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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!

Star Wars Rogue Two – Less is More

March 31, 2017 Comments off

Recently I put together a FFG Star Wars adventure for Mace West called Rogue 2. The synopsis was brief, and apparently intriguing enough to fill the table months before the con:

“You are part of an elite commando team for the Rebel Alliance. The Empire has demonstrated the fearsome and devastating power of the Death Star. It is up to you to stand up for freedom in the galaxy. Your comlink indicates a summons to the briefing room with High Command. This next mission is going to be something big. Hopefully you’ll live long enough to tell about it!”

I studied episodes of Rebels, as well as Episode IV and what I could remember from Rogue One (this was shortly after the theatrical release) and did some research about what could happen in the short time frame between Rogue One and A New Hope. In one of the behind the scenes clips for Rogue One the writers revealed they wanted to include  Wedge Antilles in the planetary shield battle on Scarif, but realized he would have never seen it since at the beginning of the battle of Yavin he says, “Look at the size of that thing…” So where is Wedge during Rogue One?

Enter Rogue Two: The Antilles Extraction. Those of you familiar with how I have run several Bounty Hunter missions will know I like to plan for a three-act structure, maybe with an optional fourth, if there is time. I play-tested this once before the con, then ran it at the con, and both times we ran out of time in our 4-hour block before getting to Act III. That being said, the sessions were great fun, but one day I plan on getting to the third act. Here is the basic outline:

Act I – Planning/Infiltration

Act II – Rescue/Escape

Act III – The Emperor’s Snare – Interdictor Showdown

With just a few other notes, a very basic map, and a small deck of probable baddies/NPCs from the adversary decks, we were off! I’ve found the more I run this system, the better it is to provide a small sandbox like a map of a ship or facility, then literally let the dice fall where they may. Relying not only on my creativity, but leaning on the players to help interpret FFG dice results has been some of the most fun I’ve had running or playing an RPG… ever.

While my actual adventure notes were pretty slim, I did a bit of research before the session to help flesh it out on the fly during the session. Researching prison facilities in Star Wars led me to discover an old Dark Horse comic called Han Solo at Stars’ End which was based on a novel by Brian Daley. I didn’t go so far as to read the novel, but I used some of the visuals to inspire the map of the exterior of the facility. The shape of the prison is a tall silo that reminded me of the cells from an episode of the Clone Wars that required floating repulsor sleds to reach them (S3E7). Beyond that, I wanted a reason Wedge and his squad were captured alive, and what better than an Interdictor cruiser to capture both ships and pilots.

 

ACT I

The first part of the session is planning the infiltration and requesting additional gear from Rebel High Command. The briefing is short on details, just the rudimentary reconnaissance scan gathered from an A-wing at long range. Mytus VII is a moon-like rock with no atmosphere and little natural gravity. I provided the squad with a choice of two available ships for infiltration: a U-Wing (with some home-brewed stats borrowed from forums) or a captured Imperial Lambda shuttle. Beyond that, they could make reasonable requests for other equipment that may be around the Yavin IV base. The playtest group requested a few speeder bikes (non-military versions, granted) and the con group requested ascension cables (which came in *very* handy). Now to plan the approach: land outside the facility and approach on foot or speeder? Land at the end of one of the tubes? Brazenly fly into one of the hangars? Any of these are options using this approach. The pre-gens I provided did not include any humans, which limited their options for posing as imperials in stolen uniforms, so both groups opted to land their U-wing (both chose the U-wing) well outside the facility and made a stealthy approach. The con team had the foresight to request an astromech droid to keep the engine running and stand by to fly in and pick them up. How they get in from here is entirely up to the table. The playtest group took out a pair of bored guards at the end of a landing tube, and stealthily made their way in to the main facility. The con group set some remote explosives on the outside of one of the tubes to the hangar, and took out a gunnery crew in one of the turbolasers.

ACT II

Now the team is in the facility, they need to find which cells have their rebel pilots and successfully extract them from the vertical tower of cells in the center of the complex. Optionally (if they are somehow captured) they could be facing off against gladiator droids in the arena on the very top level of the central tower (this is in reference to a scene in the comic) but this did not come up either time I ran it. Leaving the interior of the facility vague gives the game master great flexibility to improvise. Elevators or turbolifts can be anywhere you need them to be, as well as interior doors, tunnels to the turbolaser batteries, utilities like power and gravity generation may be in the basement. If your team seems stumped, provide them with options in a rudimentary directory (“Hmm, this says central generator on B1, arena on level 42, Warden’s Office on 41…” etc.) they can pull up from any terminal or datajack. Regardless of how they eventually get there, this will lead to an encounter with Imperial Dungeoneers in repulsor sleds. Judging from the visuals in the Clone Wars, I set up a central control tower, and at least three sleds with two dungeoneers on them a piece. Since this is an Imperial facility, I replaced the floating little cam bots in Clone Wars with interrogation droids, which make for pretty nice rival-level adversaries. This is generally where the stealth part of the mission breaks down. Alarms start going off, you can send in squads of storm troopers and their red-pauldroned sergeants as back up. Both times I ran it, this involved a few PCs in the central tower identifying the cells of the rebel pilots, and a few PCs going from cell to cell, freeing them. The con team set the gravity generators into a diagnostic mode that turned the gravity both off and on every two minutes, adding to the chaos. Once you retrieve Wedge and his squad (4-6 pilots) they reveal they were captured by the Emperor’s Snare, an Interdictor Cruiser that ripped their squad out of hyperspace. Their ships are still intact, and recoverable, if the team can capture the impound hangar. This can lead to a battle with TIEs on the base. I would encourage GMs to use group checks to narrate how the squad is doing rather than rolling a bunch of checks for NPCs, and let the PC squad take ship actions as normal. The rebels will likely outgun the Imperials until…

Act III

The Emperor’s Snare drops out of hyperspace on the horizon. Now both the commandos and the pilots are trapped unless the commandos can board that Interdictor and shutdown the gravity wells! I wrote this before watching the amazing Rebels Season 3 finale in which Interdictor cruisers play a big role, but if you are looking for inspiration for this chapter, check out the end of Rebels season 3! Having run out of time both times I ran this scenario we never actually made it this far, but I would suggest more group checks for the rebel pilots while having the PCs make some daring checks to board the bridge of the Interdictor and either shut it down or (more likely) sabotage the gravity wells before escaping. If the U-wing is still intact they may be able to take that, or if its destroyed in the ensuing battle, have them find some other shuttle or escape craft in a battle to the hangar bay. In a truly Rogue 2 like twist, the commandos may be captured or even killed in the attempt to disable the Snare and ensure the pilots get back to Yavin for the battle against the Death Star!

I hope you enjoy this adventure outline. I’m providing the map I used as well as six pre-gens for potential commandos below. Happy gaming, and may the Force be with you!

Rogue2map

GotalSaboteur

BothanQuartermaster

GranFigurehead

SullustanDriver

KyuzoHeavy

DurosInstructor

IthorianMedic

March 4th! GMs Day! Mace West Preview!

March 4, 2017 1 comment

drownedHappy GM’s day gamers! RPGnow is having a big sale, and many awesome publishers are participating. Get yourself or your favorite GameMaster something cool! I’m celebrating GM’s day by preparing for the games I’m running at an upcoming convention: MACE West 2017! This will be the third year the event will be held in Asheville, NC just outside the Biltmore at the Doubletree hotel, March 24-26th. The first year I attended I had a great time, and each year it keeps getting better and better! This year there are a staggering number of board games, RPGs, and other events listed this year at the OGRe.

The Skyland Games guys alone will be running Dungeon Crawl Classics, Mutant Crawl Classics, Age of Rebellion, Metamorphosis Alpha, Apes Victorious and Imperial Assault. Games are filling up fast, and we are looking forward to another great year at our “home” convention!

Kevin is running the Frost Fang Expedition, a 3rd party published DCC adventure that is almost purpose-built for cons since there is a ticking-clock element to the adventure. The full review is here, but the short version is this: if the heroes don’t succeed, rocks fall and everyone dies. Not everyone in the party, everyone in the town below the crumbling, floating castle. That old chestnut. He is also running one of the Metamorphosis Alpha adventures from the recent Epsilon City kickstarter, and a homebrewed Star Wars adventure called Rogue Two, in which a small rebel commando team is sent to Mytus VII, star’s end, to break out a group of rebel pilots including Wedge Antilles to aid in the assault on the Death Star.

Mike is running a homebrewed Mutant Crawl Classics adventure he will also be running at GenCon, but MACE West gets it first! Where the drowned god dwells looks to be an exciting post-apocalyptic underwater adventure! Apes Victorious from Goblinoid Games is based around Planet of the Apes and looks to be quite the enjoyable romp if you’ve ever wanted to play the role of a 70s astronaut marooned on future earth. This one is also on sale as part of the GM’s day event. If you haven’t played it yet, you can try out Goodman Games Lankhmar with Mike running Masks of Lankhmar, an adventure he was fortunate enough to playtest with the author Michael Curtis at GaryCon VII.

Scott is running three slots of Imperial Assault, and thanks to the hard work and excellent skill of local mini-painter Galen, they will be some great looking sessions! Minis in the front are some of the bones from recent kickstarters, but the back shelves are all Star Wars! There are more games and events than ever before, these are just the few events we are running. Check out the event pages on facebook and at Justus Productions to find out more. See you there!

minis

 

Star Wars Edge of the Empire – No Disintegrations Review

February 11, 2017 2 comments

swe16_book_leftThe day has finally arrived, and FFG has saved the best for last. No Disintegrations, the last career sourcebook for Edge of the Empire has finally hit the shelves, and it was worth the wait. This book follows the now very familiar three-section format. The first details new race and specialization options, the second focuses on gear and vehicles, and the third provides GMs with adventure ideas focused on the particular career. As someone who has been running plenty of bounty hunter games, I was eagerly awaiting this release over any other in the FFG RPG line, and it does not disappoint.

First up: new species. The Devaronians debuted in the Force and Destiny book, Nexus of Power, and are the devilish looking aliens first seen in the Mos Eisley cantina scene. Most notably, the species possess two livers, and add an automatic success to Resilience checks they make. Don’t get in a drinking contest with the devil. They also start with a 3 in cunning which will serve them well in a bounty hunting role. The other two races are new additions to the FFG Star Wars system: Clawdites and Kallerans. Clawdites are known for their shape-shifting doppelganger abilities, as showcased in episode II of the movies by Zam Wesell, the Clawdite hired to assassinate Padme. Mechanically, to change their appearance from their natural somewhat reptilian look, they suffer 3 strain and make an average Resilience check. Starting out with a rank in Resilience as their other species feature helps. These guys start with a 3 in cunning as well, and with their Changeling ability, offer a very compelling option for a bounty hunter. Kallerans were introduced in the Kanan: The Last Padawan comic. They can breathe through their skin which presents quite the paradox: they are strong but fragile, starting with a 3 in Brawn but only adding 8 for their initial wound threshold. Compare this with a Wookie adding 14 to their initial wound threshold and it is tough to make the case for a Kalleran PC. They have hypersensitive antennae which provides them with a rank in the Heightened Awareness talent, so could make an interesting force-sensitive PC, but seems like an odd choice as a bounty hunter.

zamNew specializations in this book include the Martial Artist, Operator, and Skip Tracer. Martial artist has a lot of interesting talents focusing on unarmed strikes and parrying in melee and brawling combat. Clients often pay more for live acquisitions, though this particular specialization may appeal to more than just bounty hunters. This may be a compelling choice for smaller parties that require more well-rounded PCs instead of specialists. To the core bounty hunter skills of Athletics, Brawl, Perception, Piloting (Planetary), Piloting (Space), Ranged (Heavy), Streetwise and Vigiliance, Martial Artist adds another Athletics, Brawl, as well as Coordination and Discipline. Your key attributes would certainly be Brawn followed by Agility, but this would make you a good pilot and a good shot in addition to being the muscle. If you are looking to create an all bounty hunter group with highly specialized PCs, hand the piloting keys over to the Operator. They add Astrogation, Gunnery, as well as additional ranks of Piloting (Planetary) and Piloting (Space). With a nice mix of talents from Ace:Driver and Explorer: Navigator, your key characteristics would be Agility followed by Intellect. Talents like Debilitating Shot allow the operator to disable vehicles with gunnery checks, as well as Shortcut and Improved Shortcut making them superior racers and ideal during vehicular pursuit of an acquisition. The Skip Tracer may be the most versatile of all three, but it is also the least focused. They add Cool, Knowledge (Underworld), Negotiation and Skulduggery, all new skills to the bounty hunter tree with two out of the three relying on Presence. With talents like Bypass Security, Good Cop, and Hard-boiled this would make a solid choice as a leader for a bounty hunter group, and certainly who you would want in the room while negotiating the contract, but suffers from being a Jack of All Trades, Master of None. This would be a fun choice for a small group focusing on investigations/noir kind of adventures, but it will take a lot of experience before they are as good as a larger group with more specialists. Ideally, you would want a 3 in Presence, Agility, and Cunning, which will give you a good pool for most of your career skills.

The two signature abilities are Always Get My Mark and Unmatched Devastation. Always Get My Mark is a narrative ability that basically fast forwards the plot until you start an encounter at your mark’s location. The book mentions the inherent issues with this as it has the ability to essentially skip the majority of an investigation/pursuit adventure and suggests this will always be a negotiation between the GM and the PC. I guess it could be cool, and I’ve never had a single character long enough to buy into one of the narrative signature abilities, but it doesn’t do a whole lot for me as a GM. It seems the cons far outweigh the pros. Unmatched Devastation is the more combat-oriented power, allowing a PC to make an additional combat check against the same target with increased difficulty and must be made with a non-ship/vehicle weapon not already used this turn. The “there was a firefight!” (NSFW language) scene from Boondock Saints immediately jumps to mind. With upgrades you can choose more targets and draw more weapons as well as move as an incidental for two strain. This ability would certainly allow a notorious bounty hunter to carve through crowds of mooks and create some truly memorable battles – especially for well-armed, outnumbered hunters.

swe16_weponsNow to the gear! The second section of the book is definitely the highlight for me, as we now have official stats for Mandolorian armor and attachments, a few nice rifles, and five flavors of mini-rockets for either under-rifle launchers, pistol or wrist mounts: Anti-Armor, Explosive, Flechette, Incendiary, and Ion. There are also rocket attachments to increase range and improve accuracy as well as adding the Guided quality. They are awesome! There are a couple of melee weapons, including an ion pike that only does ion damage, but does 10 pierce 4! That would be a must have for a droid bounty. There are a few new interesting armor types, but of course the most intriguing is Mandalorian Armor with its five hard points. Armor attachments include micro-rocket launcher, integrated holsters, and repulsor-assisted lifting which reduces encumbrance so you can add more stuff! There is so much great gear in this book: holonet homing beacons, rocket boots, a holographic disguise matrix… the gear section is amazing.

But that is only half of it! In a brilliant stroke of brand synergy, the ships and vehicles section gives you EotE stats for almost every Scum ship in the X-wing miniatures game, since that faction is made up of all the famous bounty hunters from Star Wars. It stats out IG-88’s Aggressor Assault Fighter and provides a mechanic that makes it more maneuverable with safety limiters turned off, which causes 3 strain to organics, but only 1 to droids. The signature craft of 4-LOM and Zuckuss G1-A is provided as is the Kihraxz star fighter, YV-666 Hound’s Tooth and the soon-to-be-released C-ROC scum capitol ship.  It also stats out a few ships from recent Rebels episodes like the Mandolrian Protectorate starfighter and the Shadowcaster. The vehicle attachments include a minelayer and six types of mines! Unlike typical weapons, mines require a hard Piloting (Space) check and their damage equals the base for the mine plus uncancelled failures. Uncancelled threats can be used to trigger various qualities for the different types of mines.

swe16_shadowcasterThe third section of the book is focused on the GM, and includes a lot of information for running investigations (which a lot of bounty hunts could certainly be) this is almost word-for-word identical to the section in Force and Destiny Endless Vigil, which is a bit disappointing. They do go into a bit more depth towards the end about creating obstacles and transistions between scenes, as well as creating an investigative campaign. If you were interesting in building these types of adventures and could only own one, I would certainly recommend this over Endless Vigil. Beyond that, there is some specific information for what benefits and risks go with being a guild bounty hunter as opposed to freelance, and outlines a few example investigative campaigns. The book ends with a section on rewards for different types of bounties and provides a table of sample bounties and modifiers in addition to exploits. Exploits provide a mechanical benefit to the bounty hunter based on performance after bringing back a Major or Legendary target. Some of these include: Humane: boost die to negotiation checks for bounties, but setback die for coercion checks about physical violence. Professional: may ask for a 10% advance on the next bounty after delivering a target within three days. Oppressor: hunter was a part of the rebel alliance or affiliate organization – adds 10% to bounties posted by the empire and increases the difficulty of social checks with rebels once.

Bottom line: This book is epic and amazing. If you only own one sourcebook for Edge of the Empire, this should be it.

Ghostbusters and Dread – RPGs for Halloween

October 26, 2016 5 comments

AVL Scarefest was an absolute blast this year. The year before was great fun, but this year exceeded my already high expectations. For the uninitiated, AVL Scarefest started as a spooky Pathfinder Society game night at our FLGS the Wyvern’s Tale. GMs and players were encouraged to wear costumes and play the more Halloween-themed scenarios. This was such a hit, it quickly out-grew the ample gaming space at the tale. In 2015, some intrepid Asheville Pathfinder Lodge members started organizing a con to be held in the nearby idyllic and yet somehow spooky Montreat conference center. They invited GMs and players from far and wide to run all manner of spooky games. Some were on theme by their very nature like Call of Cthulhu, Dread, and Ghostbusters. Others had appropriately themed scenarios, despite not being creepy themselves like D&D, DCC, Star Wars, Shadowrun etc.

This year I got to play in both a Dread and a Ghostbusters game. If you are looking for something appropriate for the holiday to do with your gaming group this year, I would highly recommend checking these out. First up: Ghostbusters.

Tgbrpgstarterhe version we played is still basically the version that West End Games released in 1986. It has been out of print forever, but thanks to the magic of the internet you can find all the files you need at Ghostbusters International. Thanks to the Nerdy Show running a podcast called Ghostbusters Resurrection, they have produced updated equipment decks and ghost dice, as well as some updated and expanded rules. The system is d6-based and very easy to pick up. You can play one of the iconic ghostbusters from the original movie, or do what we did and play yourself. There are only four traits in the 1986 version: Brains, Muscles, Moves, and Cool. Each is assigned a number from 1 to 5, and you have 12 points total to spend between the four traits. Each trait has talents associated that are more specific. For instance, Venkman’s talents are Parapsychology, Brawl, Seduce, and Bluff. These each have a number associated with them that represent the number of d6 you roll when testing that skill. Once you declare an action, the GhostMaster has you roll the number of d6 associated with the appropriate trait and (if applicable) skill. If your total is higher than the target number the GM sets, you succeed.

There is a twist in the form of the Ghost die. One of your d6s for any check must be a ghost die. If it results in the iconic ghostbuster symbol, something bad happens. If you come up with a ghost but beat the target number you still succeed but with a complication. For example, you are deploying a ghost trap, but you step on the switch sideways and now it is jammed open and must be manually shut. If you roll a ghost and fail the check, you fail with a complication analogous to rolling a 1 in D&D and similar systems.

Your character also has brownie points which you can spend to add extra d6s to a check. You can also earn brownie points at the GMs discretion. Once you earn 30 you can increase one of your traits by one. Equipment is handled by the equipment deck. Your character can only take 3 cards with them on any job so choose wisely! This is a fun way to deal with encumbrance and allow your busters to make smart, or at very least hilarious, choices about gear.

Our intrepid GM for Scarefest did some research about local spooky events in Asheville and based our scenario around Highland Hospital and the tragic death of Zelda Fitzgerald. Doing a little bit of research about local ghost stories or tragedies in your area can add a lot of local color to the game. I would highly recommend throwing a few bucks at the Nerdy Show to pick up an equipment deck and ghost die from their starter kit and get to busting ghosts!

dread2016Next up: Dread. This is an RPG that uses a Jenga tower for action resolution. Diceless RPGs can elicit opinions from both fervent supporters and detractors, but stick with me (pun intended). Dread starts with a questionnaire for players that allow them to decide attributes about their character. Questions like: What is your most prized possession? Describe the last time you were bullied. How did you react? What is your biggest fear? What was your proudest moment? All of these questions are not about the player themselves, but the character they wish to portray for the scenario. Once the Host (GM) has read the questionnaires and taken a few notes on each, the game begins.

When players take an action that may be challenging or is thematically interesting if they fail, the Host may ask that character to make a pull from the Jenga tower to succeed. Jumping across a pit? Using an improvised weapon to fend off an enemy? Attempting first aid without supplies? All are good opportunities for a pull. Our Host also used this for perception if something was unclear. He would tell the character what they think they saw, and a pull would give them more information or certainty. If the tower falls, your character dies. Potentially, the characters could be incapacitated or removed in some other way, but most typically the consequence is death. As one might expect, this is very easy early on in the game, and becomes increasingly difficult as the game goes on.

Several scenarios are included with the RPG itself. We played one called 13, in which we were kids at a sleepover that woke up in an old strange house. The house had no windows, and seemed to be very old. Events got quite a bit creepier from there, seemingly just as the Jenga tower grew more unstable. As we made a pull, the host would usually be right over our shoulder whispering about our character’s insecurities or just about the stakes of the action itself during the pull. This really heightened the atmosphere and added to the tension in the game. Once one character was eliminated, our Host made several pulls to keep the danger level appropriate for the time we had remaining in the game. In the Rules As Written, remaining players take turns making pulls removing 3 blocks for each character that has been removed so far. Characters may also make a heroic sacrifice and, with the Host agreeing it would be appropriate, push the tower over on purpose. Unlike accidentally collapsing the tower, the character succeeds at their task, but is still eliminated from the game.

I highly recommend this game for this time of year, but it could be fun any time you and your gaming group wants to have a tense, horror-themed game. The entire table couldn’t help but cheer at precarious, successful pulls and cry out in anguish as the tower finally fell. When is the last time your entire table cheered or screamed at a die roll? Pick up the 167 page PDF for $12 or soft-cover book for $24 plus shipping. Pick up a Jenga tower, and have a very memorable game night!

The Value of Unplugging

October 10, 2016 Comments off

plugged-in-teens-1024x458
So after observing that our kids fight constantly when exposed to a lot of TV and Video games, we decided (okay, my wife decided) there’d be no electronics during the week (with a few very specific exceptions) during the regular school year.

Harsh.

I was waiting for the kids to drive her nuts, and for everyone to then drive me nuts, and for that rule to be abolished and things to go back to normal.  To my surprise, after a day or two there were few complaints. The kids starting fighting less, and started actually “doing” more.  They slept better, got more exercise, and generally seemed less cranky. And best of all, we started spending more time together, with them taking an interest in RPG’s and Board games.

If you’re reading this and you’re a millennial tabletop gamer, I salute you.  The discretion to play role-playing games or board games when you’ve grown up with a plethora of media options was an unlikely one; streaming video, various video game platforms with multiplayer functionality, not to mention cell phone games and apps… it took a lot for you to even care enough to try to play a role-playing or board game where humans had to assemble in person around a table after learning rather complex rules.  If you’re older, you may understand that in the 80’s, when G.I. Joe went off the air for the day at 4:30, there was only the news and later Miami Vice or the A-Team to look forward to.  That downtime needed to be filled with something that wasn’t TV, and there was a limit to how much ATARI you could play before ragequitting.

Hence, in my day, tabletop role-playing games, board games , and war games were what we turned to.  And of course, books, sports, etc.  But on your basic rainy day or evening, we poured over the books and made characters or pulled out Talisman or O.G.R.E and had at it. Unwittingly, my wife has re-created that experience for my kids, and now they’re looking with renewed interest at my hobbies as a way to pass some enjoyable time.

I previously blogged about how my son showed some enjoyment from playing Dungeons & Dragons, but since he’s not quite old enough to be literate, he’s not catapulted into it like I had hoped.  My older daughter is a voracious reader, however, and after finishing Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle books, she’s showing a lot more appreciation for the concepts in fantasy RPG gaming than she ever has previously.

Both, as it turns out, love painting miniatures.

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I’ve had to set some restrictions to make sure they don’t paint things I have plans for, and not everything is a gem, but some are actually quite good, from both the younger one and the older.

Moreover, they’ve both become eager players of board games.  We’ve finally been able to start working through my massive collection of board games, half of which have stayed in the shrink-wrap due to the difficulty finding time with other gamers when we’ve got an RPG schedule that doesn’t allow the time.  Exposure to some of the board games like Wizards of the Coast’s Temple of Elemental Evil has got her interested in a more RPG-like experience.  It’s helpful her friends have read the same books and also enjoy painting miniatures as well (enough to shop for their own figures on reapermini.com).  For better or worse, we may just have a tween girls gaming group in the making.  You can bet I’ll blog about that, should it happen.

The time we’ve spent together has been fun for all of us, and we’re talking and sharing and growing closer as a family when this is going on, which is contrary to the quietude of zoning out in a show or game that doesn’t invite the distraction of conversation.  Of course, you don’t have to unplug to share this time, but you may just find that there’s peace that comes with cutting out those unhealthy distractions and getting back to a simpler time before Netflix.

I got on today to write board game reviews from the new games we have been playing, but realized this was maybe the more important part of the story.  Next week and for hopefully weeks to come, I’ll be sharing more of what we’re playing and how it works with younger players as well.