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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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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Cults of Prax: Then and Now

Sunday, October 6th, 2019 | Posted by Michael OBrien

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Cults of Prax, first printing 1979. Cover art by Anders Swenson

The RuneQuest supplement Cults of Prax was published by Chaosium forty years ago this year.

RPGNet describes Cults of Prax as the first-ever roleplaying game ‘splatbook’ (a ‘splatbook’ being a non-core sourcebook for an RPG that provides additional rules and material that can be used with the main system) — but its importance and influence goes far beyond that distinction. In a 2010 retrospective review Grognardia said Cults of Prax is

A true classic of the early days of the [tabletop roleplaying] hobby. …quite rightly considered one of the best treatments of religion in a fantasy RPG ever written and it’s certainly one of the most inspirational.

Written by gaming legends Steve Perrin, co-author of the RuneQuest RPG rules, and the late Greg Stafford, creator of the fantasy setting Glorantha, Cults of Prax’s ground-breaking presentation of gods and how they interact with the world through those who worship them still makes it one of the most influential and important works ever released for the RuneQuest RPG, and indeed for tabletop roleplaying games in general.

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Pathfinder Second Edition

Saturday, August 31st, 2019 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Pathfinder2EAs has been the case for the last few years, this year’s big Gen Con release was from the folks at Paizo. Two years ago we got the release of Starfinder. Last year was the release of the Pathfinder Playtest. And this year the Pathfinder Playtest reaches its fruition with the release of Pathfinder Second Edition, released into the wild at the beginning of August.

The gamer fanatics that we are here at Black Gate, we’ve been interested in this since Pathfinder Second Edition was first announced.  Last fall, I covered the Pathfinder Playtest, and most of the basic game mechanics introduced in the playtest stayed constant in the Second Edition release, even if some of the specifics changed.

The pacing is one of the best aspects of Pathfinder Second Edition. The action economy of having three actions each turn, and different tasks taking different numbers of those actions, helps keep players and the gamemaster moving smoothly through the turns. Each character can track their most common actions, based upon their character build, so that they can easily keep track of their options in the action economy.

The character design in Pathfinder Second Edition is around accumulating feats – ancestry & heritage feats, class feats, general feats, and skill feats – that allow for a wide range of diversity. Some of these feats also unlock uncommon task types, which players without those feats aren’t able to access. This keeps the distinctive customization that has really become the hallmark of the Pathfinder RPG over the last decade.

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Not Your Typical Hero

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

God of war

Good morning, Readers!

On occasion, I review video games for the site chalgyr.com. It’s really just a small thing I do every so often, when I’ve finished playing a game.  Currently, I’m working my way through Far Cry Primal, and enjoying it immensely. Not too long ago, though, I played through the latest iteration of God of War. I enjoyed the older God of War games on a very surface level. I moved my avatar, rage-incarnate, Kratos, across the screen and used him to utterly obliterate my enemies. I felt nothing for Kratos, and despite cut scenes that were designed to make him at least a little sympathetic, I wasn’t particularly attached to his story. There is nothing compelling or appealing about the embodiment of toxic rage. I played for the mayhem and the silly fun.

Then came old man Kratos and his son, and everything changed.

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A Time for Heroes: The Not-so-Secret Premise Behind World of Aetaltis

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

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I’ve been pretty excited about Marc Tassin’s Aetaltis for years, and I’m thrilled that his Kickstarter has launched at last. Once you hear his take on heroes, you’re likely to be interested yourself. Take it away, Marc!

The world needs heroes. This is the simple premise upon which I built the World of Aetaltis. Especially today, at this moment in history, we need reminders that with the will, the desire, and the determination, one person truly can make a difference. And I don’t mean at the super-heroic level, where larger-than-life protagonists save the entire world with their daring. I mean right here, right now, where one small act of courage can change even a single life for the better.

That is why I chose to launch a new heroic fantasy setting at a time when anti-heroes rule and shades of dystopia permeate every story. Because I don’t think we’re tired of heroes. In fact, we need them now more than ever.

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Support the Hyperborea: Otherworldly Tales Kickstarter

Sunday, August 11th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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It’s hard to believe that I reviewed Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea right here seven long years ago. Since then it’s produced a revised and updated Second Edition, and become one of the most beloved independent RPGs on the market. I’m not the only one to fall in love with the system; Gabe Dybing interviewed creator Jeffrey Talanian for us back in 2016, and here’s what Howard Andrew Jones said on his blog in 2017:

The new Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea is a thing of beauty, a work of art. I spent thirty minutes last night just flipping through and soaking up all the artwork. If it’s not THE go-to sword-and-sorcery rpg at this point, it’s tied for first place. It just oozes the right vibe.

Now Jeff’s gaming company North Wind Adventures has launched a brand new Kickstarter to fund two new adventures, The Lost Treasure of Atlantis and The Sea-Wolf’s Daughter. Here’s what Jeff tells us about them.

Dear fellow Black Gate enthusiasts and fans of Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and H.P. Lovecraft: Do you like swords-and-sorcery and weird-fantasy role-playing game adventures? Well, North Wind Adventures, makers of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, have two new adventure modules coming out soon! Find out all the details here.

The campaign has already more than doubled its goal of $9,000, with seven days to go. It’s not too late to get on board — pledge right here, and check out all the recent goodies from North Wind Adventures in my 2018 Gencon report.


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