A First Look At Elysium Flare (A Fate Space Opera RPG): #1 Fate Variant Ruleset

Thursday, June 28th, 2018 | Posted by M Harold Page

Elysium Flare: Unashamedly SciFi Space Opera, with a strong sense of galactic geography

Elysium Flare: Unashamedly SciFi Space Opera, with a strong sense of galactic geography

I know I shouldn’t have, but on impulse bought a new tabletop roleplaying game. Listen!

The Gulfs between the Arms are nearly empty of stars and difficult to navigate. In these places there are few civilizations but there are other things. In the Gulfs horrors lurk, sleeping for slow millennia until the fast bright minds of the civilizations come too close. As with the Rim, there are inhabitants of the Hub that believe these horrors can be harnessed or at least aimed and unleashed. This almost always ends badly. But if they can be tamed or at least directed, the power one might wield over the Hub worlds would be unstoppable.

Imagine a roleplaying game that put boots on the ground — or was it flippers? — in a the kind of wide-angle galaxy depicted by strategy games like Stellaris or Eclipse, or perhaps Twilight Imperium? Or Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, only good.

That’s what Elysium Flare promises to do.

Elysium Flare unapologetically emulates sweeping Sci-Fi Space Opera, cheerfully mixing magic (sort of) and science. In tone, it’s more Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok than Rogue One. However, it’s not actually Starfinder‘s leaner more narrativist cousin; it has much stronger sense of galactic geography, which offers a quite different aesthetic.

Perhaps best of all for overstretched middle aged players like me, it seems to do it in a way that’s both “lite” and structured using an elegantly hacked-down Fate variant that’s narrativist — of course! — but still offers playable peril.

It’s also a delightful read — tellingly, I’m not the only person to use that term. It’s nicely illustrated without going over the top, presented in well-written and readable form, has an Index (ARE YOU READING THIS MONGOOSE???). I counted about three minor typos and I don’t know what the softback is like because it hasn’t arrived yet. It’s missing blank character sheets, but I believe these are on their way. So it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a mature “indy” games publisher

It comes from VSCA, the same team that made Diaspora, meaning mostly Brad J Murray and his mates on Google+. Though this is very different in both setting and complexity, the strengths have definitely carried over from one to the other.

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Origins Game Fair: Games Galore

Thursday, June 28th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

moonshaestormsTwo weekends ago, I trekked out to Columbus, OH, from my home gaming grounds of central Indiana, in order to experience my first Origins Game Fair. I’ve covered it in a couple of previous posts, the Origins Awards and my talk with the folks at Paizo about their upcoming Pathfinder Playtest and organized play options. But, of course, when you’re at a convention like this, one of the nice things is to walk around the exhibit hall and get exposed to new games.

Origins is different from GenCon, in that many companies build their entire annual release schedule around having big GenCon releases and announcements of upcoming releases. Origins, on the other hand, is more about playing games, and there seemed far less of an emphasis on having the early release of brand new, never-before-seen games. Still, there were some new treasures there … either ones that were completely new, or ones that I was exposed to for the first time, at least.

One of the big new releases being shown off at Origins was Catalyst Game Labs’ new expansion for the Dungeons & Dragons deck-building game Dragonfire. The new “campaign box” expansion, Moonshae Storms (Amazon), was available. Moonshae Storms adds new adventure cards and continues the “An Ancient Evil Arises” campaign storyline from the Dragonfire base game, and also expands the options with a Mountain setting, various new monsters to fight (including lycanthropes and fomorians) and market cards and magic items for players to acquire as part of their decks, as well as 8 new character cards. Dragonfire has had a couple of smaller Adventure Packs released over the last year, and a couple more on the horizon, but Moonshae Storms is a much more substantial increase in the game options than presented by those smaller adventures.

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Experience the Terrors of the Mythos in the Old West in Down Darker Trails

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Down Darker Trails-small Down Darker Trails-back-small

One of the many things I love about the Call of Cthulhu RPG — besides the prospect of gathering with close friends to cheerfully go insane together — is the rich array of settings. The core game is set in 1930s America, where Lovecraft (who died in 1937) set virtually all of his fiction, and that serves the pulp horror aesthetic nicely. But over the years Chaosium, and other publishers, have produced several top-notch supplements giving players the option to adventure in a wide range of times and places.

These include Cthulhu Now (1987), Terror Australis (1987), King of Chicago (1992), The Cairo Guidebook (1995), Atomic-Age Cthulhu (2013), and many, many more. The Dreamlands, Victorian London, Scotland, even the Orient Express… no other game invites you to go stark, raving mad in such finely detailed surroundings.

However, CoC has been sorely lacking a weird western sourcebook, so I was very pleased to see Kevin Ross and his friends at Chaosium release Down Darker Trails, a massive full-color 256-page hardcover which lovingly brings Mythos horror to the old west. The book is an excellent addition to Chaosium’s catalog, and contains a splendid historical re-telling of the American Territories, plenty of famous individuals, two complete towns, four western-themed Lost Worlds (including the weird subterranean world of K’n-yan, and the eerie Shadow Desert), and two complete introductory adventures.

Down Darker Trails invites you to play American Indian heroes and famous gunslingers, visit famous sites, and discover just how deeply the terror and mystery of the Great Old Ones has seeped into the West.

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Origins Game Fair: Pathfinder Society Organized Play

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

PathfinderPlaytestEarlier this week, I spoke briefly about attending my first Origins Game Fair event in Columbus, OH, over last weekend, and about the Origins Awards they handed out for best game products of the year. But I wasn’t there for the awards, of course. I was there for the games themselves.

Origins gave the one of the first real opportunities in the wild to see the upcoming Pathfinder Playtest in action. (It has previously been available at GaryCon, PaizoCon, and the UK Games Expo.) We have previously discussed the announcement by Paizo to release a public playtest at GenCon 2018 for their Second Edition, which will then release at GenCon 2019. Unfortunately for me, those events were fairly consistently sold out, and busy enough they didn’t want too many loiterers around the table to slow down the game for those actually playing. The tables were in a fairly accessible location, though, and the people playing seemed to be really enjoying themselves, but my attempt to get a glance at the character sheets were consistently thwarted. (I am signed up in one of the first Playtest slots at GenCon, though, so that I can provide feedback at that point.)

I’ve been following Paizo’s releases about the Pathfinder Playtest on their blog with interest, though, and was able to have a discussion with Paizo’s John Compton and Tonya Woldridge, to get some answers to the questions I had about how this would all play out … so to speak. John and Tonya are focused on the Pathfinder Society (and Starfinder Society) Organized Play program, so that’s where we spent the majority of our conversation. But before getting into the Organized Play questions, I wondered what to expect from a story-based perspective: Will Pathfinder Playtest (or Pathfinder 2nd Edition) come with a realm-shattering storyline?

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Traveller Resources Without Dice #1: The Travel Survival Guide by Lloyd Figgins

Thursday, June 21st, 2018 | Posted by M Harold Page

Travel Survival Guide

How travel works beyond the developed world

“That moment when you realise some of the people you follow on Twitter are Traveller characters…”

We’d been chatting about buying a second hand (deactivated) Bren Gun. (I once nearly impulse bought one, but ended up saving the money to spend on swords and armour like most if the other responsible adults I knew.) This led to a consensus that fair fights are bad. Then @wandering_andy tweeted:

30 years, mostly in the crappier parts of the world has developed what I would like to be my new family motto;
‘If you find yourself in a fair fight, you got your strategy wrong’

Not as catchy as the current one I guess… but more realistic

Intrigued, I clicked through to his profile and found:

Listening – Watching – Advising. Covert Intelligence, Security Adviser to UHNWI & Trainer

Yep, from that and his tweets,  he’s a British veteran turned security contractor. Up until this point I’d mostly been interacting with gamers and writers who only play at this sort of thing. Hence my tweet.

That moment when you realise some of the people you follow on Twitter are Traveller characters…

Guess what Andy tweeted back?

Free Trader Beowulf…

Why didn’t I use that as my twitter name!!!

A tingle went down my spine. Marc Miller’s immortal text:

This is Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone… Mayday, Mayday… we are under attack… main drive is gone… turret number one not responding… Mayday… losing cabin pressure fast… calling anyone… please help… This is Free Trader Beowulf… Mayday….

Somebody out there who had rolled the dice was now walking the walk.  A very odd feeling.

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Origins Game Fair: Origins Awards

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

256 Starfinder CoreLast week and weekend, gamers descended upon the city of Columbus, OH, for Origins Game Fair. Running from June 13 to 17 – Wednesday through Sunday – the event is five solid days focused on playing some of the best games out there. And this year was my first time attending.

I have pretty extensive experience with smaller literary conventions, and I’ve gone to GenCon every year for about a decade at this point, so Origins felt pretty familiar to me. It filled the Columbus Convention Center, but had a smaller and less commercial feel than GenCon, on some level. There is more emphasis on playing games than on big marketing pushes, new releases, or even really game sales. The exhibit hall is a fraction the size of that at GenCon, and many major publishers don’t even have a sales presence at the convention.

My son turned 13 on Friday and the trip to Origins was part of his birthday present. Turns out that he wanted to spend all day on Saturday playing through three Starfinder sessions … which I suppose explains why the game won the Fan Favorite Best Roleplaying Game category in the Origins Awards.

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Modular: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes — Disturbing Entities to Inspire Great Adventures… or Nightmares

Saturday, June 16th, 2018 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes-smallDungeons & Dragons 5th Edition seems to have a good handle on what’s needed for a rule book, and what’s needed for an expansion. Like its immediate predecessor, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes covers a variety of topics. It’s meant to fill in some gaps for specific areas players and game masters might want to have more detail about.

It’s broadly divided into two sections: five chapters devoted to the history of different races and their factions and how they can be used both by the GM and the players, and a generous bestiary stuffed full with old favorites and permutations of them that haven’t reappeared yet.

This includes new monsters and monsters specifically related to the first half of the book. You’ll see what I mean shortly.

It’s a great book, probably my favorite yet of the expansions, and maybe the first one I’d consider a must-have for all campaigns, owing to the wealth of information provided on basic character races like Elves and Dwarves.

Don’t get me wrong, I think most game masters would want Xanathar’s Guide on their shelves, because it offers so many tweaks and suggestions. But I believe Mordenkainen’s Tome will be even more broadly useful to a slightly higher percentage of players

I must be the odd man out, but I’ve never been especially interested in demons or devils, and the fascination many have with them has always baffled me. So I probably wasn’t the target audience for the first chapter, devoted to the long war between the two races, but darned if I wasn’t impressed anyway.

No, I’m not suddenly inspired to run a campaign centered on interactions with the infernal, but there’s a lot of cool and clever information, and, should this be more your cup of tea, some interesting hooks. It’s also rounded out with lots of ideas that can help players flesh out their Tiefling characters.

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Modular: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes Looks to the Horizon

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes-smallThe newest supplement for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (Amazon), continues to provide the high quality of content we’ve come to expect from this series, focusing on quality and story depth over serious escalation of power.

Tome of Foes expands on setting and background information for the main setting, with the bulk of the book being the 137-page Bestiary chapter, containing monsters from across the dimensions, including a variety of duergars and drow templates to a host of Demon Lords and Archdevils. And that’s all just in the D section of the Bestiary, not even account for the constructs, elder elementals, and ample quantities of undead!

While the monsters are great to have, the first half of the book has a lot to offer for the Dungeon Master in terms of depth, as well.

The first chapter gives a wealth of detail on the eternal Blood War between the armies of demons and devils for who gets claim on being more evil. It’s easy to treat demons and devils as villains just there to be killed, but after reading this chapter, you’ll be more inclined to treat them as unique creatures, with their own goals and motivations. I’m looking forward to using this information to build a storyline where my players are stuck between the goals of demonic cults and devil cults, who hate each other nearly as much as they hate the party of adventurers.

Subsequent chapters provide details on the cultures of elves, dwarves, halflings, and gnomes. Information on the Feywild and the Underdark is also provided where appropriate, for those who want to incorporate them more into their campaigns. In addition, a chapter focuses on the endless war between the two gith races, the githyanki and githzerai, who escaped their enslavement from the mind flayers (who are themselves not covered in detail Tome of Foes, but are well covered in the previous Volo’s Guide to Monsters) only to find themselves in a brutal clash against each other.

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Rise to the Throne in Ethnos

Friday, June 8th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill


We’re definitely living in a golden age of fantasy board games.

How can you tell? Well, for one thing, a generation ago a relatively modest game such CMON’s Ethnos would have been a pocket game, like Star Fleet Battles or Valkenburg Castle, with a two-color map and paper tokens, crammed into your back pocket to play at lunch. Today it gets the deluxe treatment, with quality components, full color cards, and art by the great John Howe. Times are good for fantasy gamers, and no mistake.

Whatever form it takes, part of the charm of Ethos is its simplicity. It’s a fairly straightforward game of conquest, with a 45-60 minute play time and virtually no set up time — a far cry from the more massive games I’ve been writing about recently, like Axis & Allies and Chaos in the Old World, let me tell you. Plus, this is definitely old-school, with wizards, giants, and skeleton armies. You barely need to look at the rule book. Beer and pretzels, some glory tokens, and a lust for conquest on your lunch hour is all you need to carry you to victory.

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Caverna The Cave Farmers: The Most Fun You’ll Have Managing Animals, Minerals and Vegetables

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Caverna the Cave Farmers-small

I’ve heard a lot about the top-selling Agricola. It was the board game that finally ended Puerto Rico‘s five year-rein as the highest-rated game at BoardGameGeek, and it thoroughly dominated the rankings from September 2008 until March 2010. It certainly sounds like something I should investigate, but I have to admit it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm… I mean, just how much fun can it be to simulate a farming couple living in a two-room hut?

As you can probably imagine, I was much more intrigued by Agricola‘s sequel Caverna: The Cave Farmers, which changed up the setting and added a fantasy veneer, putting you in the role of dwarves leading tiny family clans in mountain caves. The reviews have been pretty promising; Shut Up & Sit Down said:

The sequel to Agricola is here, and it’s the heaviest and most expensive game we’ve ever reviewed. A titan of the table.

There’s no question. Caverna: The Cave Farmers is the most fun you’re going to have managing animals, minerals and vegetables.

Wait, are they being snarky? It’s hard to tell. Only one way to find out for sure.. I finally took the plunge and shelled out $80 for a copy of Caverna, and it arrived today. And wow, this thing is gigantic.

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