Archive for category SGR

Game Review #16 – The Wheel of Time RPG

Ok so here I am hiding from the heat (yeah yeah I know its not all THAT hot, but I only really enjoy temps up to 65 degrees), and making sure my music keeps pumping. All so I could go over a couple of new game books my wife got me (she heard I was having a bad day during the week and picked up some great food and a couple of first ed D&D books on her way home. If that is not the definition of a loving wife there needs to to be a freakin update because that was just awesome). And also here comes a new review.

A few weeks ago I got a gift from a dear friend The Wheel of Time RPG. Now then this is an item that has been on my get list for a while. So while my main man over there at Dan On Games got me the gift, there is a serious history here. See my friend and I were in high school together when Robert Jordan‘s first book in the Wheel of Time was published. And as you can imagine, a couple of game geeks, with a strong new fantasy setting that starts with three teen male leads and a couple of female teen leads, written in a way that would make Tolkien go ‘Dayyyumnn!’, or at least in my mind it would, yeah we both got a little hooked.

Anyway, it took a while but Wizards of the Coast created a little system called d20 in 2000 that they put their latest version of D&D into. With that under their hat they created several licensed products using that game engine and the Wheel of Time RPG was one of them. And really no that is not the full story, that is why I put all the bloody links in these things these days so I don’t have to write all of history over and over again. So tell me how this all started… “Well first the earth cooled and then the dinosaurs came, and they got big and died and then” Yeah, no, I don’t have time for that.

Anyway, the Wheel of Time RPG came to us in 2001 amidst a flurry of other products that were all using the d20 open game license (no you don’t get a link for that one, you should know your way to Wikipedia by now). And to be totally honest at that time we were on book eight or so of the series and things seemed to be taking sooooooooo long that I really did not want to add the game to my collection at the time. Even to dissect yet another version of the d20 system. So instead interest on my side fades until about 2010 when I start rereading the series, and then the hunt began. Not in earnest mind you but if I would have found it I would have picked it up. Last year shortly after the wedding I started reading the series again while on the train back and forth to work (yea I have a regular job and have to commute… I have told you people this like a… no… no I am not going to get off track again.) and so I dropped it on my Amazon wish list just in case anyone could find it for the Yule/Xmas season. And then tahhh dahhh. Gift come round. So yeah, now I have it.

I have played plenty of d20 variants. And this one is not too bad. There are a few things I take issue with in the way they implemented the game mechanics to really reflect how the Wheel of Time world works. The reasons I have issue is… well I will go into that in a bit. Basically if you have ever played a d20 or D&D 3.0 game engine game you will be able to slip into this one with ease. Picking up and running with all the details, not as easy.

So what sort of set up do we have here. Well… let me just grab the good and bad I see to try and give you some of the details.

Good – Instead of giving all human characters (of which you should have 99% human characters in a WoT game) one extra feat, and four extra skill points, you take a background. In that background (all based on regions that your character came from) you have a choice of certain feats, and certain skills. You pick one of each. The feat counts as what you would usually see as the bonus feat for being human. The skill becomes a class skill (meaning it has a cheap cost to raise the level of for folks who don’t know the system) and gets four skill points in it. The background also gives you set languages, and also gives you some starting equipment that does not count against your starting monies (designated by your starting character class). They can also give you some serious restrictions when it comes to initial equipment, like no swords for an Aiel. Now some people would see this as limiting. I see it as a great way to establish solid role playing for whatever region your character comes from, and if you play a character that is even slightly perceptive they can pick up on this in game if someone is in disguise.

Good – Initial skill points are not going to be below 4+INT bonus x 4. There are in the base classes two that only offer 2+INT bonus x 4. And that really limits what a character can do outside of combat.

Good – They really try to fit all of the monsters they can from the books in (well up through book eight of the series anyway).

Good – They do a great job giving the feel of the world in the books. Region descriptions and details about the people are great. And some of the more magical things like The Ways (hidden paths created by magic (the One/True Power) that cross over space via a hidden dimension) get good write ups that help you feel how they could be used in a game.

Good – Equipment details help take all the terms that are used in the books by various cultures and give you something to look at directly and a slightly better description that Mr. Jordan did so that you can get into playing the items with your character.

Bad – While they include almost every human culture in the core rule book they leave out the Seanchan, the Tuatha’an, and the Shara.  While they are mentioned in Other Places, and a little about the Seanchan’s use of the One Power is discussed, they put nothing in place to allow you to play a member of those cultures directly. If they would have listed them as monsters (and in the case of the Seanchan I could believe that) I would understand it. But considering the fact they make the Sea Folk playable kinda takes any other valid reason they could present off the board. It would have added maybe twelve pages total to the book. But no. Not there. Even as bad guys.

Bad – Speaking of bad guys, there is no alignment in this game. The setting rather clearly defines good and evil on its own, however the axis of law versus chaos not so much. While it does not have a major impact on game play mechanics, I think it has an impact on role playing. In a game without a way to say a character has a code of behavior or other items to guide the play of good and evil you can roll anywhere at any time. And that can open up a whole realm of challenges a game master may not want to face.

Bad – Ta’veren. O k so in the stories this is the same as being “the One”, “Chosen”, “Destined for something greater” and so on. Instead of putting a solid mechanic of any kind into place they give a short side bar that says something along the lines of, you cant choose this and not all destines are great, a character may posses this trait for a short time. It usually comes with a stat boost to charisma, and whatever else the DM feels is needed. Ok I know that players want to be the heroes or villains of their own stories. But seriously. This is weak sauce. Personally I would have put a progressive mechanic in place. Based on the number of sessions or stories, how much bonus do you get. Or maybe based on impact on the world at large. And apparently the charisma bonus is supposed to simulate the ability of the Ta’veren seen in the books to gather people to them and influence how groups, not individuals but full on organizations or nations will react. Nah, its just weak. And its use on the NPC’s is… sigh…

Bad – The Source, making weaves, using the One Power. Ok I will give them this, they really tried. All in all the mechanic works. However it is clunky and unless you want to have a character who is totally focused on magic from day one and you are willing to wait until you have at least one Prestige class (advanced character classes for those not in the loop. They have requirements that you need to meet in a base class before you can take levels in them) and be at a fairly high level, the effect you are going to have in the game is minimal unless you are willing to risk burning out your powers every time you cast something, oh and if your character is male you will be going mad as you risk your power. To really make things worth while with this mechanic you need to burn every feat you can to make magic low enough impact to use regularly. Now then some people would say that this properly reflects the books. And to a degree it does and that is what makes it worth exploring. How ever the first character I made, a male who could channel burnt out his powers the very first time he tried to cast a weave. So, now I have a character who has a wasted level. All because I wanted to actually be able to affect the opponent I had set up (another first level character by the way). Because by the rules if you have burnt out, or been stilled your powers can be brought back (not easy at all), but you will be two levels lower in effect. So… I would have a -1 level caster if you count zero. Soooo yeah. I like some of the ideas they have for this, like a sliding level for weaves (spells) and how you can over channel (how I got into trouble because my first level weaves had no effect) but the way they are implemented means you have to make a very, very restricted character to make it work, and anyone I have played with will tell you that is sort of not my style.

Ok so that is a lot to take in, how about I simplify things and do my little rating bit?

Overall Fluff 4/5 – The detailing of everything in this book is great. I mean even the intro by Robert Jordan is totally cool. However they are missing a few essential cultures. If they are in the one supplemental book that was published that is great for that book. But in this one I gotta take a point off because to me it just hurt too much.

Overall Crunch 3/5 – Rules there are a plenty, but missing alignment and the way they made the One Power work… it just. I can’t say its better than a three because there is work to do here.

Overall Mod 4/5 – BWAHAHAHA, yeah its D&D 3.0 d20. I can mod this. I can mod the hell out of it. The amount of work I see to get the Channeling system working better though goes beyond what I normally consider fun in a mod kinda way.

Overall Fun 3/5 – Ok so the reason why fun is so low here is actually due to those missing cultures and the work I will be doing to make the magic/channeling system work better. I really wanted to play with those less common cultures, as friend and foe.

Total Score 14/20 – Ok so this seems like a low-ish score. It is not that bad really. And overall I think there is a LOT of great material here to work with. Plus the things they did explore in the setting have just enough flavor to get you running but not so over flavored that you cannot build on it and make it your own.

So as usual this is my opinion and if you dont like it… ask my wife before you bite me. 🙂 heh

But seriously if you can find a copy then you should look it over if you are a fan of d20 or a fan of Wheel of Time and make a choice for yourself if its the game you have been seeking.

Ok I am out. Time to beat the heat and start thinking about what I am gonna set up for my wife for dinner.

Gimme the dice, I gotta see if we have a random food encounter coming 🙂

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Game Review #14 – SLA Industries 2nd Edition

Welcome again readers. So you may have noticed that there was a slight skip in numbers on the game review. Last one was 12, this one is 14. Well that is because #13 is over on my wifes blog Steam and Lace DIY. Head on over if you want to see a non RPG blog about a game I enjoy that fits fairly well with my wifes love of Steampunk.

Now then over here I am about to add a little something to my game reviews. About two years ago I grumbled in the blog about not wanting to do a blog review of a game when I did not have a physical copy in hand. Something about the feel of a book really getting my creative and descriptive sides going. Well, its time to change that stance. With more and more games coming out in PDF form, some small press companies only having the budget to publish PDF or print on demand, and with some of the classic titles coming out in PDF while the physical copies get harder and harder to find… I just have to embrace the fact that I will not have all the games in a physical paper copy. Oh and I do mean all the games because I really do want all of them… every freaking RPG ever made… I want em all 🙂

So with all that out of the way we get onto the actual review… SLA Industries 2nd Edition.

SLA Industries is a game that has been in many hands, including for a while Wizards of the Coast. Originally published and once again in the hands of Nightfall Games, SLA Industries is the brainchild of Dave Allsop. Originally published in 1993 in a slightly oversized format, the game stood out on shelves wherever it was sold. Now then I have to say that when it first came out I saw it there, on the shelves, and was impressed with the size of it, but the original cover art just had me skipping by it. I gave myself a lot of excuses and reasons not to buy it. I would need a bigger book shelf just for that one book, I cant really tell what its about, and many others. One afternoon in about 1996 or so there was a first edition copy in the hands of a friend and I asked to skim it for a bit. And I have to say the rules in that book did not impress me, so I did not skim too far. Then strangely over the years I heard from other gamers, read reviews and finally in 2006 I hunted down a used copy. And I read it. Even though the rules were hard to work with (sorry Dave but you know its true, character generation is a pain, but especially that damage system and tracking armor in combat, akk) but with a little tinkering to smooth a couple of rough spots I was able to put together a couple of quick game sessions. The first group  I ran through it was not really knowledgeable of the whole setting and so they ended up meat for the grinder quickly. They hated it but I was enthralled. The second group ended up fighting for every inch and two of them survived the session. Everyone actually was on the edge of their seats. Unfortunately I could not get that second group together again despite the positive feedback. Other than Paranoia this is the first setting that I have found where, if your players are really devotes of the setting, you can get cheered for running a game with a TPK (total party kill). But you really have to get it right.

So I can hear a few asking, what sort of ungodly setting can you be in that would actually have players cheering about a TPK? Well, actually in SLA Industries there is a god. The god of business. And he goes by the name Slayer. Some people call the setting cyberpunk, and others call it scifi. The thing is this is the most dystopian setting you will ever find in an RPG. At least it is so far as I have found and if you know of something darker let me know. The main setting is in a city called Mort. This city is hundreds of miles in diameter. It is on a planet that is so screwed over the sun has not been seen in centuries. The city has been built in layers that go miles deep, and some of them have fallen so far apart that tribes of cannibals and once human mutants roam in the wasteland sections that are walled off from the rest of the city. Life in Mort is run by a single massive company, SLA Industries. It has dozens of subsidiaries that follow the whims of the high end executives. Mr. Slayer (not a joke… seriously) is at least hundreds of years old, and at his hand he has some of the most powerful and creepy aides. He spent hundreds of years clearing out rival companies on many worlds. Creating new cloned life forms to do war, and gathering up a few alien races to stand beside his army. Once he had enough of the enemy swept away he founded Mort and declared the new World of Progress. In which all you had to do was exactly what you were told, and you would be happy. Now then while there are businesses and technical advancement in this world, the only hope to get out of the pit that is Mort is to take a role as an Operative for the company. Being an operative means that you kill things that are going to try and kill you. And may be a threat to the company. Actually don’t worry about yourself dying because that is not as important as a threat to the company. Now then all this does not mean that the company does not have enemies, or rivals. But given the amount of resources available to SLA, best you can really say to them is good luck.

Now then all of what I said was put a little tongue in cheek. Trying to keep things a little light here. However really when you look at a setting this dark, where every character is going to be encouraged to kill and will be lucky to survive I think it deserves a moniker other than cyberpunk. I think the best call out for it would be Necropunk.

So lets run the numbers shall we?

Fluff – 5/5 – Oh gods the beauty in the darkness. Not only is there a ton of fluff in this game, the pinched and slightly off style of the art makes all the written work more powerful. Even in the rules sections there are comments and notations that add to the flavor of just about everything. The small personal stories and snippets really give you a feel for the world. And it keeps reinforcing the concept that no mater who you are, unless you are the boss, you are screwed. The game starts out with almost 110 pages of information, stories and art of characters and settings just to get you into the grove before diving into the rules. And it just keeps adding on.

Crunch – 4/5 – Ok so positives for the rules –  They are consistent, no mater the experience level or power level everything scales at pace. No real stats are ever given for Mr Slayer or the members of his inner circle. There is nothing in the rules that ties them to the world specifically, so no element of the crunch is directly tied to the fluff. You can mod it. Negatives for the rules – Frequently over complex. Frequently recitative. Character generation is a pain. So why do I rate it so high? Because with just a little smoothing you can really make a go of it.

Mod – 2/5 – So you can see this seems a little low. Here is the why of that. With the over complex rules you can do a little shaving and still be a bit flustered with how the overall rules system works. Or, like I do with a lot of GURPS books you can just toss out the rules and use it as source material for a game engine you really enjoy. But to do that effectively you need to be sure you can convey to your players that this will definitely be a darker, nastier world than anything they have used that game engine for before.

Fun – 4/5 – I cannot really max the fun out here. And yeah I have a really good reason. While it is fun to play in the dark side. To have all the reasons you could ever want to subvert, pervert, twist and destroy while still being told you are a good guy and reaping massive rewards for it… It is still playing in the dark. You need to come up for air from time to time and do some kind of game with a positive moral imperative or you are just going to be drawing on dark things forever. Now then while I have a story arc idea that would allow players to develop into something that could challenge Mr Slayer, and bring a moral compass to the world, it would take years of play time and that could get to be a slog just to see the results of trying to be a real hero in a setting this dark.

Overall score – 15/20 – So its not a bad score, not the best by any means. Do I recommend it? Actually I recommend a setting this dark to everyone. Play something like this at least once so you can get a feel for how dark things can get. That way you can really see hero versus evil in a new light. For the game itself. If you like dark to the point of Necropunk then you are likely already playing it. Give it a read by all means though and see if you like it.

Ok so thats the latest, hope you had fun in your visit and I am looking forward to my next post, where I may finally tell you all why I hate playing GURPS, or why I hate gnomes. Lets see what happens.

Now gimme the dice, I gotta see if my operative can find his way home after being maimed by carnivorous pigs (yes those area thing in SLA too). Great gaming to ya all 🙂

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Review #12 Street Samurai Catalog (RS) +

Greetings readers

You will all notice the little plus sign out there on the title of this one, well that is because I am doing a little pitching for another blog here. My wife has started up a DIY blog for creating Steampunk items for home decorating. GO HERE. I think its only fair to try and steer people her way since she has asked me to do a game review on her blog. It is not my usual RPG game fare though, it is a table top game called Crimson Skies. Some may remember the Xbox game with the same title, or have read some of the game novels, but the table top game was done on a license from Microsoft by WizKidz. I know that table top games are usually the venue of my friend Dan the RPG man over at Dan on Games, but I just had to go ahead with it.

Now with that bit of shameless promotion out of the way, lets get to the reason you are really here, and that is my latest review.

The Street Samurai Catalog is a supplement for the first edition of the Shadowrun game published back in 1989. Shadowrun is a rather unique game due to the fact that it very successfully mixes Urban Fantasy and Cyberpunk into a very dark and fascinating world. It is also unique because even though it has been owned by several hands, since its inception in 1989 (see the link to wiki for a fair description of how it has changed hands) the game has run a series of ongoing story lines in meta plots that have progressed the world from 2050 to 2079. The rules system is a little complex when it comes to combat, and driving but overall it has been a lot of fun to stick with.

Ok so given that the game has been around for over twenty five years, why am I doing a review about a game supplement that came out in the first year of its production of the first edition? Well that is because this was the very first add on that I picked up for Shadowrun. The Grimoire was the second. It took me a while to really find the role I liked to play in this game setting but that is something that can be covered in another review or rant.

Considering that I had started playing RPG’s in the 70’s I had really gotten used to the idea that a supplement book would be just a stack of information about new gear. Maybe a few new rules and if I was lucky maybe an adventure in the back. On flipping through the book the very first time though I was caught off guard. There was not a lot of new stuff in the book. I mean for a 116 page book that I was going to drop twelve bucks on, I was really thinking that there should be more than one new item per page. Now then I will say this was back in the days when I was fairly new to FASA games publications. Only having played Battletech for a few years and mostly in a home brew kinda way, their tendency to add story and color elements to just about everything they do was something I had not completely caught on to yet. So I took a closer look at what they had offered. Yeah there is some cool gear here, and some new rules that made the items in the book a serious threat, or a serious joke.

What really caught me though was the color commentary by characters who were supposedly reading this book as an article posted online. It reminded me of some of the BBS sites that I had been introduced to. If you really think about it 1989, we were still a few years off from seeing the AOL revolution and the internet becoming a big thing. Thank you internet. And yet here was this book giving me the idea that there would be forums online where you could not only connect but to comment on things you were seeing. And even if people did not agree with you, you still had basic credibility because you were smart enough and skilled enough to get to this place online and talk about whatever you were looking into. But the banter that developed between characters, and the way they would evolve over the years became damned impressive. However that was to come, right at the moment I decided that yeah, this was worth my twelve bucks, this was how the future was going to look. And it looked like fun.

The book itself has entries on about ninety weapons, armor, vehicle and cyber options. Commentary on about half of them. Several pages of extra rules, Street Samurai character templates, reference sheets and character sheets.

Now then what is really funny about this, is that at the time this game came out, I was not convinced that I would play it. I was so hooked on supers (still am really) and fantasy settings that I just could not get into Shadowrun that much. I thought it was a cool idea sure. But I talked down about it almost as much as I talked up about it. When this book came out though, I decided that the Shadowrun world was mine, and I did not want to share it. So I sort of purposefully spiked the Shadowrun game I was in at the time by mocking the GM relentlessly (not that he didn’t need mocking) and trying to start up a game of my own (failed ohhh so badly). But again thats another story.

So how does this game stack up when I give it the numbers?

Fluff – 5/5 – This is going to be another moment when folks say… ‘Wait another supplement with a 5/5 in fluff, what the hell?’ And before I tell you to go piss in someone else’s corn flakes, let me tell you this. EVERY SINGLE ITEM that they are adding in this supplement, weapons, armor, cyber and toys gets its own art. Each one gets its own little bit of advertising like you would see in a catalog and over half of them have additional color commentary. Trust me the fluff is strong with this one.

Crunch – 2/5 – So you have to take this score in context a bit. This is a supplement made using the very first edition rules for a new game. In years to come it got easier and some of the rules got less unwieldy. But because of the changes in the rules structure it is a challenge to even import these items into the current edition of the game.

Mod – 1/5 – This is really an issue for Shadowrun over all up until the fourth edition. Due to rules complexity it is really easy to over power something by making very small seeming adjustments. And just as easy to make something completely useless. Actually there are a couple items in the book that really are useless. They sort of did that as a joke on themselves and even added color commentary that says “Wonderful. Now I can flatten light ammo against body armor faster than ever before.”

Fun – 4/5 – Ok so the rules hurt, and the chance to make things work or alter them is slim. But it is still a lot of fun. And it got more so as time went on and you could see the commentators appear in more and more supplements and see how they grew. The toys were fun to play with and it made a real impact on how I looked at games and what they could be. So yeah while I rate the fun high I am not going to max it out.

Overall – 12/20 – Ok so this is one of my lower overall scores. I figure I will have even worse in the future. With a score like this, is it worth looking into? I would say so if you like classic Shadowrun, have an obsessive need to go all pokemon on your RPG books and have to collect them all, or think that the art and comments might give you ideas. This is not going to be a book for everyone. Not even everyone who is a Shadowrun fan. But it is special to me and so I still say take a look and decide for yourself.

Well thats it for this time on my own blog. Not sure when my write up for Crimson Skies will appear on my wifes blog but it is something you can look forward to.

Now gimme the dice, got to see what the odds are that I will appear in other blogs and how much light ammo it will take to get back out of them.

Play safe and have fun folks.

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Review #11 Street Fighter The Storytelling Game (G)

Ok so first let me say that I know it has been over eight months since my last review. Welp, that just the way a blog goes. Kinda lost track of the whole review thing for a while, and kept going… oh yeah now that this is in the collection I need to do one on that one… and then world building… yeahhhh.

And now that a review is back you may be going… what… nonono Street Fighter is a fighting game, a really bad movie, a cartoon, or an anime (or two), and Storyteller is White Wolf’s RPG system… what the heck! Well Street Fighter is all those things and more. However here we are going to focus on the RPG that was published in 1994 by White Wolf games using their Story Teller system.

So back in the early 90’s White Wolf was hitting their stride with the Storyteller system and their World of Darkness setting. I have no idea what prompted them to do so, but they reached out to CAPCOM and got a license to make a roleplaying game for their Street Fighter setting. Now then I have talked about licensed games before (Tolkien v Tolkien) and you may know from books and movies already that a licensed product can really make a mess of the original. Now when you look at the original Storyteller format you may think that pain and suffering is all that this mix of fighting video games and table top rpgs is going to create. And to a certain degree you are right. But that pain and suffering is on the battle field not for the players.

White Wolf did something rather interesting with their own system when they made the Street Fighter game. They limited the skill selection and they significantly expanded combat while still keeping their game engine in tact. Unfortunately for many fans of the fighting video game style they did not add a huge number of martial arts in the original book, nor did they add weapons elements. They did give you rules though for expanding the combat system, and made it rather easy to combine elements from other White Wolf games into the setting without over-balancing things too much. And before you start screaming about power creep and all, I did run a World of Darkness LARP in 95-96ish where we actually let a couple of Street Fighter characters in. I have to say that even with special abilities an super moves a starting Street Fighter got his a$$ handed to him by a werewolf, a mage, and a Pooka fae in that order. And they were all starters too. However he did turn it in to a role playing effort and ended up after a while becoming the bridge between a group of garou and a house run by a member of the Akashic Brotherhood. For those who don’t know those terms don’t worry. They are in there to help White Wolf players see balance is possible. For those of you who don’t know White Wolf games just imagine a werewolf who can go toe to toe with a kung-fu wizard from the best Chinese wire fu movies. So if anything starting characters in Street Fighter are a little under powered compared to their bretherin. And if you compare them to later offerings in the Storyteller system, like the Aeon Trinity (sorry MTV but I support White Wolf on this one… stupid stickers and re-editing) they seem way under-powered.

What really got me hooked on the Street Fighter version of the Storyteller system was how they broke out the combat skills. Instead of having a general melee skill, or brawl skill, you have Punch, Kick, Block, Grab, Athletics and Focus. What this did was it allowed you to really define the fighting style of your character. Sure they had several styles in the system, however you could still give a boxer a strong dose of Kick just to add something unexpected. Now then some people may look at that and feel things have just become over complicated. Others may look at that and say, but what about weapons skills. And depending on how you use the system both are potentially valid. To look at weapons first, if you remember Street FIghter II, when it came out originally only one character had a weapon. Vega/Balrog (if that confuses you then refer to the links above and find out how the characters were renamed in the US to avoid an issue with Mike Tyson). The game was about empty hand and chi powers (yes the sonic boom and Blanka’s volts were chi powers). Not weapons. They did add rules for weapons in Contenders, and really fleshed it out more in the World of Darkness book Combat. But those are supplements. If you are willing to take the game as a representation of the original Street Fighter II, then there you go. The fact that you could then take special moves, basic moves, and build up combo moves (oh and if you want to create a corner beating move combo you can actually put together a trip kick combo that will allow you to drain almost everything from an opponent, you just have to make sure he cant make a move back… or you are toast).

Now then sadly, White Wolf did not really support Street Fighter as well as their other products after initial publication. Their Players Guide brought the power creep hard core, but skimped on the details like adding a merits and flaws system as they had added to every other Storyteller game in the players guides. The Shadowloo supplement brought more power creep than you can imagine by actually quantifying Vega/M. Bison ‘s martial art and making it accessible to players. However this game is still popular enough in the hands of fans that it shows up at conventions to be played and there are more than a few online groups that have added characters, styles and more to support players who want to get into things from Street Fighter Alpha, SF3, SF4, and even SF5. All in all the ongoing fan support makes things kinda cool.

All in all I have to say that even with the flaws added in the supplements and it seeming a little incomplete by not thinking about things like weapons right off the bat, I feel like this is one of the best martial arts engines to date for table top. And really who would not enjoy being able to take on Vega/M. Bison where your GM can be the cheese and not some smegging computer. 🙂

Ok so ratings… lets see if I remember how to do this too…

Fluff – 2/5 Of all the parts of this book that I enjoy I have to say the fluff is the weakest spot. There is very little art in the book that comes from CAPCOM studios. And even though many of the main characters are depicted when they describe individual martial arts there is next to nothing about the characters that those of us who play the video game would have loved to see. The fiction that they add in, usually a White Wolf strong point, seems weak because once again it does not involve any of the classic characters except as being a dropped name. Lastly the added art that is not from CAPCOM seems a little half assed. Really it is one of the weakest White Wolf products I have seen in the fluff category.

Crunch – 3/5 How then after I have raved about how much I like the combat system can I say that the crunch is weak. Well I said it was good and that it reflected what was in the original Street Fighter II. I did not say that I appreciated that myself. It is solid. It is easy to use. It also feels incomplete to me. It can be fixed, and added to. But the fact that you have to add things like weapons use and the number of initial martial arts is small just makes it a little weak overall.

Mod – 5/5 Ok so in this space, yeah. This thing is so easy to mod, just like most Storyteller products. Add things from other books and settings. Create new moves so you can punch ghosts. This is one of the strongest points in the Storyteller system overall. You can mod the hell out of it and really enjoy adding your own creations with only limited risk of massive power creep. And that limit is you reader… you are the biggest risk here for that. 🙂 heh

Fun – 4/5 Ok so why only a 4 of 5. That is because I had to add other books and work for it to add weapons in in a reasonable manner. Because I had to bar the use of one of the nastiest martial arts ever presented because it was a combination of power creep incarnate and corruption on a stick. Because there was very little effort on White Wolf’s part to help others see how you could incorporate Street Fighter into their other products and lastly because it takes a fair bit of play (going by the Storyteller experience rules and spending about 96 sessions) to actually get your brand new Street Fighter up to the point where you can take on the guys and galls from the video game on an even footing.

Total Score – 14/20 So how does this play out overall? I said a few seriously negative things in my scoring. Well as usual that is going to come down to the players and what they want to do. If you want a cool system for martial arts that you can use to simulate fighting games, wire fu, and kung fu comic books then this is the place for you. If you like the freedom to set up your own martial arts, and even modify existing ones to create wild and crazy new ancient schools of combat then this will work. If you want more description in a fight scene than “I swing at him.” then this engine encourages it. If you want to exactly replicate all your favorite Street Fighter series characters, then be ready to buy more than one book and likely spend some time online. Unless they are Ken and Ryu… bastards get the best of everything… they are the freakin Barbie’s of fighting games. In the end I can say I enjoy the game despite its flaws and weak points. I have successfully made versions of all of my favorite fighting game characters. Even those with weapons, in spite of this game calling itself Street Fighter. But as always you dear reader are going to have to make the choice if this game is for you. Not my call 🙂

All righty that is it for now. Hope you enjoyed. Soon more world building and more reviews.

So gimme the dice, I have to see if the game field is monster free or I need to get the hose out…

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Review #10 Against the Slave Lords (AS)

Ok so with the last post, and the comments I figured what the hell I may as well jump in and run with a new review. And I wanted to jump in with a long time favorite… well sort of a long time favorite…

Product history first… Originally there were four game modules that were created for tournament play at Gen Con in 1980. TSR updated material a little and then published them for sale in late 1980 through 1981. The titles and designations were as follows – A1 “Slave Pits of the Under City”, A2 “Secrets of the Slavers’ Stockade”,  A3 “Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords”, and A4 “In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords”. Early reviews were hot and the series became a fan favorite. In 1986 the setting was altered slightly to make the modules fit into the specific game realm of Greyhawk, and all four of the earlier modules were put together into the collected module Scourge of the Slave Lords. In 2000 there was a supplement printed that was supposed to be a follow up to the Greyhawk version, but… yeah lets not go there… And then in 2013 there came the reprint that I am using for this review. It is the same as the original printings from 1980 and 81, however it also adds in a new module A0: “Danger at Darkshelf Quarry” created just for this hardcover collected reprinting. So… just so you get this part right… this series of adventures has been around for over 35 years and it keeps coming back. Not just in scanned reprinted PDFs (which are very very cool when it comes to finding old modules and adventures online) but this was popular enough to get the current publisher to pay to get the collection together, add a new additional adventure and print it again in a hard cover format. And it has kept selling.

Personal history… I first found out about the A series of modules in the fourth grade. I had just moved into a new area, and the first group of friends I made were with others in my class playing the A series of modules. We had a teacher running the game. The game ran into the fifth grade and we pushed to finish the series off because sixth grade meant going to another school. We did some seriously crazy things. Like getting the teacher to agree that the wand of magic missiles we found recharged between adventures. If you want more stories about it you can ask me or Dan over at Dan on Games. Yeah he and I have known each other that long. Sorry to put that out there my friend but it is a part of my background for this one 🙂 heh. Over the years I have pulled out this collection of modules from time to time for various things. Playing them as is, or as part of a larger story, and occasionally even as inspiration for adventures based on the modules concepts but not the provided characters and monsters.

So what is it about this specific set of adventures that makes them fun, makes them cool, or why are they a favorite… right… that’s the real question isn’t it?

For me it is equal parts nostalgia, simplicity, and balance. So I have a history with the material as seen above. Simplicity is from the fact that there is only enough fluff in this series of modules to tie them all together but not to force it into any specific game world (well except for that Scourge reprint ungh… so much fluff there to tie it to a specific world just … bleh…) Balance stems from the way the adventure set was built. When things are built for tournament play you have to have a set number of encounters, traps, fights, puzzles and so on. They are also designed to be run in a specific amount of time. And to be survived by players who work together and think. Now then putting all of that together is not as easy as it may sound. I mean if you look at some adventures, some of the writers just dont seem to be able to respect the level of power, skill and abilities of the characters involved. There are lots of conversations online right now talking about problems Piazo is having along these lines with Pathfinder and for myself the best example is… well ok this is another inside joke but… ummm Mr Agents… those who know will laugh.

So how do I rate something like this overall…

Fluff – 5/5 Ok I can hear you saying “WHAT?!” Its a game adventure. How could it have enough story, background, art, and color commentary that you could even think to justify a 5 for Fluff. It’s easy really. When I get a published adventure I want to be able to add it into whatever world I am running. I like to have just enough information and adventure hooks that I can grab it, read it, and go… Oh yeah I can put that over here and just make that fit into this part of my world. I want characters with just enough back story that I can tie them into my stories and world flow. I want maps that tell me what is going on in the adventure not tie it into a world. I want art that give me more to drag my players into the story and game I am running. I dont want to have to take the time to rewrite every page of the adventure and then still have to shoe horn it into my efforts. The ONLY part of this collection that goes a little over is the new A0 module and it is so loosely over what I need that I still have to go with a 5.

Crunch – 5/5 Ok so not everyone will have a problem with this one. I base this on the new monsters and treasures that show up, and if the adventure is really balanced to fit the characters it is created for. So in this series A0 is for characters level 1 to 3, and A1 through A4 is set for characters level 4-7. So do the monsters and treasures match up? Are the villains characters that can actually be beaten by the characters intended? The answer here is a resounding yes. It is really easy to find adventures that you don’t stand a chance in hell of beating unless you either have an extra three or four characters or you some how power up well past the listed levels / power points, whatever. You don’t find that here. Ok ok I take that back you do find it in A3 BUT it is part of the plot and the ongoing story. They even offer you options in the module for if you want the characters to win it all right there or go on to A4 and face the challenges there. Yeah thats right A3 is designed to beat your players, only to have them come back in A4 and come out on top.

Mod – 5/5 Another slight surprise here for some. With me talking about using the modules in multiple worlds and stories you should see a pattern forming here. I have actually modded the modules in this book for games like Pathfinder, Rune Quest and with a little more effort that I like to admit I have modded them to work with a Call of Cthulhu game. Yeah that was a weird one. That is what happens when the Fluff is tight to the material and the Crunch is balanced. It is instantly scale-able and if you know the game engine you are changing to you can easily just grab and go.

Fun – 5/5 Yeah this is a favorite. I have had a lot of fun with this material over the years and I think that anyone willing to look at it as something they can mod and add to just about anything they are working with. And I will admit that my history with and and great memories from so far back just colors my views a little… maybe on all the categories.

Overall – 20/20 Ok ok so IS this a perfect product? Is this the best of the best ever? Nope. It is not perfect, it is not the best ever. But going by the way I score things this is worth the best score I can give. Yeah like I said under Fun my history with the product and long time love of it may color my score a little here but I dont think that is really an issue here. For myself this collection represents some of the best fun I have had gaming. In many ways and on many levels. I wont take that back or cut it down any. I really do think though that it is worth that score. For all the reasons I listed.

Well thats it for the first none core review. Let me know what you think and I will let you know if I care 🙂 heh

Keep the dice rolling folks and then give em to me… I need to see if my cross dimensional games can stake the save vs death…

 

 

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Review #9 Paranoia 2nd Ed

So yeah, not only a new posting two weeks in a row but reviews two weeks in a row. This is by no means setting a precedent. So don’t expect another post or a review next week. I am not going to say it wont happen, but just don’t expect it ok 🙂

This review starts with the question, why 2nd edition? In part because it cleaned up some of the rules a little (unfortunately it also cleaned up one of my favorite rules in regards to weapons from the first edition) and also in part because I was lucky enough to find a copy at a used book store (Half Price Books, which really should be called, Half Price Books Unless We Have Figured Out There Is A Collectors Market And In That Case We Will Take Up The Price Until We Are Charging Whatever Out Team Saw Online Or A Price On Amazon Or Ebay, Or Maybe Higher If Someone On The Team Thinks We Can Make That Much) for slightly less than it would have cost me to get it off Amazon or Ebay. I had vowed not to do a review without a copy of the game on hand so that when I make references I can be specific.

So originally Paranoia came out from West End Games in 1984. I did not get into the game until 1985. But as soon as I read the back of the game box I was interested. Having seen Logan’s Run for the first time in 1982 and really enjoying the setting, I had thought, ‘Ya know a little sci fi comedy based in something like that cant be too bad, I will give it a shot.’ Oh gods, the insanity that I let loose. 2nd edition did not come out until 1987 but by then it was too late, I was in hook line and sinker. At the very first I did not like the way they had cleaned up 2nd edition, but I eventually came over to believing it was for the best. If you want a fairly good breakdown of the history of the game try the wiki for Paranoia, or maybe you want, like me to keep up on the latest updates regarding the newest version that is scheduled to hit the streets come late summer this year you can check it out on their Kick Starter page here. And technically while West End Games went kaput back in 1999 or so you can still get some of their games online in digital format. Anything that was not a licensed property or Paranoia that is.

So what really is the deal for Paranoia? Why is it one of the few games that keeps coming back no mater what? I really think it comes down to the setting. If you have seen Logan’s Run then you know how dark and twisted a vision of the future it is. If you don’t know about the movie then try starting with IMDB and see if you can get some of the basic ideas about the film. To give you my interpretation of things, imagine a future where the only way for humanity to survive the impending world war three was to place people into a vast covered city complex. Now then to make sure that resources were used correctly that group of people gave up a lot of their control to a computer that was supposed to help keep them safe. That computer also decides that cloning is the best way to ensure that people survive. Ok so that is how it started. Now then move forward in time say six or seven hundred years. Humans with access to the computer have been giving it conflicting updates for generations. Human wisdom is almost gone. And now just to make sure that a single type of clone will live more than a few days due to the violence inherent in the system six of the same person are decanted from the clone tanks at a time. Lets now move forward another few hundred years so that the computer in charge can get into full blown digital paranoia and all the humans in the complex can fall into a state where all of this seems so totally normal that its boring. On the back of the rule book for second edition they have a little quote “Imagine a world designed by Kafka, Stalin, Orwell, Huxley, Sartre, and the Marx Brothers.” I would have used the Three Stooges instead of the Marx Brothers but for those who read a lot that should give you another point of view on the setting.

Paranoia invites us to take a look at the most ridiculous aspects of how life is run, how complex we make things for ourselves, the extent that we let ourselves get buried in bureaucracy, and just how desperate we get for someone to blame. And to laugh our asses off about it while taking a laser pistol to everything. Imagine a place where everything you are, and nearly everything you do can get you killed for treason. Unless you get someone else to take the fall, and if you do that well then you get rewarded. Imagine a place where team work is needed to get the job done, and boot-licking is the best way to save your life. And even if you are totally incompetent you can come out on top.

Second edition of the Paranoia RPG was laid out in a way to make that sort of thing easy to do. Basically the section of the book for the players gives you a glance at the daily life of the players, the rules for rolling up a character, and none of the explanation of how it works. The game master gets all the real rules. Knowing the real rules, if you are a player, is treasonous. However if you can act like you don’t know the rules and blame another player, or their character… well you see how this is going 🙂

In regards to the game itself, while some people will see Paranoia as a beer and pretzels game (this means you take the game out for a one shot that no one takes seriously and you just have fun with it for a night to take a break from your real gaming) I actually see it as the single most challenging long term game ever created. Because it is so easy to have your character die, and it is so tempting to do really stupid things because you have back up clones, it is easy to just say ‘Fuck it’, and run with it. However if you really get into it and want to see just how far you can go you can challenge yourself in ways you never will see in another RPG.

So by this point you will have noted that I have not gone into a lot of details about the rules, or been very specific about the characters and the things they can and can’t do. That is on purpose dear readers. This is one of those games that I want to pique your curiosity about and get you to find out more on your own about, and also I wanted to live up to Paranoia itself… by giving you just enough information to get you into trouble 🙂

Ready for the numbers?

Fluff – 4 This game is so full of little details, like the Termination Voucher, the Mission Report Form, the art, the bits of information that are detailed out in such a way to make it easy to play a character it is kind of nuts. The details for the game master are just as thorough. However to really get the full feel for the game I would have to suggest that there are also some supplements that you would need to have if you are planning on playing long term. The DOA Sector Travel Log, Hill Sector Blues, and Acute Paranoia. All three of these together give you more rules and more flavor so that you can really really go over the top. Without them you are not in trouble, and not short on anything you really need, but they really seal the deal. There are actually about twelve pages or so in each of those supplements that if they were in the main book I would have been telling you a five is not enough score. So really lets call this one a 4.5 in the meat of the text here, but since I like rounding lets still call it officially a 4.

Crunch – 5 Overall the rules are simple and effective. There is enough detail given so that you can teach yourself the game quickly, and then spend years finding ways to take advantage of any of the loop holes. Now if we were talking first edition I would have had to go with a three for the score because there were too many conflicting rules and some that made no sense what so ever. One of those that made no sense really but I had a blast with it is the games version of a rocket launcher originally had a firing range of 160 meters. The Tac Nuke shell had a blast radius of 200 meters. Characters top run speed is 20 meters per turn. Damage from a Tac Nuke is to destroy everything in the blast radius. Not using Computer provided equipment on a mission is treasonous. So here is the question, do you use the shell and die? Do you not use the shell and die from committing treason? Do you come up with a scapegoat to get out of your first two choices? But they went and fixed this in second edition… of all the rules to fix… sigh

Mod – 4 Giving this game a mod of four is actually a hard choice for me. With the cleanup of the rules done for second edition it is actually fairly easy to add things like more secret societies and mutant powers. It is a bit more challenging to add things like new weapons. And unless you are a form junkie please do not try to add any new forms. Time consumption really is what that one comes down to, and really how do you get professional looking forms anyway. The overall rules are not designed to be all that alter friendly, but you can do it with a little effort. The setting information though can be updated, altered and twisted with ease. And when the Paranoia team originally came out with adventures for Vulture Troopers from Dimension X they showed how well you could actually cross genre this game. So I think 4 may be a stretch, but not by much.

Fun – 5 Whether you are playing this game as a beer and pretzels shoot em up, or you are playing a longer running game I think Paranoia is a lot of fun. It is twisted and it is strange and it can reflect real life whether it intends to or not. It can also teach you a lot about gaming. One of the best things it taught me was to run ‘Live Table’ games. If you don’t know Live Table that mean that while players and GM sit at the game table anything (or should that be everything) they say is in character, or on behalf of their character. You need to get up and move away from the table if if is not something you need to say in character. Also it taught me the best ways to keep the pace up in a game. Oh and I learned how to tie a Tac Nuke shell to a scrub bot and then convince the scrub bot to go clean a place 210 meters away and then blame the commie mutant traitor on my team for destroying computer property. Yeah, that taught him not to mess with the Hygiene Officer on the mission.

Overall – 18/20 Paranoia is a hell of a good game, in a great setting. Even though there are later editions, and Paranoia XP gives you some great advice and options for going all the way into a completely serious campaign or getting so far out there that you may need to have a couple dozen pregenerated characters for a single nights gaming, I think that second edition came closest to being the perfect version of the game so far… I may see a new top version this summer though 🙂 🙂 🙂

And now if you made it this far citizen, the debriefing. You will have noted that in the reviews I tossed in a few terms that may seem off, they are from the game. I am trying to hint a little more without being treasonous you know…

Keep gaming everyone and gimme the dice, I need to make a Chutzpah and a Moxie check to see if I can get another scrub bot to do me a favor…

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Review #8 No Thank You Evil

Ok so some have been waiting, and unfortunately for one of my readers this is coming before my review on Paranoia 2nd edition (I got lucky and found a copy at Half Price Books yesterday. Had to pay a collector price for it but it feels good to have Paranoia back in my collection again).

So I have posted other comments and statements about games by MCG (Monte Cook Games), things from compliments to questioning their supply chain. Even though the wait was long for the game, I think it is worth the wait. Because of that I am not going to go into the usual depth I do about the game maker and the publishing company. If you really want to know more look up Monte Cook on Wiki, or look for the MCG website. While this review is about the game itself let me just say that from what I have seen of the materials available anyone who wants to give little ones (smalls, children, kids, the watchers under the stairs, or however you choose to call them) an introduction to RPG table top gaming, this is a great package to do it with. The physical materials them selves are set up with color and art that will appeal to many, and the shape and size are perfect for those who have less practice with physical dexterity to hold on and really feel like they have a hand in everything.

No Thank You Evil is a game that is targeted for younger players. Sort of a gateway game. MCG took their Cypher System (originally used in Numenera and Strange, but now also appearing in its own game engine) and gave it a bit of a twist. The Cypher System is original in that you make a character with a sentence, I am an ADJECTIVE NOUN that VERB. Each of the three elements is tied into a template that gives stats, bonus, powers, or all of the above. They also have the ability to level up so that you can grow a character. For NTYE the scaling is done in the format of, youngest players (or complete rookies because it works there too) is just done with one part, I am a NOUN (also shown as an Orange Triangle). As they advance you add the adjective (now things become a Green Square), and then you get into adding the verb (and the shape becomes a blue circle). It gives starting players, regardless of age, a very visual clue as to the level of difficulty they are playing with regarding the rules. Adding in companions and items as you go helps build up the character even further. I love this structure. The only challenge that I really have with it is that you can only take a character so far. Unlike the usual Cypher System there is no experience mechanic. For very young an very inexperienced players I can totally get behind the mechanic being absent. It allows for stability and can give a player a character they can really connect with and get into and want to play again. It also means that if a player gets tired of or annoyed with a character it is not going to be all that time consuming to get them set up with a new one. But when you get the ones on the edge, who want to see their creation grow, you are going to need to change systems or add in other CS mechanics. I am hoping that one of the expansions they come out with for NTYE in the future includes a growth mechanic that fits just as smoothly with the rest of the game engine as all the other slight twists I see.

The rules are printed up in a format that if you are just starting to teach a little one to read, if you sit down and read with them you can actually give them a chance to learn right out of the book. If your little ones do better by the watch and do format you can pull out your materials and walk them through character creation and taking actions in about 30 minutes if you go slow and answer all their questions.

Game sessions are actually structured to take about an hour. This is a great scale for both little ones and rookie players as you don’t over load them, and don’t stretch their attention span. basically its a super win.

Graphics, color, and texture, all elements of the physical structure of the printing process are appealing to little ones. Well unless they are addicted to anime already then the response seems to be, ‘Oh that’s cute but its not as cool as Naruto.’, but that only seems to last until you give them a mini T-rex as a sidekick. Then its more ‘Screw Naruto I have a tiny T-rex that does…’.

Ok so enough of my gushing over this thing… Lets get into the ratings since I have talked about all of them a bit already…

Fluff – 3 If you have the Kickstarter set you have all the fluff you would need in the cardboard cutouts, extra stories, adventures, map, and everything else that comes in the box. It does not however give you anything you can use for making depth to a story really. It is designed for single shots really. I think this is part of the genius here though. While there are little bits about everything in the game world, very little, you can encourage the smalls and the rookies you are playing with to come up with their own stories, backgrounds and all sorts of added features to the world. I would say we could go 3.5 because quality is a 4 quantity is a 2-2.5 but I want to round. And 3 is not really a bad number.

Crunch – 3 Ok so again three is not a bad number. These are simplified scale-able rules taken from an existing game engine in order to introduce and teach a whole range of new players to a type of game that they may have only heard about or watched the big kids play before. The rules are solid, and they take as much into account as they can. There are several things I would love to see added in a future supplement, but for a starter set, this kicks.

Mod – 5 Ummm yeah, you can mod the hell out of this. I have already scoped an experience system change and a few other things I can add as needed. The mechanics are easy to use and skill and ability checks are easy to get into place. But from the very beginning this is a system that is designed to be modded to fit your needs and the players needs and and and… sheesh, yeah you can mod it… just run with it.

Fun – 3 One more time 3 is not a bad number. I rank this one at three because while I love the way it works and what you can do with it, this game is about your player audience. I know I am writing this as an adult experienced gamer who enjoys teaching smalls how to game. However if any of your little gamers are having issues, a bad day, or suffering a little on attention span, then something you find enjoyable can quickly become a pain in the ass. As long as the players are enjoying whats going on you will find the fun a 5 or even higher if you like teaching and watching little ones smile as they come up with really creative ways to solve the challenges in the game. But it can also crash into a sub one range as soon as the bad day hits.

Overall – 14 I think this is a great teaching game that with a few mods can become a great way to take newbie players all the way into a full burn campaign. The tools, toys and everything that comes in the box are great. And even though this is not getting the highest score I can give. I think it is one of the best I have seen, ever, for its intended goal.

Ok so thats it for now, gimme the dice I need to check my pack to see if I have some brain flavored candy for the zombie ninja.

Keep the critical hits coming folks. Game ON!

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Review #7 Heavy Gear

What do you mean you want a review of No Thank You Evil…

Nope, gonna play it a bit more with my captive audience before I do that. It is stacking up to be a good review though.

While everyone waits for that, lets talk instead about one of my all time favorite mech games. Now then I know I may have lost a few people with that statement. And so long you are gonna miss out on some fun.

So Heavy Gear is both an RPG and a tactical miniatures game all in one. Some will try and compare that to Robotech by Palladium (nope, nothing tactical there unless you want to count the new boxed game that does not tie into the RPG they created), Mekton by R Talsorian  (again not tactical but a really fun vehicle building system), or BattleTech (ok this one is the reverse it is a tactical game that they added MechWarrior to so that you could add an RPG game element to long campaigns, technically two different games). But there is a reason for me that Heavy Gear stands on its own among all those challengers. but we will get to that in a minute or three.

Heavy Gear is published by Dream Pod 9 (and I still cannot figure out if Ianus Games became Dream Pod 9 or vice versa but one of them became or absorbed the other), and first came out in 1994. For anyone interested in anime they would immediately note a likeness between some of the earliest Gears (the main mechs in the game) and the 1983 anime Armored Trooper Votoms. There have been multiple editions of the game published (including Heavy Gear Blitz, the latest edition which unfortunately to me takes out all of the RPG material and goes straight into the tactical). Also a video pair of video games (1997 and 1999) and an animated series (2001). Now then Dream Pod 9 has several other RPG’s that they have created with the same game engine (Jovian Chronicles – another mech setting with space mechs instead of being planet side; Gear Krieg – WW II mech setting; Tribe 8 – post apocalyptic horror that has no mechs; Core Command – Sci Fi space opera setting), and some might ask, ‘With all these to choose from why go with Heavy Gear if you are going to talk about the game engine?’ I will get to that, just gimme a bit.

Like BattleTech, Heavy Gear has created ongoing  story in their products. This is great for someone who plays long term because you can go back into old products and play through the history and major events in an established timeline. Or you can change them and make the world completely your own. Now then if you are a twisted person you could actually take some of the DP9 products and put together a reaaaaaly epic story line going from Gear Krieg, to Jovian Chronicles, to Heavy Gear, to Core Command. I say reaaaaaaly epic because if you want to play through all those era you would be looking at about ten thousand years of time, or maybe even longer if you consider all the material in Core Command. And for all of them they have the same core game engine. Oh and the truly sadistic game masters out there may try and squeeze Tribe 8 into that long line to if you want to have an abandoned Earth after the Gear Krieg or Jovian Chronicles time.

Ok now that I have dropped a little history and some info out there on the topic lets get into the review. For my review I will be focusing on Heavy Gear second edition. In my opinion it had the best product support (which may just be because of the area I live in) with the most availability of both the books and the minis. So that’s the one I have the most experience with.

Fluff – 3 Even with all the product support and history in the materials I still cannot go too high in the fluff score. The art is great, but sporadic. The tech drawings for the Gears are pretty slim on material unless you invest in the tech manual. And frankly I never actually read a single story in the core rule book that made me go ‘I want to know more about this!’ Now then I am not saying it is poorly written or poorly presented. I am saying none of it lit a fire under me. It was the concepts that got me going. Now then I would have scored this a two, BUT, as part of the fluff score I have to consider the minis. I have not done any research on this part of the company but who ever they got to design the minis, dammmmmmmmn. Back in the mid 90’s even though I was a bigger fan of BattleTech I wanted the Heavy Gear minis. great sculpting and very little flash. I can’t boost it more than one for the minis though. They are awesome, but not that awesome 😉

Crunch – 5 Ok here is where the love comes from. The SilCore (or Silhouette) system that they created for these games is just awesome. It is point based and scaleable. It is not really designed to play to a level of truly superhuman without breaking the game. But that’s just fine with me. It was not made to be a system that covers everything. The engine is more about being human, and doing everything you can with it. And it does it well. Other games will try to get out of their strong suits and they end up paying for it with massive power creep and strong divisions of fans. These rules wont do that. Now for the really tricky part. While other games like Robotech or Mekton make the character skills a part of the giant robot combat there is no real tactical element to the fighting. While this can work well if you have a lot of players that enjoy imagining the fights, I tend to have people who want to map it out and see what is going on, regardless of the scale. So with the SilCore system you have the fun of needing to have character piloting the Gears because without the pilots skills the Gears cant fight. Then you have the weapons scaled up and everything integrates. If you are playing a combination game of BattleTech and Mechwarrior you end up having your characters being pretty much irrelevant as soon as they get into the robot fighting machine. And due to the scale of the Gears, your gear gets disabled and you can still get out find a spot to hide and try to get in close and push a grenade into the hip of an enemy gear to bring it down. Just remember that one shot from that thing and you are a fine mist grenade boy. The game engine is smooth and fairly easy to learn. I would recommend to anyone that they pick up the RPG before they try the mini combat.

Mod – 3 Ok so someone is going to say ‘If the engine is that great why cant you mod it?’ So remember what I said about the rule system not being able to be everything and that is ok? That’s it right there. Within its scope Heavy Gear can be modded a lot. You can make tons of character types, you can build a near infinite number of Gears, but you really can’t toss a superman in there. You also really can’t cast spells. If you are willing to add elements of Tribe 8 into the mix you can do some of that, but you cannot go full spectrum changing things. That’s why this is a three. You could make a case for anywhere between 2.5 and 3.5 for me but I wanted to just keep it rounded. It mods really well for what it is designed to do.

Fun – 2 Yeah it hurts me to give a game that I enjoy a fun score that low. Now don’t get me wrong, Heavy Gear is a fun game in a dark universe that has a lot of things going for it. However you really need to have the right group of players to get the most out of this one. Of the three groups I have played Heavy Gear with, one, and only one of them really embraced the rules and the setting. I know the golden rule is that if something doesn’t work for you or your group don’t use it, but in this case I think the setting would be hard pressed to work well without rules like this that limit you to really being human. So its not really the game itself, but finding the right players that limits my fun score on this one.

Overall Score – 13/20 Great rules and great minis, limited to doing very well what it set out to do, and that you need to find the right players or it really just wont work for you.

Ok so thems the breaks, I have to get back to the house and the love of my life.

Gimme the dice, I need to find out how long I will be away from the blog this time…

Keep em rollin 🙂

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Review #6 Teenagers From Outer Space

Hi all so I am back at the keys and writing again.

As I said in the last brief post I wanted to hit TFOS (Teenagers From Outer Space) as a review. I am going to go a little past what I have done for reviews so far, because this one is dear to my heart and has been strangely published in its history. For those keeping track I know the first review I did was for Cyberpunk, a game by the same publisher, but I am not trying to crowd one game system or anything in here. TFOS is its own engine, its own flavor, its own fluff. Don’t worry I am not playing favorites.

So the history of the game, and my ties to it. TFOS was originally published by R Talsorian Games in 1987. A nicely made spine stapled magazine sized book with two mini six sided dice taped to the inside cover in a bag. Yeah the cover ripped a bit getting them out but hey… mini dice… tiiiiiiny little things. And you could not leave the bag or the tape in the book. That would have been so uncool.

I had seen an add for Ninjas and Superspies and another for TFOS in Dragon Magazine (published by TSR at the time and inclusive of not only adds but occasionally articles as well for so many publishers at the time). Needless to say Cyberpunk (the original) had impressed me and I had to put TFOS and N&S on my Xmas list that year. Strangely I got them both in the same gift box along with the Akira VHS that I wanted. Great haul that year. Anyway…

So there were two things that immediately stuck with me regarding TFOS in the book. It did not take itself, or gaming, very seriously. To quote from the first edition book “…now with a devil may care flick of the wrist toss your dice across the table. Now go to the other side of the room and pick them up so you can roll them like a reasonable being.” Secondly it punished you for doing too well. The “When too much is too much” rule. This was genius in my mind.

So going outside my usual D&D players and the crew who I was playing Call of Cthulhu with, I wrangled up another group of players that I had been playing Car Wars and Star Fleet Battles with to try the game out. It wasn’t dark enough for them. Too silly. They could not kill anything. I put it on the shelf and did not try playing it again until R Talsorian released their only adventure module for the game “Field Trip”. Then again when second edition came out. Then again when Star Rider by Ianus Games (aka Dream Pod 9) came out. Then when third edition came out. Then again when The Landing by A2 Press came out. Strangely enough even though I did not play it much, and I was never able to get a group together to play it for long, I loved the game. The fact that R Talsorian never put a lot of additional material behind it (compare to the dozens of books for Cyberpunk, and the half dozen or so for Mekton Z), the fact that even allowing other publishers to put out materials for the setting, the fact that it never really became popular on a large scale, none of that ever really dulled my interest. Some of the first conventions that I started going to on a regular basis in the Seattle area (NorWesCon and Dragon Flight) were because I found out that there would be people playing tournament style TFOS. Sadly over half the time the games got canceled and I had to just wander the con looking for other things to do… yeahhhhhhh thats the kind of freedom you want to encourage for a teenager who has to beg rides because they don’t have a drivers license yet.

So what is it about this system that has kept me interested, loyal to the title, and willing to play for all this time even though I don’t play that often? So lets break down the engine, a couple of the rules and take a look a the supplementary items that other publishers have produced to take a look at that.

Remember what I said above about punishing you for doing too well? Ok so how did that work. Characters have stats rated 1-6 created by rolling a d6 for each of them. And then if the game master (Principal) is being nice you get six points to spend on knacks (no they are not even called skills, just something you have a knack for…) say you have a 6 on RWP (Relationship With Parents – yeah they made a stat for that, you are playing teenagers after all) and you put all six of your knack points into “Con Mom”, then during the game you actually need to con your mom into something and you role a six on your die. Well if mom only has a 1 in Smarts and no knack for dealing with con artist kids… you just hit it out of the park. So now the Principal is encouraged to think about what you conned her into doing or not doing, and taking it about ten thousand steps too far. Take the example of conning mom into giving you more allowance. It works so well that she gives you all the money she has on hand. Then goes to the recycling companies and sells all the things in the house for what they can give her to give you more money. Next she sells the house to give you more money. Then she sells the rest of the family to some nice man from Rigel 23 to give you more money. Then you catch her using the computers in the school library to try and sell her internal organs on the black market because she cant figure out how to give you even more money. The players can stop it… and something like this can become an adventure all its own, or even a series of them. Basically you end up fearing the chance of super success as much as you fear failure.

Additionally you remember me talking about not being able to die? Well one of the character stats is Bonk. Yeah no Hit or Life points in this game. Bonk. You fall to zero bonk you go out cold. You heal to one bonk at the end of the current scene. If you go negative, well then you may be out the rest of the session or have to do something for the Principal to get back into the game. So you love your character, but you really want to jump off the Vice Principals burning hover car into the passing limo with the varsity cheer squad in the hot tub in the back, go for it you will only take seven bonk if you miss…

The games version of alien life forms is just awesome. Simple and giving you just enough to take all sorts of crazy ideas in building a character you like to whatever limits you like. Seriously. Spock, the Blob, Zippy the Fazukian Wonder Leezzard, go for it.

From defining your knacks, to building your appearance and if you are an alien even your home world and race if you feel up to it, this game encourages creativity. It offers you the chance to go completely out of control and have fun doing it. This is the sort of thing that every high-schooler imagines they can really do at some point in time… ok most of the do anyway. And here is the chance to do all of them without killing yourself or ending up in the hospital getting your stomach pumped or worse.

Now then I also promised to talk about the supplementary items. This is where we really diverge from what I have done before but I kind of think its essential here.

So apart from the three editions of the rules R Talsorian only ever published one additional book. That book is called Field Trip. This is sort of like an adventure module for any other game system you can imagine. Please note the “sort of” used oh so liberally there. This adventure is one of the strangest scenarios I have ever seen. And I have to thank whatever dark gods look over my gaming history that I have not played through it. Not that it is bad, but this thing gets so strange and there are so many chances to do really stupid and silly things that I am not sure I could have stopped myself from trying all of them whether it was in character or not.

Next up comes the supplement from Ianus aka Dream Pod 9. They only made one book for TFOS themselves, but its a doozy. Star Riders allows you to take characters from TFOS and make them into their adult selves and set them loose in space. The main setting is an after the disaster kind of thing where the universe was reorganized to make it more manageable and Earth got misplaced. So what are you gonna do? RWP becomes Relationship With Pals (instead of parents) to let you know just how far you can push things with the folks that care about you. But all the other mechanics and rules remain the same… ok well money is a little different too but hey you’re and adult now… go figure.. heh.

Since I sort of fell into making these notes based on publication date, last up is The Landing by A2 Press. Now then while TFOS third edition, Field Trip, and Star Riders are all available online as PDF from the usual sources… (Oh and dont go looking on DP9’s website for their R Talsorian publications… they hid them… really well…) A2 Press seems to have disappeared completely. No web site, no Facebook or MySpace page even… not even a note in Wikipedia. And back in 2001 when the Landing came out it was my big hope for more TFOS products. They had a plan, they had goals, they vanished without following up… sigh. The Landing though is one of those things that becomes very important for any story about teenagers. It is a 96 page module about a mall. It keeps all the flavor of the game intact. While also offering up a place for teenagers to hang out that is not at school and even get jobs if they are up for it. I have to say one of my favorite elements in the book is the use of the penguin maintenance teams for the mall. They even have rescue vehicles. No really, penguins with a drive skill…

So by now you really get the idea I love this game. Even today. So how does it rate up? Well I am going to go just by the main third edition rule book for that. I am not going to take any other edition into account, nor any additional books.

FLUFF – 2 So with all the fun and silly that is on hand here, why am I only giving it a two in fluff? Well that is really because there is very little of it in the book. There are great jokes. It is easy to read. It is fun and all. But fluff is everything from the character art, back stories and support material that helps you make adventures. This game is really dependent on you having a high-school setting in mind, knowing what it is to be a teen, and knowing some of the crazier anime conventions to make this all roll up nice for you. If you have been a teenager, are a teenager, or have a great imagination this wont slow you down for more than a heartbeat.

CRUNCH – 2 So another low number. Yeah. To be honest the rules are pretty soft. I know that is intentional, and for what they are intending to do the rules are the best they could ever be. This is not a hardcore rules system. This is a beer and party system that you have to use your imagination to make it really work. The few rules that there are, are also a little open ended. The game engine relies more on fun than anything else. One thing that this level of crunch is great for, is that it is easy to teach to smalls.

MOD – 4 Yeah you can mod it. With a rules system as soft as this is, you can take five minutes and mold this into just about anything you want. And that is part of the point. This is the factor I rely on when I am trying to teach games to smalls. I can take a game engine like this one and make one or two quick mods and I have a game about little kids, or super heroes, or just about anything else really.

FUN – 5 Gods I so want to break my own rules and take that up to 11… but no… no I just cant. Ok so imagine everything you ever wanted to get away with in school. No really everything… yes even that one… ok that one may be…. OH GODS NO OK OK YOU WIN YOU WIN NOT THAT ANYTHING BUT THAT!!!! Geez… the lunch lady… really? Ok so imagine ALMOST anything you wanted to get away with in school and now you have a place to play it out. All the …wait no… Almost all the things you dreamed of from owning your own hover car, dating whomever, being the smartest in school, or being able to out do the entire football team, and maybe even watching as something like Godzilla stomped all over your school, because you turned the school bully who happened to also be an alien slime monster into it. Simple easy to mod rules and constant encouragement to use your imagination. That is my idea of fun.

Overall Score – 13 Not what you might expect from one of my long time favorites, but definitely a fun game.

So if you really want to go out and have your character grow up game to game… No Thank You Evil (did the unboxing today and I like it so far) then into TFOS and then off to college at IOU (GURPS supplement). Then you are ready for the real world… whatever game engine that might be in.

Sorry for the wait to all my readers… or both of them or whatever. Back to it more often… I hope…

Ok now gimme the dice, I gotta see if I can make that inverted immelman  turn on a hover surfboard while going through the drive through window and giving exact change at full speed. Keep gaming folks !

 

 

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Review #5 Mutants and Masterminds 2nd Ed

Oh wow posts two days in a row… is it a trend, likely not.

So my last post about Points vs Levels is going to get a bit of play here. And for those who are going, “Why do you keep looking at older games? 3rd edition is out for Mutants and Masterminds.” Well that is because this game runs a bit closer to D&D 3.0/3.5 than to Green Ronin’s True 20 game set up, but just a bit.

Personally for me this game is a great bridge between purely level based game engines and point based game engines. Also it adapts d20 for superheroes in a way that no other game engine has been able to meet up with. While engines like the d20 adaptation of Aberrant work and work well, I think this version captures the older Silver Age comics better, while still giving players and game runners the edge they need to get more modern comic simulations into play.

Originally published in 2002, with second edition coming out in 2005 (current version in 2013) Mutants and Masterminds is one of the staples of the Green Ronin library of games. With only three years between first and second edition people had to wonder if anything was really new in second ed, and in reality, there was not much of a change save to streamline a few things, clarify a couple of rules and to get an editorial team to look over the book and get rid of a lot of grammar and spelling and type setting errors. I have to say that in my experience that editing has been Green Ronin’s biggest weak spot.

So for folks that are familiar with D&D 3.0 if you crack this book open you will see a lot of familiar things, the same stats, the same saves, feats, skills, and a combat/skill system that is governed by a d20. What is missing is all the classes that you have to level up in. Instead the engine is point based with every 15 points spent equaling a level. Why are levels important to a point based game engine? Well that is because they also kept in the level based limits for skills and abilities. So even though your character will start at Power Level (not class level) 10 you have a way to compare against level 10 characters in other d20 based RPG’s.

Sadly though with the system of combat being changed the way it has been for Mutants and Masterminds it is a bit of a pain to get your tenth level Ranger to fight a Power Level 10 super. A little bit of conversion work later and… hmmm, this does not seem right… well then, how about, hmmm… ok so in my trials I ended up finding out that only the magic using classes in D&D 3.0 fall short on the supers in M&M. Everything else its up for grabs depending on how things are built in M&M. Build a good brick and very little will touch it from D&D, build a martial artist and they will go toe to toe with any fighting class. Energy projectors are hard to counter unless you have an immunity, and stealth characters are usually hideously over matched. Psionics jump back and forth. Skill heavy actions well that seams dead on matched. The big differences here are in regards to special abilities based on class, rolling for stats, and spending points.

So in d20 you level up and get set special abilities. In M&M you spend your experience points directly to add to your character. In d20 you roll for your stats and that can have a major impact on your skills and how things like magic work for you. In M&M you buy your stats with points and can sacrifice having some powers for the sake of having over the top stat bonus’. Additionally in M&M there are no stat limits save the points you want to spend. None. In 3.0 you are limited by the combination of dice you are allowed to roll, or the point spread or whatever other method you want to use, but every method limits the upper value of the stats your character can have, and the game engine limits the ways you can bump those scores up. Some of the special abilities are hard to replicate in M&M unless you have sat with the math and know how to bend things to your will. Then it is still not easy, but it is no where near as hard.

So while M&M does not have classes, they do have templates. Each template listed is a generic version of one of the classic comic book archetypes. The Powerhouse (brick), the Elementalist, the Pugilist (yeah its a martial artist, by any other name), The Armor, and several others. These templates are all set up with options so you can modify them to your taste, but still make it really easy to start play. None of them take complete advantage of the game engine though and all can be tweaked in ways that boggle the mind if you are willing to put the time in. Plus, as I said these are based on the archetypes, so they do not replicate every kind of hero you can imagine. That is up to the players.

One of the features that I really love in M&M is something that most D20 games consider to be optional if included at all. Weaknesses. You can take a weakness to add more points to your pool for building your character. To me this gives characters more flavor and helps distinguish you from other characters of similar builds. Now then I can say that WOTC did add weaknesses as an option for 3.0/3.5 in the Players Handbook 2, and the Pathfinder version of d20 added them into the Advanced Players Guide. But to me that feels like an after thought.

Overall I have to say that if someone is experienced with D&D 3.0/3.5, d20 Modern, or Pathfinder then learning M&M 2nd edition is not going to be hard at all. And for someone looking for a Super Hero RPG, while there are easier systems to get up and running (like say Stuper Heroes, yes thats real, no dont ask for a review… at least not yet) once you muddle through character creation the first time you really have the whole system down pat.

So here come all those little numbers I have set myself up for in a review…

Fluff

Ok so this can be a bit of a challenge for me in regards to Green Ronin products. They move back and forth from having either tons of fluff, or next to nothing. This being a basic rule book I am reviewing, and not a setting book or a licensed product, well… the fluff is weak in this product. Likely it was done to save on production costs, but the bare bones here hurts. Only a few villains, very little write up, and after Unicorn quit doing the art, well, it fell a little short too. Sorry guys but there is not a lot here.

Overall Fluff Score 1/5

Crunch 

Rules, rules, and more rules. Samples on how to use the rules. Demos on how the use the rules. Variants on how you can use rules within rules. All handled very quickly, cleanly, and in an easy to read manner. This is where Green Ronin’s genius shines through. These guys know rules and how to write them so that every day people, not just hard core gamers can read them. As long as they have a good editor for grammar and a great spell checker, and a copy editor that makes sure things flow smoothly, you are going to see great work. And for me this is really really good work.

Overall Crunch Score 4/5

Mod

Kind of cheating here since this is a point based game engine. That means of COURSE you can mod it. Since it is tied into a series of publications like the d20 materials that means you can also grab from other sources with only a few challenges, and you can drag things out of the game and drop them in other places as well. It is not that hard, but it still requires work. The real challenge is in Feats. They can get a little ambiguous and since they do not have a way to point build and put feats on an even keel, they can get a little messy when you do mod them.

Overall Mod Score 4/5

Fun

So this is a superhero game based off of one of the best game engines ever designed for level based work. It allows me relatively easy ways to pit fantasy setting characters against super heroes, and gives ways to play with everything (except for feats really) you could think about tinkering with in a d20 game. Yeah it is fun 🙂

Overall Fun Score 4/5

Total Score 13/20

Conclusion – A very good game. A great way to teach players about level based or point based systems depending on their starting point. Not hard to learn, and if you know something about d20 it has a very very short start up time.

All righty, time to do something else for a bit and then start thinking up my next post or two.

So, gimme the dice, I need to make a reflex save to avoid responsibility today.

 

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