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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Weekend R&R: Mini Six

I enjoy the d6 system and have said as much on repeated occasions.

My first foray with the system would be though West End Games' classic Star Wars RPG at a time when I truly got fed up with TSR and their bloated publishing schedule and, what I perceived as schlock, being produced.  This would have been around the mid-90s.  The Star Wars RPG (and d6 in general) was easy to grasp, quick to learn, and fast to play and the rules were light enough to allow the freedom and flexibility for a narrative and cinematic experience.  It was also the first 'bucket-full of dice' game I played, a symptom usually associated with dice-pool systems.  I think I just liked rolling many dice but then, which gamer doesn't?

My initial foray as a character in the Star Wars universe was a brief one... he ended up dying in a cockpit of an A-Wing but it was an experience I remember fondly.  It would be a few years later that I ended up trading a deck of Magic cards (my primary play and tournament deck at the time) in exchange for ten Star Wars RPG books (all hardback rulebooks save three of them).  Within a few years from that, my collection grew by leaps and bounds as I was able to get a lot of those books severely discounted.

By the end of the 90s, West End Games had lost the Star Wars license and ceased producing the game but fortunately, they had also managed to release "The D6 System: The Customizable Roleplaying Game" before eventually going into bankruptcy.  It got basically bought out afterwards, and three generic d6 books: "Space", "Fantasy", and "Adventure" were published.  From this, there was also a big push to essentially restore West End Games and this was called "Septimus".  A couple of years back, I wrote an article about it which can be found HERE but things just didn't work out as planned.

In what almost seems to have been an act of contrition with the failure to rise from the ashes, the last act of West End Games was to declare various works as System Reference Documents and release an Open Game License for the D6 System knows as OpenD6.

And this brings us to Mini Six.

While Mini Six is not the first distilled rulebook for the D6 System, it it perhaps the shortest, and best streamlined and accessible version of the d6 rules you can get.  Including the OGL, the book is 36 pages and almost a third of those pages are just sample settings.  Simply put, Mini Six is an excellent distillation of a rule set made popular by the Star Wars RPG which, for some, is still the best rules incarnation of the license.  I will admit that the current FFG ruleset is pretty damned sweet though.

Obviously, with a rules light system there is a lot of room to throw in a few things to make this rulebook a functional and versatile one.  There is enough samples of critters and people along with vehicles to fill basic needs.  Weapons and Equipment is equally streamlined and was always something which tended to be on the 'simple' side however, it works very well for the scope of this book.  As for stuff that might not be in the book, the system itself is simple enough and examples are ample enough to allow for someone to create what they need for the game.

As such, the book as-is and the system being easy and quick to learn and play makes Mini-Six a great ruleset for an extended campaign or just the one-shot.  It give a bit more 'crunch' than "Fate: Accelerated" and will feel more familiar for games who have played various pen and paper based RPGs before.  Obviously, Mini Six won't be perfect and you can't expect it to have EVERYTHING but it has everything you would want to build upon.

While I praise Mini Six, I'm afraid that I am somewhat hesitant to deliver the same praise to AntiPaladin Games.  I am fortunate enough to have gotten my hands on a physical copy via Lulu and, while this took a long time to actually happen, at least it was always available as a free download from their site.  Presently, there is no way to get a new printed copy of the book.  The free links have been removed but, at least it is available at RPGNow! (OBS) over HERE.  It is a 'pay what you want' with a suggested price of $2.00.  As for a print product, it will eventually happen but there is an uncertainty when this will actually happen.  The last time they promised a print copy, it took a few months for it to show up on Lulu but I'm hoping that transitioning from Lulu to RPGNow for POD won't take anywhere near as long this time around.  However, at 36 pages, it shouldn't be too bad to get the file and have something printed yourself if you are the type to want something tangible and just can't wait.

I've had the fortune to play Mini Six more than once in the past few years and I'm sure it will happen again this year.  Mini Six is a great little rulebook and system and if you only ever get one D6 related book, this one is certainly worth considering.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kickstart This: Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion

While I am backing and supporting Troll Lord Game's latest Kickstarter for Victorious, there is another intriguing crowdfunding campaign that I wanted to highlight.  I stumbled upon it accidentally and I'm glad I did.

The Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion is essentially a supplement for Call of Cthulhu -- in particular, the Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign which was originally released back in 1984.  For fans of the game, this campaign is heralded as one of the finest adventure campaigns that Chaosium published.  While admiring the new and revamped Horror on the Orient Express boxed set at GenCon this past summer, I was fortunate to see the limited hardcover edition of the 2010 printing of the book.  I snatched it up along with the two Achtung Cthulhu rulebooks I had been eyeing as well.

Masks of Nyralathotep is a bit of a monster of a campaign which takes you across the globe in a series of connected scenarios much in the way that Horror on the Orient Express plays.  There is a lot of flexibility, potential for side-adventures, many NPCs and the lot of it makes for a very complex and challenging campaign.  It's complicated enough that a Game Master will need to do sufficient prep to pull it off and the 'net is full of tales of woe and cautionary tales on running this campaign.  However, running it successfully is very rewarding which is why many consider Masks of Nyralathotep so great.

Fortunately, after considerable time and effort, Yog-Sothoth.com has assembled a Companion volume to this venerable campaign.  At 600 pages, this book is two to three times longer than the campaign itself (depending on the edition)!  Many fans of the recent Horror on the Orient Express campaign had wanted to see a similar revised and expanded treatment done to the Masks of Nyralathotep.  I feel that it's safe to say that this Companion combined with the campaign basically achieves the same.

The book itself is impressive and I've seen the material.  Even if you don't plan on running the campaign, there is still plenty of resource material in this book to consider the investment.  If you would like to know more about the campaign, you can find information and the Kickstarter HERE.  Prices are in British Pounds so, it might seem pricey when you factor in the conversion and shipping but remember -- it is a 600 page book!  It is also something I look forward to having on my bookshelf.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Mail Call: Rogue Mage Game Master's Guide

Last Friday, Canada Post delivered my copy of the Game Master's Guide for the Rogue Mage RPG.  By doing so, delivery was completed for one of the oldest Kickstarters I backed which was completed just shy of three years ago on March 5th, 2012.

It was an interesting campaign for a few reasons.  It happened before we started seeing some of those 'mega' funding campaigns raising ridiculous amounts of money for one.  And, looking back at all the comments (there are less comments than updates and there weren't many updates the past couple of years), none were nasty like others I have seen that blew a delivery date by a few months.  For some reason, delivery was slated a few months after March but this obviously didn't happen.

To their credit, they did deliver a bunch of rewards instead of holding on to everything until it was all ready to ship out and this probably helped a great deal.  While updates were few, there was still some support and it goes to show that a little goes a long way.  That said, I've seen a lot of other toxicity with out Kickstarters that were still delivering stuff and some of it quite unfairly.

I think it shows how the mentality, perception, and most importantly, expectations have shifted in the past couple of years.  And I'm not thinking of just the backers here... project creators do share in some of the blame when you look at various projects.

However I am happy to check another off my list.  Sadly, I'm not sure if I'm even interested in the game anymore... it's still fascinating to look through and the concept (and novels) are pretty fun.  I am still happy to have supported it though, I have to say that the binding of this book is sub-par.  The book looks like it's ready to come apart but maybe I was just unlucky with this one.  While I'm a bit disappointed with that, the the content itself is solid.  I'll still hold on to the pair of rulebooks and novels I got from the Kickstarter... the books were signed by Christina and the author of the series, Faith Hunter.

Who knows, it might make for a solid one-shot, though, if I did that, I'd adapt the system a bit to streamline it and turn it a bit more rules light for the game.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why Victorious Matters?

Troll Lord Games has launched a new Kickstarter a few days ago for 'Victorious' -- a game set in the last half of the 19th century.  Like Amazing Adventures, this is its own game but remains compatible to Castles & Crusades and other Siege Engine games.  For those who have enjoyed the recent television series, "Penny Dreadful" or were a fan of Alan Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", or simply loved some of the literature of the period such as the venerable Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Arthur Conan Doyle, they will find many things to like with the new game.

I have a history with this game and readers who have followed the development of this project and Arcana Creations will know that I was a brief custodian at one point.  While things ultimately didn't work out back then, I was always a supporter of the game and saw the tremendous potential with it.  While I am not aware of any significant changes with the system since I last looked at the material and now, I feel that it is safe to say that many of the core concepts in place have not changed.  With games like Amazing Adventures and Castles & Crusades being more of a class/level based game, it was immediately refreshing to realize that Victorious leaned towards being more of a skill based game while remaining tied to a leveling mechanic.  In short, you don't pick a 'class' but your essentially create it (your character) from scratch.

When Castles & Crusades was launched a decade ago, Troll Lord Games was also publishing other materials.  They had, up to that point, been supporting the d20 movement by offering great third party supplements, and along with it, material for Lejendary Adventures which was part of the Gygax catalog of stuff they were doing.  With the success of C&C and the underlying mechanic at the core of the system, capitalizing on it and expanding the Siege brand was a very natural step.  One of the first attempts to grow the game outside of the Fantasy genre was, Star Siege: Event Horizon.  I mention this because, there too there was an attempt to move away from the archetypal, class-based level mechanic and focus on a skill based one instead.  Unfortunately, the Star Siege boxed set proved to be less of a game than a toolkit to create your preferred sci-fi game.  While well-designed, execution as a product was criticized by many as a misstep.  Other attempts were very mixed such as Tainted Lands arriving a year later and Harvesters a year after that.  Both Tainted Lands and Harvesters suffer from trying to be both their own games but sticking too close to C&C making both seem more like supplements than standalone products.  Arguably, they both contain enough bare-bones material to be used by themselves but I have yet to meet someone who did.

Fortunately, during this time, C&C itself continued to grow albeit slowly at first.  Something amazing happened in 2012 with the release of Amazing Adventures.  In some ways, Amazing Adventures played it safe -- it was entirely compatible with C&C but it had it's own identity.  As a pulp adventure game, few games of the genre embraced the class-based level mechanic the way that D&D (and C&C) employed.  A lot of the more popular games for the genre tended to focus towards skill-based character builds as opposed to archetypal ones.  While it heavily borrowed from C&C's playbook, it wasn't just a game with the serial-numbers filed off.  It brought more customization of the characters, new rules, and new ways of doing things.  For fans of both games, it gave a broader toolkit that could be used for either system with ease.  Some fans welcomed this and some didn't take to the original, and decidedly more abstract concepts for character creation in Star Siege.

The point is, the approach was hugely successful and a necessary step for Troll Lord Games.  TLG finally branched out and created a new line that was proving to be successful and popular.  Much so that, when they moved to a second printing, they expanded the line from one book to three books late last year.  Well, more like expanding... the kickstarter campaign ended successfully in the Fall and thus far the first two books have been released to backers via PDF so there is more to come.

Victorious on the other hand has it's origins possibly dating as far back as Star Siege.  Development for Star Siege started as far back as 2006 with 'beta' play-testing happening in 2008.  Brave Halfling Publishing and Arcana Creations were approached with Victorious in 2009  at a point when Troll Lord Games were not ready to proceed with Victorious themselves.  Back then, the framework of the game had already been worked out and I had created a character and played a session and the material was fantastic.  Victorious has effectively been demoed and play-tested since.  As I indicated before, I had nothing but good intentions and had even over enthusiastically committed to a 2010 release.  Anyone who has a copy of the 'Secret of Ronan Skerry' (not the earlier digest version but the version that went into retail distribution) will see the proud ad in the back of the module.  It just didn't work out but I'm glad that Mike Stewart persevered with his game.

It's worth looking at the Quickstart (which you can find HERE) but, when you do, understand it isn't an official release from Troll Lord Games and some material could change by the time the game is finally released.
Judging by the Quickstart, you will have a system that, not only follows the general mechanics of play found in C&C, but goes a bit further with skills and powers.  There is no defined class so, Victorious is the closest at creating creating a level-based gaming experience that doesn't rely on pre-made character classes to choose from.  While developmentally speaking, it doesn't follow Amazing Adventures, for fans of the Siege Engine, it will appear that it builds upon it since, Victorious in many ways will give an even greater flexibility in the emerging family of Siege Engine games which is proving to be successful for Troll Lord Games in its 15th year of operation.

For more information on Victorious and the current Kickstarter, you can check out the Facebook page HERE, and the fundraising campaign which has completely busted their initial goals HERE.

EDIT -- Also, feel free to check out the Google Plus Community for Victorious and join if you are so inclined (HERE)


Weekend R&R: Fate Accelerated

A little over a couple weeks ago, I asked: "What makes a good rulebook"?

The answer seemed to center on the notion that a good rulebook tends to be shorter and more concise and able to outline the system in fewer pages to get the idea across.  As such, I thought it would only be fitting if I looked at some of these shorter books and start with 'Fate Accelerated' which outlines a system in about forty pages.

My first, and really, my only experience with Fate was 'Spirit of the Century' which is also published by Evil Hat Productions.  While I am not a convert, I did have a lot of fun in the one session I played.  I did like the production quality of the book but the system seemed to be even more abstract than I was accustomed to.  I quickly learned that it the underlying system had its strengths and weaknesses.  I didn't pick up 'Spirit of the Century' myself though, if you are already familiar with Fate and like Pulp, I would recommend it.  For me, it made enough of an impact that I decided to pick up the 'Fate Core System', 'Fate System Toolkit', and 'Fate Accelerated'.  I suppose I didn't really need the Accelerated book if I was picking up the Core and Toolkit books but, being that it isn't my go to game, and the physical copy was only $5, I figured a book that distilled the essentials of the system would be well worth the investment.  If not, it's not like the $5 would break the bank.

The system, as presented in Fate Accelerated, is deceptively simple.  It is a system that people tend to love or hate and I can understand why.  It's a system that I wouldn't mind playing but I'm not sure if I would ever do so long term.  To me, it's an interesting option for a pick-up game and while all pen-and-paper RPGs are essentially cooperative games, I feel that Fate is much more dependent on character and player interaction to all jointly tell the story.  There are very few numbers that a player really has to deal with in the system and the game uses 'fudge dice'.  That is to say, six-sided-dice which contains a couple of  '+' signs, '-' signs, and blank sides (2 of each for a total of six sides).

Character Creation is very simplistic but very open ended depending on the 'stage' of character creation.  You start off by listing aspects of your character which pretty much define your character instead of choosing something like a class, race, etc...  This is broken up as your 'High Concept' which is basically the archetype/concept for the character.  Using one of the pre-gens in the book, Reth is a 'Suncaller of the Andral Dessert'.   You then define the characters 'Trouble' and in Reth's case, 'Steel Assassins want me dead'.  Finally, you have other additional (other aspects).  Reth has 'My Kung Fu Is The Strongest', 'Crush on Avasa' and 'I Can Learn from Serio's Experience'.

Obviously, someone who is looking for something a bit more rigid and defined in a gaming system might not like the above when they realize that this isn't stuff picked out from the rulebook.  These are created by the player, and given the nature of the game, the best outcomes might be when players create their characters together with the GM.  Obviously, the GM would have to agree that a 'Suncaller' is a thing and that the Andral Dessert exists.  More importantly, Steel Assassins will have to exist and will need to crop up time and time again.  Considerations regarding Avasa and Serio also need to be made.  With a party of characters all have created and perhaps connecting aspects, it will become very apparent how collaborative a story this is -- perhaps even more than your typical pen and paper RPG.

The largest mechanical component of the system is regarding 'Approaches' -- there are six in all.  They are Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, and Sneaky.  Each approach has a numerical bonus attached to it and characters start with approaches ranging from 0 to +3.  These can be improved over time and they are basically descriptions on how you approach various tasks and challenges.  Quickly climbing over a wall may present a different bonus to your character than Carefully climbing over the same wall.  These bonuses are added to the dice roll for the attempted task.

On top of that, your character has a stunt which will add another bonus in a given situation and Fate points which will affect the course of the game.  With all that, you play by trying and create advantages for a given situation, you overcome challenges, attack, or defend.  Your approaches will determine how you do this, and the die rolls will determine if you fail, tie, succeed, or succeed with style.  As far as combat is concerned, it's Attack vs Defense and failure to adequately defense will result in Stress and further complications (Consequences).

Those are the rules in a nutshell.  Fate Accelerated is far from being a very granular system with a plethora of rules and modifiers.  It certainly encourages story tellers and, with the right group of players, will play very fast and loose and be an amazing gaming experience.  Unfortunately, it may be that Fate is a bit too abstract for some people to adequately enjoy.  The Fate Core book is a lot bigger than Fate Accelerated -- about 250 pages longer in fact.  In some ways, it doesn't add much more to it save for greater detail and more examples to draw from.  That isn't to say there isn't new material in the Core book, it's more about options and showcasing the system.  Given what Fate Accelerated accomplishes in the 48 page book, you do have all you need to run a game with provided the GM and players are open to it.

As for the presentation itself, the text is clean and readable in a nice 6x9 perfect bound book.  The art is not to my preferences but the art is very well done and the style is consistent throughout the book.  For the cost of a designer cup of coffee at Starbucks, you can pick up the book.  At $5, it's hard to argue against the value of the book.  Better yet, the PDF is available at OBS services for a 'Pay what you want' price (suggested is $2.50) which you can find HERE.