Traveller Journeys into Deep Space with a New Kickstarter: An Interview with Martin Dougherty

Sunday, November 17th, 2019 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

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Traveller RPG: The Deepnight Revelation Campaign Box Set

I’m a long time Traveller fan. It’s not just the simple but effective game system that’s been pretty much the same since its design, but the appeal of the sweeping hard science/space opera of the default setting, lovingly added to through the decades.

Of course you don’t have to use the Imperium as your setting, but a lot of people do, or use part of it, or use it with modifications. A new Kickstarter launched last week focused upon the exploration side of the Traveller universe. Many of the adventures and campaigns that have appeared for Traveller over the years have been focused upon small spaceship crews and their potential exploits, rather a lot like Firefly. This Kickstarter, though, is going to take a naval ship into areas unexplored by the Imperium, deep into the unknown. It looks splendid.

The man writing it is one of my very favorite adventure writers, Martin Dougherty, who never fails to entertain with clever and inventive scenarios that favor role-playing over rolls, and reward ingenuity. He was kind enough to take time away from writing the new campaign and answer some questions.

Howard: Before we really get started, what do you think is behind the appeal of Traveller, and the Imperium itself?

Martin: That’s a difficult question. I suspect it’s different for everyone. For me, I like the grounding in hard-ish science. I’ve never really got on with fantasy-in-space with swords the size of ironing boards and little actual science. The scale is attractive, too. For the most part it’s a bunch of resourceful people doing the best they can rather than superheroes. I know it’s fun to play someone incredibly far above the human norm sometimes, but I suspect a lot of us identify with the talented-but-ordinary protagonists of the typical Traveller game.

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Plot Hooks, Apocrypha, and WTF: Degenesis by Six More Vodka

Monday, November 11th, 2019 | Posted by eeknight

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I’ve been meaning to write a review of Degenesis, the doorstop of a post-apocalyptic RPG from the “there has to be a story behind that name for your company” SIXMOREVODKA creative team for a while now. The main problem holding me back is that I haven’t played it yet with people, just dinked around testing things. Luckily, John’s editorial standards enjoy a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to old friends, and let ye who have not passed judgement on a game without playing it cast the first stone.

There’s another reason I feel safe recommending this beast. The art alone is worth the purchase of the slipcased two-volume edition of rules Katharsis and worldbook Primal Punk (Retailing at USD “If you have to ask you can’t afford it”). I’ve never seen a game with this level art throughout. Page after page of imagery usually reserved for a couple of splash pages in most game books.

What is this world? Refreshingly, it’s set in Europe and North Africa five hundred years after a 2073 meteor storm changed the face of the world (called the “Eshaton” but I think they meant “Eschaton”). Maybe the year is a hat tip to Fallout, I dunno, but Earth went through hundreds of years of cloudy hell and now there are a few hints of a Renaissance for a radically altered world. To make matters worse, the meteors brought with them a spore-like form of life called “Primer” that is radically altering flora, fauna, and us. Humans who have been taken over by the Primer (the process is generally called Sepsis) eventually become Psychonauts or Abberants, two names for the same deadly syndrome. Some of the spores carrying the primer have been deactivated or neutralized for use in drugs called Burn, because if thousands of years of human history have proved anything, it’s that people will try to get high by any means necessary. A final existential confrontation of homo sapiens vs homo degenesis is building.

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Gaming at the End Times: Degenesis

Saturday, November 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Sample page from Degenesis: In the Blood adventure book

Gen Con 2019 was a journey of discovery for me. Well, more like a long painful marathon where discovery whacked me in the head with a club every few feet.

Over the course of three days I walked the floor of the massive Exhibit Hall, taking a picture with my iPhone every time I came across a booth I found interesting. I took hundreds of photos every one of those three days, and I doubt I could write up every one the interesting games I came across if I devoted the rest of my life to it. But I can talk about the highlights. So yeah. Let’s do that.

Gen Con this year seemed to be all about the board games. Titles like Raccoon Tycoon from Forbidden Games, mechanical monster game The Boldest from Stronghold Games, and the forest warfare simulator Root by Leder Games all captured my attention, but after trudging past five hundred new board games, I got kind of numb to them. New role playing releases were thinner on the ground, but the ones I did come across were very high quality, and perhaps none more so than Degenesis from Berlin development shop Six More Vodka.

Degenesis is set in a devastated Europe and North Africa, 500 years after a major asteroid impact completely reset human civilization. An alien something buried in the asteroid has begun to infect terrestrial flora and fauna, giving rise to horrific mutations. New cultures have emerged and given birth to 13 powerful cults that partner, war, and trade with each other. So far half a dozen core books and sourcebooks have been released, and they are gorgeously illustrated and beautiful in design and production.

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Exploring Pathfinder‘s Age of Lost Omens

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

LostOmensWorldGuideWith the release of Pathfinder Second Edition at GenCon in August, Paizo set out to once again re-capture fire in a bottle. They’d done it once before, a decade ago, when they took the ruleset of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e, slapped it together with a ton of house rule modifications and other changes, and then rebranded it as the Pathfinder RPG. Here they were taking that very same Pathfinder RPG, which had itself grown wildly successful, and trying to create a new and compelling variant of that.

Having played a handful of the Pathfinder Second Edition games now, I’m finding quite a lot to like about it the system. But one of the things that drew me so powerfully to Pathfinder First Edition was when I got my hands on the Inner Sea World Guide. While the rules were great, the dynamic nature of the setting, with the rich diversity of nations and storytelling options, was what really engrossed me.

And clearly I’m not alone, because one of the first releases that Paizo planned to follow-up the release of Pathfinder Second Edition was the Lost Omens World Guide (Paizo, Amazon). The default setting for Pathfinder (both editions) is the Age of Lost Omens on the world of Golarian, and thus the name of the guide. This re-introduces the core of the Pathfinder setting, while at the same time introducing a quick infusion of new character creation and advancement options to supplement the basic rules.

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Vintage Bits: Star Saga, an Innovative Hybrid Sci-Fi Computer RPG Series

Monday, November 4th, 2019 | Posted by Ernst Krogtoft

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While numerous computer games and genres have been inspired by board games and books, ranging from chess to more complex strategy games and even J.R.R Tolkien, the computer roleplaying game widely has its origins in pen-and-paper tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons.

By the late ’70s and early ’80s Dungeons & Dragons had become a cultural phenomenon, and heavily influenced the earliest computer games. Computer roleplaying games, CRPG’S, derive much of their terminology, settings and game mechanics from this classic tabletop game. Typically this includes a central character (or party) which the player assumes the role of, taking responsibility for their actions within the narrative.

The character typically has to be victorious by completing different quests while exploring the world, solving puzzles, and engaging in combat – all while a game master (or dungeon master) controls all aspects of the game and its storyline.

From the earliest mainframe CRPG games to the huge success of the genre on personal computers up through the ’80s, games had almost exclusively been limited to the small phosphorous screen – maybe with a little aid from notes or drawn-out maps.

The Star Saga adventure roleplaying series created by Masterplay in the late ’80s would turn this upside down and put almost the entire game back on the table, only using the computer as game master to do the more tedious and cumbersome aspect of “bookkeeping” throughout the game.

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The Game is Afoot: Beyond Baker Street by Z-Man Games

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Art by Atha Kannani

When I play board games, I tend towards the big ones. I’m fond of games that take time and patience, and have a little depth to the rules. My recent favorites are Legends of Andor (yeah!) and the Pathfinder board game Rise of the Runelords, mostly because I have a fondness for titles that recreate an RPG experience.

But I don’t have time to actually play games at that scale much any more, so recently I’ve been tending towards smaller games, and especially those with an interesting storyline. Over the summer I bought Beyond Baker Street, and I’ve been rather taken with the simplicity of its rules set.

Beyond Baker Street is a cooperative mystery game for 2-4 players, which takes about 30 minutes. Players attempt to solve mysteries by gathering clues to find and eliminate suspects and uncover motives, and must work together, meaning they win or lose as a group. And it’s easy to lose — they’re in a race against time to crack the mystery before Sherlock Holmes.

The game has a fun mechanic. It’s chiefly a card game; everyone is dealt a hand, but the twist is that players hold their hands so that everyone can see their cards except them (this is apparently similar to the game Hanabi, which I’m unfamiliar with.) The game is afoot, Watson!

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New Treasures: The Monsters Know What They’re Doing by Keith Ammann

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Lily Pressland

I’m enjoying watching role-playing seep into popular culture. It’s happening in casual and insidious ways. Like with self-help books for Dungeon Masters, a section in the bookstore that I couldn’t even imagine when I was gaming in the basement with my friends 30 years ago. Every time I see a book like Keith Ammann’s The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, I grin a little. Okay, more than a little.

The Monsters Know What They’re Doing makes for some light and entertaining reading.It’s essentially an alphabetical listing of over a hundred different giants, undead, humanoids, NPCs, and other monster types, with a 2-4 pages essay on combat tactics and “villainous battle plans” for each. Much of it is drawn from Ammann’s popular blog The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, and it’s an insightful and lively read throughout.

Personally I might have liked more in-depth pieces on fewer monsters. These essays are useful, but not in the ways I found the Third Edition Savage Species book useful. That one looked at how monsters could level up, acquire spells, familiars and special weapons and spells, and was a fantastic resource for creating that unique Orc shaman or kitted-out Kobold prince. To be honest, I don’t know how much I’d actually use The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, but it sure made fun reading. Here’s the description.

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Ply the Space Lanes in Search of Profit: The Traveller Customizable Card Game

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Traveller was one of the first role playing games I ever played — and it definitely was the first science fiction RPG I ever played.

But that’s not what I remember about it. What I remember about it was the strange little mini-game in the back of the rulebook, essentially a set of rules for interstellar trading. Really no more than a few tables and some guidelines, it was a bare-bones simulator for an independent trade ship in the stars. It was nonetheless enough to fire our imagination, and my friends and I spent many summer hours rolling dice, struggling to keep our tiny commercial vessels profitable as we tried to find viable trade routes between Altair and Ursa Major. Other games had better combat and character generation, but none could terrify you with the specter of bankruptcy like Traveller.

I think that’s why I’m so interested in the new Traveller Customizable Card Game. While it’s not an RPG, it does promise some of the deep-space capitalist thrill that those old tables delivered. It puts you in the shoes of a independent ship captain — think Mal Reynolds in Firefly — plying the mains in search of profit and adventure. You can hire a crew, find contracts, explore, choose piracy, pay off your ship, and go bankrupt, all against the rich backdrop of the Third Imperium.

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Against the Darkmaster Kickstarts for High Fantasy Gamers of the World

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

Against the Darkmaster

Sword & Sorcery is a late attraction for me. My first and abiding love, ever since encountering Tolkien in the fifth grade, was and has been Epic High Fantasy, with its Heroes struggling against the Dark Lord in a battle of unequivocal Good versus Evil. I have said it before, and I think this present context makes it appropriate to say it again: when this thing called “fantasy roleplaying” first came to my attention, having no older siblings or neighborkids to introduce me to the more popular and recognizable Dungeons & Dragons, I spent my allowance at Waldenbooks on the red box set of Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP).

I was young, roleplaying was brand new to my friends and me, so, of course, we didn’t “play it right,” just as, as an adult, I learned that those other kids who were playing D&D at the same time weren’t running their games “correctly,” either. MERP is derived from the Rolemaster (RM) percentile system, which was first designed as modular additions to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1e), and has a reputation for complexity and lethality. I add this second characterization because RM’s critical hit tables might be its most famous feature. My young friends and I enjoyed many idle sessions simply reading descriptions out of the charts, language that evinced wry and gory humor in the spirit of 1980s slasher films. Here’s a favorite example: “Blast annihilates entire skeleton. Reduced to a gelatinous pulp. Try a spatula.”

When the designers of the forthcoming Against the Darkmaster (VsD) revisited this favorite childhood game of theirs, they, too, felt the desire to “play it wrong.” After awhile, they realized they had made so many tweaks and modifications to the core rules that they, essentially, had created a game of their own, a houseruled or hacked “retroclone” of MERP, reformulated to emulate specifically the works of Tolkien and his imitators, fantasy movies of the 1980s, and epic heavy metal music.

I was an early adopter of the VsD playtest, and a not infrequent critic of the VsD rules system. You can find the first in a series of these critiques here on The Rolemaster Blog. The designers aim to distinguish their game from others such as D&D through its emphasis on its source materials. In VsD, player characters are heroes, not “mere” adventurers of the Sword & Sorcery variety. The “plot” of a VsD campaign is intended to contain a high stakes struggle between Good (the PCs) and Evil (a force culminating in the person of the Darkmaster, played by the GM).

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Create Your Character Backstory with Style: Call to Adventure from Brotherwise

Saturday, October 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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I attended Gen Con for the first time in roughly fifteen years this year, and let me tell you, it was an experience. Wandering the massive Exhibit Hall — which quite literally took me three full days  — drove home for the first time just how truly enormous the modern board game market is. 50,000 excited attendees packed the halls and pathways connecting over a thousand vendor booths, displaying thousands of new releases and tens of thousands of games. It was so packed it was sometimes impossible to move.

For a gamer whose very first gaming convention (CanGames in Ottawa in the late 70s) had maybe 250 attendees, it was a revelation. Fantasy gaming — like comics, role playing, and fantasy films — has gone mainstream in a big way. The tiny hobby I was once a part of is now a multibillion dollar business. Fantasy and Science Fiction were the dominant genres, but there were plenty of family games, wargames, and strange unclassifiable titles.

But it’s still about the games. I realized early that it would be impossible to take in every new title of interest, so instead I started at one end of the Exhibit Hall, taking pictures with my iPhone. I  made my way methodically up and down each aisle until I arrived, three days and many hundreds of photos later, at the far end, with a record of every new game of interest. I can’t cover them all of course, but I can discuss a few here on the blog. And I’ll start with one of the first games I ordered as soon as I returned from Indianapolis: Call to Adventure from Brotherwise Games.

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