Rogue Blades Presents: It’s a Time for Heroes

Friday, April 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

the-lost-empire-of-sol-front-cover-smallIn a matter of weeks, months, it has become a different world. Even within the confines of speculative literature and what’s oft referred to as nerd or geek culture, there have been big changes. For instance, disappointing to those of us who had planned to attend this year, Howard Days in Cross Plains, Texas, has been canceled, as have hundreds of conventions and gatherings across the globe. Closer to home for me, a board member of Rogue Blades Foundation, a nonprofit publisher focusing on all things heroic, we have had to push back to 2021 publication of the book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life (though The Lost Empire of Sol is still expected to be published next month).

Now don’t think this is grousing, complaining. I’m merely pointing out how some of the world has changed of late. For that matter, some of the changes aren’t all bad.

As a writer and editor, I normally work from home, so all this isolation most of us are having to contend with of late isn’t new to me. What is new for me is that everybody else is home. Including all my online gaming buddies. And most of them don’t seem to be working at home. Which means they have lots of time for Dungeons & Dragons. Which means I have lots of time for Dungeons & Dragons. And other games. Which means I’m getting less work done than usual.

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The Awesome Villainy of the Kafers

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

Kafer Sourcebook-small

Kafer Sourcebook by William H. Keith (GDW 1988)

A common science fiction trope is the terrifying alien. The one determined to destroy humanity… or whatever… is in its path. The xenomorph from the Alien franchise is probably the first that comes to mind for many, but others include the unnamed Force from Event Horizon, the Bugs from Starship Troopers, the Taurans from The Forever War, the Predator, and the Thing. These aliens serve as vehicles to terrify and challenge humanity in many ways. In science fiction tabletop role-playing games, aliens abound. Many ruthless enemies like the Sathar of Star Frontiers, the Jinsuls from Starfinder, along with the Alien xenomorph exist in the pages of role-playing games. In my opinion, the Kafers from the 2300AD game are the best of the lot.

Bold statement.

2300AD was released by GDW in 1986. Set in the near-ish future and part of an extended timeline from GDW’s Twilight 2000 game, the people of Earth have recovered for a nuclear war in the late 2000s, discovered the stutterwarp drive, and colonized many worlds in the near-earth vicinity. The game pitched itself as hard science fiction — the stutterwarp drive, one of the concessions. Many of the materials focus on realistic orbital mechanics and lifeforms. Planets are often hostile. The book is about humanity’s struggle and challenges in colonizing the stars.

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Telling Your Star Wars Story with Dice Rolls

Monday, March 9th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

Star Wars Edge of the Empire

In 2012 Fantasy Flight Games published Edge of the Empire, a roleplaying game set in the Star Wars universe. The game focused on smugglers, bounty hunters, and others outside the main story line of Rebellion and Empire. Two additional core rulebooks, Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny, followed in succeeding years, both focusing on different aspects of the Star Wars setting. All three, however, are interchangeable and rely on what Fantasy Flight Games called the Narrative Dice System (NDS).

Most role-playing games rely on dice where the player must achieve a certain numerical threshold for success. Far Future Enterprises’ version of Traveller requires players to roll under a target number using two six-sided dice for an average difficulty task. Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, requires rolling higher than a specified number on a twenty-sided die — either an monster’s armor class or a number set by the dungeon master based on the difficulty. These are straightforward success or failure rolls (Mongoose’s rules do account for the degree of success, and Dungeons & Dragons, of course, has the critical failure or success that contributes additional effects to the results).

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Future Treasures: Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights edited by Chris Bain, Patrick Weekes, Matthew Goldman, and Christopher Morgan

Sunday, March 1st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Dragon Age Tevinter Nights-smallDragon Age is one of my favorite computer role playing games. It was the 11th title released by legendary Canadian development house Bioware, creator of Baldur’s Gate, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Mass Effect.

Dragon Age was a major hit, and was nurtured into a multi-million dollar cross-platform property, with half a dozen novels, a tabletop RPG, comics and graphic novels, action figures, and even an anime film, Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker. Properties like that don’t die easily, and even though Dragon Age was released over a decade ago, in 2009, it continues to live on. Two sequels, Dragon Age II and Dragon Age: Inquisition (which Elizabeth Cady reviewed for us here), were released in 2011 and 2014, and a fourth installment, Dragon Age: The Dread Wolf Rises, was announced on December 6, 2018.

There’s plenty of excitement and speculation about that latter release, of course. First, players want to know when it will be released (2022… maybe?), and whether it will directly follow the events of Inquisition. A major clue arrives this month in the form of Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights, a collection of short stories co-edited by Dragon Age 4’s lead writer Patrick Weekes, which — no surprise — has triggered healthy speculation that the Tevinter Imperium will be the setting for the next installment.

We received a review copy last week, and I admit my first question is a little more mundane: how does it hold up as an anthology? Is it a worthy introduction to one of the cornerstones of modern computer role playing, or is strictly for fans only?

I’ll have to dig into it to find out, but on the surface it looks pretty promising. It’s certainly beautifully produced, with a fold out color map of the world of Thedas in the front (see below), and no less than fifteen stories by a Who’s Who of Bioware staff writers, including Sylvia Feketekuty (Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, Mass Effect 3), John Epler (Narrative Director for the Dragon Age series), Lukas Kristjanson (lead writer of Baldur’s Gate), and Patrick Weekes (Lead Writer for the Dragon Age series).

This is a rare opportunity to sample the writing of the senior creative talents at one of the most successful gaming companies on the planet, the folks who’ve curated some of the most enduring fantasy properties of the last twenty years. As an added bonus, you’ll get clues to the storyline of one of the industry’s big new releases…. and what’s more cool than being in the know ahead of all your friends?

Here’s the publisher’s description for the book.

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A Traveller Whodunnit: Murder on Arcturus Station

Monday, February 24th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

Murder on Arcturus Station-small

Adventure 11: Murder on Arcturus Station
J. Andrew Keith
Game Designer’s Workshop (52 pages, $5.00 digital, 1983)

Murder on Arcturus Station is a classic adventure module published by GDW for the first edition of the popular science fiction role-playing game Traveller. The adventure embroils the players in a murder mystery, and one of the hallmarks of this adventure is the ability to alter the murderer and the means every time it is played.

While the early days of role-playing game adventures did not emphasize making the referee’s (Traveller’s term for dungeon or game master) set up task easy, at least in contemporary terms, Murder on Arcturus Station does require more initial set up, preparation, and involvement by the referee. This is because of the flexibility and replay-ability of the adventure:

Thus, instead of providing many specific events, encounters, or other plot elements, this adventure is largely devoted to the presentation of source material from which the referee must build the specific mystery to be presented.

This should not frighten potential referees though, for this adventure is rich with possibility and a load of fun.

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Reviving the Rich History of Traveller

Monday, February 10th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society-small

Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society, Volume 1
Various authors
Mongoose Publishing (128 pages, $14.99 digital)

Traveller is a popular science fiction role playing game originally released in 1977 by GDW. To support its community of gamers, GDW published The Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society (JTASfrom 1979 to 1985. (JTAS saw subsequent revivals for later versions of Traveller.) In 2019, Mongoose Publishing — publishers of two editions of Traveller — Kickstarted a three-volume revision of classic JTAS articles, intended for their second edition rules. Additionally, they would incorporate some new material and also mine some fanzines for articles. They Kickstarter was a success, eventually unlocking six volumes. Volume 1 has been released digitally (hard copy to follow) for sale to non-Kickstarter backers.

Volume I is 128 pages and includes two adventures, two new alien PC races, seven creatures, seven vehicles, two starships, eight articles providing background and fluff, and several items beyond that. The table of contents is organized by article type, making the job of finding those stats for the burst lasers easy.

The meat of this volume is in the eight articles broken into two sections: Charted Space and Travelling. Here, you can learn about a typical Imperial megacorporation, SuSAG; a listing and short description of the emperors of the Third Imperium; a history of the Vilani, the human race responsible for establishing the First Imperium; piracy — whether of the Vargr Corsair nature or what generally works for piracy in the Spinward Marches — an interview with the K’kree ambassador to the Imperium; a tutorial on smuggling; and an overview of the Gazulin starport. The topics covered do not provide new rules (with the minor exception in the smuggling article). Rather, they are intended to provide background and information to add flavor and hooks to your games, along with providing a quick bit of history for the Traveller default setting of the Third Imperium.

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The Changed Face of Geekdom

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

Wallpaper flare com 1

A party of travelers arrive in a city…

Good afternoon, Readers!

I had a thought – literally just this moment – about geekdom and how much it has changed. Some people’s perception of it appears to be slow in catching up, but that is to be expected, really.

When I was a young girl, growing up in small town Australia, geeks were a bad thing. They were variously sun-deprived, pimply walking skeletons, or sun-deprived, pimply fat blokes. Either way, they were unhygienic outsiders with zero social skills, or, indeed, any redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Rarely now, except for a certain talkshow host who shall remain nameless, do people conjure such an image when speaking of geeks and geekdom any more.

This isn’t, of course, to say that geekdom is without its bad actors. Misogyny and racism (and other foolish ideologies) are still a huge problem in the geek community (though that is thankfully changing, despite the best attempts of a dedicated bunch of morons), but that is a discussion for another day.

Today’s prominent geeks, however, are happily blasting away this stereotype just by being themselves, and it’s wonderful to see. Let’s have a look at some of my favorites geeks in popular culture.

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Start Prowling Night City with the Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit

Monday, January 27th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit-small

Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit
By Mike Pondsmith, David Ackerman, J Gray, James Hutt, and Cody Pondsmith
R. Talsorian Games [96 pages, 6 dice, 2 maps, 6 pre-generated characters, 2 double-sided maps, 2 reference sheets, 23 standees and stands, $30.00 boxed set, $10.00 digital (no dice or stands)]

Cyberpunk, a popular science-fiction RPG first released in 1988, has gone through several editions, the most famous and much beloved of which is Cyberpunk 2020 published in 1990. This year’s much anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 video game from CD Projekt Red (makers of the Witcher video game series) is based on the world and lore of the tabletop RPG.

The Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit, released at Gen Con 2019, is the latest iteration of the tabletop game and serves as a teaser for the forthcoming full core ruleset and as a prequel to the Cyberpunk 2077 game by filling in chunks of the timeline between Cyberpunk 2020‘s 4th Corporate War (a major event in the 2020 timeline). If that is unfamiliar to you, never fear, the included World Book provides enough background to catch you up.

The boxed set comes with six pre-generated characters, two reference sheets, maps, a set of Cyberpunk themed dice (4 d6 and 2 d10), and flat minis (or standees) along with two booklets: the World Book and Rule Book.

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A Classic Science Fiction Simulator: Howard Andrew Jones and Todd McAulty on Traveller

Sunday, January 19th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Traveller Role Playing Game closeup-small

Classic Traveller box set (Games Designers Workshop, 1977)

Over at Tor.com, Howard Andrew Jones and I (under my pseudonym Todd McAulty, the name I use for fiction writing) have posted an article on Classic Traveller, a science fiction role playing game we both dearly love. Here’s a taste.

Todd: It’s fair to say that Classic Traveller was basically a ‘50s/’60s science fiction simulator. It was deeply inspired and influenced by the mid-century SF of E.C. Tubb, H. Beam Piper, Keith Laumer, Harry Harrison, Isaac Asimov, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, and most especially Poul Anderson.

Howard: Classic Traveller was very light on setting—

Todd: To put it mildly!

Howard: —but it sketched the scene in broad strokes. Players adventured in a human-dominated galaxy riven by conflict, thousands of years in the future. The star-spanning civilization of that future looked an awful lot like the galactic civilizations imagined by Asimov, Anderson, Jack Vance, Gene Roddenberry and others.

The two of us had a lot of fun, but I have to say the article got a lot more interesting once E. E. Knight showed up to share some of his experiences at the gaming table.

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Exploring Character in Starfinder

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

StarfinderCharacterOperationsOne great feature of the class designs in the Starfinder Core Rulebook is that each class has a variety of choices, allowing for distinct builds that can suit a variety of play styles. You can build a Mechanic or Technomancer that is either a weak combat-avoiding technician or a combat-ready armored cyber-warrior, for example. This initial diversity has allowed for many permutations on the basic character options, so right out of the gate there’s little chance of players feeling like they’ve explored everything their characters can do. Over its first couple of years, the expansions have focused on new playable races (across three Alien Archive volumes!) and equipment (in an entire Armory volume), but there have been fewer additional options by comparison to modify the core characters.

The release of Starfinder‘s most recent rules supplement, the Character Operations Manual (Paizo, Amazon), definitely helps remedy that situation. Like Pathfinder‘s Advanced Player’s Guide, this is really the volume that establishes the ability to deeply customize characters … a hallmark of what made the Pathfinder RPG distinctive. In addition to three completely new classes, the Character Operations Manual presents more Themes, alternate racial traits for core races and Pathfinder legacy races, Archetypes that provide alternate class features, feats, equipment (including shields), spells, new starship combat rules, and an entirely new downtime system mechanic.

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