Friday, May 27, 2016

The Undercroft #9

Issue 9 of The Undercroft (buy digitally here) marks a step change for the zine, moving to a larger A5 booklet format and switching from its characteristic red covers to black. Cedric Plante contributes an amazing cover in an etched style white on black. Overall the impression is of something more substantial and professional than a regular photocopied zine.

The content isn't markedly different, a collection of monsters (including a penis monster, a giant penis you can fight), rule variations for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and a few historic research pieces, this time the subject is the occult properties of those executed by hanging.

At a quick glance the interesting pieces look like the Skinned Moon Daughter class, drawn from a campaign that looks like it is heavily influenced by Arctic Circle cultures and Nine Summits and the Matter of Birth, an adventure that seems to be a fantasy recasting of the Dutch and English exploration of the South China Sea with added anti-life death cult.

Undercroft is one of my most intriguing Patreon campaigns, I'm not really the target audience for the material but I enjoy the quirky distinctive nature of the material and it provides a regular transmission from outside the indie storygames bubble that I spend a lot of my time in.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Blade of the Iron Throne

Blade of the Iron Thone is a Kickstarted successor to the Riddle of Steel. I haven't played either Riddle of Steel or Blade of the Iron Throne and I'm not sure I ever will. Primarily I was interested in Blade to have access to its mechanics as I never picked up Riddle of Steel.

The basis of the system is a dice pool builder of d12s that are aiming for a target number of 7 to be considered a success. The systems mainly aim to manipulate either the number of successes required to complete a task and the number of dice that are added to the pool.

The basic concept is pretty sound, this after all is basic the World of Darkness system with a dice that is easier to roll.

Unsurprisingly there is a substantial focus on combat and simulating small melee battles, there are even different hit location charts for different kinds of attacks. Interestingly there is more abstraction than I was expecting and more emphasis on a fictional conceit of looking at discrete units of interesting action. It isn't as dry as I was expecting, although armour does model three types of damage so there is certainly a level of detail which the system revels in.

Magic also gets a bunch of specific systems with an idea that magic-using is corrupting and sorcerers need to manage risks as well as rewards. I was also surprised here as you don't get the normal endless, droning list of spells with their specific triggers and effects. Instead you get these broad "mysteries" around themes like cursing and enslavement. This definitely moves things to a more mysterious and flexible form of magic that is both more unpredictable than Vancian conventions and more powerful in terms of where it might take the story. Crunchy but not dull.

There is a default setting in the back of the book but the ethos being invoked here is very much the Conan stories with freebooters encountering sinister and strange things at the fringes of civilisation and bloodily fighting for their lives at the heart of it.

Overall its still hundreds of pages long and I'm not sure I have the motivation or the audience to discover its nuances but it does seem to be occupying a sensible middle-ground between Burning Wheel and Dungeons and Dragons clones.