Modular: My Favorite “Do It Yourself” Products for Roleplaying Games

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

MERPThose who know me a little more than as an infrequent contributor to Black Gate Magazine might be aware that I once aspired to be a writer of fantasy stories and novels, even publishing (for a short time but longer than average life expectancy) a small press magazine with co-editor and lifelong friend Nick Ozment. A few years into my forties, however, roleplaying games have utterly subsumed my creative life. I’m currently gamemastering four games: my home game, the very first roleplaying game I ever ran in my young life, Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP); another MERP game, this one using full Rolemaster rules (2nd edition), via play-by-post (PbP) in a G+ community; and two Modiphius Conan 2d20 games, one via PbP in a G+ community and one (same format) in a Facebook group. This last one is being conducted with Bob Byrne and Martin and Xander Page and is the subject of a new Modular series helmed by Mr. Byrne. In preparing my observations on Modiphius’s licensed Conan property, I have been thinking deeply about various… I suppose I shall call them “styles” of play. Using what I consider two fairly representative rules sets of what I mean by play “styles,” I have done a pretty extensive breakdown here. I expect I also shall have occasion to write about different styles of play in the midst of my experience with the 2d20 playtest. Right now, though, I want to talk about what can be termed the OSR (Old School Revival) — perhaps more accurately referred to as DIY (Do It Yourself) — resources that I most appreciate and are the most often used in my MERP games. Specifically, these resources help me come up with content and develop my fantasy world.

There are a number of “adventure generators” — perhaps more accurately described as “idea machines” — out there. I’m sure all of them are fantastic. You can download one for free from Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea at its website Nearly all of the products and producers that I’m going to mention in this article offer one. Even Conan 2d20 has one, though the focus of that generator, due to the nature of play that Conan encourages, is a bit different, and I expect I will analyze this at length when I get to that portion of the official playtest series. These “adventure generators” almost certainly are evolved from the “story creators” that Ozment once told me that the early pulp writers used, sometimes flicking spinners rather than throwing dice. Hey, modern GMs are under almost the same kind of pressure as those pulp writers were, though instead of needing to churn out words for pennies to put meat on the table they need to come up with an idea quick, tonight, before the players come over expecting to be wowed and entertained. Pre-made modules can do the same thing, of course, but they have to be studied first, details have to be remembered, and sometimes they just don’t work with the ongoing campaign in the way that a few randomly generated elements can result in truly inspired serendipity. All of the products I’m about to profile I own and use in PDF.

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Modular: Take Command of Star Trek Adventures

Monday, March 12th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Star-Trek-The-Command-Division-Cover-No-LogosFans love Star Trek for different reasons, and when a fan moves into gaming within the Star Trek universe, those reasons usually inform the type of character they want to emphasize in their games. Do they want to be, like Spock or Data, the science officer who can coolly reason through any problem that comes up? Do they want to be the medical officer who saves lives while chaos erupts around them? The security officer who goes hand-to-hand with a Klingon warrior? The engineer who can make any technological miracle into reality? The hotshot pilot who can maneuver through any cluster of asteroids? Or the Captain of a starship, in charge of herding together all of these elements as they explore the distant unknown regions of space?

A handful of games have been versatile enough to cater to all of these types of fans. The video game Star Trek Online just celebrated its 8th anniversary, and it has a diverse style that allows easily for group or solo play, where players can create characters and take missions that interest them. There are missions that are mostly story-driven diplomatic missions, and some that are primarily about shooting the bad guys, either on ground away missions or in starship combat.

Last August, at GenCon, Modiphius Entertainment released the public version of their tabletop roleplaying game Star Trek Adventures. I’ve been running a group through since December 2016, when the game came out in a public playtest, and have been really pleased with it through all of the transformations into the official release. The system does a great job of allowing for diverse characters and capturing the feel of an episode of whichever Star Trek series is your cup of tea. (Earl Grey, hot, of course.)

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Modular: Conan’s Adventuring in an Age Undreamed of

Saturday, March 10th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Conan Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of-smallAnd so begins a Play by Post in the world of Conan!


Vultures spiral above the battlefield. Blood soaks into the rocky ground from hundreds of dying men and their horses, a grim reminder from the desperate hours prior.

For those who fought and died, the battle was as purposeless as any. Prince Satabus of Khoraja was tricked into bringing an army to aid King Ulam-Khala of Akbitana in a war against his cousin, King Nezurab of Shumir, another of Shem’s eastern city-states. So confident of the outcome was Satabus that… he brought with him his bride-to-be, a Stygian noblewoman named Neferet, along with her closest handmaiden.

With them also was a small delegation — envoys and court officials. They bore princely gifts to cement the deep and everlasting friendship with Khoraja and Akbitana: a chest containing fistfuls of gems; urns of precious oil; bolts of Turanian and Khitan silks and other fine cloth; ingots of precious metal; and measures of rare and fragrant wood… a sumptuous collection of finery befitting a royal visit.

The battle was over before it could even begin. In the days prior to Satabus’s arrival, Ulam-Khala and Nezurab had made peace with one another, messages traveling via messenger bird. The two Shemitish kings agreed to unite and destroy Satabus’s army as a show of solidarity, an act of betrayal that would serve to weaken Khorajan resolve against further incursions into Shem.

Seeing that the day was lost, Satabus sounded the order to flee, and as horns echoed across the desert, his mercenary army scattered across the dry plains and into the nearby foothills and hard-baked gullies. They were pursued by the asshuri, picked off one-by-one. Satabus and his cadre of knights fought valiantly to protect his beloved Neferet, but the caravan with her litter was cut off in the retreat. Their fates are unknown.

Each of you was part of Satabus’s army. You’re here now. Somehow, the last wave of Asshuri and footmen missed you. Everyone else is dead.


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Modular: Dead Suns Adventure Path for Starfinder

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

StarfinderDeadSuns4Last fall, the game publisher Paizo began releasing their line of Starfinder products, taking their Pathfinder setting into a distant science fantasy RPG setting. In addition to the main Starfinder Core Rulebook (Amazon, Paizo), they also began releasing the Dead Suns Adventure Path. With four of the six Dead Suns books now out, it’s about time to look back on what they’ve released to see what all the series has got to offer for fans looking for material.

Paizo’s Pathfinder Adventure Path books have long been a staple of the company’s product line. It provides a broad campaign of adventures across six 92-page books, each released on a monthly schedule. In addition to the adventure, each book contained setting, culture, and religious information, a Bestiary supplement, and original fiction.

Dead Suns continues that tradition in their Starfinder campaign setting, with the only significant difference in format being that these books are released on a bi-monthly schedule, so it takes a year to release the full Adventure Path as opposed to the two Adventure Path schedule for Pathfinder. Starfinder is on a less aggressive production schedule than Pathfinder, without associated Player Companion or Campaign Setting resources released monthly, so the Adventure Path provide supplements to the two hardcover Starfinder supplements slated for release each year. (The Alien Archive was released in the fall, and the Pact Worlds setting book is slated for release this month.)

As the first Starfinder Adventure Path, Dead Suns is a planet-hopping quest through the Pact Worlds, as the players get their own starship and begin following the clues across planets, running afoul of massive corporations, space monsters, undead starships and necrotech, and the troublesome Cult of the Devourer, as they uncover the secret behind a lost superweapon.

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Modular: Pathfinder 2nd Edition Announced – Never Say Never

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Pathfinder_PlaytestrulebookYesterday, Paizo announced an upcoming playtest for a 2nd Edition of Pathfinder. Wow.

For years, Paizo officials have said that there would never be a second edition. I suspect that all evidence of those statements have been scoured from the Internet. A quick search didn’t find any. There might have been qualifiers along the way, such as ‘unless the demand is too great’ or some such. But I remember the message as ‘We won’t do a 2nd Edition.” With the inference, ‘Making you buy all of your stuff over again.’

I thought that they might be adhering to that pledge when they put out Starfinder, a science fiction RPG. That seemed like a smart approach if they couldn’t update the original Pathfinder.

But I believe that events conspired against them. The best thing that ever happened to Pathfinder was 4th Edition D&D (granted – it was the impetus for Pathfinder). The worst thing that ever happened to Pathfinder was 5th Edition D&D.

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Modular: Trouble in the ’80’s with Tales from the Loop

Saturday, February 17th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

TalesFromTheLoopAs a child of the ’80’s, I grew up with the understanding that a group of kids might stumble upon a series of mysterious events and have to band together to deal with the challenges from it. Parents, law enforcement, and other authorities would be of no help, so there was no point in telling them what was going on. They either wouldn’t believe it or, worse, would stop the kids from fixing things. The kids, through determination and luck, were the only hope to set things right … whether it was finding a way to keep their families from being evicted, returning a strange visitor to another planet, or stopping rampaging monsters. Or, heck, even just making it through a day of detention.

E.T., The Goonies, Stand By Me, The Breakfast Club, Flight of the Navigator, The Last Starfighter, Lost Boys, SpaceCampGremlins. These are the types of films, along with more recent period pieces like The Iron Giant and Stranger Things, and maybe a touch of the SyFy Channel’s television series Eureka thrown in, that inspire the science fiction role-playing game Tales from the Loop from Modiphius Entertainment.

Tales from the Loop centers around a community in the 1980’s that is home to a research center and particle accelerator, called “The Loop.” There are actually two settings outlined in the book: the Swedish island of Svartsjolandet or the American town Boulder City. Whichever community your characters live in, you play a group of Kids who come into contact with a Mystery related to the particle accelerator, and join together to resolve the Mystery. The game can be extremely episodic, great for a standalone one-shot game, or played in a more “sandbox” format where the players are able to explore the setting in more depth, allowing for a more long-term campaign.

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Modular: First Time Out With I Love the Corps

Thursday, February 8th, 2018 | Posted by M Harold Page

256 ILTC Teens Playing

A house full of teens playing I Love the Corps!

“Cover the back of your necks! It’s going for your necks!”

“Use the black hole gun!”

“I’m out of Hero Points!”

“Kill them! Kill them!”


Yes the house is full of teens playing a review copy of indy game I Love the Corps, a self-consciously SciFi game which hits the notes of 90s Military SF, with a dose of Aliens, plus video games like Call of Duty and Mass Effect (the referee’s book has a handy appendix of inspirations, including music). The lads range from 12 through to 16, with my son Kurtzhau, 14, in the middle and in the thick of it refereeing an ambitious one-shot he’s crafted involving rebel humans and sinister uploading aliens, epic scale space dreadnoughts, and more twists than a sack-full of broken micro USB cables.

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Why I’m Here – Part Two: Some Thoughts on Old Books and Appendix N

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

add-dmguideFour years ago, I posted an explanation of what I’m trying to do with my reviews for Black Gate. My stated goal was, and remains, to be someone who says to readers, “Here’s a book I think you’ll get a kick out of.” There were several people who did that for me, turning me on to books and authors I still hold dear, and I want to do that for others. Like most fans of something, I want to convince people the things I like are worth their time and are still relevant.

It can be hard to pierce the barrier built of cultural noise, the vast wealth of new fantasy being written every year, and the simple passage of time, and convince someone a book that’s fifty years old or more is worth his time. Pop culture reflects the larger society that produces it, and people want to see their concerns and interests in it. That people still read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert E. Howard more than eighty years after both their deaths, though, tells me it’s not a hopeless battle.

I’m not the only person doing this, not by any stretch of the imagination. Of particular interest has been the wealth of discussion about Appendix N that has taken place over the past five or six years on message boards, blogs, and podcasts. For the two of you who don’t know what Appendix N is, it’s a quirky list of fantasy and sci-fi books that inspired Gary Gygax, the primary creator of D&D. There are few works on it I haven’t got to, though I was recently taken to task for my negligence of A. Merritt.

The list was in the Dungeon Masters Guide. Back in the day, it didn’t mean too much to me, only because I’d already read most of the authors on the list, and so had most of my gaming friends. Still, it was cool to see Gygax liked the same books we did. Because so much of the present Appendix N conversation has tended to focus on gaming, something I don’t do anymore, I’ve mostly just listened. Other than a couple of conversations about individual books, I’ve sat off to the side.

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Modular: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

Friday, January 5th, 2018 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything-smallIf you’ve jumped into the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I’ve got a book for you.

Until now, you haven’t really needed anything apart from the main three manuals (The Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide). But with Xanathar’s Guide to Everything the Wizards of the Coast have created a handy companion with utility for both players and dungeon masters.

Sure, if you’ve followed the various expansion books closely you’ll have seen some good stuff: Volo’s Guide to Monsters helps flesh out some nasty critters so you can better bring them to life AND know their weaknesses, and the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide provides background material if you’re playing in a specific setting (or perhaps one similar to it). Xanathar’s, though, is something like the original Unearthed Arcana was for old school D&D.

It’s 192 pages are broadly divided into four categories. Chapter 1 is given over to new options for characters, Chapter 2 is stuffed with game master tools, Chapter 3 has spells, and the Appendix, for some reason, is mostly devoted to possible character names, some 15 pages of them. To me, that feels like the book’s only mis-step. Long lists of English, French, and Celtic names can be found in numerous places, and while the elf and dwarf (and other) categories can be useful for inspiration, I’d rather have seen these names left on an online companion and this space given over to some other useful subject – sandbox gaming, for instance – that never gets enough coverage.

But the rest… the rest is gold.

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Future Treasures: Rogue Trader: The Omnibus by Andy Hoare

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Rogue Trader the Omnibus-smallFantasy Flight released the epic Rogue Trader role playing game in 2009. One of the early fruits of their Warhammer 40,000 license, Rogue Trader allowed players to play intrepid merchant princes buying and selling outside the legal boundaries of the Imperium. I became a fan immediately, and it quickly became my favorite science fiction RPG.

Fantasy Flight lost the Warhammer 40K license last year, and the game is now out of print. I thought that would be the end of the brand, so I was pleased to see Black Library put Rogue Trader: The Omnibus on their schedule for next month. It’s a compilation of three novels and two short stories by Andy Hoare. Rogue Star (2006) and Star of Damocles (2007) chart the fortunes of rogue trader Lucian Gerrit on the Imperium’s fringes, and Savage Scars (2011) picks up the tale as the White Scars battle the T’au on the planet Dal’yth. Rogue Trader: The Omnibus arrives in trade paperback on January 23.

Explore the stars and the farthest reaches of the galaxy with the complete Rogue Trader omnibus, containing the novels Rogue Star, Star of Damocles and Savage Scars.

Licensed by ancient charter, Rogue Traders explore the uncharted regions of the galaxy, seeking new worlds to exploit on behalf of the Imperium. The fortunes of Rogue Trader Lucian Gerrit and his family are in decline, and his inheritance amounts to little more than a pile of debt and misery. In a final, desperate gamble to restore his family’s former glory, Gerrit strikes a deal on a forgotten Imperial world in the Eastern Fringe, but his timing could not be worse. The alien tau are seeking to expand their empire across the Damocles Gulf, and soon Gerrit is caught in the middle of a clash between two mighty star-spanning empires, neither of which is willing to back down.

Rogue Trader: The Omnibus will be published by Games Workshop/Black Library on January 23, 2018. It is 800 pages, priced at $21 in trade paperback. Read more at the Black Library website.

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