Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Project Steel

Project Steel is an adventure trilogy for Traveller, the Science Fiction RPG from Mongoose Publishing. Originally published by Avenger Enterprises via Comstar Games, it is set on Steel, a frontier world in the Spinward Marches, part of Traveller’s classic background. Steel was recently exchanged with the Swords Worlds following the Fourth Frontier War and will be a new Third Imperium communications site. The heroes are hired by the Imperial Colonial Office to help survey Steel, in preparation for the arrival of the colonists. Characters need driving, first aid, light combat, survey, and technical skills, but not spaceship skills. Spaceships are kept off world in this adventure. It can be played with large or small groups, 3 or 4 being a good number. The book is rules light, so can be used with most Science Fiction RPGs. Serenity (Margaret Weis Productions), Star Hero (Hero Games), and Thousand Suns (Rogue Games) are good choices, as is any previous version of Traveller.

Links to other adventures are slight, but enough for the fans. Much of the adventure has the team travelling between settlements, conducting surveys, delivering supplies, exploring anomalies and possible routes, providing chances to make money with small jobs, and for interaction and roleplay with the few inhabitants. Anomalies drive the adventure, the team first discovering a hidden group of Swords Worlds colonists, who they came to rely upon when Steel is attacked by raiders! Eventually an ancient evil needs confronting, this slightly at odds with what is a satisfyingly dry adventure.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Aces & Eights: Shattered Frontier

Aces & Eights: Shattered Frontier from Kenzer & Co is an RPG set in an America of the Old West, broken in the 1850s by a long civil war that left the Confederacy, Texas, and Deseret independent, and New Orleans in French hands! The specific setting is The Cauldron, a contested region in Sequoyah, the independent Indian republic. Characters can be anything, from bakers to guns for hire to undertakers, the complex creation process resulting in lots of detail, including origins and family. Character advancement comes not from gunning down gringos, but from professional achievements. For example, opening a bakery, taking on an apprentice, opening more bakeries and so on.

Aces & Eights uses dice, cards, and poker chips, and can be played as a gunfighting skirmish game and as an RPG. Gunfights are built around a running Count Up in which every action takes a set time before it occurs and a Shot Clock, a clear overlay placed over a target silhouette used to determine where the target is aimed at and where he gets shot. It is possible to miss the aiming point, but still hit the target. Sadly only one target silhouette is included in the core book. Different, but detailed and complex, but still playable mechanics cover brawling, cattle drives and ranches, chases, gambling, horses, prospecting, and trials. Aces & Eights is all about the detail and the feel: its art is old school, its mechanics are old fashioned, its history feels authentic. It feels right.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Day After Ragnarok

The Day After Ragnarok is a Savage Setting book written by Ken Hite for Savage Worlds published by Atomic Overmind Press. Post-WW2, post-apocalypse, and post-Ragnarok, the setting begins with Harry Truman dropping the bomb on the Midguard Serpent to prevent Gotterdammerung, the serpent’s body and toxic blood falling to Earth, poisoning everywhere, dividing Europe with the Serpent Curtain, and causing a super tsunami that ravages the USA as far as the Rockies. Now much of Europe and the Near East is in Stalin’s fist, the British Empire is based in Australia, Japan still has her empire, and the USA’s capital is in California under President Earl Warren. Both magic and psionics are recognized, while speleo-herpetologists harvest parts of the Serpent and develop Ophi-Tec, advanced technology like Marconi Guns, Neural Stimulators, Ophiline (better than gas!), and the RRAF’s delta wing rocket planes. Stalin has his own arcane allies, including engineered man-apes, used to infiltrate British Africa.

Most Savage Settings offer a Plot Point campaign, but this book is too big for that, instead giving 4 suggestions and sample outlines. These have the heroes as freelancers, working for a patron, rebuilding after the tsunami, and protecting their home turf in a city. Support includes city and adventure generators, and the brilliant Top Five lists, like Top Five Places To Stomp Nazis to Top Five Place Secret Bases. Describing itself as Conan 1946 or SMGs and Sorcery, The Day After Ragnaroak is rich in gaming detail, superbly imaginative, arguably the best Pulp setting.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Steal Away Jordan: Stories From America’s Peculiar Institution

Steal Away Jordan: Stories From America’s Peculiar Institution is a self-published indie RPG from Stone Baby Games with a very strong theme. Drawing from “neo-slave narratives” like Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Octavia Butler’s Kindred, it asks players to take the roles of slaves before the Civil War, an uncomfortable prospect for some players. The game needs lots of d6s and a single die marked with a skull for the 1. A character is defined by descriptive attributes that determines a slave’s Worth (expressed as a dice pool), with strong, skilled male slaves being of higher Worth than female or children slaves. A character also has 3 Goals and Motivations, each with an associated Task. Complete a Task and a Slave increases his (self) Worth. Goals and Tasks are kept hidden from the GM, but in keeping with the genre/history, the GM has the powerful task of setting a Slave’s Worth and giving him his name.

To resolve Conflicts and Goals opposed Worth dice pools are rolled to get Lucky Seven successes (paired dice that make 7). Winning minor Conflicts increases a slave’s Worth, empowering him for later major Conflicts. The Skull die is rolled for luck or desperation, but a bad roll (the Skull) can kill a slave. Playing Conjourers and ghosts is possible, but this optional supernatural element adds complexity. Designed to educate and promote historical awareness, this storytelling game needs a good GM and sensitive players to play. Underwritten, it needs developing to become a better educational tool.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shadows Over Filmland

Shadows Over Filmland is an anthology of scenarios for Trail of Cthulhu, Pelgrane Press’ RPG of Lovecraftian horror designed by Ken Hite. Co-authored with Robin D. Laws, it presents 13 scenarios inspired by both the black and white horror movies of the 1930s and H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction. The movie inspiration is iconic: Dracula, Frankenstein, King Kong, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and others. The fictional inspiration includes Lovecraft’s Under The Pyramids, Herbert West – Reanimator, and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. For each scenario, the authors blend the two. For example, Death Across The Nile blends The Mummy and Under The Pyramids in a tale that sees Queen Nitocris reach across the ages for her lost lover.

The conceit of this collection is that each scenario takes place in the same place, the Backlot Gothic, a remote part of Europe or Albion in Hollywood and an in-game sub-genre. The GM should use and reuse the given descriptions to simulate the Backlot Gothic’s use of stock (clich├ęd) footage/imagery and enforce its similarity. Suited to irregular visits than an extended stay, this good collection does mostly pulp horror, but with psychological and weird diversions too. One scenario, The Final Reel has the investigators shutting down the filming of The Call of Cthulhu! As with other Trail of Cthulhu titles, this collection is easily adapted to other Lovecraftian RPGs. Whatever the system, the horror of Shadows Over Filmland’s Backlit Gothic is baleful and bucolic, a place to visit, but then get away from.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Starblazer Adventures: The Rock And Roll Space Opera Adventure Game

Starblazer Adventures: The Rock And Roll Space Opera Adventure Game is Cubicle Seven Entertainment’s Science Fiction RPG designed to do Space Opera from Star Wars to Star Trek and everything in between. Based on a black and white British comic of the 1970s and 1980s, it is both a sourcebook and an RPG, which comes as a big (600 page) book full of rules, examples, explanations, story hooks, and illustrations. Using the Fate 3.0 system (first seen in Pulp action RPG, Spirit of the Century), it promotes roleplaying and mechanical interaction between the characters and their environment. Characters have skills, stunts, and aspects. Stunts give bonuses (I’m on Top of It gives you initiative, for example), while aspects show who you are, your relationships, and your beliefs. For example, Scottish Engineer, I Know a Guy, and Seen It! Fate Points activate stunts and aspects to give bonuses, but are awarded when an aspect is compelled by the GM to complicate a story, making play collaborative.

Lots of good (if grainy) illustrations from the comic book that captures the genre of the period’s goofy feel and its sense of scale. Big starships, big aliens, big star monsters, big robots, big empires, big war machines, and big heroes, all with easy guides to create each. On first sight, Starblazer Adventures is an intimidating book, but it is well written and is always clear, even simple in places. Starblazer Adventures is incredibly broad and comprehensive; it is the best Space Opera RPG available.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Duty And Honour: A Game of Adventure and Romance in Wellington’s Army

Duty And Honour: A Game of Adventure and Romance in Wellington’s Army from Omnihedron Games’ is the RPG of fighting the Napoleonic Wars on the British side. It is primarily set during the Peninsular Campaign in Spain and Portugal, the player characters serving as infantry soldiers, NCOs, and officers in Wellington’s army. Character creation mixes player choice and random elements, the detailed result includes both combat and non-combat elements. It uses ordinary playing cards instead of dice to both generate characters and resolve challenges and tests. Everyone will need their own deck of cards. Before each test, each side states what they want from the test and the GM draws a single Card of Fate from his deck. Everyone involved (GM or player) then draws from his deck to gain successes by matching the suite and number of the Card of Fate. The outcome is determined by the winner’s intent.

It is mostly played out as a series of Missions, each broken down into several challenges. Missions are primarily military, but players can create Personal Missions too. Characters will participate in battles, but not die. Their deaths are not meant to happen randomly in battle. The skirmish rules focus on their participation and the battle’s outcome, determined by character successes. The game comes with rules for artillery and cavalry (including characters as cavalrymen), plenty of background, suggestions for non-Peninsular Campaign games, and GM advice. If there was an RPG for Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels, Duty And Honour would be it.