Sunday, July 19, 2009

Savage Worlds

Savage Worlds is a generic rules set from Pinnacle Entertainment Group, designed to be light and easy to play and capable of supporting any number of settings and genres. It is descended from the publisher’s Deadlands RPG via the Rail Wars miniatures skirmish game and is much simpler than either. Most factors are described by die type, so d8 Strength is better than d4 Strength. Skills are broad, so the Drive skill covers all vehicles, Shooting covers guns and bows, and Fighting armed and unarmed combat. To do anything, the appropriate die is rolled, the target usually being 4 or more. Dice rolls are open ended, so higher targets are possible, and a result of 4 over the target is a raise and gives better results. Player characters are Wild Cards or heroes (as are some villains) and get to roll an extra d6 with any action. The highest die rolled counts. Characters also have Edges and Hindrances (advantages and disadvantages) that add flavour. Character progression adds more Edges and improved die types. Combat is fast, with initiative determined by ordinary playing cards.

Savage Worlds is supported by numerous campaigns from aerial fantasy (Sundered Skies) to post-apocalyptic post-WW2 Howardian horror (The Day After Ragnarok). Many have Plot Point campaigns that allow the heroes to explore the campaign’s setting and story. The inexpensive Explorer’s Edition is very compact with a pirate adventure, but lacks rules for playable non-humans. Savage Worlds offers fast, pulpy, uncomplicated fun and access to some great settings.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hobby Games The 100 Best

Hobby Games The 100 Best is Green Ronin Publishing’s anthology of short essays that brings together many top names in the gaming hobby/industry to talk about games. They include designers and publishers of card games, CCGs, computer games, board games, miniatures rules, RPGs, and war games, as well fantasy authors and a cartoonist. Each writes about what he (there is only 1 female contributor) thinks is one of the best hobby games from the last 50 fifty years, from the types listed above, each entry being just 2 or 3 pages long. Although computer game designers contribute, no computer game is included. More board games are discussed than anything else, the earliest title being Avalon Hill’s Gettysburg from 1958, the latest being (excluding later editions) GMT’s Here I Stand and Rio Grande’s Thurn and Taxis (a Spiel des Jahres award winner), both from 2006. Later editions excluded, the earliest RPG discussed is of course, Dungeons & Dragons from 1974, the most recent being the self-published My Life With Master from 2003. It is also the only “indie” RPG to make the list.

The choice is fascinating. Discovering that Alan R. Moon likes the dungeon game Descent, that Jordan Weisman chooses Magic: The Gathering, and Squad Leader was Ray Winnegar’s choice is surprising. That Steve Kenson chooses Marvel Superheroes, and Larry Harris chooses Diplomacy is less so. Easily dipped into, Hobby Games The 100 Best provides a wonderful introduction to, history and overview of our hobby. Perfect on any gamer’s shelf.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sundered Skies

Sundered Skies is a complete setting and Plot Point campaign from Triple Ace Games for Savage Worlds. Like other Savage World settings, it presents an enclosed environment, here a series of islands that float in a constantly brilliant sky without night. Too much exposure to this constant light causes Glowmadness and will eventually send people into bestial rages. The highest isles have ice mines, and provide water for the very hot lowest ones. Other islands consist of seams of ore, deep forests, shattered islands, and tethered skyships. Travel between the very different islands is done by oar, steam, or wind driven skyships, navigation requiring a handful of soil from the destination island. Peace between the islands is kept by the Trade Council which ensures each island receives the necessary imports.

Besides the traditional fantasy RPG races of Dwarves, Humans, Orcs, and the part plant Elves (who are insular and hard edged), players can be the Dragon-worshipping Drakin (who can become dragon-like), the animal-like Wildings (escaped slaves to the Elves), and the Glowborn, humanoids with Goblinoid memories. Possible character roles include Couriers, Musketeers, Pirates, Scavengers, and Priests dedicated to peace, song, war, and wind. Sundered Skies’ Plot Point campaign consists of 30 Savage Tales (scenarios) which begin by giving the characters a skyship and then lets them explore the islands of the Sundered Skies and its secrets. Like other Savage Worlds’ settings, Sundered Skies is pulpy and swashbuckling in feel, but its British author has given it a grim edge too.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Terrors From Beyond

Terrors From Beyond is a new scenario anthology for Call of Cthulhu from Chaosium, Inc. It brings together 6 adventures set in the 1920s and 1930s (only technically, because one scenario is set in 1930) each designed as one-shots rather than for use with a Keeper’s own campaign. The scenarios need either 4 or 6 players with a strong stomach, some scenarios dealing with strong adult and in one case, distasteful themes. It opens without introduction to the very short Ghostlight, set on Scottish lighthouse with vanished staff and a single solution which will leave the investigators dead if not found. A Method to Madness is barely longer, and inventively has the investigators as asylum inmates beset by weirdness. The U.K. located Death by Misadeventure involves the traditional death of a relative and is the easiest to use in an existing campaign. Brian Courtemanche’s Grave Secrets is set in New England, does not involve the Mythos, but has the most tasteless theme.

Brian Sammons’ The Dig is about a Miskatonic University archaeological trip subverted by an insane cultist, with the players as students. It feels long and calls for the Keeper to be heavy-handed for the investigators to follow the plot. David Conyers’ The Burning Stars is the book’s best, set in Haiti 1930 and starts with the investigators waking up with amnesia. What happened in the last seven days? Terrors From Beyond is nicely illustrated, but poorly edited, and suffers without a theme. It feels rushed despite the long wait.