The Mechanics of a Post-Apocalyptic World: Degenesis Rebirth and KatharSys

Monday, May 25th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse


Degenesis Rebirth
Six More Vodka

In early January, I was at my local game shop (Hero’s Emporium) chatting with a clerk. I was there to run a game and was awaiting the players to show up. As gamers do, we talked about all the games we wanted to run, and he brought up Degenesis Rebirth. I scratched my head. “What is this you speak of?” He found an online trailer (and another). I then found their website (now replaced).

You may recall that in late 2019, Black Gate published a couple of articles (encountering it at Gen Con and discussing the setting) about the game they discovered at Gen Con. Those articles dive into the stupendous design and thought of this game by a German company called Six More Vodka. I will simply add that these are some of the most gorgeous RPG books ever created with one of the most interesting and thorough settings, and like E.E. Knight, I have been obsessing over them. Six More Vodka recently relaunched their website dedicated to the game with a ton of short fiction and setting information and — everything in digital format for free. Free. FREE. Did I say, “Free”?

Set in a world centuries after a series of asteroid collisions with earth, Degenesis Rebirth’s games take place in a post-apocalyptic world. The asteroids carried (or did their destruction and opening up of the Earth allow something to escape?) an extraterrestrial substance — spores, etc. — that infect the land and people, twisting both to unrecognizable and dangerous new things. This infection upon the land and people was rightly called Sepsis. As Europe and Africa recovered and adapted, a number of cultures and societies (called cults) have established or compete for dominance.

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Pathfinder Second Edition and Virtual PaizoCon

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

PathfinderGodsMagicSince GenCon 2019, there have been a number of great resources and supplements coming from Paizo to support their Pathfinder Second Edition roleplaying game. Last November, I covered the first two setting supplements, the Lost Omens Character Guide and Lost Omens World Guide. Players and Gamemasters alike have a slew of options available already, with even more slated to come by the end of the summer.

For those who don’t have time to plan or create adventures from scratch, they have one full Adventure Path, Age of Ashes, released, with the second, Extinction Curse, releasing its final volume in the next month. Each 6-volume Adventure Path for Pathfinder Second Edition takes players from level 1 through level 20, creating a truly epic campaign. Age of Ashes (Paizo, Amazon) involves the heroes discovering the secrets of an abandoned Hellknight fortress and its connection to an ancient evil force. Extinction Curse (Paizo, Amazon) is a circus-themed adventure, where the heroes must save the show while also investigating a plot to unleash an ancient curse, with a volume entitled Siege of the Dinosaurs. The upcoming Agents of Edgewatch (Paizo) is a fantasy cop adventure, as the heroes take on the role of law enforcement officers in and around the city of Absalom.

In addition, Paizo also releases a steady stream of smaller adventure scenarios to support the extensive Pathfinder Society Organized Play organization. Those adventures, available exclusively on PDF through, run about 4 hours per scenario, and players who play through them gain chronicle sheets that determine the amount of XP gained, as well as Fame & Reputation with various in-game factions, and of course gold and treasure. Characters also gain a variety of boons from these chronicle sheets, providing unique in-game benefits based on the previous adventures that they have completed. The structure of Pathfinder Society means that players can take the same character across a series of adventures at local game stores and conventions, and have the feel of being part of a larger adventure campaign.

Of course, that all assumes that game stores are open and conventions are taking place … but Paizo and gamers have stepped up to make sure there are opportunities to play, even in the midst of the dreaded “new normal.”

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Flipping the Game: Uncertain Rolls in Traveller

Monday, May 11th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse


Traveller5 Core Rules, three volumes, 2019
Marc Miller
Far Future Enterprises

I was running a Traveller game the other night. My brother was playing in it and wanted to camouflage his characters — they had just crash landed their shuttle and fled approaching raiders — to avoid discovery. I asked him to make a roll based on his skills and characteristic. He rolled his two six-sided dice, and he did not hit the targeted number.

Tabletop role playing games — by and large — use dice rolls to add randomness to the success or failure of character actions. The dice are modified by character skills and attributes, environmental conditions, and other factors. From the perspective of the player, the results are often binary: succeed or fail — though some games introduce degrees of success or failure in a number of ways (most famously Dungeons & Dragons critical successes and failures by rolling a 20 or 1 on the twenty-sided die). Of course, many situations in real life have a level of ambiguity or uncertainty to the successor failure of actions.

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Altered Initiative in the Altered Carbon RPG

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

Altered Carbon The Role Playing Game

In February this year, Hunters Entertainment launched a wildly successful Kickstarter for the Altered Carbon tabletop RPG. When it closed in early March, they had raised $372,547, having only asked for $20,000. While the creators finish the product for later this year, they provided a rules summary and scenario, which you can get from their website (where they call it a quick start guide).

The RPG is based on the Netflix series, Altered Carbon, which just released Season 2. In turn, the series took as its source material Richard K. Morgan’s book series, first published in 2002. The series is unabashedly cyberpunk. I recall reading somewhere that Morgan wanted to take every cyberpunk trope and cliche, toss it together, and see what comes out. The spin that the series takes to differentiate it was to turn whole mind upload or uploading our consciousness to a digital source into a routine, cheap task via a device called a cortical stack.

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Coming to Grips with the Force in Star Wars: Force and Destiny

Monday, April 13th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse


In a previous article, I praised Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars role-playing game for its narrative dice system. With its emphasis on cinematic moments, fast play, and narrative moments inspired by the dice, the mechanics work well with playing in the Star Wars universe.

The Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion core rulebooks had rules for Force users, but their focus was more about scum and villainy at the edges of space or serving the Alliance for the Restoration of the Republic (i.e., the Rebellion) than about space wizards with lightsabers.

The third and final core rulebook, Force and Destiny, is where players and game masters can get their fun in with using the Force at the tabletop. Fully compatible with the other two rulebooks, Force and Destiny and its subsequent splatbooks expand the options for characters with Force powers. This article will not dive into the powers so much; rather, I want to focus on the mechanics of the Force and how it plays out and feels in this version of a Star Wars role-playing game.

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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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