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

Alternate DCC XP system

February 12, 2018 Comments off

Recently I signed up to run my first Road Crew games of 2018 for MACE West (I’ll be running Blades Against Death and co-Judging Inferno Road), and it got me thinking of years past. Back in 2013 there were a lot fewer modules and it took some salesmanship to recruit players and get them in to DCC. Back then, I had a few players show up consistently every week while most would only be there for some weeks and not others. At the time, I would have the PCs level up when I ran out of adventures for that level. Keeping track of XP seemed a bit nebulous using the rules as written:

“Each encounter is worth from 0 to 4 XP, and those XP are not earned merely by killing monsters, disarming traps, looting treasure, or completing a quest. Rather, successfully surviving encounters earns the characters XP in DCC RPG. A typical encounter is worth 2 XP, and the system scales from 0 to 4 depending on difficulty.”

This system is certainly my preference over D&D or Pathfinder experience systems, but still seems a bit nebulous for my taste. I really enjoyed the Pathfinder Society (organized play) XP system, in which PCs gain a level every 3 adventures. For DCC I would suggest the following modifications, which are really just an extrapolation of the classic optional rule:

“…consider allowing any 0-level characters that survive their first adventure to automatically advance to 1st-level and 10 XP.”

Why not use this type of system for every level? Rather than leveling every session, I would suggest 1 earned XP for each adventure survived, with the next level being the number of new experience to achieve it. This table should make more sense:

Level

New XP for next level

Total XP for next level

0

1

1

1

2

3

2

3

6

3

4

10

4

5

15

5

6

21

This allows for a more traditional XP curve (rather than 3xp = 1 level like in PFS) while reducing book keeping to a minimum. This also allows PCs to “catch up” if they join the campaign late or have a PC die early on. I feel this provides a reasonable advancement table, without requiring much record keeping on the part of the Judge or the players. Next time I run a long-running drop-in/drop-out sort of DCC campaign this will certainly be the way I manage XP and advancement.

Trigger Warning: Everything

February 4, 2018 1 comment

Very soon, we’ll be running “Inferno Road” at this year’s Mace West convention here in lovely Asheville, North Carolina. Both Kevin and Scott got a chance to play it at this year’s GenCon, but I wasn’t able to as it coincided with games I was running. It’s an insane DCCRPG death metal tournament in a nightmarish hellscape cranked up to 11 and beyond. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll are just the beginning. The index says “Trigger Warning: Everything” and the pages following live up to that fact. Not for kids, not for the faint of heart and not for everyone. We’ve said more than once we could be asked to never return, but it will definitely be worth it.

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Inferno Road binders for the Judges… we may need to burn these when done to be safe.

Here’s the basics:

INFERNO ROAD @ MACE WEST 2018
Saturday, March 10th
Asheville, North Carolina

Slaved to the overlords of Hell… you begin as a soulless grub in a sea of grubs, endlessly writhing in the burning pits of the inferno. Your eternity is suffering with the gnawing hunger for a soul… any soul… ALL souls. Plucked from obscurity and forced on board a Hellwagon in service to a Duke of Hell, you and your ‘companions’ race to overtake Satan’s Wives, pregnant with fresh souls for the Prince of Darkness. With every soul you devour your power will grow, perhaps enough to take on the the Devil himself?

RATED M FOR MATURE
Trigger Warning: EVERYTHING

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Giant 4′ x 6′ banner which we’ll have hanging behind the tables, calling those seeking ruination and destruction to join in the insanity that is “Inferno Road”

We’re planning on two tables battling head to head and as such have had to make some adjustments to the mechanics and the storyline, but the core remains the same. There will be prizes galore and a trophy for the winner.

On top of that, the Asheville DCCRPG Road Crew gang will be running a few games, notably “Blades Against Death” by Harley Stroh which Kevin will be handling and I’m scheduled to run “Blessing of the Vile Brotherhood” also by Harley Stroh. More MCC and DCC will be played after hours and on the schedule. There’s also plenty of other games for many systems, and it’s always a great weekend here in Asheville.

You can register for Mace West at THIS LINK. Come play with us… forever… and ever… and ever…

Categories: DCCRPG, Epic, MCC, RPGs, Uncategorized

Legacy of Dragonholt review

January 30, 2018 Comments off

Legacy of Dragonholt by Fantasy Flight Games is a bit unique in what has become a crowded RPG and board game space. This new boxed-set is part choose-your-own-adventure, part RPG, and part board game.

This game is set in the FFG fantasy world of Terrinoth, for which the first Genesys sourcebook has been announced. It is pretty recognizable as the traditional Tolkien-inspired fantasy world filled with elves, orcs, gnomes, and humans, with a few exceptions like catfolk as a PC race. Their are fairly typical class options: bard, knight, thief, sage, wildlander, apothecary, and brawler.

This game could serve as an excellent introduction to RPGs for younger players and is certainly something an entire family could enjoy. The character creation process is mechanically light, in that you choose associated skills based on your race and class choices. Much like the Tales from the Loop age mechanic, the more skills you choose, the less stamina you have. This allows you to build a character that is skilled but fragile, or oafish but tough.

Beyond that, you’re encourage to add as much background, personality, and description for your character as you like, but those elements just inform your decisions on the choices presented to you. This game is very narrative-heavy, but role-play light. For those more familiar with running traditional RPG adventures, it is essentially endless box text. This kind of structure can be great for new or younger players, but may frustrate experienced gamers if you don’t know what to expect.

Playing this with my wife was quite entertaining, as we took turns reading and making choices. For multiplayer games you each get a token that you flip once you’ve made a choice to make sure every one gets a chance to gain both the risks and rewards of actions taken during the adventure. Some actions only affect the “active” player, while other actions may affect the entire group.

I could see this being quite entertaining as a solitaire game, as it is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure style game book with the best props and maps I’ve ever seen for the genre. I haven’t tried a six player game, but I could see how it could be a bit dull only making a choice every sixth time one is presented. That being said, we only completed the introductory adventure so far, and the map of town has numbered sections that may allow a bit more agency in future adventures.

All in all, this is a really interesting product that appeals to me as I’m a fan of gamebooks, choose-your-own-adventures, RPGs, and board games. It is a great fit for a game night in which everyone feels like a rules-light RPG, but no one wants to (or hasn’t had time to prepare to) GM. If that sounds good to you, I recommend picking this up. There are several adventures included, and depending on the character you build and the choices you make, there is a fair amount of replay value. Still on the fence? Download the PDFs of the rulebook, character creation guide, and sample characters from the product support page. May you choose wisely and have a grand adventure!

Categories: Adventure, Board, Books, Games, Reviews, RPGs

Genesys Review

December 26, 2017 2 comments

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I spent some time over the holidays digesting the new Genesys Core Rulebook from Fantasy Flight games. As an avid fan of the Star Wars system that basically uses the same core mechanics, I figured I would enjoy FFG’s adaptations of those same concepts to other settings. The short version is, I was right! This will be my go-to system for creating unique settings, or adapting popular worlds (and IPs!) that either don’t have an RPG of their own, or the licensed RPG leaves a lot to be desired.

In my experience, other one-system-fits-all RPGs like Savage Worlds, FATE, or GURPS were OK, but failed to be really satisfying. Since you have to be able to do everything, they tend not to do anything exceedingly well.

gns01_upgradediceGenesys uses the narrative dice system from their Star Wars line with very few modifications. While the symbols on the dice are different (and some could argue more clear) if you have the Star Wars dice you can certainly use those, and do not have to buy new dice. The terminology is the same: Success/Failure, Advantage/Threat, Triumph/Despair, Boost/Ability/Proficiency dice, Setback/Difficulty/Challenge dice etc. The one omission being the Force die. Destiny points are called Story points in Genesys, and you start out with a static pool of one point per PC in the player pool, one point in the GM pool. I personally will likely house-rule this and include a roll of the force die to see whether the winds of fate are blowing for or against the PCs. Having a larger pool of destiny/fate/story points is more fun in my opinion.

This book packs a lot of great material in its 256 pages, for a very reasonable MSRP of $39.95. The system has certainly benefited from years of refinements in designing an entire shelf worth of Star Wars supplements. Sections of it read like a design guide for creating balanced skills, talents, species, and items. It offers insights in to the design process and provides a pretty elegant way to design a skill tree that feels both familiar, yet provides the tools and guidance to customize your setting.

Included are some basic profession archetypes like Laborer, Intellectual, and Aristocrat which could be adapted to any of the outlines of included settings like Fantasy, Steampunk, Space Opera, Sci-Fi, Modern and Weird War. All of the included settings have brief sections on possible species/races, items and adversaries. While not being exhaustive, they certainly cover the main tropes for each genre that provide the blueprint to allow endless expansion.

One section that got a significant overall is Social Encounters. Star Wars was moving in this direction with a lot of the more recent sourcebooks for socially-focused characters, but Genesys takes it a few steps further. As part of a social encounter (and potentially during combat using social skills!) PCs and NPCs can trade verbal barbs that actually cause strain damage equal to uncancelled successes similar to typical combat checks. An opponent is defeated once you exceed their strain threshold. All PCs and Nemesis NPCs have a Strength, Flaw, Desire, Fear, and Motivation that can be learned or accidentally revealed during the course of the encounter to the advantage of their opponent in future rounds. I think the key to successfully running these will be to allow the story to drive the mechanics rather than the other way around. PCs will still need to be fairly clever and creative in their social maneuverings, but the dice and motivations may be a fun way to represent or even inspire the ebb and flow of these encounters.

gns01_magic.jpgThere are also a few optional rule sets that make more sense in some settings than others. The vehicle rules/combat are very similar to Star Wars with very few additions. I did notice an additional range band added beyond extreme: Strategic range. This could be used in a variety of settings, but is defined by not being able to see each other with the naked eye, but only through some other means: sensors, spyglasses, radar etc. The magic rules are fairly unique and will be a pretty big departure for those used to playing wizards in D&D or similar systems. Spells are defined in broad strokes, allowing PCs to flavor them as they like, or as would be appropriate for their character. Examples include Attack, Augment, Barrier, Conjure, Curse, Dispel, Heal and Utility. Spells are divided into three main skills: Arcana, Divine, and Primal. Casters can also add special effects by increasing the number of difficulty dice. Turn a fire bolt into a fireball by adding the Blast quality and one difficulty die. Empower an attack to do damage equal to twice the characteristic linked to the skill for two extra difficulty dice. Bigger, badder spell? Harder to cast. Very elegant.

My only complaints are mostly aesthetic, which is a first for FFG RPGs. I knew going in we weren’t going to have the incredible art that drives the Star Wars universe, but the original art we do get are basically just sketches. I get its a toolkit/blueprint but not only does it look rough, it is much more sparse. At least give us a lot of it if its going to take a quarter of the time. Beyond that, the headings and subheads are in a very compact all-caps font in two shades of blue. Gross. Ideally, the various setting-specific books will have their own layout and design team, because this book is below par.

That being said, I would highly recommend picking this one up in print or PDF! One benefit of not being under the yoke of the Disney/Star Wars license is modern digital formats! For an example of what can be built using the system, check out the Fallout theme over at d20 radio.

Categories: Uncategorized

History Check: Gary Gygax High School Yearbook

December 17, 2017 Comments off

A facebook group I frequent auctions numerous gaming items, sometimes common and sometimes very rare.  Several of the members are known gaming industry talents, and others are just collectors like myself.   At the end of November, Garrett Ratini put up an item that was a rare gem from his collection. It wasn’t a game book, but books containing a surprisingly rare set of photos that made up a part of gaming history. And how the auction ended is where the real surprise happened.

The items auctioned were the 1953 and 1954 years of the Geneva Log, the Lake Geneva High School yearbook.  It was during these years that Gary Gygax, Don Kaye and Mary Powell were all in attendance.  A treasure for the gamer who wants to own a piece of history, but especially for the rarity of the photos inside.  To appreciate just how rare, you have to know a little something about the history of these three individuals.

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Gary Gygax, for one, did not finish high school, though did finish his degree years later.  A few months after his father passed, he dropped out of high school in his junior year.  These volumes then contained rare pictures of him as a student.

Secondly, Don Kaye is depicted in the book as well.  Don Kaye, a close childhood friend of Gygax from age 6, co-founded Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) with Gygax and made one of the first Dungeons & Dragons characters, the infamous Murlynd.  While the depiction of these two legends in one book might not appear to be noteworthy in itself, it is one of the few rare pictures of Don Kaye.

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TSR was founded in 1973 by Gygax and Kaye.  Later, Brian Blume bought in and supplied the capital to allow the publication of Dungeons and Dragons.  However, Kaye suffered from a heart condition and needed surgery.  He never disclosed this to his partners, and died of a heart attack before the scheduled surgery could take place, dying at age 36 just as Dungeons and Dragons was beginning to gain momentum.  As a result, few public pictures of Don Kaye exist.

Mary Jo Powell was a friend of Kaye and Gygax, and was wooed by Kaye for some time.  However, Gygax was also smitten, and proposed marriage at 19 years old.  Kaye was upset enough to not attend the wedding, though they later reconciled. Ernie Gygax recently posted a picture of Mary Jo the day after the proposal, shown below:

Powell

Mary Jo once suspected Gary of having an affair while she was pregnant with her second child, but going to confront him in a friend’s basement, found him sitting with friends around a map covered table.  She may have been the first of what my wife calls “Gaming Widows” (being spouses left by the wayside for the husband that games too much).


Garrett Ratini put these items up for auction, and the true collectors of gaming history began to come out to bid.  The buyout price for the books was $1,200.00 and likely that number would have been met, I suspect, knowing the habits of this community of bidders.  But an unexpected bidder placed a bid at somewhere around the $400 mark, and that was Luke Gygax himself, founder of Gary Con and Gary Gygax’s son.

With the permission of all involved, Garrett terminated the auction and gifted the books to Luke.  Now, these books and images of his mother and father are with him, where they truly belong.

Pre-digital history like this is easily lost, and is not on the radar of many historians, with the exception of Michael Witwer and Shannon Appelcline. Hopefully books like this will make it into the archives like the one held at GenCon 50 this past year.  Fortunately, I believe we can anticipate  these books being treasured by the Gygax family, both for themselves and for posterity.