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Category: Role Playing Games

Roleplaying in the World of The Expanse

Roleplaying in the World of The Expanse

I have heard it said that a number of the central ideas in James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse series were first developed for a tabletop RPG campaign (a series of adventures that usually tell a coherent story arc). I have been unable to validate this, but one find any number of chats positing the game they were playing. And the Foreword for The Expanse RPG does say “for a long run, it was a roleplaying game campaign.” Which RPG, I have not heard definitively stated.

James S. A. Corey is the pen name of authors Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham. What we do know for certain is that they originally pitched The Expanse for an MMPORG (I’m assuming something akin to World of Warcraft). Failing that, they hoped to make a tabletop RPG, and then decided to write the novels, the first of which was Leviathan Wakes in 2011. The ninth and final novel of the series, Leviathan Falls, releases in November this year. The series has exploded in popularity, spawning eight stories and novellas (the last of which is will appear in March 2022), a TV series (entering the sixth and final season in December on Amazon Prime), a board game, comics, and — yes — its own tabletop RPG. Full circle in a way.

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Join the Corps! The Colonial Marines Operations Manual for Alien: The Roleplaying Game

Join the Corps! The Colonial Marines Operations Manual for Alien: The Roleplaying Game

When Free League Publishing released the ALIEN Roleplaying Game, the obvious next supplement (beyond adventures) was a book about the Colonial Marines, featured so prominently in the film ALIENS and subsequent comics and books. The ALIEN Roleplaying Game core rulebook has proven to be very successful, coming in as one of the top five bestselling RPGs in 2021. Black Gate’s own E.E. Knight reviewed that book, which you can read here.

This author’s personal take on the core rules is that they are superb. They capture the cosmic-slasher-horror and cyberpunk-ish setting of the ALIEN universe as we’ve come to understand it. Combat is deadly and the stress mechanic is brutal, particularly when fighting the titular xenomorphs. Characters quickly succumb to all sorts of panic as they witness their human allies impaled by spiked tails, dragged away to become home to the alien implanted larvae, see humans metamorphose into something else as they encounter black goo or corporate experiments with it, and many more. The game is intentionally unfair and unbalanced against players (which they need to understand upfront). When all the players accept this and engage in the store, this results are exciting and memorable roleplaying. Players generally know their character are likely doomed and still work to find their way out. A sliver of hope.

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Exploring and Adventuring the Traveller Way: The Sky Raiders, Part 2

Exploring and Adventuring the Traveller Way: The Sky Raiders, Part 2

The is the second of two articles covering FASA’s published adventures in the Sky Raiders trilogy for Traveller. You can read the first here.

The Keith brothers, so prominent in creating Traveller materials during early years of the game, did not end the story of the Sky Raiders with The Legends of the Sky Raiders, but continued it on The Trail of the Sky Raiders and The Fate of the Sky Raiders. While both sequels can be played independently without having run through the previous one or two, the motivating rationale and exploration of Mirayn in Legends turns into more straightforward exposition. I think a more satisfactory story begins with Legends.

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Raiders of the Lost Ark in Traveller: The Sky Raiders

Raiders of the Lost Ark in Traveller: The Sky Raiders

The is the first of two articles covering FASA’s published adventures in the Sky Raiders trilogy for Traveller.

The Keith Brothers, J. Andrew and William, were prolific and significant contributors to Traveller in the 1980s, often writing under pen names to avoid entire products being obviously written by the two. They wrote the classic Murder on Arcturus Station (you can see my review here). In 1981, they published via FASA (a notable RPG published with licenses to produce Traveller RPG supplement and adventure material), the first in a trilogy of adventures: The Legend of the Sky Raiders. This was followed in 1982 by The Trail of the Sky Raiders and The Fate of the Sky Raiders.

The trilogy is a planet hopping adventure focusing on hunting down the mysteries of the Sky Raiders, a lost civilization. The Legend of the Sky Raiders minces no words in the tone and type of adventure they are going for:

“Dedication: To Indiana Jones, who would feel right at home here.”

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Traveling through time with The Dr. Who Role Playing Game

Traveling through time with The Dr. Who Role Playing Game

Once upon a time, there was an age in which no one had heard of Weeping Angels or The Timeless Child, an age before the fez but after jelly babies, an age before Daleks could fly when there had been only six Doctors. I’m talking about 1985, the year The Dr. Who Role Playing Game was released by FASA, a company then known as the original publisher of the Shadowrun tabletop roleplaying game and the science fiction war game BattleTech.

The Dr. Who Role Playing Game came in a boxed set with three books of rules: The Player’s Manual, a Game Operations Manual, and a Sourcebook for Field Operatives. There were at least three different printings of this game with the first printing having a cover painting of the Fourth Doctor and companion Leela while the second and third printings had covers of a photograph of the Fourth Doctor and Leela. Also, while the information was the same, the various rules books inside the box had different covers for each of the three printings.

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Diceless Adventuring: Bounty Hunter

Diceless Adventuring: Bounty Hunter

For the past three years, Kickstarter has had an annual event known as Zine Quest:

Our annual Zine Quest prompt bestows creators with this valiant mission: Bring your RPG to life with maps, adventures, monsters, comics, articles, and interviews. To participate, launch a two-week project for a single-color unbound, folded, stapled, or saddle-stitched RPG zine on A5 or smaller paper. 

The zines tend to be small in size, and thus relatively inexpensive. This year, I participated, purchasing a few supplements for Mothership (you can read my review of this RPG here) and Mörk Borg along with a few full-fledged RPGs. One of these was Bounty Hunter, which I received in PDF and hard copy a few weeks ago.

The game was created by Guy Sclanders, a personality on YouTube who offers often excellent advice for gamemasters (GMs) and reviews on his How to Be a Great GM channel. Bounty Hunter focuses on an original setting and a non-traditional mechanic for RPGs: it is diceless.

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Come and Get Me, Coppers … in Gangbusters

Come and Get Me, Coppers … in Gangbusters

Though it no longer exists, the gaming company known as TSR, Inc., will always be associated with Dungeons & Dragons. However, TSR published a lot more tabletop roleplaying games than D&D. The science fiction game Star Frontiers to this day has a strong fan base, and the game Gamma World continues to find some love. That being said, many of TSR’s other RPGs tend to have been forgotten by a wider audience though they might still have a community of followers.

Such a game is Gangbusters.

Designed by Rick Krebs and originally published in 1982, Gangbusters takes place in the America of the 1920s and 1930s in the fictional Lakefront City. This is a game of cops and robbers, of gangsters and crime lords and Tommy guns. Historical figures such as Al Capone or Pretty Boy Floyd might make an appearance along with fictional characters like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, but players also have the opportunity to play the bad guys. Or they can play the good guys and join the side of the law. Or they can be something in between, like a newspaper reporter or photographer.

The original version of Gangbusters included multiple maps, two ten-sided die, and a 64-page book of rules. Today 64 pages might not seem like much for a rules book, but Gangbusters had plenty of information packed into those pages.

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Co-op Adventuring in Dungeons & Dragons

Co-op Adventuring in Dungeons & Dragons

When I started playing RPGs all the way back in the early 1980s, I did not have a group of players at my age to play games with (well, at least none that I ever found). Hence, I subjected my brother to Traveller and Star Frontiers — and eventually Marvel Super HeroesTwilight: 2000, and others. RPGs had always presumed that the game would have a game master (GM) — sometimes called Dungeon Master, referee, storyteller, keeper, and others — and the players.

The GM is largely responsible for crafting the story, running all the non-player characters (NPCs), adjudicating the rules, and responding to player decisions by adjusting the story as necessary. Hence, I acted as the GM and my brother played the characters in the story. Typically, far more players are looking for GMs to run games than GMs hanging around without players. This is, of course, highly dependent on the games being run, location, and so on. With online gaming, it is usually more challenging to coordinate time zones.

That said, GMs may have trouble finding players to play anything but the giant of all RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons. However, D&D often serves as a gateway to other RPGs, and the incredible success of Cyberpunk Red and Aliens shows that as more players enter the hobby, a fair number are willing to expand beyond the D&D horizon.

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Draw Your Guns, Pardner, for more Deadlands!

Draw Your Guns, Pardner, for more Deadlands!

Firearms from the Old West era have always fascinated me. It’s not simply the physical attractiveness of such weapons, though some are quite pleasing to look upon, but it’s the mechanics and the operation of these firearms which has always drawn me. Single-action revolvers, lever-action rifles, cap and ball weapons, even scatter guns of the period, they all take a certain amount of basic knowledge and skill to operate, to even load, let alone fire. There has always been something about the physical manipulation of such weapons which has interested me, far more than most modern firearms which are more deadly but don’t usually require the same operations.

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Reckoning: Twilight: 2000‘s American Campaign, Part III

Reckoning: Twilight: 2000‘s American Campaign, Part III

This is the third of three articles covering GDW’s published adventures in the “American Campaign” for Twilight: 2000’s first edition. The first, “From the Mountains to the Oceans,” can be read here, Part 2 is here.

The final three adventures of Twilight: 2000’s American campaign leap from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles to Baja Mexico. Twilight: 2000, GDW’s apocalyptic World War III RPG first released in the 1980s, always kept a firm eye on the individuals — usually US soldiers negotiating this challenging environment — while incorporating broader events. For the American campaign of adventures, the primary broader event has been the rising power of New America — a fascist tyranny run by the mysterious Charles Hughes — using its power and the competing US government’s two halves (MilGov and CivGov) to establish control over ever more area. New America has been a prominent opponent in the earlier adventures Airlords of the OzarksUrban Guerrilla, and Gateway to the Spanish Main.

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