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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!

Monster Alphabet, GM Gems, 50 Fantastic Functions Review

December 15, 2015 Comments off

FINAL_MonsterAlpha_BandsendsheetsMy gaming inspiration cup overfloweth, thanks to some recent deliveries from Goodman Games kickstarters! I received my copies of the Monster Alphabet and GM Gems in the mail, and the PDF version of 50 Fantastic Functions for the D50 was released to backers! When the print version arrives, all three will be shelved next to the awesome Dungeon Alphabet for a nearly endless font of gaming ideas.

I have a PDF copy of the 2007 version of GM gems, and just wanted a print copy to thumb through. In all the excitement of the onslaught of Goodman Games kickstarters, I had forgotten it was getting a complete DCC remake, complete with a ton of new art from Stefan Poag and William McAusland! The written content is mostly the same, but the DCC aesthetic is an excellent bonus! The entries vary from urban encounters, traveling between adventure locations, and dungeon ideas. They are authored by 21 different people. There are a good amount of tables to roll on, but unlike the Alphabet books, there are some entries in paragraph form that vary in length, but tend to flesh out the adventure hooks and ideas.

B is for Breath Weapon

B is for Breath Weapon

The Monster Alphabet is noticeably thicker than its dungeon brother thanks to some excellent stretch goals that allowed additional entries for certain letters. For those unfamiliar with the format, the alphabet books have corresponding letters matched with a certain aspect of monsters that start with that letter. On that page is amazing art surrounding a table of inspiring ideas that a game master could roll on, or cherry pick something to fit or inspire an adventure idea. For instance, N is for Noxious, O is for Ongoing Damage, P is for Psionic etc. While the Dungeon Alphabet is a standard 64 pages, the Monster Alphabet is 80 pages of awesome! As always, the art is amazing and a huge selling point for the book. It features all the regular stable of DCC artists as well as some classic TSR names: Doug Kovacs, Jeff Easley, Jim Holloway, Stefan Poag, Diesel LaForce, William McAusland, Brad McDevitt, Peter Mullen, Fritz Haas, Erol Otus, Russ Nicholson, Chad Sergesketter, Chuck Whelon and Michael Wilson. Some of my favorites are full page spreads like B is for Breath Weapon (above).

50The 50 Fantastic Functions kickstarter was a brief two-week project with no stretch goals, launched on black Friday just to see if there was a market for it, and to give Lou Zocchi’s obscure d50 something to do. As one might expect, this book is filled with 50 entry tables, but one that I found particularly creative was Harley Stroh’s d50 Assassin generator. It uses the tens digit to determine the assassin’s level, and the ones digit to determine how many attempts the assassin will make before giving up. Beyond that, there is an 8-pointed star that has different methods like poison, blades, ranged weapons, public duels, black magic, etc. Depending on which direction the die lands indicates primary and secondary assassination methods. Pretty cool!

I also appreciated Brendan LeSalle’s 50 minor mercurial effects for DCC. Currently when you roll up spells in Dungeon Crawl Classics, you also roll on a table of Mercurial Effects modified by the caster’s luck. Generally high results have a good side-effect, low results, not so good. In the middle 41-60 there is no effect. Instead, you can now roll on this table which produces a minor or temporary effect, rather than nothing. This is an awesome upgrade to what I feel is the most magical of magic systems! There are also Metamorphosis Alpha tables by Jim Ward and Michael Curtis, Eldritch and Elder God tables for Cthulhu and Lovecraftian games, and more general fantasy generators like dungeon doors, and gems.

The 50 Fantastic Functions hasn’t been released to non-backers just yet, but keep an eye out for it. It has tons of great ideas and you can dust off that d50 you bought at that con that one year cause it looked weird.

Between the three of these new additions and the old standby of Dungeon Alphabet, an endless supply of adventures await!

Campaign Websites – Are they right for you?

November 2, 2015 Comments off

While not new to the gaming scene, Campaign Websites, commonly called Campaign Wikis, are electronic resources used to organize and record the details of your tabletop RPG.  These aren’t sites you use to play a game, necessarily, but are used to enhance and inform your tabletop game.  This is regardless of whether you play that game on a virtual table or a physical one.

Some of these are well known, and have been around for years, while other tools are new to the scene.

Back in 2001, we commonly used Yahoo Groups as a searchable forum for posts, with file storage space and other handy utilities for running a campaign.  Since then, more and more specialized tools and sites have emerged to assist the player with their campaign.  I recall hearing about Obsidian Portal years ago, and thanks to it’s kickstarter success, has kicked off with a new a professional look and added functionality and features.  Also out there are sites like Epic Words, and Google Sites, with templates specific to certain types of campaigns.

Last year I ran a game off of a Google Sites page (Paizo’s Reign of Winter), with positives and negatives.  I’ll get into some of those, but also list some functions that you should be aware exist in these sorts of pages and services, as well as a few pitfalls.

COMMON FEATURES:

GAME JOURNAL –  Every Site has a forum or system where posts can be made documenting the history of the game.  Not all sites have a system that is easily searchable.  Games, especially long running and high level games, tend to have a lot of data.  Longer games can have numerous characters and epic stories.  Locations, NPC’s, items of note, and other facts can be lost with the passing of time.  While summaries are helpful, unless they are easily searchable, they be useless for rebuilding stories or facts related to specific items or individuals.  Obsidian Portal allows for these to be listed prominently, with pages capable of being rearranged by the play date.  Added functionality includes allowing for only certain players to view certain posts, adding GM notes regarding the session that only the GM can see, and selecting who is notified of updates to the page.  Google sites allows for pages and posts to be made freely, but are not as fine tuned as to how these appear, requiring more fiddling to get things to appear as you’d like them to.

Obsidian Portal, and perhaps other sites as well, allow linking from one page to another Wiki that can be repeatedly updated.  Accordingly, a diligent GM or poster can continue to update either their character or the NPC entry or item entry for a page, linking that data and consolidating the narrative.  Embedding of images and other media files is an added feature.

INVENTORY LOG – Inventory management, shared resource tracking, and other minutia can be important for a story, especially if you like that type of a game where the details matter.  Shared ability to access those details and perhaps modify them can be important.  Google Sites has a nice feature for tracking items, but it can definitely be tedious to enter it all.  Obsidian allows a character sheet to be updated, and of course any page could have any listed data you wanted to, but nothing special seems to exist to allow for detailed tracking.

Anecdotally, I recall the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth requiring a trek through icy mountains.  An avalanche forced us to lose several mules, and our detail oriented rogue had our survival gear written on individual notecards for each mule. While this level of detail can be irritating to some, the player loved the nitty-gritty and was delighted to have it pan out as relevant and somewhat helpful (as the DM was ready to totally screw us over).

CALENDAR – This is really a must-have for many groups, especially mine.  I’m not sure if your situation is different, but I don’t know anyone who has a 9 to 5 job Monday through Friday anymore.  Accordingly, our weekly game alternates between a group of regulars and a steady group of one shot or two shot players that jump in and out as necessary.  A well-kept calendar is a treat.  Google Calendar is used by many, though I believe it does require a google account, which pretty much includes everyone anywhere.  Obsidian Portal has a calendar as well, and sends emails at the direction of the event lister, with confirmation buttons sent for attendees at intervals directed upon creation.  Note that this a pay-only feature for Obsidian Portal users.

CHARACTER PAGES – While these are available on all sites, I would say that they are important, but manage to universally be difficult to use.  Ideally, a player would track his own character, take a picture of the sheet, and post it to the site, which is theoretically possible with most sites out there.  More often, there is an artificial character sheet generator that is not used outside of the page itself, that requires meticulous data entry.  Obsidian Portal’s character sheet is fan-created, and is a bit buggy.  Save early and save often as you enter data into the odd fields available to you.  Google sites uses a spreadsheet, which has its own pros and cons.  No less than awkward method of entry really exists.  Character pages are important, however.  Many times NPC or PC stat’s need to be checked, or a player leaves a sheet behind.  It gives the GM a chance to see how players are developing without obviously or surreptitiously looking over character sheets, and gauge challenges accordingly.  At its most cynical, it allows transparency that discourages cheating and catches faulty or erroneous builds that might misinterpret or improperly exploit rules.

FORUMS – Good in-character and out of character forums are important.  This was perhaps Google Site’s biggest failing and not because they didn’t allow the ability to create as many forums as you wanted.  The problem commonly encountered here was the ‘most recent post first’ posting style that was, inexplicably, unchangeable.   Accordingly, if you wanted to read the flow of events, you had to read from the bottom to the top. While threaded, it seemed that frustration and cross talk was constant, and I could never really get over it.

Back in the Living Greyhawk days, a player created a fictional Tavern called “The Goose Nest” located in the Gran March, in which we posted our various living campaign PC’s.  The characters were able to interact in a way that could never have consistently happened in face-to-face gaming due to the way we interacted with different folks from different locations, as well as characters being separated by level to such a degree they could never adventure together.   The original player occasionally would put a plot device in to facilitate conversation.

Of course, out-of-character play is just as important for planning purposes, discussion of facts that might just take too long or be too convoluted to be carried out in character, and also for just sharing information like cat videos and recipes. Logistics, who’s bringing soda, and other critical issues of gaming life need a common forum.

IMAGES & MAPS – All systems appear to have a raw upload capacity for images, though an image bank is not exactly what is contemplated by any system. Having access to town an area maps, however, can cut down on a lot of confusion, and images (especially embedded images within, say, an NPC’s character stat block) can really bring together the way a PC or NPC is perceived.

COSTS – Google Sites – Free;  Obsidian Portal – Basic = Free, Premium $39.99/yr. (GM only req’d).  Epic Words = $12/yr

SUMMARY

Lots of the functions for these three sites are the same.  The key difference is one of quality, and as with most discussions of quality, the value is in the eye of the beholder.  I will say that Google Sites is free, and so you can’t complain about the amazing value they convey there.  They have all the key areas covered, many in a way that you probably already have the systems at work in your day-to-day.  The downside there is that the programming, navigation, and functionality can be frustrating and difficult, with weird glitches occurring somewhat regularly.  The database is largely very flexible, but all images and information will have to be entered by the user and managed at their peril.

I, admittedly, do not have an Epic Words account.  My tinkering with it have shown it to be less finished than Obsidian Portal, but at an understandably lower price. From what I’ve seen, the quality of what’s available wouldn’t create a strong urge to forego the free service of Google.

Obsidian Portal is pricey. I can swing $40/year, and have done so as an experiment, but that price may make many GM’s eyes water a bit for something they can duplicate or just do without.  For those willing to send $4/month, it’s by far the most user friendly.  WIth an image bank of backgrounds, ability to change names, headings, colors and images, it doesn’t get much easier.  People with the time, knowledge and inclination may find other sites bend to their will easier, but for those who want to get it done, OP is pretty hard to beat.   I remain unimpressed with the character sheet options, which is a universal failing for these types of sites, but have enjoyed being able to easily surf the site without multiple glitches or misplacements of my data.

THE UNIVERSAL CATCH

As with all things in gaming, it all comes down to time. These sites are handy, but only if you keep them up to date, and only if they are used.  In a longer campaign, players and the GM themselves may wish to access the wiki to see what a certain NPC’s name was, or what the story was in regard to a particular event.  But someone has to enter that data, and one would hope that at some point the players or others would read it.

Many hands make the work light.  In my Reign of Winter campaign, a player took on the inventory management, which was detailed and voluminous.  He later undertook a series of published journals, written in character, which was truly magnificent.  Eventually, the toll of such work caused him to get behind, then to stop entirely, leaving the final ten entries unfinished.

In my current campaign, playing catch-up has eaten up many hours of my time, but occasionally has been worth it for the sheer volume of information management.  Some players have been reluctant to participate, but I think those who have appreciate the information that’s posted there, and certainly enjoy the development of plot and story during longer breaks in the campaign where scheduling becomes a problem.

It’s something that a GM has to own, and to evaluate whether they have the time (and indeed the need) to follow-up with it.  Further, the GM and his players should discuss whether it is in fact desirable or necessary to pursue, either in whole or in part.  I, however, think that for longer games, the necessity of such a bookkeeping device is increasingly required to maintain the quality of game I like to play, that being one with numerous rich NPC personages, mysterious items, places, maps, handouts, logs, journal entries, and locales that are best understood when capable of being reviewed at the player’s leisure.

All of these are either free, or have a temporary free option. Try one on for size and see if it might not help your next campaign.

Pack O Game Review – Compact fun from Perplext

October 5, 2015 Comments off

packogameI made my regular trip to our outstanding Friendly Local Gaming Store the Wyvern’s Tale on Friday, when a little display caught my eye. There was a small box of games the size of a pack of gum, eight in total, with various themes and play mechanics. The marketing is clever as each game has a 3-letter title, and the dimensions really are about the size of a 5-stick pack of Juicy Fruit, Big Red, or Spearmint gum. I snapped them all up immediately, as they all looked pretty appealing and it was hard to tell exactly what they were about, given the limited amount of space on the box. They make good use of it though as each box tells you how many players can play, the skill level (1 casual, 2 intermediate, or 3 challenging), and how much time is required for an average game (usually 10-30 minutes). Originally a kickstarter, this was one gaming project that flew under my radar. I’m glad they made their goal!

Each game includes a number of cards about the size of a stick of gum, and some compact instructions. The mechanics they use vary widely, and show some serious creative design. Wisely, the instructions point you to instructional videos to show you how to play each game fairly quickly. We haven’t had a chance to play them all yet, but I would encourage you to check out SHH, which challenges players to cooperatively spell out words using all the letters in the alphabet only once! A perfect score is 26! The cards are really quite attractive and illustrate each letter with a picture of something that starts with the word (D for Dog, U for Umbrella etc.).

Game_1_HUE_boxHUE uses multi-colored cards to create fields of color that players try and connect to form continuous areas of that color. The last card in your hand is your score card, and you only count up the fields of color that are on that last card. Play may include covering one third of a card previously played, allowing for a good deal of strategy for this one. Not to mention you have to save a card that has the colors you want in order to score at the end!

FLY is a dexterity game that is pretty unique. the cards are arranged next to each other to form a gingham table cloth like a classic picnic. On the “table” are several flies that have symbols and colors on their back. Players take turns dropping the swatter card from a height determined by putting the sky card in the end of the game box. If you completely cover the fly with your swatter, you keep that card and try to form sets of three of the same color or symbol.

LIE is basically liars dice, but the unique twist is there is a die on either end of the card. When you are dealt your hand, you can choose which end to use at the beginning of the betting phase. This allows you to either stack your hand with a lot of a certain number, or pick various numbers to have a variety.

We haven’t tried the more challenging games of TAJ and GEM, which involve bidding and quite a bit of strategy. TKO is a really cool 2 player boxing game, and BUS uses the unique card dimensions as roads to form a city in which you pick up passengers on your bus. All of these games are fantastically creative and demonstrate a wide variety of skills and mechanics. I would recommend checking out the videos to see which ones appeal to you.

These games pack a whole lot of fun into a small package. If you are looking for compact games you can pack for your con bag and play in line while waiting for a panel or game to open up, these would be excellent candidates. Similarly, you can throw them in a purse or pocket and break them out at a bar or restaurant while waiting for other friends to show up, or as a quick game before everyone arrives for a weekly game night. Each game sells for $6, and the website will sell the whole collection as well as a carrying case for $50. Highly recommended.

Categories: Board, Card, Games, kickstarter, Reviews

The 998th Conclave of Wizards Review DCC

September 21, 2015 Comments off

15 - 1(1)It is no secret, I have been a fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics since the beta. Since then, I’ve bought just about every module that Goodman Games has released for the system. I’ve also pledged big money to kickstarters for box-sets of both Peril on the Purple Planet, and Chained Coffin before that. When I saw what Goodman Games was planning on releasing for Gen Con, a buddy of mine asked if anybody wanted him to pick up some stuff while he was there. One obscenely large paypal transfer later, and I have a lot of awesome new DCC stuff to review.

The 998th Conclave of Wizards is double the price of a typical DCC module, but its also double the size, and features one of the coolest Doug Kovacs covers of all time. I saw the sketch for it at Gary Con this past year, and knew I had to own this adventure. After reading this cover to cover, I wish it had the received the box-set treatment that Chained Coffin and Purple Planet did. Another boxed-set? Yes. 46 pages barely scratches the surface of the awesome asteroid city of Ciz. It is essentially three entire adventures broken up into three main challenges. For those of you that may play it in the future, I’ll gloss over the secret stuff.

The first challenge is just receiving the invitation to join the Star Cabal and the conclave of wizards, and locate one of their hidden towers. One epic battle later, the party is launched towards the City Palace of Ciz, a spaceport and central hub for various alien life forms. The party is encouraged to explore the ever-changing city and encounter various factions detailed throughout. This adventure is full of tables to randomize alien appearances and names. There is also a d24 table of random street encounters that range from fairly mundane, somewhat dangerous, and the truly memorable. There are notable locations and tons of flavor text describing wizard towers of cabal members as well as places to research magic, as well as a system of law that includes “cubing” prisoners and selling them off as servants to the highest bidder. There is a lot of awesome stuff in here. You could easily spend a session or two just wandering the city.

GMG5089FullCoverEach member of the Cabal is detailed, as well as their motivations, and alignments. This allows for intra-Cabal scheming to take place, as the next challenge involves receiving endorsements of two current Cabal members to spell duel with a different Cabal member as a right of passage to join the Cabal itself. Beyond just descriptions and motivations for each member, a description and a few denizens of each of their towers are provided, as well as a random tower generator and one of the best tables of interesting traps I’ve seen (probably until Grimtooth’s ships). Each tower could be the better part of a session, and there are nine towers. Even if you explored two a session you could be playing around in this adventure for months!

The final challenge involves tracking down a lost artifact by traveling to nearby asteroids, each with their own characteristics. There is a table of Orbital Encounters, as well as a Kovacs gatefold map of the asteroids themselves. If the PCs survive the challenges presented herein, one of their number will become a member of the Star Cabal, and can use the Palace City of Ciz as base for countless other adventures. As a 6th level adventure, this is not for the rookie DCC judge, but could serve as a truly epic finale’ for seasoned adventurers.

One minor gripe was on page 2, the summary of key plot elements left a few placeholders of page ## instead of the actual page number, but this was not indicative of the editing throughout the rest of the module. $19.99 may seem like a lot for an adventure, but it will leave you wishing it was a $39.99 box-set. The 998th Conclave of Wizards is not to be missed!

Exploding Kittens: A Meow-entous Card Game

August 5, 2015 Comments off

exploding_kittensIf you were one of over 219,000 backers from Kickstarter, you should have received your Exploding Kittens deck from Elan Lee and The Oatmeal. If you haven’t, you need to have a serious talk with your postal carrier. But don’t threaten them, that’s like a crime or something… I think.

First off, this game is hilarious. The cards are so funny and if you have the NSFW deck, you may not even be able to play because you laughed so hard you peed in your pants. Yes, this almost happened. And make sure you keep the decks separated. It could cause some awkward moments between you and your kids, you and your neighbors or you and your mother-in-law.

Setting up the deck for a group takes less than two minutes and then you are ready. Play is fast and furious and it can be as quick as five minutes depending on where a kitten shows up. The hardest aspect of the game that we found was that, unlike many other card games, you drew from the deck at the END of your turn. Don’t forget that.

We only played three hands and we were already using strategy to screw with each other. We were using Nope cards to negate the cards of each other (including other Nope cards) and using See The Future cards to dictate what Skip (immediately ends your turn), Attack (next player must take 2 turns in a row), or Shuffle cards we needed to play. When you use a Defuse card to negate the Exploding Kitten card, you are allowed to place that kitten back in the deck wherever you choose. That could even mean the top of the deck! In our last hand of the night with only two cards left in the deck and not knowing what the other player had, it was highly stressful and… I lost that hand… to my wife. She laughed.

I give this game an A+. It’s fun, funny and funky and not something you’ve played before. You can play it with the kids or go ‘adult’ with the NSFW add-on. Everyone will have fun playing. If they don’t, you need to have a serious talk with them. But don’t threaten them, that’s like a crime or something…

Have you been able to play yet? And did you have trouble retaining bladder control? Don’t lie!

#ExplodingKittens

Categories: Card, kickstarter, News, Reviews

Zine Scene: Special Box Edition

May 25, 2015 Comments off

In the last installment of Zine Scene, I mentioned my love for Stormlord Publishing’s Black Powder, Black Magic… and the authors have started a new Kickstarter near and dear to my heart: The Zine Vault. Described as “A better way to store, organize, and transport your growing zine collection, plus dice, pencils, and more.” File this under: Why Didn’t I Think Of That?! Currently at 65% of it’s goal, I have no doubt it will finish strong and with my growing collection of zines it is going to make life very easy. Right now my zines are scattered hither and yon on my gaming bookshelf, tucked in wherever there is room. It will be nice to have a separate stand-alone ‘vault’ to protect them.

There’s a number of stretch goals associated with different types of art to be put on the boxes you order, and as it says in the video you can ‘mix and match’ from whatever is unlocked and have a blank one, a fantasy one, a weird west one, and a sci-fi one… or more! Two of each! Three blanks and three western! A great feature. I’m in for 8, figuring with the way the zine scene is growing there will be a need down the road for more.

As if that weren’t enough, all pledges will include a PDF of a new short adventure “The Vault of Pasha Kalthraga” and the higher tiers get both the PDF and a printed version thereof. Perfect for you to start your zine collection if you haven’t already got some. Check out Carl Bussler and Eric Hoffman on their Kickstarter video and store your zines safely!

All. The. Zines!

All. The. Zines!