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HAPPINESS IS MANDATORY; A review of Mongoose’s new take on the Paranoia RPG

May 29, 2017 1 comment

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Paranoia has been around for decades, and is a game I was in love with 20 years ago.  Recently, I picked up and read (cover to cover) Mongoose’s take on life in our beloved Alpha Complex, and found that not only was happiness mandatory, but it was pretty darn easy to comply.

If you’ve never seen the game before, Paranoia is a darkly humorous RPG where you play a citizen of Alpha Complex, a sealed vast complex of various sectors built to survive some great calamity.  Alpha Complex is controlled by The Computer, a semi-omnipotent semi-insane artificial intelligence that has, over hundreds of cycles of operation, turned Alpha Complex into an Orwellian witch hunt for commies, mutants, and members of secret societies.   Traditionally, you play a faithful troubleshooter just above the minimum security clearance level, who also happens to be a mutant and a member of a secret society.  You have six clones (because a computer knows something about backups), and death comes easily.  Most games typically involve hunting each other, incriminating yourself, hunting threats to the complex, and getting blown up in a variety of dramatic hilarious ways, from simple R&D product testing to actual threats.

Mongoose has done little to change this classic formula thematically, but has done a great job of sprucing up the rules and play of the game to match the character the game has always carried with it.  Here are the primary changes for long time players:

  • Cards have been added to make equipment and duties easier to keep track of, and have created action cards you can use add story elements or interrupt another players action to make things interesting.  Since screwing over the guy sitting next to you is half the fun, it makes for creative fast paced play.
  • Skills are tested by rolling dice and tracking 5’s or 6’s (with all rolls of 1-4 taking away a success if the player has a negative skill number, or being ignored with a positive skill number).  Players are encouraged to make creative combinations of their four Stats (Violence, Brains, Chutzpah and Mechanical) and a large list of skills.
  • Along with your skill dice, you roll a “Computer Dice” (they say Dice because the word ‘die’ is used too much already in the book).  Rolling a Computer on the Computer Dice forces a player to lose “Moxie” (your ability to cope) and represents either equipment malfunction or the Computer’s helpful interference pushing the player closer and closer to the breaking point. Run out of Moxie and you lose it in the way that is funniest at the time.
  • Commies are now termed the more generic “terrorists” (though you still can and do have commie terrorists, so that’s pretty much the same.
  • All characters are implanted at birth with a Cerebral Cortech and cyber-eyes which allow the computer to beam programs straight into the character’s brain, as well as video treason with the characters own eyes as witnesses for (or against) them.
  • Players now perceive in augmented reality, with name tags and “treason stars” floating above other players.  5 stars and you’re laser fodder.
  • Players are awarded “XP Points” by the Computer for positive actions and behavior, and are docked XP Points for negative or treasonous behavior.  XP Points can be used to buy skill and stat upgrades, software packages, and security clearance upgrades, complete with cake to celebrate with.

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I won’t get into some of the rules that the GM uses, as they are above your security clearance, but I’ll summarize by saying that they remain fast and loose, and easy for any GM to apply.  The players often times end up making things more interesting than the GM could ever manage through attempts at creative problem solving.

Overall, Mongoose’s take on the game emphasizes creativity and minimizes mechanics, which really has always matched the particular play style of this game.  You don’ win Paranoia, you survive it.

The main box comes with five dry erase character sheets, a players book, a GM book (which made me laugh out loud reading it several times), and book with three adventures in it that start off with the players at infrared status (minimum security status) and moving their way up, learning alpha complex as you go.  It’s a great series of adventures because it presumes no knowledge of the system and lets players learn.  It also is written in such a way that the GM can read that first and run the game before reading the rules.  It’s pretty amazing and a great way to jump right in.

Pick this game up if your friends can enjoy sabotaging each other with hilarious consequences and you’re a GM capable of thinking on your feet to make things fun. It’s a great change of pace from the same old fantasy game and makes for a great one shot in between campaign sessions.

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Categories: Mechanics, Reviews, RPGs

Creature Feature: The Xalot

May 26, 2017 Comments off

Today’s creature feature is the mild-mannered Xalot. Can be used for either DCC or MCC, and if you are intrigued by this little dude here, please check out “Where The Drowned God Dwells” an MCC adventure I will be running (twice!) at this year’s GenCon.

Xalot: (4-5 if foraging party; 30 to 40 adults plus one Elder and juveniles in tribal village); Init +1 on land, +3 in water; Atk Staff +1 melee (1d6) and/or net +2 ranged (entangle); AC 12; HD 1d8+1; hp 6; MV 30’ land, 60’ swim; Act 1d20; SP: amphibious, infravision (underwater only); SV Fort +1­, Ref +1­, Will +0­; AL N.

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The Xalot people are generally peaceful and form medium-sized colonies of 40 to 50 adults with a single Elder and many younglings at any given time, depending on the season. Short in stature, they stand roughly the size of a halfling and have cool, moist skin in a variety of colors and patterns. Xalots also have a limited ability to alter their color to provide better camouflage while out hunting or foraging.

Elders are slightly larger than the typical xalot and possess a passive telepathic empathy with which they can communicate danger or strong feelings with their own people and outsiders. Elders are also rumored to have some small ability with magic as well.

Most xalot are inquisitive and fearless, which makes them easy prey for predators. They are natural explorers, however, especially of the deep seas as they forage for food. Although they do make their own crude items for everyday life, skilled craftsmen and artisans they are not. They also willingly trade goods they find on their explorations with nearby peoples who treat them well. They have their own language, a sibilant tongue that incorporates the flaring of the gill stalks which sprout from the sides of their heads, and most also speak the dominant language of whatever region they find themselves in.

Typically nomadic, a Xalot colony will migrate every few years to an abandoned coastal area to perform their mating rituals and lay copious amounts of eggs before moving on. The first egg, thereafter called the Elder, hatches and quickly matures much more rapidly than the first wave, acting as a lookout and guarding over the second wave, until the final wave hatches… thereby forming a new colony within the space of a year or two.

Xalot Elder: Init +1 on land, +3 in water; Atk Staff +2 melee (1d6+1) and/or net +3 ranged (entangle); AC 14; HD 1d8+3; hp 8; MV 30’ land, 60’ swim; Act 1d20; SP: amphibious, infravision (underwater only), telepathic empathy (120′), spells: water breathing and mending, others as desired (d20+4); SV Fort +1­, Ref +1­, Will +2; AL N.

Categories: Creature Feature, DCCRPG, MCC

Moon-Slaves of the Cannibal Kingdom review

May 15, 2017 Comments off

The latest Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure from Goodman Games packs an incredible amount of memorable adventure in its 24 pages. It is pretty much impossible to provide a substantive review without providing some serious spoilers, so if you plan on playing in this adventure do not read on.

Just us Judges? Good. #93 Moon-Slaves of the Cannibal Kingdom is similar in scope and structure to Harley Stroh’s #78 Fate’s Fell Hand. Rather than a battle between three wizards on a demi-plane of phlogiston, the PCs will discover three sisters on the Tolomak islands, each with their own motivations, minions, and powerful allies. This works very much like a jungle-island sandbox/hex-crawl that allows the PCs to discover various locations and factions and react to them however they would like. The beginning of the adventure suggests you could run this in a 4-hour convention slot, but I don’t see how you would do more than scratch the surface of the materials provided in that time frame. This could easily be a mini-campaign in its own right, stretching several gaming sessions. If you’re looking for bang for your adventuring buck, look no further.

However, I would not recommend this for novice Judges, or those with only a bit of time to prepare. This is one for experienced Judges who can manage a lot of variables at the same time, and roll with whatever the players are going to throw at them. For instance, there are three moons that shine down on the islands – blue, green and red. Depending on what day it is, key NPCs will be in different locations, the moon-bird will have different powers, the contents of the fountain of liquid moonlight will have different effects and a portal will appear in one of 7 locations. Each sister has motivation, quirks, initial and later attitudes, minions and allies. One of those allies is the 20′ tall ape on the cover of the adventure (one of my favorite single-panel Kovacs covers in awhile!) who has his own motivations. Luckily these details are organized at the beginning of the adventure in brief rundowns of the key NPCs and a chart for the cycles of the moon. By the way, the ship that brought the PCs here is about to mutiny, so they may be stranded on these volcanic jungle islands if they don’t get back soon. Also, if the PCs manage to destroy the apparatus keeping the entire volcano in check, it could be a very dramatic TPK. All of this is awesome, but a lot to keep in mind.

I generally buy DCC adventures for the maps (its one of the things that drew me to the beta in 2011) and this one is no exception. Their are four pages of Kovacs maps in the back, including a players map of the islands inside the front cover. There is also a section between the two main islands in which the author encourages Judges to adapt adventures from both Goodman Games or third party publishers and makes suggestions as to what may work and how to adapt them to the environment. This may be made easier for those folks who were in on the 4th printing kickstarter and got a pile of adventures along with the core rule book.

Overall, it is great to see the DCC line still coming out with excellent adventures while expanding offerings into upcoming Mutant Crawl Classics and Lankhmar lines. If you are up to the challenge, set sail for the Tolomak islands! Watch out for cannibals.

Tales from the Loop Review

May 7, 2017 Comments off

Tales from the Loop is a fantastic combination of nostalgia, now, and near-future inspired by the evocative art of Simon Stålenhag. The kickstarter benefited from serendipitous timing of the first season of Stranger Things becoming a sensation that taps into these same themes. The RPG book itself provides two full settings (one in the islands outside Stockholm, Sweden, the other a small desert town called Boulder City outside Las Vegas) and adaptations to allow the four included adventures or mysteries to be set in either location. Much like The End of the World series from Fantasy Flight games, the book encourages you to adapt the adventures to your home town.

Players create characters from ages 10-15 that fit classic 80s movie archetypes: Bookworm, Computer Geek, Hick, Jock, Weirdo, Popular Kid, Rocker, and Troublemaker. Each have a few skills that they specialize in, and character creation looks pretty quick. The system uses attributes in combination with skills and items that provide a number of d6s. Success on a check is determined by rolling a 6 on a d6. Additional successes can be used to help out other party members or other beneficial effects.

The system seems to strike a nice balance that caters to the themes of the book, while not being too abstract or too gritty. For instance, when you choose the age of your PC, that is the amount of points you can assign to your attribute scores. for every year younger than 15, add one luck point. This luck point can be spent to re-roll a skill check. While older kids are more experienced and skilled at things, younger kids tend to find a way to weasel out of a tough spot. Elegant.

The included scenarios (or mysteries) deal with a variety of subjects: animal-cybernetics, dream manipulation, time-travel and accidentally letting dinosaurs back through a portal. All of them are structured as investigations with suggestions for how different events and NPCs can connect to each other, ultimately leading up to a showdown with the central conflict, and a brief denouement. In the examples of play, the game master is encouraged to let PCs set the scenes and describe a bit about their daily life. The character creation process helps inform these scenes as players choose their character’s problem, drive, iconic item, and relationships to other kids. These kind of adventures work really well for convention slots, but there are several suggestions on how to weave them together into a “mystery landscape” that could form a satisfying campaign.

The layout and aesthetics of the book are some of the most attractive I’ve seen for an RPG, and the included map of both settings is outstanding. Character sheets and maps are available in the support section of the Free League site. Avoid the bottom section if you are not running the game, as it includes spoiler-laden maps and illustrations that will be great for the GM. I highly recommend this book if you are looking for some weird and fantastic 80s adventures, in the theme of some of the most fun movies and TV shows of all time!