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How NOT to run a kickstarter: the cautionary tale of Top Secret NWO

April 1, 2018 2 comments

Let this be a lesson to those of us who back RPG Kickstarters: If the publisher won’t release a PDF before sending the document to the printers, they have something to hide. For those unfamiliar with Top Secret: New World Order, this was a kickstarter launched last summer to serve as an update to the venerable Top Secret system published by TSR in the 80s. This new version of the system was created by the original administrator himself: Merle Rasmussen, and thanks to a trademark lapse on the part of WotC and Hasbro, was created by the new TSR games. The new TSR also published the now defunct Gygax magazine, which had its own trouble, but that is beyond the scope of this post.

This project started with a lot of promise and a fair amount of polish that inspired confidence. Things started to get shaky once the initial (and overly-ambitious) estimated delivery window lapsed. This in itself, is almost more common than kickstarters delivering on time (or in very rare cases, early) so was not cause for alarm. What disturbed many backers was the reluctance by the publisher to release a PDF before sending it to the printer. As many backers (several superbackers: backers that have supported more than 25 projects with pledges of at least $10 in the past year) pleaded in comments on the project and subsequent updates to allow us a look at the PDF before sending it to the printer. Several of us cited instances in which backers  help proof read the project to make sure the final product was the best it could be, and the benefits of free labor by big fans for a better game.

Sadly, these repeated requests were denied by the publisher. The sole (flimsy) excuse was to preserve the “unboxing experience.” Imagine people who are so passionate about a project you’ve created not only are they willing to throw money at you, but also provide free labor to help make your dream the best it can be. Why would you turn those people down? To add insult to injury, the publisher posted an UNBOXING VIDEO of an advanced copy of the game. So… release the PDF? Pubisher’s response: No. Because… reasons.

Well let me tell you my “unboxing experience” was ruined by discovering several typos and errors in just a passing review of the core rules. First example: ICON, the secret organization of spies the PCs work for – foil stamped on the special edition of the rulebook – International Clandestine Operations Network. Open the book, page 7, just after the table of contents: ICON – International COVERT oprerations network. This is just the first of several examples.

As you can imagine, I cannot recommend purchasing this system or supporting this publisher in any way until these issues are addressed. I hope they learned their painful lesson, I’m just sad to see how much it will likely cost them.

If you would like to see a kickstarter properly run, check out Mutant Crawl Classics. The exact opposite of this story is what Goodman Games has done with MCC. Initially, MCC was developed and edited by people very familiar with Dungeon Crawl Classics. This was advertised as a stand-alone system, not an add-on for DCC and attracted a lot of fans of post-apocalyptic systems like Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha. When Goodman Games released the PDF months before they sent it to the printers, there were issues: missing descriptions, assumptions made from familiarity with DCC, and slight typos and clarifications that were needed. Rather than pressing forward with the print schedule, and likely Gen Con release, Goodman Games implemented changes, updated the PDF, and sent a much better product to print (albeit 6 months later than expected). The result: a much better product received by enthusiastic fans ready to play with clear rules.

If you are ever so lucky to come up with an idea that people want to not only donate money, but proof reading to help make your product the best it can be: take them up on it.

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Categories: Books, kickstarter, MCC, News, Reviews, RPGs

Star Wars – Dawn of Rebellion review

March 3, 2018 Comments off

The recently released Dawn of Rebellion is the first Era Sourcebook for the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPG line. Unlike previous books, this is the first to bridge all three lines of Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny. This comes out just as the Rebels TV show is coming to an end. For fans of both the Rebels animated series and the Rogue One movie, this book is full of stats for both characters and vehicles seen in each.

This book is a bit thicker than most specialization books, but about on par with Lords of Nal Hutta and Suns of Fortune weighing in at 144 pages. There are four chapters broken down into Worlds in Revolt, Organizations, Player Options and Game Master Support.

Worlds in Revolt features several systems that play an important role in the era including Alderaan, Atollon, Dathomir, The Death Star, Jedha, Lothal, and smaller sections on other places just called Other Worlds. Each system has the familiar fact sheet and picture of the planet featured in other releases, followed by a longer description of points of interest as well as key NPCs and a modular encounter that would work nicely as a mini-session in each system.

Often RPG books can be broken down in a crunch:fluff ratio, meaning how much of the book is stats and numbers compared to flavor text that helps bring the world alive, without providing those numbers that mechanically affect the game. This book leans towards the fluff-heavy, but details a satisfying amount of gear, creatures, NPCs and vehicles to keep the crunch crowd happy. The organizations section in particular features a lot of information on the Empire, Rebellion and Independent Organizations like The Broken Horn Syndicate (Vizago’s smugglers from Rebels), The Free Ryloth Movement, and the Protectors of Concord Dawn. Each has a few key NPCs detailed and some background information. Each main character of the Rebels TV show is statted out, as well as Shore Troopers, Death Troopers, Agent Callus, the Inquisitors, Vader and Thrawn. From the Independent Organizations you get stats for Fenn Rau, Azmorigan, Hondo Ohnaka, Ketsu Onyo and Lando Calrissian (previously statted out in Jewel of Yavin). This section gives you plenty of key characters to interact with if you want to start a party that runs in parallel to the events of Rebels or Rogue One. This seems to fly in the face of the wisdom expressed in previous books about shying away from key figures, since it is a pretty big galaxy after all. I think it is pretty cool to provide the stats for folks, since people try and make them up in the FFG forums anyway, and can add some gravity to your session. Hopefully, Vader won’t cut through your party like he did those rebels at the end of Rogue One.

The Player Options section introduces six new universal specializations that can be purchased for 10x the amount of specializations the PC currently has in XP. The book suggests this can add depth to a PCs past if chosen at the beginning of character creation, or could be a big reveal of a hidden past if chosen later. Either seems like a really compelling option to me, and I hope they come out with more of these in subsequent Era books. Those included in this are: Padawan Survivor (Kanan), Force Adherent (Chirrut), Imperial Academy Cadet (Han, Wedge, Sabine), Pirate (Hondo), Retired Clone Trooper (Rex), and Ship Captain (Hera). These trees include 4 bonus career skills (with the exception of Padawan which grants Force Rating 1 unless your PC already has it) and feature associated talents that can provide depth to your PC.

There are also four new species options from Rogue One: The loud-mouthed amphibian-like Dabatan, the Wookie/Wampa-like Gigorans, heavy-browed simian Iakaru (door gunner in the U-wing), and insecto-mammalian Tognaths (Saw’s lieutenant on Jedha).

The weapons section includes stats for Chirrut’s lightbow, Baze’s repeating cannon, and the Shore Trooper’s E-22 (linked 1 heavy rifle), and Death Trooper variant E-11D and DLT-19D Heavy blaster rifles.

The vehicles detailed include the AT-ACT, Occupier Assault Tank (Jedha), Delta-Class Shuttle (Krennic), TIE Striker and U-Wing. The U-Wing stats I found and used from FFG forums for my Rogue Two adventure were very close to the published stats. Also included are Arquittens-class Imperial cruiser and the hammer-head class corvettes use in Rebels and Rogue One, as well as the Ghost and both Phantom shuttles. There are also stats for the Death Star, which are so huge as to be nearly useless, but it does have a stat block.

The GM Support section includes a really nice idea about crafting a campaign like a season of a TV show, and even provides a roadmap for primary and secondary plots focusing on different characters as well as an overall story arc. We are attempting to do much this same thing with our own gaming group while sharing GMing duties. We’ve each contributed NPCs and planted story seeds that other GMs can choose to advance or go in a different direction. We’re only about 3 sessions in, but so far it has been really rewarding to not only share the GMing duties and responsibilities, but build our own corner of the galaxy together.

This section of the book provides the framework for either one GM to craft an entire season, or perhaps allow for a group to round-robin GM. This system has always provided a wealth of GMing resources and tips but this section of this book in particular goes above and beyond. It also discusses developing antagonists – villains that surpass a typical “big bad” at the end of an adventure and provide a long-lasting true nemesis. It also mentions antagonists don’t have to be evil to oppose the party such as Saw Gerrera, Fenn Rau and Cham Syndulla.The final part of the GM section deals with building a Rebel Cell campaign. This provides several ideas and seeds that can help groups write their own versions of Rebels or Rogue One.

Overall, this book is a great resource for those of us that watch the new movies or TV shows and start statting things we see out in our heads. It provides a ton of background information on this particular era of Star Wars and will be a great book for both players and GMs alike. I hope this is just the beginning and FFG is able to release a Knights of the Old Republic, Clone Wars, and possibly Force Awakens era books as well.

Categories: Books, News, Reviews, RPGs, Star Wars

DnDonations 4 – White Plume Mountain

December 6, 2017 Comments off

It is that most special time of year again: Dungeons & Donations! Our intrepid FLGS The Wyvern’s Tale is hosting a 24-hour marathon D&D session as a benefit for Extra Life that supports Children’s Miracle Network hospitals that will stream live on Twitch starting this Friday at 6pm EST! Just like in years past audience members can make donations that affect the game either to the players benefit (boons) or detriment (banes). The more you donate, the more dramatic the boon or bane!

New this year will be an assortment of raffles, prizes and auctions including a mini figure painting commission, the 2017 Gongfarmers Almanac, a hand-painted wooden shield, and some particularly weird items like a CD by David Hasselhoff, signed by David Hasselhoff. It is going to be a fantastically entertaining time!

Players will be adventuring through the classic White Plume Mountain converted to fifth edition from the awesome Tales from the Yawning Portal. Organizers are hoping to surpass last year’s awesome total of $3,275 raised, with every cent going to benefit Children’s Miracle Network. Be sure and tune in to twitch.tv this Friday, and watch your donations help or hinder the party. If you want to make the journey to the store and play in the game, details are here. Either way you’ll be helping out an awesome cause. Donate here. For the children!

Categories: 5e, holiday, Kids, News

Scarefest 2017 Preview – One month away!

September 21, 2017 Comments off

It is that time of year again: The air starts to get a bit cooler, the trees on the mountaintops begin to turn crimson, gold, and umber. Scarefest is upon us! This year looks bigger and more awesome than ever with an appropriately excellent theme of a Spooky Carnival. I’m sure given the box office success of IT there won’t be any creepy clowns there, right? Right?! The line up of RPGs and sponsors is better than ever too!

It is great to see the incredible Pathfinder Society schedule of games still going strong as well as more deep and diverse selection of other RPGs: D&D, Dread, Dungeon Crawl Classics, WEG Ghostbusters, Savage Worlds, Star Wars, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Savage Kingdoms, Call of Cthulhu and more! Most of the game sessions feature spooky/scary scenarios that are on theme for the event.

Just announced today: Well Played Board Game Café is hosting the board game area! It will be great to have the newcomer to the Asheville gaming scene providing their expertise for all things board games!

This year there are custom dice celebrating not only this year, but years one and two as well. We all know you can never have enough dice. Tickets are still available, but lodging might be hard to come by on the Montreat conference center campus itself. If you are planning on attending, but haven’t secured your accommodations, be sure and reach out to the event staff.

I’ve got adventures to write and pre-gens to … generate. See you in mountains!

Scarefest 2015 – no filter

Categories: Board, Cons, Dice, News, Roleplaying, RPGs

Forbidden Caverns of Archaia Review

September 11, 2017 2 comments

The latest megadungeon from Dr. Greg Gillespie has been released in PDF: The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia. Greg is known for previous indiegogo campaigns for the megadungeon Barrowmaze, which eventually resulted in a 260-page tome called Barrowmaze Complete. This latest kickstarter featured a lot of similar elements from Barrowmaze and for that matter, classic adventures like Keep on the Borderlands and Temple of Elemental Evil.

This review is not going to be entirely spoiler-free, but I’ll try and keep them to a minimum. This latest megadungeon certainly has enough material for years of play and weighs in at 293 pages. Similar to the aforementioned adventures, your PCs start in a well-detailed fair sized village, and are in a sandbox hex-map region called the Prelacy of Middenmark. Like the Duchy of Aerik from Barrowmaze or Verbobonc in Temple of Elemental Evil, there are several features and settlements to explore in the nearby area other than the megadungeon focus of the adventure itself.

While Barrowmaze was focused on a series of underground crypts linked in one massive dungeon, the Forbidden Caverns of the Archaia is mostly a series of caves and tombs in canyon walls that get increasingly difficult the deeper you go in to the canyon. “Oh, so like and the Caves of Chaos?” Yes, but way more than could fit on a two-page map. Also, malevolent forces are uniting disparate tribes of humanoids in a bid to summon a terrible evil and conquer the world. “So, pretty much Temple of Elemental Evil?” Well, yes, but this outlines the hierarchy and provides heraldry for all the groups as well as attitudes between different sects allowing crafty players to turn evil on itself. Furthermore there are keystaffs that need to be assembled from several parts to utilize hengegates to allow the party to quickly get to different areas. “Now you’re just talking about the Rod of Seven Parts.” Keystaffs are actually way cooler, and have different powers based on the different parts used to assemble them, and parts can be interchanged. There are runes, rings, headpieces and a worksheet for players to keep track of their experimentation. It is an awesome part of navigating the adventure. Finally, at the end of the canyon there is a hellmouth that leads into the base of a volcano! This leads to another huge section of delving that can provide a ton of information on the fate of the Archaians. This leads to the actual end game of the adventure, which I won’t go into the details of here, but it is appropriately epic. With a very prepared and motivated GM, this would be a fantastically satisfying ride.

You can see the fingerprints of some of the greatest adventures of all time in this work, but Greg expands and expounds on them in way that keeps them fresh, yet familiar. Recently there was a discussion on the DCC RPG Rocks! facebook group about the opening language for Dungeon Crawl Classics modules that may need an update. DCC modules have evolved beyond what many would consider “classic” and have started delving into the more weird and less traveled paths of Appendix N inspiration. The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia stays more within what many consider classic tropes of dungeons and dragons. Yet compared side by side, this work really represents an excellent evolution of the old school for those looking to remember and honor the classics, without just replaying them.

The art features several of the same artists from DCC book like Stefan Poag, Russ Nicholson and Jim Holloway, as well as several that have a similar style like Cory Hamel, Peter Pagano, Carl McIntyre and more. Some of these same artists have work in Barrowmaze which is what originally drew me to the book at the Goodman Games booth at North Texas RPG Con in 2016.

Overall, I would highly recommend this megadungeon if you are looking for a big campaign with a lot of old school feel, but something that will keep even the hardiest grognard guessing.

Bob Ross: The Unexpected Hero of Gen Con 50

August 22, 2017 5 comments

Gen Con 50 was my first Gen Con, so I was prepared to be overwhelmed by the experience. What I was not prepared for was a Bob Ross board game to steal the show. The publishers of the game, Big G Creative, had a tiny booth. In fact, it was about a quarter of booth 431 rented from Arc Dream publishing. No one said you had to have a lot of floor space to have a hit!

The main idea of this game is to paint different elements of actual licensed Bob Ross paintings, mixing colors on your palette and using various brushes and techniques to gain the most chill points. Happy little trees? Absolutely. The components of this game are fairly simple, thematic, and well designed. The game is easy to learn and plays in about 30-45 minutes depending on how many of the 2-4 players you have gathered around the table.

Each turn involves rolling the custom die which generally provides the player a bonus card or action. If you roll Bob, you flip a chill card which may provide some additional point bonus for painting a feature using a certain color or brush when you complete a feature, and usually advances his token along the painting. This represents Bob’s progress on the current painting. Bonus chill points are also awarded for completing feature before Bob reaches them on the Bob track along the bottom of each painting. In our initial two-player play through we painted about two and a half paintings before my wife reached the end of the chill meter, ending the game. It was very close the entire time, and was a pleasure to play. The paintings sit on a little plastic easel which looks really cool, but may be difficult to position so everyone can see it for a four player game. You could just lay the painting on the table, but where is the fun in that?

The true genius in marketing this game was in some clever guerilla marketing via Bob Ross cosplay, a conspicuous little banner outside the entrance to the exhibitor hall, and only releasing 125 copies a day. This prevented a Thursday sell-out, and created quite a bit of buzz and discussion from attendees. I checked out the game in the board game geek Hot Games room in the Hyatt. I went to the booth on Friday, and was told they were sold out for today, but would have more on Saturday. You can imagine I was among several forming a line waving money for a chance to own this one early. This game is a Target exclusive, and won’t be widely available until October 1st.

Overall, this game is an excellent balance of strategy and randomness for my taste. If you are a cutthroat hardcore strategy gamer, a game with Chill in the title is likely not the game for you. Despite that, it does have plenty of opportunities to form a strategy, and compete against your fellow painters to become more chill than Bob Ross. Quite a lofty goal indeed.

Categories: Board, Gen Con 50, News, Reviews

Free RPG Day Preview – TimeWatch Resources

June 12, 2017 Comments off

Free RPG Day is this Saturday, and it looks to be one of the best in a long time! The Sanctum Secorum podcast has a list of DCC/MCC games happening around the world, and for a more general listing of stores participating check the Free RPG Day locator. Locally in Asheville at The Wyvern’s Tale, Mike will be running Gnole House, a DCC adventure from Goodman Games and Kevin (me) will be running a TimeWatch adventure called Font of Knowledge from Pelgrane Press. It is also the Tale’s 5th anniversary celebration! There will be swag bags to the first 25 people to show up and a ton of games listed on the warhorn. It is going to be an amazing day!

I also wanted to provide some resources for the TimeWatch offering, should you be running it this weekend. They don’t contain any spoilers you wouldn’t know already by just reading the adventure blurb, but I scanned in the pre-gen characters (not great, but better than nothing) which include a brief description of the character and how they relate to the other pre-gens. Without these printed out beforehand it would be extraordinarily difficult to run on the day itself, and they were not present on the TimeWatch resources page. I also did a bit of google prep, as suggested in the module, to find an actual 13th century illuminated manuscript, and created a comic sans version of the latin version of the bible. Having this visual to illustrate the hilarious concept of what a jarring historical change this would make should be an awesome moment at the table.

I’ve never played or run the GUMSHOE investigative system used in TimeWatch, but it seems to be a nice balance of player resource management, stitches (stitch in time saves nine, works like bennies in Savage Worlds or FATE points), and a healthy amount of GM fiat. Check out this article from Pelgrane Press about the system and download the cheat sheets if you want to know more!

Hope you are looking forward to Free RPG Day, and if you’re at the Wyvern’s Tale we’ll see you there!

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