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Review: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

November 13, 2017 Comments off

TLDR: You’re going to want to buy this.

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There was a lot of buzz for Xanathar’s Guide to Everything before it was even in print, so I anticipated this was going to be worth a look.  It reminds me a lot of what Unearthed Arcana (the book, not the webcolumn) was like for 1st edition.  Was it optional?  Yes.  Would you be missing out on a lot of content that is considered generally mainstream to play without it?  Heck yeah.

General Details

Xanathar, a secretive beholder crime lord, keeps notes on everything (he believes).  Hence the name of the book (his goldfish is his most prized possession, and that’s what’s on the stylized cover you see above).  As with Volo’s Guide to Monsters, there are little notes that run as commentary throughout the book, usually a sort of joke or snipe about the subject matter.  As the material is largely mechanics and game lore, it’s less relevant than with Volo’s but still fun.

The book is 192 pages, full color, lots of art, slick non-glossy pages (which I like).  You’re going to get this and think it feels kind of thin, however.  While the book feels light, it has a lot of content, and they pack quite a bit in those pages.

The book has three major division: Character Options, Dungeon Master Tools, and Spells, but also has two valuable Appendices.  Here’s the breakdown of the sections.

Character Options

Subclasses

By far one of the most valuable sections of Xanathars is the Character Options chapter.  This opens 31 new subclasses for the primary classes listed in the Player’s Handbook.  That’s right: THIRTY ONE.  Note that’s not 31 new classes, but subclasses (like Bardic Colleges, or Barbarian Primal Paths, etc).  I like this because I think that too many primary classes waters down your base classes and leads to unexpected bloat.  Some of these may be familiar as they have rolled out through playtesting in the Unearthed Arcana column.

A few favorites include the Bardic College of Whispers, the Grave Domain Cleric, the Samurai and Cavalier Fighter archetypes, the rogue Swashbuckler, and the War Magic Wizard. Adding rules to differentiate these classes and giving them a new feel works well, without making a GM learn entirely new modes of play functionality.

Flavor – Charts – This is Your Life

In addition to subclass details, they also offer fluff fans fun and interesting (but very brief) charts for fleshing out details about their characters and their backgrounds.  More experienced players may feel these sorts of things are unnecessary, but it definitely gives some players new ways of looking at details about their characters that will flesh them out in interesting ways.

Some sections are meatier than others. The Druid Section of the the Character Option chapter lists charts, for example, of what beasts you encounter in what environments for the purposes of exposure to allow wildshape.  You could make it up, but this is just damn handy.  Other elements, like how you learned to be a druid, are more storytelling.  Each class has this sort background material.

This culminates with a subsection called “This Is Your Life” which allows your background to be determined by charts, at your option.  This goes through siblings, parents, family history, and motivations based optionally on class or background.  I’ve always been a fan of a certain online character background generator myself (NSFW for language).  I seem to recall something like this in an older volume of D&D (maybe player’s handbook 2???) but can’t remember which book.  If you know, post in the comments.  In the end, it can be fun, and they’re clear not to be pushy about using it.  Do it, or don’t if you don’t want to.

Racial Feats

One thing you won’t hear me complaining about is more feats.  I especially like the idea of Racial Feats that continue to expand the characteristics of the races in game.  These add additional ways for characters to stand out and differentiate themselves from one another given the more simplified options of 5th edition over early incarnations like 3.5 and 4th editions.

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Dungeon Master’s Tools

Rules Clarifications

As a gamer who runs a lot of games, this section is precious to me, as it answers some questions that speaks more to design philosophy on dealing with rules questions. This chapter shotguns out some rules issues right off the bat with little ceremony, including:

  • Simultaneous Effects
  • Falling (over time and large distances)
  • Sleep Details – Involuntary Waking, Sleeping in Armor, Going Without Sleep
  • Adamantine Weapons
  • Tying Knots (both tying and slipping out of them)

There are two larger sections that go into greater detail as well:

  • Tool Proficiencies – This large section rethinks Tool Proficiency, going into specific items included in certain kits, and spelling out what a player can do with skills and tool proficiencies.  A valuable section that will assist GM’s and players alike in seeing how these should be played.
  • Spellcasting – Concealing and identifying spellcasting, measuring ways of determining gridded templates (with illustrations)

 

Challenge Ratings

One of the most important changes listed here is the Encounters Section.  This lists a new way of calculating encounter challenge ratings that seems to more accurately address the threat of solo monsters based on group size, as well as other types of encounters.  This section probably is an admission that prior CR calculations were not correct and did not accurately reflect appropriate difficulty.

Paired with this is a comprehensive list of wandering monster encounters by level and geographic environment.  For those that use such charts, it’s a masterpiece.  Very convenient.    While not previously a fan of wandering monsters, I’ve found it a useful tool when players are lollygagging or doing things in a stubborn and ineffective time-consuming way (i.e. camping after every encounter, spending an hour bonding with items in a dungeon, camping in a dangerous place, etc).  The lists are detailed, and the setting dressing it provides also fleshes out your world and the creatures in.

Other Sections

Traps Revisited — A sizable section deals with how traps should be dealt with to make them interesting, including details about constructing elaborate traps and the rules that tied therein.  This is more interesting in that it seems to suggest that the standard application of a rogue disarm role should be avoided in favor of a more descriptive approach.

Downtime Revisions –  This section elaborates on revised downtime rules, including the development of a rivalry, buying magic items, carousing complications, and so on.  Helpful if you find yourself using these rules.  We never seem to get to them in my groups, however.

Magic Items – A section here on magic items deals with suggestions on awarding magic items as a GM, and a type of common magic item that has magical effect and flavor without game-breaking power.  A new relisting of magic items by type and rarity, with notation as to whether those items require attunement, is a handy reference.

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Spells

With over 90 additional spells for all spell-casting classes, this chapter alone makes this book a must-have. I haven’t combed through these to see if they have been duplicated in other volumes, but there certainly enough new ones to make it a reference for any spell-caster when picking their list.  Some of these are old classics that have been revamped for 5th edition, others are brand new.

Appendices:

Appendix B is a voluminous list of names from different cultures to help players with naming a character.  It’s a great list, as it goes, with real world cultural names as well as fantasy names.  This is going to make one of your players very happy.

but more importantly, Appendix A is about Shared Campaigns.  

Shared Campaigns

Skyland Games originally began as a gaming group that decided to split off from Living Forgotten Realms organized play to start our own shared campaign.  Part of this split was because of frustration with the management of LFR and the various bookkeeping requirements thereof (and scenario quality, truth be told). We started our own round-robin style of gaming allowing everyone to get some play time, as well as build a common story together.  We’re big fans of it.

What’s proposed here contemplates a Living campaign like Adventurer’s Guild, but could be used for a round-robin home game as well.  It makes use of a benchmark system for leveling based on the number of hours a scenario is designed for and its relative challenge level rather than on the XP value of monsters.

Common rewards are determined at levels, including a treasure point system for awarding magic items from a pre-determined list of magic items agreed upon by the collective DM’s of the campaign. Gold can be spent on common items and maybe a small list of alchemical items.  Major magic items require treasure points, earned through play.

This appendix, however, poses a question: Is this the future (or maybe the present) of Adventurer’s League?  I haven’t been to a game in ages, so I couldn’t tell you if they had moved to this system.  If so, does the abstraction make the game less enjoyable?  I think each player might have a different answer to this question, but if everyone can pay their dues and get the items they want in a timely enough fashion, the abstraction may be worth it.  These guidelines won’t make you purchase the book, but are worth a read for any player.

Summary

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything seems largely about utility and fleshing out things that originally were left to player and GM to determine.  Some might see that as an imposition, but I find it incredibly useful.

A complaint I’ve heard about 5th edition is that the lack of specialization makes many characters seem the same.  I’d point out that, as a player for three decades now, we started with a lot less and never really thought to complain about it.  5th edition is a great expansion on what we started with, but doesn’t lend itself to the hyper-specialization that you see in 3.5 Edition D&D or Pathfinder.  These new subclasses, feats, and spells in no way serve to make 5th Edition D&D more like 3.5 or Pathfinder, but they do give a greater degree of options to make a character stand out and build on unique themes.  The content provided in this tome is very significant, and is a should-have if not a must-have moving forward with 5th Edition.

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DCC Enter The Dagon Review

September 27, 2017 Comments off

I’m running out of superlatives when it comes to DCC modules, but Harley keeps out-doing himself. This module weighs in at a monster 36 pages, and includes color photos from the tournaments at Gen Con in 2015 and 2016 that bore the same name. Enter the Dagon is much more than a typical DCC Tournament, it is an incredibly detailed 5th level adventure that centers around a spell duel tournament. Included are a page of streamlined spell duel rules that exclude some of the more fiddly bits from the DCC book like the momentum die, while maintaining cool elements like counter spells. It even provides some suggestions for Counterspell Families for what spells can counter others.

The adventure also details a timeline of events and duels, as well as a separate appendix of awesome Kovacs art of the other wizard contenders and their retainers. This adventure combines some of my favorite of Harley’s adventure mechanics: somewhat of a sandbox non-linear feel like Fate’s Fell Hand, and some time restrictions/pressure like Bride of the Black Manse. The time restrictions aren’t as literal as in Bride, but it does give the Judge a solid timeline of events to keep the adventure moving if their is a lull in the action.

Like most 5th level DCC adventures, this one would require significant preparation on the part of the Judge, and would not likely work well for a typical convention slot. This easily has at least two sessions if not three of material. One of the best features of the adventure is the centerfold map of the island. It shows the different towers of the wizard combatants and other areas of interest, but doesn’t provide any spoilers so should definitely be shared with the players to give them a sense of the environs. The wizard combats have awesome portraits that you will likely want to copy and print out like I did for Intrigue at the Court of Chaos. Having these awesome visuals really brings this adventure to life!

For fans of “The Band” in its many forms, this adventure shows the all-lady band meeting Hugh’s band on the island, reuniting them! The last two pages shows both bands, with the ladies getting a colorful cosmic background, while the actual band members remain in black and white (besides color kitten knees, and everyone loves color kitten knees).

Even if you’re not a DCC superfan or an adventure collector like myself, this is one to own. Highly recommended!

The centerfold map in progress, along with the meeting of the bands underneath!

Categories: Adventure, DCCRPG, Reviews, 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.

DCC 94 – Neon Knights Review

August 27, 2017 Comments off

Neon Knights, Dungeon Crawl Classics #94 was released at Gen Con 50. This adventure is pretty difficult to discuss without some major spoilers, so if you don’t plan on judging this one, I would suggest not reading any further.

For those judges who remain: Brendan LaSalle has created an excellent 3rd level adventure that works well as a one-shot con game, or as a bridge from a typical core DCC fantasy world to the Purple Planet for an existing campaign. It could fairly easily be adapted to be a bridge from Lankhmar or any other world to the Purple Planet as well. The Purple Planet boxed-set is not required in any way to run this adventure, but for those who own it, there is a sidebar that provides suggestions on how to incorporate those materials if the PCs remain on the planet.

Brendan outlines a clear four part plot that experienced judges could time well for a convention slot. It isn’t exactly a sandbox, but isn’t a typical dungeon crawl either. This allows the judge to allow PCs to explore, or move on to the next plot point as time allows. The PCs are charged with figuring out a strategy to break a siege surrounding the city they are in (specifics for a city are suggested at the back, but details in the beginning are left intentionally vague so judges can adapt to the city in an existing campaign) when they are whisked away to a mysterious tower and commanded to defend an old wizard from creatures attacking his tower. PCs notice pink trails as they move and their eyes glow with a pink neon light that remains visible only to each other once they return to their home plane.

It is up to the PCs to discover how these events are related and discover a way to end the siege. The ending of this adventure can go a lot of different ways depending on how the party handles the wizard, the artifact used to summon them, and what they do with knowledge discovered in the wizard’s tower in the sea of dust. This is a great adventure for experienced judges that are used to rolling with what the players come up with, and improvising based on those choices. Vazhalo’s tower is an interesting locale that would make the most traditional type of dungeon exploration portion of the adventure. Once the PCs are back in their home city, a few NPCs are detailed that will help the party research both the artifact and experience of being summoned by this far off wizard, allowing characters to role-play with these NPCs and perhaps form a plan should they be whisked away again. This provides a great balance between different play styles, and attempts to account for most possible solutions for the end. I imagine when I get a chance to run this, the PCs will come up with something entirely unexpected. That is all part of the fun!

There are extensive details provided about the artifact itself, and its use in summoning heroes. Appropriately, one of the features in this adventure is a massive gong, which played a prominent role in the Gen Con 50 DCC tournament.

Overall, if you are new to judging DCC, or aren’t comfortable with something that diverges from a more traditional dungeon crawl like Sailors on the Starless Sea, Portal under the Stars or Doom of the Savage Kings this may not be the one for you. However, if you’ve embraced the chaos and amazing potential this system brings, this adventure may serve as a very memorable convention game, or the gateway to the incredible adventures that await the party on the Purple Planet!

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

Disciples of Harmony review

June 7, 2017 Comments off

The fine folks at Fantasy Flight Games are at it again, this time with the Star Wars Force and Destiny sourcebook for the Consular: Disciples of Harmony. This book follows the now tried-and-true format of three sections: new species/specializations, new gear/vehicles, and a GM section about consular-focused encounters. Out of Edge of the Empire, and Age Rebellion, Force & Destiny is the line I have actually played and run the least, but every line in FFG Star Wars has such great stuff it is worth picking up. This book is no exception.

The first section has some interesting and to me, surprising choices for new species. This book adds the Arkanian, Cosian, and the Pau’an.

Arkanians are usually white-haired, white-eyed, 4-fingered near-humans that are known for superior genetic engineering and generally superior attitudes to other beings. Space Aryan would not be my first choice for a Jedi, but the book goes on to explain force-sensitive Arkanians seek a perfect understanding of the force through analytical research, allowing them to transcend they typical scientific perfection their people are known for and attain a more complete perfection though the force. They start with a 3 in Intellect and 1 in Presence. Beyond that, they have Dark Vision which removes two setback, and start with a rank in Medicine. I suppose this could work well for a conceited Healer, and could be a good choice if you are looking to role-play someone with a superiority complex. Alternatively you could go against type, and be the black sheep Arkanian who is actually nice.

Cosians are a reptilian species that have kind of a beak, a tail that ends in a hairy tuft and blink up instead of down. Some may recognize this race from Jedi Master Tera Sinube from Clone Wars. Out of the three, this choice seems to be the most natural for what I think of as the consular role. Hailing from a planet in the deep core, Cosia is a verdant planet and their villages are interconnected in massive trees on the surface. They start with a 3 in Intellect and a 1 in Brawn, as well as a free rank of Knowledge (Lore) and the racial trait Strong Backed, which gives them an Encumbrance of 10 + Brawn.

Pau’ans are the creepy race of (most notably) the Grand Inquisitor from Star Wars rebels. I had no idea what race he was, nor that all of them are that ghoulish in appearance. This makes them somewhat of an odd choice for one of the more diplomatic and “face” careers for Force and Destiny. They originally hail from the planet Utapau, but the various clans have been driven from their home world by the Empire. They start with a 1 in Brawn and a 3 in Willpower, but interestingly start with +12 wound threshold and +8 strain, which makes them a bit more balanced than at first glance. They start with a rank in Negotiation or Coercion, and have sensitive hearing which gives them a boost die on Perception and Vigilance checks as long as they have their protective earpieces. With those removed, they suffer an automatic threat as their ears are overwhelmed. This would certainly make an intimidating character or NPC, but seeing them in a diplomatic role is still a hard sell for me. Still, I’m glad to have the option for other careers/specs.

The new specializations compliment the core consular specs of Healer, Niman Disciple, and Sage quite nicely. The new specs are Arbiter, Ascetic, and Teacher. The challenge with the core consular specs is the career seems to focus on 3 characteristics: Intellect, Willpower, and Presence. While choosing one of the specs will allow you to narrow down to two main characteristics, if you are cross-specing within consular, you’ll want at least a 3 in each.

Arbiter is the classic role of Jedi as mediator or judge to resolve disputes. To the base consular skills of Cool, Discipline, Knowledge (Education), Knowledge (Lore), Leadership, and Negotiation, Arbiter adds Knowledge (Xenology), Lightsaber, another Negotiation, and Perception. The skill tree is a nice balance of defensive combat talents like parry and reflect, as well as “face” talents like nobody’s fool and a new one called savvy negotiator. My favorite new power on the bottom row of the tree is Aggressive Negotiations. Once per session you can perform a hard lightsaber check to reduce the difficulty of all Negotiation checks for the encounter by 2. Not downgrades… difficulty. That is one impressive lightsaber show!

Ascetics are essentially monks that eschew possessions and have studied the force in hermit-like isolation. To the core skills they add Athletics, Discipline, Resilience and Vigilance. Clearly this build relies more on Brawn than the others. Surprisingly, the only talent with an inherent conflict cost is in this tree: Mind Bleed. This allows a character to reflect physical damage on an attacker by suffering an equal amount of strain. It also requires the PC to have 2 or less encumbrance. The character suffers a number of strain equal to the wounds suffered from the attack. The attacker then suffers wounds equal to the strain suffered. Pretty dark stuff. The tree is also loaded with grit, so between being a brawny and gritty tree, its kind of dark being an Ascetic too.

The Teacher adds another rank of Knowledge (Education), Knowledge (Lore), Leadership and Perception. This would be an interesting choice to take as a first spec, as an inexperienced PC will have much to learn. Mechanically it is pretty nice since Well Rounded is a 5xp buy on the tree which allows you to choose two additional skills of your choice to make career skills. It also allows you to lend your expertise through talents like Skilled Teacher which allows you to suffer strain equal to ranks in Skilled Teacher and provide an equal number of successes to the ally’s next check. This has some very cool role-play opportunities. Teacher is probably my favorite out of the new three. Lots of interesting talents deep in the tree as well.

The weapons/gear/vehicles sections of Force and Destiny books are rarely the highlight, but this has a few really cool additions, including a lot of non-lethal options which can be fun for bounty hunters or those trying to not gain the conflict associated with murdering people. The concussive rifle is like a noise blunderbuss, and there are a few nice new grenades in the Spore Stun grenade, and the Spray Foam grenade. But the really cool addition is the melee Z6 Riot Control Baton, famously from the scene in Force Awakens with Finn and the lightning-baton wielding First Order trooper. This will be fun to arm potential foes of the PCs as it has the Cortosis quality, Disorient 2 and of course, Stun Damage. Armor includes a diving suit for aquatic diplomatic missions, as well as in interesting Reflect Body Glove that provides very low-profile armor, but degrades with each hit. It may be repaired with an average Mechanics check. The book adds some interesting lightsaber crystals in the Cracked Crystal which according to the text is from the debris of the first Death Star’s destruction in Yavin and a Corrupted Crystal, which is essentially a dark side crystal you can “reclaim” once your PC’s morality rises above 70. Seems like some cool role-playing options there. The vehicles are predominantly very low crew/passenger capacity. This would be cool for games with one or two PCs, but would seem to have limited usefulness in larger groups. The capital ship section is pretty cool, with stats for the iconic Consular-class cruiser first seen in the Phantom Menace. Its got a cool sealed conference room pod that servers as an escape pod in a pinch. This book also details stats for the Jedi training cruiser Crucible – which would be an awesome adventure in itself!

The GM section discusses incorporating three types of mentor NPCs to the campaign, each with different styles and examples from the movies and shows. There are some helpful tables that suggest styles and complications to bring your NPCs to life. They also include example stat blocks of each type: Trainer, Consultant, and Challenger. Most interesting to me was some details on alternative force traditons: Baran Do Sages, Dagoyan Masters, Gand Findsmen, and Sith Lords. Provided are benefits and drawbacks to studying with each group, as well as an XP cost to eventually overcome the drawback. The benefits include reduced XP costs to learn certain powers that correspond with the different groups. I hope they have similar stats for the Nightsisters adventure that is coming out soon! One really nice section discusses knowledge checks. It provides two possible approaches to encourage knowledge checks and make them more dynamic, and is illustrated by my favorite illustration in the book: a human consulting a datapad while his Nautolan friend holds off a Stalking Acklay. The final section talks about making diplomatic encounters exciting and provides a table of possible success/failure/advantage/threat/triumph/despair results. I’m still not convinced any amount of political maneuvering will be more fun than a firefight, but at least it gives you more tools to help spice them up a bit.

Overall, this book surprised me with how much great stuff they packed into 96-pages. I would highly recommend this book for those looking to diversify their encounters and include some really intriguing options beyond force-sensitive PCs. Despite the entire shelf I now have dedicated to this system, quality has not gone down. Time to clear another shelf!

Categories: Books, News, Reviews, Star Wars

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