Archive for category G
Happy holidays readers.
I want to keep posting even over the holiday season, but in giving respect to my family and household it will be a short one this time.
This is the first time I have set something up as a Product review and not a Game review. Depending on how it goes I may do more in the future.
This particular product is a collection of material that Steve Jackson Games published between 1980 and 1998 in various media that they had been producing like the Space Gamer magazine and Pyramid. Quite frankly I have heard rumors that there was a sequel published but I have never been able to find it, in person or in a PDF format online. Steve Jackson Games website does not list it as something they have ever created, so my hopes are low that it exists.
This book is 80 pages of taking pot shots at stupid rules in role playing games, board games, card games and computer games. Each one is given a little bit of art to illustrate the silliness, and the art interpretations are just as funny as the rules themselves. This is one of my favorite examples…
The book also contains a few pages of random tables, small art projects, and it closes with a written article that reads like something out of a Readers Digest advice or letters column from the 80’s.
Now then given that this material is from 1980 – 1998 originally you may think it is strange to still be amused by all of this. Personally I think it is a great way to look back and be able to say that games have always had issues. Strange rules, stating the obvious, or just plain weird. And the fact that game designers have had to put things like that in their games means that players have always had issues too. I mean if you feel it is necessary to put a rule in your game that states that a dead character can take no action… how many players during your play test sessions tried to actually have their dead characters do something?!?
It is also for me a great way to look back at games I have played for years and see how far they have come, or not come in some cases. It also reminds me of games that I have not played in years and lets me quietly flashback and go… I wonder what heck I was thinking playing that mess… or … I wonder if I can find a copy of that now… 🙂
If I have to give something like this a review rating by the numbers there is only one category that it really should have…
Overall Fun – 5/5 – Funny, well presented, cute art, and a ton of flashbacks, the good kind, make this little book something that I am determined to always have in my collection.
I hope that everyone out there has a great holiday season, keeps gaming, and thinking for themselves in regards to everything they enjoy.
Ok so gimme the dice, I need to roll on the random pole-arm generator to see what I am getting the neighborhood orcs for the holidays.
G’day readers. So you may have noticed that I tagged this review as being a game supplement instead of a game. There will be some who say it is a game all its own, but I say it is a setting, and has supplementary rules but not a game all its own. And you wont convince me otherwise.
Dark Sun is my second favorite setting in D&D of all time. And to be quite frank it disappointed me greatly that it got such a shabby treatment into 3rd edition. I know it was brought into 4th. But 4th was such a disappointment to me overall that I never really investigated it. And I have had no interest really in 5th after 4th so I have not even checked to see if they were bringing it in to the latest edition.
In the history of AD&D there have been a number of settings released. A brief history of some of my favorites will include…
- Greyhawk 1980 (actually the original setting but not codified as such until later)
- Forgotten Realms 1987 (there were other settings that were part of this world like Maztica, Oriental Adventures/Kara-Tur, and Al-Qadim)
- Spelljammer 1989 (magic in space)
- Dark Sun 1991
- Council of Wyrms 1994 (Dragons as player characters)
- Planescape 1994 (Where you can get to everywhere)
There is a much more complete list in Wiki but I can tell you it is not fully complete.
Those who know me know which one of the settings on that little list is my all time favorite, but for the moment I aint talkin.
As to what makes Dark Sun such an awesome thing for me, well let me break down some of the coolness for you.
- The setting is so lethal that you have to
- Start all characters at 3rd level. Minimum.
- Create a character tree with at least four characters in it so you can have replacements handy.
- The setting calls for using a different method of stat generation
- Original 3d6 per stat. Average roll is 10.5 Low is 3. High is 18.
- New version for this setting is 4d4+4 per stat. Average roll is 14 Low is 8. High is 20.
- Magic drains life from the world around it
- There are no gods, but the worlds elements will act like they are.
- The new races added include half giants, half dwarves and the preying mantis like thri kreen.
- Variants on old races include nomadic thieving elves and cannibalistic halflings.
- Even though the Manual of the Planes and Spelljammer set it up so you could access any setting, this world is blocked off from all the others save in very rare places that are so dangerous to get into that you may as well not try.
- Even though I love dragons there is only one in this world, and dragons are not a species but something that very, very, evil people can become.
- 90% or so of the planet is desert, caused by the over use of magic. The sun is dark for the same reason, as the sun provides life to the planet. So tap it for power and… yeah.
- You can either be one of the rare characters that actually believes that things can get better and you are willing to fight for it. Or you can embrace the fact that your world is doomed and be as big a bastard as you want. Basically this is about as dystopian a fantasy setting as you can get.
To be totally honest I was not sure at first that I would like the setting, but when a man a few of us know as ‘Drunken Tom’ decided that he was going to say screw it and invent a new weapon proficiency for his half giant gladiator called paired elves… yeah I gave in and started to see the potential. When I found out just how nasty the place was… and well we also heard things like players saying “Lets go back to Ravenloft where its safe.” I got hooked.
Looking over a copy of the main boxed set I got hooked even further. The cloth map. The player and DM flip books. All the materials present just ramped it up notch after notch. The added books that came out just thrilled me more and more but we wont be going into the additional setting supplements or the fiction right now. This is all about the original boxed set.
I could ramble on about this a lot longer but lets take a look at the numbers instead.
Overall Fluff 5/5 – The original setting box came with so many goodies that they alone would put this at a five of five. But when you add the content, the art, and the detail in the setting, yeah, if I could I would give this a six or a seven for fluff.
Overall Crunch 5/5 – The additional rules added in this setting are well crafted and well balanced within its own setting. Between the variants on magic and the additional races it is really well crafted.
Overall Mod 2/5 – The one major weakness in this setting is its ability to cross over to other settings. Even dragging the races within to other settings was challenging at the time. When you got into third edition the races themselves were overbalanced making it so that even a basic thri kreen was to be a fourth level character with the racial level adjustments in place. Tweaking these rules is a pain in the ass. But it can be done.
Overall Fun 5/5 – Again, this is one of those places where if I could put a higher score than a five in place I would.
Total Score 17/20 – One of the higher ratings I have given and it is totally worth it. I love this setting and all the things that have come out of it. I really think it should be one of the core settings for any future edition of D&D, but that is my mind.
Ok so that gives us my overview in brief. I love the setting. I want more of it. I want it in every game engine you can imagine.
But thats me. Make up your own bloody mind if it rocks or sucks. 🙂
Game on and have fun folks.
Now gimme the dice… I need to see how a cannibal halfling would have dealt with Smaug.
Ok so anyone who remembers the old “Will it Blend?” add campaign online for a certain blender company will likely be asking why I dont have a blender image on here… well it looks like they still have a trademark for the campaign and so I want to avoid it as much as possible…. heh.
So what is this question about?
Well back in the 90’s a writer named Deird’re Brooks (hope I got your name right, I have seen it spelled three ways) wrote a series of articles in White Wolf Magazine under the heading of World of Future Darkness. It spanned issues 36 – 38 of the magazine and it was all about blending Cyberpunk 2020 in to the World of Darkness. Many people that I was gaming with at the time called the setting Cyber-Fang. The rules were fairly easy to mix, and it worked well. But in the end it never really seemed to catch on.
Several years later a few game designers got together and officially put the Hero System (Champions) and the Interlock System (Cyberpunk 2020 and others) into a new game engine they called Fuzion. It is not a bad system revision. It has a nice mix of both systems but is not really as solid as either one is on its own.
I am sure that these are not the only cases where blending of game systems has happened. I am sure that folks do it all the time. And anyone who knows me at all will know that I blend genre’s mercilessly.
But here is the real question… Should game engines be blended?
Each game engine has been made to fit a purpose. Not every engine can do everything well. Most only do two or three things really well.
So I ask should it blend? Or should we be looking to update game engines? Revise and repair them… or is blending the better way to evolve game engines?
Ok so gimme the dice… I need to see if I can mix a d4 and a d12… hmmm
Ok so feeling a bit better and now for something a little different.
Back in 1994 Disney put out a cartoon that I would love forever. Gargoyles. At the same time I was playing a lot of World of Darkness (WOD) by White Wolf. And some time after 1996 someone pointed me to a file they found online called Gargoyles : The Vigil. The author is listed as one Lee Garvin, who makes it very clear in his second edition PDF of the game that neither Disney, nor White Wolf endorsed this creation.
Currently the only place I can find this work is on file sharing locations like Scribed. Since it is totally fan made I see no issue in downloading it.
Now then you should not confuse this with the official White Wolf WOD supplement called Gargoyles. That official book has nothing to do with the animated series and in my opinion is one of the worst additions to the WOD anyone has made. It just… ungh… no… no bad reviews.
Anyway, Gargoyles : The Vigil takes the Disney animated series and drops it right into the WOD. Basically making the Gargoyles the natural enemy of vampires, occasional allies of the were creatures, and known to the other supernatural entities in WOD, but still having totally their own flavor.
The document that Lee Garvin put together, even in its slightly prettier second edition is not all that well edited. And it leaves some serious gaps in describing the rules to add. However when I took a look at copyright law I found out there is a little genius in how it was made. Turns out that fan use usually means that you can use a certain percentage of material before you start hitting infringement territory. That is as long as you do not seek to profit from it. It has something to do with the same reasons that authors can mention real companies in their books without permission. As long as you do not defame the name, use too much about them, and, well there are a few other loop holes. But the gist of it is that Lee Garvin rode that line right to the edge so that neither Disney nor White Wolf could do too much. At least, that is if I got all that information right. However it goes that would explain why it is a little hard to find and not the best edit in the history of fan material.
On the plus side, I think it really catches the feel of the animated series. And the rules make the characters possibilities fit well with any WOD campaign, from Hunters up through all of the mains.
I know a lot of folks over the years have tried to put together RPG supplements and games for Gargoyles, and a lot of folks have felt disjointed in the results. While the editing and the self defense of not using EVERYTHING in either WOD or the animated series makes it a little bit of a challenge to use right out of the gate, I, as a fan, think that it is worth the effort to get it going.
Ok so I am still trying to roll quickly and keep working to feel better so this is not going to be a long review. Lets get to the numbers…
Overall Fluff 1/5 – There is not much. They could have used other fan art and images to keep from hitting copyright issues, but there really is no art. There are quotes from the series, and a little bit of fluff to place the game setting. Overall this is the biggest disappointment in the game, but also the most understandable if you dont want to be sued.
Overall Crunch 3/5 – The rules variants that the author came up with work really well. It is kind of amazing how simply the Gargoyles characters can fit into WOD and how easy it is to create brand new ones that just rock. And yes that should be a bad pun 😛
Overall Mod 4/5 – As easy to mod as any other WOD title.
Overall Fun 5/5 – I am a fan of both WOD (the original anyway) and Gargoyles (RULE THE NIGHT FOREVER!!!!) so yeah I think its fun.
Total Score 13/20 – A rather weak score, but still, I love it. Can I recommend it. Yes. Is it for everyone, no.
Ok so I gotta run…
So gimme the dice, I gotta see if Goliath can keep up in high winds 🙂
Hey there everyone
So while I have reviewed multiple products from Palladium Books before, and I know that in the last year there have been a lot more blow outs regarding the company and its owner Kevin Siembieda. I am not going to rehash that at all though. This post is about the first edition of the most ambitious setting I have ever seen. Rifts.
So let me say I first found this game the year it came out. I was interested right off the bat because after Shadowrun came out the year before, and in my mind blew the doors off of putting Fantasy and Cyberpunk together into a single setting, I wanted to see what one of my favorite publishers, the folks who had brought me Heroes Unlimited, TMNT and other Strangeness and Robotech could do with a setting that essentially mixed… everything… together in one place.
I wanted to be tough on them, to really put the pressure on to make sure they kept up the quality of settings I had seen them do, and license. I gave up on that completely when I got to the RCC (Racial Character Class) section and found that you could start the game playing a dragon. And that while dragons generally preferred not to get cybered up, you could. And they had natural magic. And… well yeah… so…
Anyway they had a ton of other interesting classes. The original book had humans, dragons, psychics and ‘dog boys’ as the races you could play. And if you were human you could pick an OCC (Occupational Character Class) to go with your race.
Your initial setting is on a post apocalypse Earth. Where things had gone high tech. There was a lot of cool gear and toys. Humans got stupid and went WW3 on each other. Massive death toll on just the right time pulled all the psychic energy into the worlds ley lines and they went nuts. Magic returned to the world, the ley lines turned into Rifts bringing things from multiple different dimensions and worlds to Earth. Death toll rises. Things lock into place and humanity has been shattered. Three hundred years or so later a small human empire is up and running in the midwest using Nazi like tactics to get folks under their thumb. And in the setting at the moment the first book came out you could either be a part of the empire, our choose to be outside it.
Later books would expand things, a lot… no really… a lot. I wont go into detail but add in books about parts of Earth, other dimensions, lists of deities (yeah they are wandering around too), alien parts salesmen and all sorts of other stuff and the whole thing gets freakin’ huge. Unfortunately all that growth comes with an epidemic of power creep. However that is not the point of this review.
One of the things that really drew me in was that fact that this setting was in the same rules as every other Palladium Books game I had played. And they stated right in the book that they were going to put out a supplemental book that would tell you how to bring over every other type of character and make it work. So of course the first thing that I did with a game group was to put together a mission in which the TMNT stole the SDF-1 and tried to raid the capitol of that burgeoning new human empire with the assistance of a few super humans and more than a few cybernetic spies. Yeahhh. Thats the kinda stuff this setting lets you get away with.
Now the game itself is far from perfect. My current copy of the original rule book is eighth printing and it still has a ton of editorial errors. The art is the usual Palladium mixed batch where you may have one or two artists that are pretty good, but the cover is the only art really worth drooling over (save for licensed titles and some of the most recent books they have done when they finally got new art teams and the owner quit trying his hand at art from time to time).
My biggest issue with the game is that the leveling system calls back to original D&D, with that poor elf who does elf things. And the fact that you cannot change classes at any point other than to just clear everything you have learned and take on a new roll. So you start at ground level all over again despite how ever long you have been playing. This type of level system does have its benefits, and it can keep a player from over reaching and trying to become a dragon with a borg aspect who pilots giant robots and has made magical pacts to become… ohhhh you get it. If the rules wont let you do it it stops things from getting too far out of control unless you make exceptions and get into power creep (cough cough later books). Even though it would be ten years before we would see D&D 3rd edition and get a really solid look at what you can do slipping between classes ‘officially’, there have been examples for years of a controlled method of mixing rolls so that players can build what they can imagine without getting too far out of control.
Even with its built in imperfections this game has been an inspiration to me for a long time. I love the potential in crossing genres. And while there were other game engines like the Hero System and GURPS that set you up to be able to do EVERYTHING in one game engine. This is the first setting that I became aware of that actually put EVERYTHING in one place from the beginning.
Ok so lets look at the numbers…
Overall Fluff 4/5 – There is enough background info here and in both editorial and character voices that the setting really comes to life. The art helps a little when it can avoid being distracting. There are so many bread crumbs dropped that ties this setting into everything else that Palladium Books published that you cant help but feel things coming together are you read.
Overall Crunch 4/5 – Standard Palladium Books rules. It is a good system if you accept its limits and the things that it wont let you do. If you take it on its own the rules are comprehensive and cover just about anything you can imagine.
Overall Mod 3/5 – Adding things and subtracting things is about the best you can hope for. However that adding and subtracting allows for bringing in things from so many other settings it is kind of hard not to say you can mod it.
Overall Fun 4/5 – I enjoy it a lot. I occasionally have moments where I want to mix classes and it frustrates the crud out of me until I remember where I put my house rules to blend OCC and even RCC. But then I have to find it again and the realize I can do enough with the character I have and … then I am back to having fun 🙂
Total Score 15/20 – Not a bad score overall. If you can get past all the current hullabaloo about the company and the owner/author then you might want to consider this game if you like the mixing of genre. If you do I would recommend going first ed over the later versions due to the fact the book changed to try and compensate for the power creep in its other books and made some changes that hampered some of the choices you could make regarding the character types you could play.
Ok so thats it… my thoughts and opinions. Run with it or dont its up to you 🙂
Now gimme the dice, I gotta see how much more power creep we can work with… hmmm how did a 924 get on my d20…
Ok so this review has a bit of a twisted origin, but still flashes us back into the 80’s.
The first time I saw this module (CM4 Earthshaker), for a version of Basic D&D I never got into until the 2000’s called The Companion Rules, sitting in a local book store I knew I had to have it. GIANT FREAKING ROBOT! It was the mid 80’s and I had only recently discovered anime. Voltron, Robotech, and so many others with giant robots. I had to know more.
What I learned did not really help me enjoy… much… when it came to giant robots. Less so for D&D. It also put the capstone on my long lived hatred of all things gnome. However it did cement for me the idea that cross genre stories, adventures and setting could be done. IF they were done right. Looking back at the module today it feels more like an attempt to get players to really feel what it is like to run a kingdom when there is a huge potential disaster coming your way. But this one has an element of the disaster that you can fight directly. It also feels a LOT more like steampunk than anything else. I still hate the gnomes though.
This module also started me asking the questions again regarding the limits on character levels that you see in D&D, the limits on roles per race, and how much better AD&D was because while you still had level limits based on race (which everyone I knew tossed right out the window) it was better than having to have a conversation like…
“So what are you?”
“And what do you do?”
“No I mean what is your job?”
“I am an elf.”
“No I get that I can see the ears… I mean what do you do? I am a Cleric, I use holy magic.”
“No you dont get it… Elves, Dwarves, Halflings (because Hobbits are under another copyright) we dont get careers… I am an ELF, that is my race, my job, my fate… I can only do ELF things… and I cant advance like you do… dont you see!!!”
Yeah, so moving on lets see what the numbers look like before that elf gets back…
Overall Fluff 2/5 – Like most early modules for D&D of any version, the fluff is weak. Cool cover art by a D&D legend helps, but that can only take you so far.
Overall Crunch 5/5 – This is where this really shines. The added rules to help you solve problems for a large area/kingdom really can give you a grip on scale, even though they only take up about half a page. The rules for supersized constructs, they rock. hard to imagine it taking several hundred beings working together to make it work, but hey, that is the steampunk way.
Overall Mod 2/5 – Ok so here is a big challenge. You cannot really scale this to lower levels. You cannot really alter a lot of the material. You can however replicate it and make a giant steampunk robot setting with it. So I still have to give it some points.
Overall Fun 3/5 – I may not have learned much but it allowed me to destroy a full tribe of gnomes while taking a giant steam powered robot off their hands and foil some villains and use the robot to set up a new version of the Colossus of Rhodes.
Total Score 12/20 – Not the best module ever. However it does have some nifty little things that you can use to build up a campaign, or just toss a wrench into the day of any group of heroes you might know.
So there it is… look it up, toss it out, whatever works for you.
Now gimme the dice… I need to see if I can roll up a job for that elf so he will stop crying.
So this review is a flashback to 1984 and 1986. Back in 1984 TSR published the first licensed superhero RPG, Marvel Super Heroes. Well it is the first as far as I know. DC Heroes from Mayfair came out in 1985 and Palladium Books published their Justice Machine book (for Heroes Unlimited) the same year. I cannot find any others that came out at the same time. Superhero 2044 was the first in super hero games overall (1977). So while Champions (Iron Crown Enterprises/Hero Games 1981) and Villains and Vigilantes (Fantasy Games Unlimited 1979) also had comics associated with them, those comics were spin-offs of the game and not what inspired the game in the first place.
Now then over the years there have been other Marvel RPGs. Heck TSR even did another game using their SAGA system for Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game in 1998. (Articles on numbers 3 and 4 are in the links on the numbers) And then there was the 250 Point Project (now defunct and only remnants and links remain on the original Tripod web page – visit and follow at your own risk) which was an effort to convert famous characters in comic books into starter characters in Champions which makes it an unofficial Marvel RPG.
All of which tells me that folks really want to play RPG’s in the Marvel Comics Universe. And likely, regardless of a published system just for the setting or not, those folks will continue to find a way.
Now then for myself, I got into the game in the first edition in 1984. Drug a good friend into playing it with me, and while there were some things that made no sense what so ever (the use of Areas to measure distance and an Area was very irregular on the maps, and that base speed is never mentioned, oh and lest I forget the fact that you can loose more Karma [the exp system] for missing a charity event that you could gain by stopping a crime in progress) made for some pretty messy game sessions when we first started out. The second big hit came when we realized that no mater what you did you could never make a character that would be equal to any of your favorite characters, it kinda got shelved for a while. When I got my hands on the 1986 Advance version of the game, it had a lot more options. Strangely the Karma and Area issues were still there (to be honest the Area issue was reduced by having some standardized spacing on most of the new maps but it was still not a grid or the like), but they were softened by having a lot more options for building characters and the chance to actually make something that could go toe to toe with many of your personal favorites. No one could take on Galactus on their own, but hey, you have to have limits.
Something that made the game a lot of fun for me other than being able to make so many characters was the overall mechanic for action resolution. When I was playing regularly I would always call it the FASERIP (acronym of sorts for the game stats) chart.
The chart shown here is from the advanced game. The basic one had less to it. Overall the idea is to roll high on a percentile die. You want to be in the red. Green and Yellow are ok. And White is bad. And you get the number you need to roll by looking at the value you have… smeg ok let me just give you a sample. Hero has Monstrous Strength and is trying to lift something heavy. The object has a weight that is above Monstrous so his roll to lift it will move down two columns. So now he has to roll on the Incredible column. Hero wants to lift it over his head and throw it. GM says that means he needs a Yellow roll if he is going to throw it right away, Red if he wants to hold it and actually aim before he throws. Green means he can pick it up but wont be able to toss it, and White means he strains something. So when rolling a d100 player for Hero needs to roll a 61 or higher to do what he wants. And if he rolls a 30 or less then he will hurt himself.
This same type of game engine was used for action resolution in the 3rd edition of Gamma World (TSR 1986) and the overall mechanic looks like it might currently be held by Ronin Arts, for use in their Four Color RPG. However Ronin Arts has not published anything since 2015 and there are several other publishers putting out their material, so I am unsure what is really going on there.
Now then the reason I wanted to work this review with the Advanced version of the game is because it offered so many more details and options than in the Basic set. Even to the number of prepackaged characters there were more. Bigger better stronger. All of the above and then some. The Advanced version really did level up the game.
So was it fun to play, yeah it was, and if you wanted to roll up a character just make sure you have expectations that you would not make someone equal to Thor right off the bat and you will be fine.
They published a lot of additional books that expanded on.. well… everything. And they did modules for two of the biggest events in Marvel history up to that point, the original Secret Wars, and Secret Wars 2. Overall you really only needed one additional book to take character creation over the top. And if you were happy running your favorite characters from the comics you would not even need to do that. Especially given how many characters they published in modules, supplements, and even in Dragon Magazine. You could be perfectly happy without ever getting a rules expansion.
So given the breakdowns above and the fact that I still collect the game and would love to find a group to play it with again, how do I rack up the numbers?
Overall Fluff 2/5 – Really there was very little fluff to it. The art was wicked cool, but everything was written from the perspective that you had read a lot of Marvel comics well before playing. At least in the core game. Supplements had more flavor and feel to them, but the core set relied heavily on the art for its fluff. And there was not really enough art to make up for that lack.
Overall Crunch 4/5 – The rules are surprisingly solid. Even with the flaws in things like Karma, and Areas and Movement, with some creativity they could all be worked around or ignored easily.
Overall Mod 3/5 – It was not easy to mod this system in to other genres. It could be done but it was not easy at all. You also had to mod the rules to make the EXP system something that would work well. And anyone who had played 1st edition knew that up front.
Overall Fun 4/5 – Ya know it is actually really fun for me to get my favorite heroes and villains to fight it out. And to be able to put them into impossible situations and get them out, or even fail on purpose so I can see characters I hate burn to ash… yeahhhh. And in the end I like the engine. Even if I have to tweak it a little to make it work completely.
Total Score 13/20 – Another one that does not get a mind blowingly high score. But also another game that with all its flaws and need for home brew adds that I would play again in a heartbeat. I cant be alone in that with the number of web sites you can find with people posting up to date versions of the characters, and expanding the material in the books. I mean if nothing else look at this versions longevity compared to anything else done for Marvel Comics in an RPG.
All right so in the end… YOU reader needs to take a look at this and see if it is right for you. If it is not then dont worry. Just move along and be happy.
All righty, so gimme the dice, I need to make a Feeble (see chart) attempt to think about dinner.
Have fun out there gaming all 🙂
So it took me a little bit to get this one out, but so be it.
As a licensed product there are a lot of reasons for me to love this game. I was a fan of the novels, and Wujcik is responsible for some of my favorite content that came out of Palladium.
While the history of the game and the challenges of getting it published are a good story, check the wiki for that one. Also the history of Wujcik and Palladium are also good reading but I do not really want to recap that here. Try the wiki for those too. What I really want to go into is the game itself, and my experience with it.
Now then if I remember right I have played Amber seven times. And with each of those games it has been either one of the best RPG experiences I have ever had or it is one of the worst. There is a high challenge factor to this game. And it takes players and GMs that are up to the challenge to really make it work. And while the game engine could be easily used outside of the Amber setting, getting used to it in the Amber setting where you can establish some outside references makes it easier to get a handle on.
What is it that makes this game so challenging? The whole game engine. In most games you have stats that give you at the very least a general idea of what ‘specifically’ you can do. In Amber they just tell you who is the best, and where others rank. And that is all in relation to standard humans. Powers have some more specific limits on them, but they are written as guidelines to try and encourage creativity in GMs and players. Action resolution is based on who has the highest relevant stat, if they have any skills to back it up, and if they can out describe whatever challenge they are facing. This is why it is a diceless system. You have no mechanic for action resolution. And this is why it is a challenge. And why it can be great or just totally suck depending on who you play with.
See most of the time dice, cards, coins or even bidding chits act as a neutral third party that can side with the person taking the action or with the challenge they are facing. When you have a majority on one side then that side wins. In the Amber system you have to basically convince the person running the game that you have the best idea and that means you should succeed. Unless of course you are taking action against someone or some thing with a significantly higher stat. Then unless you get a lot of help you are just hosed.
The game time I have spent on this system is really just… well… mixed. My very first time playing Amber was at a Seattle Convention called Dragonflight. It was one of the most epic game sessions I have ever been in. It reinforced for me just how players and GMs adding description and flavor and ideas could put so much life in a game session that I quickly forgot my reservations about the game engine being diceless and really got into trying to figure out ways to get myself and others out of challenges. The next four sessions I spent all of my time wondering why the players and or GMs sucked so bad at playing and wondering why they were so dependent on a mechanic to make decisions for them. The sixth session was almost back to what the first was like but not quite. All of this made me think about how the game is played, and who it is played with. And while I would love to play it again, I never will unless I can find a group of players that would be just as thrilled as I am to put roleplay over mechanics and who want to do so with all the flavor they can muster.
There are a lot of elements that I can have fun with in the limited game mechanics that are present in the system, but my personal favorite is the Good Stuff, Bad Stuff, and Neutral Stuff mechanic.
The game engine is point based for character builds. And when you get to the end of building your character you may need a few points to balance things out. If you do you can take on roles for the game, do journaling, artwork, all sorts of things to help the GM run the game and track stuff… or you can take on Bad Stuff (well you can do both but why get into that now). Bad stuff acts like a combination of bad luck, bad reputation, and crap magnet. The more Bad Stuff you have the more bad stuff the GM can feel free and gleeful about tossing your way. If you have points left over you can buy up Good Stuff. It is the opposite of Bad Stuff, really. And Neutral Stuff just means you are balanced. Not so good, not so bad. Sadly the game mechanic does not allow you to have both Good and Bad Stuff, unless someone has house rules. Another way this comes into play is when characters are cashing in XP. The GM does not tell the players how much XP they have, each player submits a list of what they would like to grow, and how much if any Bad Stuff they are willing to take on to get it. So at the end of the story the GM spends all of their points for them based on the lists the players have provided. Points left over become Good Stuff. I know a lot of players that freak out about this part of the game system because it takes a lot out of their hands. But it can also make the role play more interesting by keeping the players in the dark about just how much they have developed. Again, more chance to roleplay and experience discovery with your characters.
So yeah, this game is different. It never was really unique in its mechanics, but it is something that you can really have a lot of fun with IF and only IF you are really up to the challenge.
So how do the points lay out?
Overall Fluff 3/5 – There is so much material in here that comes from the books and so many colorful examples that reading though this is almost like Cliff Notes of the novels. I cannot go to a 4 though because at least half of the art sucks, to the point that it is distracting. I do think though that if there was better, consistent art, I could go to a five easy.
Overall Crunch 2/5 – The rules are light. They are actually pretty easy to use too. And examples are plentiful. Why is that number so low you ask then? Because it is hard to get players to grasp the concept. I dont think that is really a reflection of the game but more on gaming culture. But with the mechanics as they stand it is hard to get players to know what the heck is going on.
Overall Mod 3/5 – This gets a little tricky. I have modded the engine to suit other settings, but without the Cliff Notes factor it gets a little hard to work with. I have also created new powers and abilities, but with the lack of solid standards set in the mechanics it is a challenge to know if you are over powering, under powering, or even if you happen to be totally redundant.
Overall Fun 3/5 – With the right group of players this game is mind blowingly good. And that makes it OHHH so fun. With the wrong group of players… just shoot me. So lets score it in the middle for fun.
Total Score 11/20 – Not a very high score. But a meaningful one. If you love the Amber setting, and can play with a like minded group that can really carry things off without needing a mechanic to determine success, rock this game. Otherwise I would leave it be for the time being and maybe try and recreate the Amber setting in another engine. Would not be the first time someone has pulled that move.
Sooo now you know my thoughts. Get out there and form your own opinion. Thats the one that is worth it.
Now gimme the dice… I need to see if I need the dice…
No no no… not StormBREAKER… this has nothing to do with the MCU tossing another characters hammer to Thor… sheesh…
StormBRINGER is a magic weapon of its own accord that was created by Michael Moorcock for the character Elric. The Stormbringer RPG was created by Chaosium under licesne using the same game engine that they used for Call of Cthulhu but without the sanity score and the issues that sanity creates. Not that you could not put sanity into the game… but…
Anyway, as a fan of the Eternal Champion multiverse that was really into Moorcock’s work, I had to play the game.
To be honest I really enjoyed playing this game for two major reasons. First is that without the sanity issue the game engine actually seemed to run smoother… Second is that when it comes to magic items, in this setting you could either put a temporary enchantment onto something that may last a day… or you could bind a being to it. Spirits of Order or Chaos, Elementals, Animal Kings, and even on one occasion that I know of a ghost. Which meant that on some primal level every single permanent magic item has a mind and character of its own. This is not something that the original books go into much but it is something that is present in the major magic items… like Stormbringer itself.
This game has been republished several times over the years and there has even been a d20 version. For my money though nothing stacks up to the original. The world is a departure from the usual fantasy settings. It was followed up by another Eternal Hero setting for Hawkmoon. Which is a good combination of magic and post apocalyptic tech. And this meant that you could actually play crossovers of the Eternal Champion in game. Which is the sort of stunt that any fan with a licensed product in hand wants to do.
So since I am running this one fast so I can get to things I need to work on in the house today and keep the puppy from chewing up too many supplies… lets dive into the numbers as I see em…
Overall Fluff 5/5 – For a fan the first editions of this game were awesome. Many minor characters and all the major ones are given a good blurb, not enough to give too many spoilers from the books, just that right amount to keep you going. The world is also brought out in the same blurb format. Most of the art is ‘meh’ in quality but in the places where it is more than meh it blows the doors off. I dont know why but I included my favorite cover to the game as the image. It is from the Chaosium/Games Workshop edition.
Overall Crunch 3/5 – We lost a little detail on the game engine. You had to wait until second edition of the game to really get a good look at how the magic works. And the rules got modded a little bit by the time the Chaosium/Games Workshop edition came out so that at that point things made a lot of sense. This game engine suffers from the Basic RPG systems biggest issue, and that is that most starting characters will rarely have the skills to get out of their first two or three game sessions without a bit of help or even a lot of help from NPC’s.
Overall Mod 4/5 – So I am rating this one a little higher than I really should because even though the game engine has its weak spots, with this engine you could… pull in supers… or Cthulhu himself (I actually tried to figure out how to bind him to a soup spoon… long story) or anything else the game engine is tied to REALLY easily. So you can tweak it a lot. Why is this not a 5/5 then… well its because the game engine itself is not generic enough… even with the publication of the Basic Game engine all on its own to allow special abilities and the rules for them to transfer smoothly from one game to another.
Overall Fun 5/5 – Lets just say I did figure out how to put Cthulhu in a spoon so I could challenge Elric to a fight. I dont need a lot more fun than that.
Total Score 17/20 – Another really high score… For myself it is totally worthy of that score… the rest of you will have to look up a copy and decide for yourself…
Ok so things are quiet, I need to go see who has destroyed what while I have been typing.
Gimme the dice, I need to see if I can bind my coworkers to their desk to make magic computers 🙂
Peace and play nice folks 🙂
Those who are familiar with the game will notice I am using the second edition omnibus cover. To be honest the current copy I have in my collection is digital and I cannot remember which version it is. I know there have been a few changes since first edition and that can make some interesting comparisons but I am going to try and stick to what I have on hand for my review. The other reason I used this image is because the original cover was a little too cheesecake for my tastes.
Ok so you can see from the image (if you dont know the game) that Iron Claw is an anthropomorphic game. That does not make it a Furry game. The Furry Fandom may enjoy the game and feel it meets with what they enjoy, but there is a big difference between Anthropomorphic and Furry. I want that out of the way because I know too many folks who confuse the two.
IronClaw is Sanguine Productions… original… game I think. I believe that they picked up other anthropomorphic games and then converted them to their unique game engine later. IronClaw has a very solid not quite mid-evil Europe/Renaissance setting with an edge of fantasy to it. They supplemented the game with JadeClaw using the same rules to add an Asian part of the world in which they could expand their combat system to include more martial arts and also expanded their magic system to add more types of magic.
Now all of that seems rather brief I know. However there is an element of this game that really drew my attention, and still does. They also put it into a sci-fi setting called Myriad Song that takes things outside of being in an Anthropomorphic setting. That element is their skills and stats system.
To introduce the idea they used, I think that every gamer I know of has at one time or another pulled up a handful of dice and gone, “I am gonna role a 1deverything.” Well in some ways that is what this system feels like. During character creation you start with a set number of dice of different types. These dice are then assigned to stats, your characters race, and also to their profession. This can stack up so you will be rolling several dice of different kinds against a difficulty score. More successes equals more impact on what you do. You also add skill ‘marks’. More marks in a single skill give you more dice. Let me give you an example.
You have a Rhino. (just roll with it) Racial skills for a Rhino are Endurance, Presence and Tactics. A career as a Knight Errant adds the skills Dodge, Melee Combat and Tactics. There are four stats in the game Mind, Body, Speed and Will. So if a player were to put a d6 in Race, and a d8 in Career, and a d4 in Mind, and then 3 skill marks in Tactics, when the time comes to roll for Tactics they would roll 2d8 + 1d6 + 1d4. If the task is easy then you have a difficulty of 3, so you need a four or better. As it gets harder the number goes up, the number of successes needed might go up too. Rolls against another player or an active NPC come up as who gets the highest and most… most of the time.
There are of course modifiers and gifts you can get that will alter the value of the die, add bonus’ of one kind or another or simply add dice. It can be a little challenging to track at first but they make a really nice character sheet that actually tracks all of this quite well so you dont have to think about it too much.
I will admit when I first played this game back in 2000 I had a hard time with the mechanic. It just kinda felt, off. I was so used to single dice unless I was doing damage, or multiple of the same die no mater what I was doing, that having all of these dice to try and do an action just felt wrong. But once I got used to it I found it actually enhanced my tendency to tell stories. I mean when you can see just how your race or career training has helped develop your skills and your natural traits all blend together, it gets very descriptive. And you can make in character comments like “I made it through mostly due to my training, but I think my natural tendency to ….. also helped a bit.” And that to me seems cool.
There are a lot of little things in the game engine to like or dislike as well. But that is true for any game system. What I really enjoy is that they were able to use their game engine to do both fantasy and sci-fi without modification. If you look at games like D&D and the 3.0 experiment with d20 Modern you can see how they had to modify things to compensate for guns and heavy weapons. But that is not an issue with the Cardinal game engine.
So that gives you some of my basic thoughts, what do the numbers say?
Overall Fluff 3/5 – I have to go a little lower on Fluff than I would like to. The art by and large is just ok. If you have any issue with Anthropomorphic stuff then, well sucks to be you, but this is not the best example of the art that I have seen. Also the background material is, well its a little stunted. It is designed to give you just enough to run with but still make you need to buy the supplements to really know what is going on in the world overall. I would not have an issue with it if the supplements were only need to have a good grip on specifics like houses and guilds but this goes beyond that.
Overall Crunch 4/5 – These rules are well written but poorly ordered. So you end up needed to go back and forth a lot before you can really get them down. Sure that is more an editing error than a problem with the rules themselves, but it leads to misunderstandings and with newer groups more than a few arguments.
Overall Mod 4/5 – Given that they have already published rules that show what can be done with sci-fi you know you can mod the engine. I do not think you could pull off supers with it, but if anyone can figure out how to without breaking the engine let me know and I will take this up to a five.
Overall Fun 4/5 – I really enjoy the story telling elements of this game engine. However finding a group to play this is harder than with most engines due to the nature of the game setting. Just from that I would usually bump it down to a three, however I really do like the game despite the difficulty finding folks who would play.
Total Score 15/20 – Not a bad score overall. No hideous either. I like the potential here and would really enjoy playing with it more. In this instance to me the engine gets more props than the setting but not a bad combination.
So as usual, think for yourself, check it out and see if you agree or disagree and have some bloody fun with your gaming 🙂
Now gimme the dice, I have to see if my cats are break in artists of any skill level or not.