Saturday, March 04, 2017

Macciato Monsters

Macchiato Monsters is another descendant of the Black Hack system. Unlike some of its peers though I feel it offers greater freedom with less complicated rules.

The basic mechanics are 5th edition D&D, a d20 roll under your statistics with advantage or disadvantage being handle by rolling two dice and taking the higher or the lower value.

Risk dice are pretty much from Black Hack making low rolls bad and stepping down the die and high rolls lucky. This means introducing a personal frustration of mine where the reading of the dice is different depending on the type of roll you are making.

The remainder of the rules are all some of the simplest and flexible in this family or rulesets that I've seen.

Characters have levels but essentially each level up allows you to use the same rules as character generation to expand the character.

Spells are particularly satisfying because they don't come from a spell list. You do have to pitch your spell to the GM and the GM is responsible for setting the numbers on it, which is a bit disappointing. The guidelines for spell design could be stronger to allow players to take responsible for spells themselves. A simple risk-reward element would probably have been sufficient.

The spell rules are elegant as well each spell has a hit point cost which can be paid for by using component risk dice, you then try to beat a stat in a normal check. Succeed and the spell's effect happens, if you fail you then have the choice to go to a Chaos risk die and see if you can get a favourable result or not.

Combat sensibly keeps to the Black Hack rule of only players rolling the dice but damage is quite variable. It is something I would need to play to see how I feel about it in practice.

Overall I think this rules set was one of the more exciting attempts to blend the freedom of early fantasy gaming with modern game design.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Golden Sea

The Golden Sea is a short game by Grant Howitt. It's about a great civilisation that has been smothered by sand, leaving roving scavengers sailing on the sands and looking for treasures thrust up to the surface.

This is one of Grant's handwritten and manually laid out games (follow the link to see what it looks like).

Like a lot of these small games the setup is traditional with a GM and players with each player holding a single character that they generate themselves.

The game is whole mish-mash of ideas, you have an initial map drawing phase that creates the world. The basic mechanism is a d20 roll plus modifiers versus a fixed target number. You have archtypes and associated abilities like Lady Blackbird. The GM gets lots of random tables to help create a scenario. Advancement is a "please the GM" style affair.

The real appeal though is in the background of wandering agents in a sand skimmer, given a license to wander and embody the cultural values of your religion and employer.

If you've ever wanted to mash-up Fury Road, Dark Sun, the Quiet Year and Lady Blackbird. Don't bother. The Golden Sea is here.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


Most OSR community is based around Dungeons and Dragons, however like a lot of Europeans my first encounter with roleplaying or fantasy gaming was not through D&D itself by through reflections of those who had read a copy or heard of the idea and created their own.

Like a lot of early British roleplayers my nostalgia is really for Fighting Fantasy, a formative experience that was notable different in tone from American fantasy while being composed of much the same tropes.

Troika! is an attempt to create a retro-clone that brings together Warhammer and Fighting Fantasy into a simple rules system that bakes weird fantasy into core of character creation in the same way that the Ratcatcher career did in the 1980s.

The basic mechanics are pretty simple. Mainly 2d6 are used and the basic characteristics are Skill, Stamina and Luck.

If you are attempting something against the environment you try to roll under your Skill on two dice, if contested you roll and add, aiming for the highest total.

Combat is pretty interesting, with the use of an initiative bag filled with counters to determine who has the next action and rounds being variable length due to a turn end token.

One of my bugbears with OSR games is also fixed with the use of a damage table that ensures that damage is very consistent and occasionally poor and sometimes high.

My biggest issue with the game (apart from some of the inconsistently sloppy game design) is that I find a lot of the esoteric fantasy over the line into incoherence and obscurity.

Instead of being a stepping stone to your own interpretation some of the ideas that are enshrined in the rulebook are mood-killing whimsical (brawlers are from the Society of Beef Steaks, one of the backgrounds is as a Befouler of Ponds), story killing (spell results that turn the caster into a pig) or just impenetrable (the Cacogen).

There's a lot to admire in Troika!, in particular the way that a particular view of weird fantasy is invoked through the origin stories, items and abilities of the characters. I think it might be one of those games that I might have to play to really understand.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


Cabal is a game about sinister conspiracies trying to seize power through a corporation or organisation. Mechanically it feels weirdly like a game where a group of players share a single Runequest character and try and make them a Rune Lord.

The company has various attributes that are rated on 0 to 100 scale with points being spent at generation time and then the players going on missions to try and raise the value of the attributes by between 1 and 5.

The target value is also used to set the difficulty and provide the mechanisms of opposition. The game uses a GM to manage the opposition and provide the colour to the missions. Something that feels like a design cop-out.

The game does make some interesting use of the fact that the players take on the role of individuals in the company and therefore you get to play very different characters and the risk of them dying is lessened by the meta-reward to the organisation.

However it also has an experience mechanism that makes characters who survive missions both more powerful and hence valuable. Therefore the same risk and reward pattern settles in as for more conventional games.

Cabal has a lot of precedents, I have to admit that I thought it was an updated version of Covenant. It also reminded me of Wilderness of Mirrors and Black Seven but without the structure of either as it has a broader scope than just espionage.

Reign does a similar job of mixing individuals and organisations but Cabal is considerably simpler at the cost of flavour.

I'm not sure Cabal hits the spot for me, it relies too much on a GM to create interesting stories and the implications of playing an organisation are not really explored in the game design. The relationships between characters and the organisation are too shallow and conventional to be really exciting.