What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
Yarr! The Pirate ArrPG

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Weekend R&R: Whitehack

There are so many 'OSR' attempts to re-create a perfect version of the classic version of Dungeons & Dragons but the definition of what one considers classic or perfect is so subjective.  As such, they just seem to keep coming despite that this is already so much to choose from.  Somehow, I don't think the trend is likely to stop anytime soon either.  Many seem determined to either reinvent to wheel or offer something perceived to be 'better' somehow than what came before it.  The problem with all this sort of development is that sometimes people will miss them.

It wasn't until the second edition of Whitehack, which was released earlier this year, that I took notice.  Whitehack came out originally in 2013 but it was August that I started noticing a few people on social media talking about the new edition that they had just received via the POD service provided by Lulu.  Curious, I do a bit of research and got a bit excited at what people were saying about it.  I was a bit dismayed at the lack of PDF option and more so when people were clamoring for one since the prior edition was released.  Just the same, as I was placing an order on Lulu for something else, I decided to give it a shot and got the least expensive option.  I seriously doubted it would replace my go-to FRPG anyway but I always like fresh and innovative ideas.

I felt let down a bit.

I suppose my disappointment isn't directed at the author in this case.  The reviews gave it more hype than I think was warranted and I think it was because some of the innovations being raved about were already a bit 'old-hat' to me.  For example, the system does not use an itemized skill system and given it's 0e roots, that's hardly surprising but you can effectively get a bonus on that skill roll or task based on the species, vocation, or even affiliation of the character if associated with that particular ability.  One of the examples given in the book is a character with the vocation of 'priest' associated with Charisma doing a check to try and calm a crowd.  Conversely, if the character had the vocation of 'assassin' associated with the same attribute, it really wouldn't help improve that character's odds.  The reason being that a priest would be trained to address groups of people where as an assassin would not.

To a degree, it reminds of Castles & Crusades and its Siege mechanic.  As a system, it doesn't have any skills outside of specific class skills and there will be times where characters will attempt to do something that is not specifically itemized.  A character's archetypes will help define what a character knows or doesn't know very well much like a vocation would.  If this is something that they would be trained to do, and if the associated attribute is a prime attribute, they get a bonus to that check.

The difference is the bonus.  In C&C, this works out to a +6 bonus.  However, Whitehack keeps it simpler and you get what is referred to a 'double positive roll'.  These days, this is more popularly known as the Advantage mechanic (or rather the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic).  You roll two d20 and take the best one.  With Whitehack, this would be the lower of the two rolls as you want to roll equal to or below the relevant attribute score.  With that in mind, there are also circumstances where you would do double negative rolls and take the worse (higher) result.


But while doing this isn't revolutionary (it pre-dates WOTC's use of this sort of mechanic in 5th Edition), it *IS* elegant in its simplicity.  It's also why I have thought of trying out this instead of the +6 bonus in C&C a couple years back.  However, there is a lot of other stuff that is just as elegant in Whitehack as well.


Before we explore other aspects of the game, a few more words need to be devoted to the concept of vocations in the game.  These are NOT actual classes.  There are at it's core just three classes.  The Brave, the Deft, and the Wise which is much like True20 and its three classes -- the Warrior, the Expert, and the Adept.  The vocations are one thing that help refine the archetype and character you are trying to create for yourself.  This feels much more 'free form' and something that one might be more accustomed to seeing in a game like Fate.

Magic is something I was curious at seeing to see how it was implemented as I heard that it was a bit different.  The good news?  Forget spell lists, the ever-familiar Vancian sytems, or even a variant spell point system for the magic!  However, if you are accustomed to a bit of structure in your games, forget about that too.  Interestingly enough, spellcasting taxes a character's hit points and some people will like or hate that.  What's interesting is HOW many hitpoints.  There is no itemized spell list to choose from in this game which means there are also no itemized spell effects that you can read up.  How powerful of an effect and how much it costs / taxes the spellcaster is effectively a negotiation between the player and the DM.  Characters who are part of the Wise class can perform miracles.  These could range from magic to some sort of science and anything in between.  Each level has a number of slots and you effectively create (word) the miracles you can perform (as best related to that character's vocation presumably).  These can be specific or broad but the broader it is, the higher cost it will likely be to perform.  Hit point costs will be anywhere from 1 hp to 14 hp as, once again, negotiated, along with whether a save is needed or not and so on.  Creating magical items also will cost hit points but this loss is permanent.  There is an interesting twist to this though -- characters re-roll all of their HD when they advance a level.

One interesting concept introduced in Whitehack is an Auction system for dealing with things like chases or other circumstances where multiple checks might be required (such as gambling).  It's an interesting choice to go with and does streamline the process.  Along with this, the game has other interesting 'quirks' which are sure to charm some gamers out there.  Whitehack certainly has a more 'collaborative' feel to game which is, in part, because of the less rigid or restrictively style it supports.

For all of its charm, the book is also relatively complete.  There is a host of critters to choose from as well as some magical artifacts to quest for.  You've got a small setting and a couple of adventures along with some pre-gens and advice on running your game.  There are even three other 'rare' classes to presented among the various odds and ends.  In short... a little bit of everything and more than enough to be self sufficient.

As far a presentation is concerned, I will say that the overall work is elegant.  The two column layout, table presentation, and the headings and fonts used are all beautiful yet simple.  There are no illustrations in the book but, somehow, you don't feel as if it needs it.  The cover of the book is fantastic as it looks like a regular oldschool notebook and even reminds me of the sort I had in elementary school and high school.   I really like the look.  The writing is clear, concise, and very readable too and, given that the main rules (the player's section) occupies all of 18 pages, quite an accomplishment.  The entirety of the book is 64 pages in a 6x9 format.

However, the work isn't as original or as much of a breath of fresh air as I had hoped for.  I'm not unhappy to have picked it up but I'm irked that such a work was not available as a PDF either.  Frankly, there isn't much of an excuse in my mind for this kind of restriction either.  At $10, it isn't a hefty investment but I don't think the base print-cost would be very high.  It is a work that is built upon the shoulders of others but whose innovations could easily be distilled for other purposes as well.

In the end, it becomes an interesting hack blending the love of OD&D, the OGL, and a couple of great concepts.

As no PDF is available, those interested in picking up Whitehack can do so via Lulu HERE or you can read about it at the source over HERE.

M

Monday, September 14, 2015

Tools of the Miniature Painter: Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer

A few months back, I was having a terrible time with some of my Games & Gears Ichiban brushes.  They were part of a Kickstarter that I took part in and I was lucky enough to get in on the early birds.  My original review of them were favorable (can be read HERE) but I did run into problems with them after continual use (as I wrote HERE).  I am happy to say that they DO stand behind their product though, and I got a full replacement set and then some. However, in the interim, I did have a chance to try Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer in an attempt to try and fix, or at least improve on some of the issues I had been having.

Up to this point in time, I've been using The Master's Brush Cleaner and Preserver soap which easily did the job.  However the belly of my brush heads on the Ichiban brushes were much thicker than what I had been accustomed to using.  These brushes were nice to paint with but the thicker head could mean that some of my pigments were not getting cleaned out properly and could have been responsible for some of the issues I had been experiencing.  In any event, I didn't have much to lose by trying.  I new replacements were coming but I didn't just want to throw these problem brushes away either.

Well, the first thing I did when I opened to bottle to pour a bit was spill it naturally.  I have a habit of painting over a cutting mat and, cursing my misfortune, I quickly went to the next room to get sufficient paper towels to clean up the mess.  Boy did I get an interesting little surprise.  You see, I've tried cleaning little spots of paint here and there -- sometimes a drop of paint will miss that mat entirely end end up on the table surface instead.  Some of this paint is stubborn to clean up.  When I wiped up the spill off the mat, I had paint that had been there for a couple of years just come off.  Hell, the mat has a printed grid pattern of lines (it is a cutting board afterall), and this came off as well.  I was simply blown away with how well it worked and what it did in a mater of less than 20 seconds.


In true form, I then looked at the instructions on the bottle just to be on the safe side.  The stuff is labeled as non-hazardous, biodegradable, emitting low vapor.  Sounds perfectly fine and even safe.  The cautionary note on the side of the bottle reads as:
Use a non-plastic container for soaking.  May damage painted, varnished, or plastic surfaces.  Avoid contact with brush handles; finish may be removed.
Good to know.

In any event, I had a small container that I soaked the brushes in question in... overnight.  They seemed better and some of the brushes actually did improve.  I didn't miraculously fix my problems with the brushes but they weren't as bad.  I decided to do the same with my older sable brushes but wasn't as careful.  Some of the handle ended up soaking in the cleaner.  Needless to say, the warning was correct.  I have three brushes that basically have 'bald' spots.  I cleaned them up as best as I could and, while the handles now look a bit 'funky' the brushes themselves are fine.

I even have some game science dice that had some permanent ink or paint applied that was NOT coming off.  They essentially had to be re-inked and I soaked this a bit to help dislodge the unwanted numbering still in place.  It was a bit of work but it did work and fairly well.  Due to the nature of the plastic, exposure to the liquid was kept to a minimum.

In short, it is a great tool for the painter.  I wouldn't say it replaces my brush soap but it's a great way to restore certain brushes after prolonged use to extend the life of your brushes.

Happy Painting!

M

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Weekend R&R: Yoon-Suin - The Purple Land


Yoon-Suin... the Purple Land.  A short while ago, I had absolutely no clue what this was.  But, it was released earlier this year and I stumbled upon it quite accidentally as I was searching for something else that happened to be game related -- likely some other bit of old-school or indie press material.  I was immediately intrigued and, coming off the relative high of 'A Red & Pleasant Land', I made a note of it and recently ordered a copy.

Upon receiving it, I was somewhat irked and disappointed.  For starters, the book itself is an unusual one but I knew that before I ordered it.  However, given the odd 9x7 choice for the book, I think the layout could have been better.  As a campaign kit, the tables are laid out poorly in some cases and tables do form up a large portion of the book.  Sometimes, the simplest of problems are immediately apparent just by flipping through.  Page 87 for instance has in the Noble House table and under the NPCs column for dice result 1, you have 'Patriarch/Matriarc' with the last 'h' on the next line down albeit also centered.  In the bestiary section, you have another different layout choice being a two column decision for different texts.  One portion is two-thirds the width of the page and the remaining third has other text presenting different but complementary information to what else is on the page.  This isn't a bad idea but this smaller bar of text could have been boxed or at least formatted a bit different in terms of the text itself.  All the text is the same font and size.  Of course, trying to find a good way to place it on the shelf is a whole other challenge with the way it will stick out in both size and very pink color.  I really think a different shade might have worked better given that this book is about the 'purple land' and all.

But that is all cosmetic and a lot of this can be forgiven if one takes the time to actually review the content of the book.  As the reader begins to the the book and go through it with some time and care, it becomes apparent why this book has gotten the praise it has.

The introductory section of the book is written in the guise of a traveler to the Yellow City and the lands surrounding it.  It is an ideal way to deliver a broad overview of what you can expect in this setting and, most importantly, convey a sense of wonder and stir up the imagination -- very important if you are looking to run a new and evocative campaign.  On the whole, it's a decent read that could have used just a tad more polishing (like the rest of the book for that matter).  Thankfully, since this book is meant to be a toolkit, the author also provides step-by-step instructions on how to actually and effectively use the book.  Examples are also given and the beauty is, there is little need to go beyond these examples to realize who brilliant this toolkit is.


I can think of no higher praise than say that this book will give you material to create a fantastic and engaging campaign and, even if Yoon-Suin or the Purple Land isn't your ultimate destination, these ideas could and SHOULD be used in other campaigns or at least be an inspiration. You start off by defining the character's Social Circle: groups, conflicts, and rivalries.  Within these, you have your various NPCs and rumours or hooks concerning them.  Beyond this you have tables for general rumors and hooks, a variety of encounter tables for all he general areas the book covers, and everything from politics to personalities is touched upon.  Personally, starting something like a new campaign, a good network of 'background information and links' can make all the difference.

All these tables and related lore makes up the majority of the book but the book has a couple other chapters of note that precedes that material.  There is a small chapter on character creation that is suited to the setting as well as a bestiary to compliment it as well.  It should be noted that the book, while not designed for any particular system, will work with any compatible game with a D&D lineage.  This character creation chapter also features a new character class called the Crab-man (a racial class like you would find in Basic D&D).  As for the critters in the monster section, they're just fun and the greatest regret is the lack of art to help conjure an image of these curiosities.

The appendices deserves mention as well.  There are multiple and many which could be readily adapted for other campaigns.  They range from Appendix A through to Appendix N and which ranges from Tea and Opium to poisons and dungeon generation.  The majority of these will just help detail your campaign in Yoon-Suin that much more.

Yoon-Suin, as a campaign toolkit is an interesting piece of work.  There is a lot in there that commands your attention and will inspire the reader to potentially create a memorable campaign.  More importantly, it will help you to create YOUR OWN Yoon-Suin campaign.  It is well put together and logically organized but it is also a series of steps which the GM will need to take to get the most of this tool kit.  It is not however, something you can just pick up and run even through without adequate prep.  It is not a ready-made campaign adventure.

It is a decent book and, while off putting at first glance, has a lot to offer.  It is a diamond in the rough and one worth picking up.  If, like me, you might find a 9x7 landscape a bit awkward to work with, you can just pick up the PDF over HERE on RPGNow (OBS) for $9.24 USD.  However, if you like the feel of a book in your hands, you get get a physical copy from Lulu with their POD services (HERE) for $20.66 USD.

Happy Gaming!

M

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Mechanics of Magic Items


Two things have brought about today's 'reflective' post:
  1. My recent review on the Cypher System Rulebook by Monte Cook Games (which you can read HERE)
  2. The 'Classic Treasure' stretch goal in the current Classic Monsters Kickstarter (which you can find HERE)
My recent examination of the Cypher System and, in particular how the game places particular importance on what they refer to Cyphers in the game did refresh my memory regarding how we gamed and, in some cases, how we *used* to game. Monte Cook emphasized the importance of giving Cyphers, which are basically 'game changers' that are meant to be used and are very much 'limited' in terms of number of uses.  Basically, the translate into short-term power ups that can give access to abilities or powers that would normally not be available to a given character.

In a Fantasy type game, this could be as simple as a potion that can heal, allow a person to become invisible, or even fly!  Likewise, a Science Fiction type game can do the same things but instead of a potion, it could easily be in the guise of an alien device.

In the end, what they do isn't as important as how they are given out and, more importantly, used.  We forget that, before the trend of a desire for greater character customization in our various roleplaying games, 'customization' came in the form of magic items.  You went down a dungeon, defeated the monster, and sometimes got some treasure.  Aside from anything monetary, some of those were magical items and these helped further customize and define characters.  As someone who was playing earlier editions of D&D, this wasn't ever a problem.  When you consider ever popular video games today, this is very much still a thing and looking towards Diablo, you will find this tried formula still in play.  But somewhere along the way, the plots and motivations became more of a goal than just loot and killing monsters and customization was more about building a character with a history, motivations, and a personality.  Magical gear is always cool -- just not the end game.

However in that shift, how these items were treated changed as well.  Magic should be a bit more special so maybe the decision is made to scale back.  Or the desire to 'save' something for when you really need it when it comes to a potion or scroll.  At which point, these might just end up as a collection of magical a character happens to have.

Perhaps 'disposable' things should like potions or scrolls and other limited use items be put into play a bit more often.  Yeah... that potion of Spider Climb might be viewed as 'meh' but that wizard in the party with a certain lack of upper body strength and genuine skill for the task at hand could find it useful if you know the next adventure could have some difficult climbing challenges ahead.  Encourage the use of these tools and maybe have an expiration date of some of these things.  Potions could easily have a limited shelf life and when parties find all these potions and some of these are duds due to age, they may react differently when the find a couple that are still good.

As for bigger and more lasting items ... nothing changes there depending on the game you play.  The new edition of D&D now limits enchanted weapons and armor up to +3 items in part because of how the game is  design and scales now as far as the system is concerned.  It is still a concrete way to give the party a bit more to work with by making things a bit easier to hit and damage or making them a bit tougher to hit.

But those special items could be the objective of certain quests themselves if you prefer having magic restricted in your campaign.  With all these years of gaming, it's a special item that can still surprise a player.  It needn't be powerful... just a bit unusual or fun.  Over the years, I have managed to reduce my collection of gaming books but, for my second edition books, besides the core and options books that I have decided to keep (the black ones), I have kept my four volume set of  Encyclopedia Magica because it just collected so many diverse magical items all in one source.  Frankly I should use it more given what I have just written and am thinking about.

Happy Gaming!

M

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Case of James M. Ward


James Ward's work is beloved by many gamers as one of the TSR Alumni.  His earliest published work was one he co-authored for the original D&D boxed set, "Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes".  More importantly (perhaps), he is known for "Metamorphosis Alpha".  He has been sick on and off the past few years, and recently there have been problems that have sent him back to the hospital.  Health Care is expensive in the States and, even if some of that is covered by some sort of insurance, other bills still have a way of piling up.

Since the latest bit of news has become news, there have been attempts to raise funds from the gaming community to help out Mr. Ward with all his bills to a varying degree of success.  However, there have been two things I have seen that I was displeased with.

1) Not everyone is a fan of Ward, or his work.  The reasons for this do not matter but bashing these charitable efforts or the man himself is just not warranted.

2) I have heard of instances where other small (indie) publishers in the OSR were almost being pressured to give a percentage of sales or simply to give.  That's just not cool even if intentions were good.

But it occurred to me, quite simply, one of the good ways to possibly support Ward and gaming in general.

Thanks to the effort of Goodman Games, there has been a recent resurgence of interest in Metamorphosis Alpha.  They ran a successful Kickstarter last year and another one to expand the quantity of in-print material this year.  This is great news of course but MA isn't just available through Goodman Games or those Kickstarters.

You can get a PDF copy of the over at RPGNow (OBS services) right HERE if you are so inclined.  At at $5.99, it's a great deal and the majority of that money all goes to 'WardCo' -- so potentially speaking, right in his pocket.  If you like that idea, there are other stuff if you look under WardCo, like the 4th edition of MA and a few other inexpensive PDFs supporting MA too.

Already have it or maybe you crave something a little more tangible?  You can get a print-on-demand copy of Metamorphosis Alpha for $14.99 USD over HERE.  Like the RPGNow version, it's got corrections and is cleaned up a bit and since he's the one making it available, he's the one that will be getting a cut from each sale.  So, buy a copy for yourself... better yet... buy multiple copies and give them to other gamers that haven't had the opportunity to pick up a copy.

Most importantly... play the game.

I really do applaud the efforts of some that are directly raising funds and there is nothing wrong with that but, in my mind, buying these PDFS or POD books will put some money in his pocket too with the added benefit of getting people talking and even playing his stuff.

Anyway, it's what I did.  About 3 weeks ago or so, I ordered a copy off of Lulu which now sits along with my Gamma World stuff.  And, for my convenience, I will be grabbing the PDF as well.  The next step will be running a session (hopefully) and, if it goes well, maybe there will be a few more copies ordered off Lulu.


To date the GoFundMe page has raised over $15,000 (the campaign can be found HERE) and that's great.  But in my mind, supporting his work which is why the community has come to care in the first place, is equally as important.  If enough people do this, these sales won't be a small drop in the bucket either and, every dollar counts right?

Happy Gaming!

M

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Kickstart This: Classic Monsters (2nd print)


It is no secret that I love Castles & Crusades.  Once in a while when the stars align, I even publish material for the game.  It is my go-to FRPG of choice largely due to its lineage to D&D and rules light approach and ease of play that presents itself withing the pages of its books.

Needless to say, I am happy with it and while it's been a long road from that horrid 1st printing of the Player's Handbook, each printing bought massive improvements to the editing, layout, and just the overall look of the books.  The most recent printing of the books have elevated Castles & Crusades to a higher level of publishing as well.  The latest incarnations of the Players Handbook, Monsters & Treasure book, and the Castles Keepers Guide have an expanded page count and improved layout with a slightly bigger font (for our aging eyes).  More importantly, each book are have beautiful, full color pages much like one expects to see in a top-shelf Paizo product or something from Wizards of the Coast.

An increasing fanbase helped bring this about, largely thanks to their continued success with Kickstarter as a platform to simply do more and produce something that they have always envisioned.


Now, this newest campaign is to reprint the Classic Monsters book for C&C.  The first printing of the book was, interestingly enough, the first project that TLG funded via Kickstarter (and the first project I personally backed).  It was good campaign and was backed by 166 backers and raised $9108 back towards the end of 2011.  The book was a 144 page hardback with B/W interiors -- the same as all the other books in their line.  If you want to read more about it, I have three posts about it HERE, HERE and HERE.

The present campaign has a modest goal of $3000 and is running in a shorter time frame than the usual project (12 days).  The text will be cleaned up, inconsistencies, corrected, and that sort of thing.  It should have NO problem funding but it's the stretch goals we should all concern ourselves with:

At $5000, the book is expanded to include 'Classic Treasure'
At $7000, the book is getting new cover art (the old art was very nice actually)
At $9000, there's a full color poster.

Ok... I don't care about the poster.  It's nice to have but I understand what they are doing here by ramping up the goals.  The next one is the big one and the one EVERYONE who loves the game and the book should care about:

At $12,000, the books goes full color.

Beyond that?  Who knows.  Honestly, I think the shorter campaign might mean that it won't go much higher than 12k and that is assuming it does go that high.

As for value, there is plenty here are the very start.  $10 gets you a digital copy and $25 gets you a physical copy as well as a digital one.  I expect those two pledge levels to do well enough given it's not a brand new book but a new printing.  There is a $49 level that gets you all that the $25 level has to offer plus a nice T-Shirt and other goodies (including whatever they 'throw in' as the campaign moves).  There are only two higher tiers... one at $99 which gives you an additional leather copy of the book and the upper tier at $125.

Both these tiers also include free domestic shipping but that $125 tier is the one that will be the 'best value' and if you know someone who might want to get into C&C or haven't gotten the new books, this is the one you should consider.  At $125, not only do you get the Classic Monsters book but the PHB, M&T, and CKG as well!  Those three books alone would retail $110 so I really think this is a great deal.

In any event, I highly suggest you check it out if you are remotely interested.  This thing has barely just started but there is less than two weeks to go!  You can find more info about the campaign HERE.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Weekend R&R: Cypher System Rulebook

It has been a HOT weekend here in Montreal and unseasonably so considering we find ourselves during the Labor Day Weekend.  It doesn't feel like a sunny day in September but a sunny day at the peak of summer!  It's been too hot to do any serious writing or painting for the better part of the long weekend but, nonetheless, I'm taking the time to put down my thoughts on the Cypher System Rulebook I picked up at GenCon just over a month ago.  The book is quite the brick.

Now, I have never played Numenara or The Strange but I haven't been living under a rock -- I know that there is a great following for both of these games.  I'd only looked at bits of pieces of the game in the past and it looked very promising.  When I found out that Monte Cook was putting out a universal system book for the Cypher Sytem which is what makes both these RPGs work, I was immediately interested.  Besides, I do like some on Cook's work so anything he puts out is worth a look in my opinion.

Of course, not everything is perfect.  At $60 USD, I had to think twice because I live in Canada.  There was a pre-order for the book and your $60 got you the book, the PDF, and I signed bookplate if I remember correctly.  Factoring shipping to Canada looked to be an extra $40.  A hundred dollars!?  And that's before the exchange rate and the Canadian dollar hasn't been doing so well the past couple of months.  It would about to about $130 in Canadian funds and let's face it... at that price, it isn't an 'impulse buy' by any means.  At the $100 mark, it becomes an 'investment'.


Naturally, fans will go on to say that it's a beautiful, full-color, 416-page hardcover so the price tag is warranted.  Perhaps it is but it doesn't change the fact that unless you are already invested in the system (thanks to Numenara or The Strange), new comers are just not likely to pick up the book out of the blue.  The entry price is just a bit too daunting for the person who is curious but otherwise has had no prior experience with it.  This is perhaps my biggest criticism about the book in general.  Thankfully, the price for the PDF is very reasonable and will only set you back $20.

For a 'generic system book' that page count does sound like a lot and... it is.  The system and workings itself is actually very well covered in a mere six pages with helps to ease the reader into the wealth of information that follows.  The rules are greatly detailed and expanded up later in the book once the character creation material is largely dealt with.  As the reader presses on, they will likely be struck at how simple the system is built up.  In short, the Cypher system is a rules-light game which places story about rules but manages to do so without sacrificing character detail.

In fact, just flipping through the book might prompt some to think of FATE as far as game philosophy is concerned.  Difficulties are determined on a scale from 1 to 10 for instance and characters are defined by a descriptor, type, and focus.  This might end up looking a 'Doomed Barbarian who Hunts Outcasts".  The character is basically built up from there.


The character type is basically the archetype... this could be a Warrior of some sort (anything from a knight, police officer, or a merc for example) and will also go to serve to define the base abilities (there are three: Might, Speed, and Intellect) and detail the different tiers (or levels) of that character type.  Along with the type, you have the descriptor that helps define the character further and provides mechanical aspects for the game (be it bonuses to abilities, skills, etc).  And then, you have the focus which serves to flesh out the character even further but is also broken up into various tiers.

Aside from a chapter that explains the stats and how they work (the three stats each have a pool and an edge) and another on equipment, the majority of this section of the book is devoted to character type, descriptor, and focus to end up being over 170 pages of the rulebook before you come to the second part of the book.

The next section of the book simply details the rules a lot more concisely, provides examples, and offers a host of optional rules as well.  While the rulebook briefly explains the central mechanic that the game works on, the expanded section don't make things anymore complicated.  Basically, the player wants to do an action with his character and the GM determines a difficulty on a scale of 1-10 (easiest to basically impossible).  Character skills may reduce this number (up to a max of 2 steps) and other factors called assets (like someone helping or some special equipment) can further reduce this number.  Lastly, the character can expend effort to further reduce the difficulty.  Effort expended is taken from the related ability's pool.  If between these three things, the difficulty is reduced to 0, then the task is automatically succeeded.  Otherwise, the remaining difficulty is multiplied by three and pass or fail is determined by the roll of a d20.


Combat is equally simple.  The level of the opponent becomes that base difficulty number. A character will have to attack or defend against that difficulty.  On a hit, damage is actually fixed based on the weapon's rating -- nothing is rolled.  Armor will simply reduce damage as well as opposed to making someone harder to hit.  Depending on the nature of  the attack, a character inflicts (or takes if they are defending) damage which is applied to one of the three ability pools.

Of course, the GM is at liberty to throw in what is called an intrusion to the game.  Basically, this is a complication for the character but to do so, XP is awarded to the characters.  However, a player can spend XP to cancel that complication.  Intrusions is one way to gain XP which is used for to gain character benefits in-game or possible advancement as long as it fits in with the story.  Aside from that, the GM may award XP for the completion of a special goal or a discovery made.  No XP for monsters.

At this point, I admit I was really intrigued and actually excited about how this game works.

Part III of the books is all about genres.  It is a generic book and the book certainly does a good job at covering all the bases.  Specifically, it covers Fantasy, Modern, Science Fiction, Horror, and Superheroes.  However, it is relatively 'basic' with the actual content in each respective genre.  They make for a great building block but are, by no means, pre-made settings.  These are great for one-shorts or short stints in a genre; sort of a break away from the regular gaming routine.  None of these exceed eight pages but, most of the relevant info is elsewhere in the book.  These summarize and suggest what you should be using to fit the genre in question.

Part IV is the last significant section of the book and it intended for the GM.  You have creatures and NPCs and, more importantly, the thing that the game derives its name from: Cyphers.  Cyphers are basically one-use items that happen to be some sort of 'game-changer'.  These could be potions or alien technology and meant to be frequently discovered and used.  They aren't meant to be like 'treasure' and hoarded as a result and characters can only have a maximum number that they can have in their possession at any one time.  The purpose of these items is to provide and ever changing set of variables so that the game never feels dull and predictable.  Why are these important?  Well, given that a characters abilities, skills, and powers are pretty much set once they have been created, the regular use of different cyphers from game to game will actually help with the overall game experience for the players and the evolution of the story told by the GM.  These Cyphers are like temporary abilities they wouldn't normally have access to.  Admittedly, this is also something that some people who have played in other games might have problems adjusting to this at first but the concept makes sense.


The book finishes off with an index, and campaign planning sheet, and a character sheet.  Needless to say it is an impressive book.

There is a LOT to like in the book and there are a LOT of pages to go through.  And yet... the book and content seems simple enough.  It almost seems like the book SHOULD be smaller given the rules-light feel to it and there is a part of me that wishes it was smaller.  Smaller might mean more economical but, at the same time, I'm not certain what could be cut in order to do this.  It is a beautiful tome but at $60 USD, it might be difficult for some people to drop the cash on the book.  However, there is some fantastic potential with it and, thankfully they have built up a base of support due to the success of their previous Cypher games.  Ultimately, the book is a giant toolkit but one which is very approachable.  People with a clear story they want to tell and run as a campaign may find exactly what they need with this game if they are ready to break away from their comfort zones to try something a bit different.

If you want to save a bit of money and get the PDF version of the book, you can find a copy HERE (on RPGNow which is part of OBS).

M

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Censorship and the OBS

Since I've starting blogging here on the 'Under Siege' blog, I have rarely delved into the issues of censorship much.  With the recent news about OneBookShelf's "Offensive Content Policy" (which can be reviewed HERE), some publishers who distribute through them (being sites like RPGNow and Drivethru) have started to speak out and, in some cases, freak out a bit.

It's only understandable that they do and it's only understandable that OBS has decided to try and institute this policy and figure out how to best 'police it'.  More importantly, I support the OBS position on this. While people may decry censorship, a large factor here is the simple fact that OBS is a business which caters to a niche market.

However, what will harm OBS more?  Potential loss of customers who are offended by a single title out of hundreds?  Or the loss of a successful publisher who delivers 'edgy content' intended for a mature audience because some of these titles could get flagged and removed?

Let's be pragmatic about this for a moment.  You, the customer, see something that makes you really uncomfortable.  You've bought dozens of PDFs in the past year and even more since you started using the service.  Do you really think you can see something that offends you so much as to want to avoid browsing through their constantly updated digital catalog?  Let's say that you do.  Where would you get your PDF fix if not using OBS.  A handful of other places offer options though these tend to be straight from the publisher themselves.  If they are truly a small publisher, they may not have their own setup for PDF distribution.

But if you ARE a regular user of their services, I seriously doubt you would stop using them.  You just won't buy from or support that one publisher that put out that offensive crap and move on with your life.

Publishers have a bit more of a moral obligation but, only up to a small point.  There is something to be said about freedom of expression though art and written word as well as context.  The Lamentations of the Flame Princess material is brilliant and well put together and definitely intended for a mature audience.  I can imagine that some people not knowing any better *could* be offended by some of that material.

I am not one of them.

A few years ago, Geoffrey McKinney released 'Carcosa' which was intended as an OD&D supplement.  Comments and opinions were split and extreme.  Some gamers considered the work 'filth' where as others appreciated the Lovecraft / Chambers angle.  I immediately ordered it.  A 'censored' version was released to appease certain elements in the community (or at least, that is how I saw it) and, at some point later, an expanded second edition was released by Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  The book has done very well and this is just one of their titles that might be deemed 'controversial'.  I have a few of them.

No matter how this ends up working out with OBS now, I doubt there is any cause for concern.  The material is very popular and the nature of the material is clearly stated and these are factors that a sensible business wont' be able to ignore.  Anyone who flags the content as being a problem would likely be going out of their way to target these products in this matter but I'm sure OBS is aware that too.  How OBS decides to react to these situations as they arise will be very important.

I don't like the idea of a single and final say by one man but judgement by committee isn't much of a solution either.  I admire that they don't want to specifically itemize what is objectionable but I'm equally convinced that a small measure of commonsense all around will be needed going forward.  At the end of the day, the loss of a couple of customers is less damaging than the loss of successful and contributing sales.


But... what if...

What if Lamentations of the Flame Princess is forced to pull their catalog.  What if other publishers decide to pull away from OBS because of this perceived censorship.  Frankly, that doesn't seem to be as much of a problem as some publishers have made it to be.  If these items are in demand, people will seek them out and follow.  And really... if there is a need for a new alternative to OBS, maybe this is a chance for a new one to stake their claim and rise up as a competitor.


Because, in the end, this isn't really about censorship.  It's just business as usual.

M