only thing that seems mysterious at this point is to decide how to stop playing. I thought there would be some defined goal or sense of success or failure.

I'm really looking forward to giving this one a go and seeing how it plays out in practice.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gygax magazine #1

Gygax magazine is a new publication that deliberately harks back to the classic Dragon look and feel. It has a painted vignette as the cover with minimal cover text. The interior doesn't feel as lush with more of a print on demand feel than a high quality magazine finish.

The articles are eclectic mix of stuff that feels like it really wants to be OSR and nostalgia but includes some modern stuff in recognition that you can't get a broad gaming audience by being niche. Some of the tropes of gaming magazines past are present and correct in the form of an "ecology" article.

There is a market for a good quality gaming magazine and there is nostalgia for both Dragon and pre-100 White Dwarf but as magazines like GM showed, making it work in a diverse market is tremendously hard. Gygax does have what it takes at the moment but it will be interesting to see if it has enough to build on and find a sustainable audience.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pathfinder 68: The Shackled Hut

Another good entry in the Reign of Winter series. The Shackled Hut has lots of interesting intrigue and stealth elements initially, introducing some of those who resist the rule of the Winter Witches and focussing on avoiding trouble and acquiring forged papers.

The second half kicks off with a battle in a clock tower with a white dragon which is the kind of epic swords and sorcery I love. And then its back to the slightly ho-hum Baba Yaga storyline with the players acquiring the plane-travelling hut.

Fey continue to be used in an engaging and pervasive way this issue. You get a real sense of a world with two very different groups living in parallel and impacting on one another in a big way.

The incidental NPCs are also excellent. Well-drawn and with engaging back stories. You kind of what to carry them all into future adventures.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Kuro is an English translation of a French game set in a future Japan. All suitably cosmopolitan. You can almost tell this is a French game as you have involved character creation with secondary attributes and skill trees with pre-requisites.

However to the credit of the French I have often found that while they require a lot of effort up front the character sheets are often all you need to play the game compared to the American and British tendency to require you to dive back into the main book and look up the sub-systems for whatever you are trying to do at a given moment.

From appearances Kuro would seem to be Akira crossed with Ringu. A sci-fi future of biker gangs and cybernetics shadowed with supernatural horrors. Its biggest problem though is that it badly fails the Crane-Sorenson questions.

What is Kuro about really? It says that it is about ordinary people in the near future who are dragged into supernatural situations that question their perceptions of reality. But how is that supported in a system that for the most part is a conventional cyberpunk game with the emphasis on guns and tech?

The sample scenario in the book is no help, as despite having some creepy moments the PCs are mostly passive and railroaded through a violent series of events that seem to make impossible for the characters to return to a normal life without yet more GM fiat and railroading.

I love the idea but I'm not sure this is the system to do it is justice and I'm not sure the game designers really knew what they wanted to achieve either.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pathfinder 67: The Snows of Summer

This is the first entry in the new adventure path feature winter-themed scenarios and Baba Yaga. I like the first and am indifferent about the second.

This adventure looks at first blush like a winner though. It's split into two parts (reflecting the arbitrary nature of the six-issue format). The first is an expedition to rescue a missing noblewoman and discover why winter seems to have come to a near-by forest. The task is hindered by cold-touched fey and a group of bandits who have ambushed the noble's caravan.

At the heart of the mysterious winter the group discover a portal to another part of the world, the perpetual winter of the land of Irrissen. Travelling through leads to the second part of the adventure, with the PCs trying to defeat one of the winter witches.

Things that look really promising: the winter fey are very engaging as antagonists and the bandit leader seems to have been given a twist to keep it a step away from total cliche. The second half seems downright creepy with a lost children motif, a mirrors theme, creepy dolls and a mysterious tower.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pathfinder 66: The dead city of Xin

Ho hum, here we come to the end of another Pathfinder Adventure Path and we have the usual difficulty of finding a good crescendo to the campaign, something that is inherently difficult unless you've kept the game on rails because by this point there is a massive possibility space been created.

The goal of this scenario is quite admirably it basically wants to create a valid epilogue to a Rod of the Seven Parts quest. What happens when the characters reassemble the artefact?

Well in this case it's an ill-omened artefact with warnings of great danger should it be assembled so we open with a discussion on how to make the players want to do the thing that seems very stupid to do.

Interestingly I can't think of many scenarios where reassembling the rod of seven parts has a happy ending. Maybe the Crook of Rao in Greyhawk.

So really the scenario isn't about the consequences of assembling the Silhedron it is about an ancient clockwork city rising from the depths of the ocean and an invading army of clockwork automatons rushing forth from it to destroy all before them.

I actually like clockwork monsters but ultimately this feels like a dial down from the blue dragon boss fight in the last adventure. Xin is curiously diminished in his portrayal here, duped by the Runelords, assassinated and demented in exile, ultimately just a box of bones in an automaton.

There also seems to be little won by defeating him, just the status quo and the ability to use the artefact without further harm.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pathfinder 65: Into the nightmare rift

Every now and then Pathfinder Adventure Paths crossover with the Cthulhu Mythos (in fact it feels as though it happens frequently enough that it is nice to see a series where it doesn't happen). Shattered Star does that in this issue with a journey to the Plains of Leng.

Now I'm not sure the Mythos works for me when you are meant to be hacking through it with a plus two sword of smiting so mileage is definitely going to vary here. What does work for me is the initial camp of giants who are excavating an tower buried in an ancient lava flow and the blue dragon who forms the boss villain of the adventure.

There are two interesting opportunities for alliances: a rebel fire giant and a drow seeking to become a vampire. Both are interesting ideas for non-good/lawful characters and I like the idea that both might survive to recur later in a campaign.

Overall though this is a bit meh. The parts are more interesting that the sum and I remain unconvinced that heroic fantasy and Cthulhu really mix well.

Friday, January 11, 2013

S/Lay with me

A bit of an oldie but I wanted to get a copy as part of my two-player games binge last year.

The game oozes a pulpy-fantasy atmosphere and deals with three characters: the hero, the monster and the lover. One player takes the role of the hero and the other acts on behalf of the lover to tempt and woo the hero and as the monster to threaten and hurt the hero.

The game is supplied as a black and white booklet (genuinely old-school) but my copy seems to have a few font issues judge from some sans heading with dodgy kerning.

Like Beasthunters the game is designed for at least two playthroughs per session with the players alternating roles.

The rules seem pretty interesting with more emphasis being given to the key decisions the hero has to make about how they choose to deal with the Monster and the Lover. This implies that good play as the Monster/Lover is about understanding what the other player finds interesting and playing on that.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Anticipating 2013

Interestingly enough all my anticipated games for the next year are the physical versions of games that were Kickstarted in 2012. I think this is ample evidence of the way that crowdfunding is changing the dynamics in roleplaying publishing; in theory a publisher never needs to take a punt on something or over-order a print run again.

Pelegrane are producing two of the games Hillfolk and 13th Age. PDF versions of the rules are already available but they are dense and a little inaccessible for me (as they seem to be focussed on the print rather than the screen representation of the text). I think I am going to prefer the print versions.

The other is Numenera by Monte Cook which is in some kind of closed/open playtest at the moment. However I did enjoy Cook's Ptolus and I liked the science-fantasy pitch so I am pretty confident that I am going to like the results this time round.

Other than that the things I enjoyed most this year were mostly indie and were recommended by fellow gamers. I am expecting that what I enjoy most in 2013 is going to be the same, things that I don't know about yet that one of my fellow gamers is going to advocate (or maybe even write).