Ten WTF Moments from Classic RPGs

Sunday, June 21st, 2020 | Posted by James Davis Nicoll

Basic D&D box TSR-small R. Talsorian Cyberpunk-small White Wolf Wraith the Oblivion-small

By popular demand1, ten WTF were they thinking moments from classic RPGs, which I admit is something of a target-rich environment. I will limit myself to games I’ve actually seen, which means I get to skip past that one.

[1: Well, a couple of people, anyway.]

1) Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set (TSR, 1977)

The 1977 edition of D&D added an orthogonal good vs evil to the law vs chaos morality axis. While humans got freedom of choice regarding where on either axis characters fell, this was not true of some non-human races, which in turn means there are whole races good people are morally obligated to kill when possible. This is by no means unique to D&D but it gets special credit for being the one to establish it as a trope in table-top roleplaying games.

2) Cyberpunk 2020

This may be a misnamed series, because in this case the detail I am very sure I know exactly what the company was thinking.

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Artifacts: SixMoreVodka’s First Rules Expansion for Degenesis

Thursday, June 11th, 2020 | Posted by eeknight

degenesis-artifacts-coverDegenesis, SixMoreVodka’s post-apocalyptic, Europe-and-North Africa-centered tabletop RPG, released its first rules expansion last month. Called Artifacts and featuring the new Degenesis black-and-gold look, it’s the first gaming supplement I’ve ever owned with gilt-edged pages.

But that’s SMV for you, a company “founded by artists and run by artists.”

As I said in my initial review of the game, you can look at Degenesis as an expensive art book which comes with a free game, or an expensive game book with the most lavish art design in the history of the format. So you can convince yourself that even at USD 60 you’re getting a great deal, FedEx shipping from Berlin included, using many of the same mental gymnastics car enthusiasts might when signing for a new BMW.

Degenesis is already a complete game. But one of the 4chan descriptions of it is “90% fluff and 10% crunch.” While I don’t think that’s near accurate – I’d put it at 70/30 — Artifacts adds plenty of crunch. It gives additional rules to build, motivate, and describe your avatar and player group. There are enhancements to your campaign and a good deal of new technology for the players to use and fight over and a bunch of imaginative new rules for clawing advantage out of the much-altered Earth. And of course there’s first-rate art.

Here’s a quick overview of the game enhancements. Artifacts is divided into twelve parts, and I’ll spend the rest of this review providing thumbnails of the contents.

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Exploring Post-Apocalyptic Poland in Twilight: 2000

Thursday, June 11th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

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Twilight: 2000 (GDW, First edition box set, 1984). Click for bigger versions.

I have vivid memories of receiving the boxed set of Twilight: 2000 in 1984, cracking it open, and diving into its dark and gritty world. Each generation that spent its formative years growing up during the Cold War has its memories attached to that long, usually dull, and occasionally terrifying epoch. The Korean War. Sputnik. The Berlin Wall. The Cuban Missile Crisis. Nuclear raid drills. The Vietnam War. The invasion of Afghanistan. The Olympic game boycotts. Fraught meetings between leaders of the USA and USSR. Numerous proxy wars and insurrections. Eventually, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies crumbled in a series of revolutions — some soft and some hard — and it all seemed then a distant memory.

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Stormbringer, Stargates, and Fighting Sail: Ten Classic Unplayed RPGs

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020 | Posted by James Davis Nicoll

Empire of the Petal Throne-small Bunnes & Burrows Frog God-small Stormbringer Chaosium-small

Empire of the Petal Throne (PDF version of 1975 TSR edition), Bunnies & Burrows (Frog God Press, 2019), and Stormbringer (Chaosium, 2nd edition, 1985)

People seemed to like old RPG covers. Here’s a more pointless variation: the first ten interesting RPGs I acquired but never found players for.

Empire of the Petal Throne

Number one: that classic, M.A.R. Barker’s Empire of the Petal Throne, one of or possibly the first complex, non-faux Medieval European settings for an RPG. Professor Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman Barker’s world of Tekumel predated roleplaying games by decades. The synergy between a complete game world and early RPGs was obvious; as a result TSR was one of many, many companies to try their hand at publishing it. While it had (and has) its avid fanbase, the game never caught on in a big way.

I’ve owned a number of editions. Never played a one!

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Visit a Haunted Cyberpunk City in Punktown from Chronicle City and Miskatonic River Press

Friday, June 5th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Punktown: A Setting Book for Call of Cthulhu and Basic Roleplaying

Many many, oh-so-many years ago, I wrote an excited blog post about the planned final game release from Miskatonic River Press, which was slowly winding up operations. It was a Kickstarter-funded Call of Cthulhu setting book based on the setting for Jeffrey Thomas’s dark urban fantasy series Punktown. Here’s what I said, in part.

I’m a huge fan of Miskatonic River Press, and it’s great to hear they have something new in the works. They’ve produced some really terrific Call of Cthulhu products, including New Tales of the Miskatonic Valley, Our Ladies of Sorrow, and their Roman-era adventure The Legacy Of Arrius Lurco…. if Miskatonic River has to end their illustrious publishing career with one book, I’m pleased it’s this one. I think Thomas’s dark-future urban setting will make a terrific locale for a rockin’ CoC campaign.

Well, it was not to be. The years rolled by, and Punktown never surfaced. The illustrious Miskatonic River Press finally closed up shop, and I silently grieved for another Kickstarer destined to never see the light of day.

Or so I thought. And then, just last week, I stumbled across a reference to it. Punktown did in fact exist, in PDF and print-on-demand formats, and it was being offered for sale at both DriveThruRPG and Lulu. It had stealthily been released in 2018 by designers Chronicle City and Miskatonic River Press. Praise Nyarlathotep!

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

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

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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 Paizo.com, 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

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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

swf02_dice

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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