Archive for category SGR
Yeah I wanted to go deep flashback with this one.
Originally published by TSR in 1977 the Monster Manual has become sort of an icon figure in gaming. There has been a version of it in every edition of D&D save for the Basic/Rules Cyclopedia version. Even the original white box edition had a booklet for Monsters and Treasures. It has also appeared in movies, and in TV series like Stranger Things.
Personally this was one of the coolest books ever to me. Even when young I was a fan of mythology and fairy tales and here in one big hardcover book were tons of the creatures that legendary heroes fought against. Here were all the dragons I would ever need. All the types of giants that had challenged Thor, and Titans who were not monsters but heroes of the monster world. It was amazing. It was also amazing because while my mom would not let me see Clash of the Titans in the theater because there was a scene with a topless woman, I already had a copy of the Monster Manual which had several topless creatures drawn in. It was better than trying to steal a Playboy magazine.
Now then that might not be ok to talk about in modern politically correct terms, but considering that there is the internet these days… well a few hand drawn images of topless women should be the least infuriating thing that could happen.
What I find very cool these days about the book is that the monsters published in this book became the core monsters for so many fantasy role-playing games. And for so many generations of players. The history that got started by this one book is really impressive. And considering how many editions of D&D have come and gone since its publication you might think that this list of creatures would have become out dated, or that something else would have taken its place. But that never happened. Instead it became the model for most everything that came after it.
As a game player and collector I am going to step up here and say something I rarely do. If you plan on playing first edition AD&D then you need this book. Of you can make all the monsters you want to using the rules for encounters in the Dungeon Masters Guide, or encounters with villains by making characters in the Players Handbook. But this book gives you monsters, horrors, and even peasants to run up against with very little effort. It gives you simple images (by today’s standards) to show your players, and just enough info to give you a basic understanding of the creature in question, but not so much info that you feel compelled to put them (save for a few) in any type of tight knit ecology or society. One of the things that a savvy reader will come across is that in the 4th printing, or 1979 edition of the Monster Manual (the version that was reprinted in PDF version and the most common one to find in used book stores as it had the biggest print run, also the version that was reprinted on new stock back in 2010 I think for the retro edition books that Wizards of the Coast released) the section on Elves is updated to include information on Drow, or Dark Elves. They actually made their first appearance in the module series Against the Giants (G1-3) in 1978 when the three adventures were being published separately. However the version most people know of those modules is from 1981 when the three were combined into one module for play. So if you don’t pay close attention to these things you might think that Dark Elves were something that they had always intended for the game.
If you want to play history buff then maybe you can tell me why the Monster Manual was published in 1977, but the Players Handbook was not published until 1978 and the Dungeon Masters Guide hit in 1979. I have a theory but I don’t want to spoil your questions and thoughts by positing it first.
So how do I rack this classic supplement up in terms of the numbers?
Overall Fluff 4/5 – Some might think I am overdoing the fluff here since the art is weak by modern standards and there is no backstory or city or anything to drive them along. But remember that this is a supplement full of monsters. And while the art may seem weak today when it first came out, it was a dream come true. They could have added more of just about anything to it, but all in all for the time it was published and the content, I have to go 4/5.
Overall Crunch 5/5 – Monster with stats. That’s what you want in a book like this and they give it to ya. Even going so far as to offer you the option of making things a little different by not giving everything just straight hit points but having die values to mix it up from goblin to goblin. Again might seem a little weak by today’s standards but this was the original that set the later standards.
Overall Mod 3/5 – Ok so I go a little low here and that is more about the game engine than the book itself. Within the rules it is not easy to mod much of anything past hit points. However with tossing the rules out the window you can mod just about anything. Just ask me about goblins with belts of giant strength and see where that goes 🙂
Overall Fun 5/5 – Even though by today’s standards the book is light on material, I still think this is a heck of a lot of fun. Nostalgia and such aside there are monsters in here that have yet to appear in other games and they can still be converted over. Plus this was the first book that named names when it came to evil demons and that kinda fed into the whole screaming parents who were overly religious saying that their kids were being sucked into demon worship and under the influence of the devil. Ahhh those were the days.
Total Score 17/20 – So this might seem ridiculous to some but to that I say 😛 its my review and I can point it like I want to. Seriously this thing is a classic and if you cant see that then maybe you should delve a little deeper into your games and hobbies to see where they come from.
Ok so that’s the entry for this week. Hope everyone out there is having a great time and gaming their butts off.
Now gimme the dice, I need to see how many folks I can bother with a single game review.
Ok so while I work on the editing for the last part of the Delta City postings, fiction, I thought I would post a review of a game I have never had the chance to use in its ultimate form.
So while I have reviewed material from R. Talsorian Games before, this is a licensed product of theirs that falls outside of their primary game engine. The Dream Park RPG takes place in the fictional world that was created by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes for their novel Dream Park. The role playing game was published in 1992, which is the same year the third book of the series was published. All three of the books published at that time get little call outs in the RPG.
For those who have not read any of the books the concept is that at some point in the future LARP games will become so popular that there will be an international organization that runs them, and technology is sophisticated enough that places can be set up with holograms and mock weapons so that LARP players can be filmed and their adventures in role-playing get turned into films, and even home versions so that folks can LARP along with the stars.
What makes this environment so entertaining is that it is at the heart of the concept of meta-gaming. Short and sweet, meta-gaming is when you take knowledge outside of the game into the game. Also it ends up living by the slang term ‘meta’ which means self referencing. We get to that because in the game you are playing a player who is playing a character in a game. Confused yet? Simple way to look at it … You are playing Bob. Bob is an accountant who goes to Dream Park to play the character Dubois the Slick in an adventure.
Now then if you try to do things that are in the novels you will have people who are playing under assumed identities in the game to track down criminals who are inside the game, but their crimes have happened in the world outside of the game. Getting messed up yet?
Now then imagine that you can actually put Dream Park the RPG inside of another RPG game that you are playing. Because you can. You can actually make it work rather smoothly with Cyberpunk 2020. Yeahhhh… just let that sink in. You can play a character, who is under an assumed identity, to play a character in a game to catch someone doing something in the world out side. You have to use the main RPG engine to resolve real world issues while using the Dream Park RPG rules to resolve in game in game issues so that you are not seen as being anything other than your character. To be perfectly honest I love that level of inverted strangeness but I have a feeling that is why the game never really caught on big.
There were three modules that I know of that were published for the game, and each one has a different flavor. Supers, pulp spy and Arabian knights. Just to give you a feeling for the flexibility of the system.
The actual game mechanics are rather simple and only needs a pair of d6 to play. You can play it on its own and just run a Dream Park game, but as I said before if you want you can drop Dream Park into any other RPG environment as an aspect of that world. So that you can layer things up. I ran a few games of Dream Park at a game shop back in the early 90’s but I could never get anyone interested in doing anything more than one off adventures with only the Dream Park setting. To this day I still look forward to being able to insert this game into another to really drive some kind of meta meta-game story line.
It doesn’t help that I love the books too. I go back and reread them every few years, and only recently found out that even though the third book was published in 1992 there was a fourth that came out in 2011. Long time to wait to do a sequel, but now I need to reread the whole thing and add that book four to the list.
One person asked me if it was necessary to be a LARP player to really get into this game and my answer is a resounding no. Even if you have spent time mocking people who play LARP games (even though I have played many a LARP myself there are some folks that I rib about it) you can enjoy this setting, and the books.
So what do the numbers look like on this one?
Overall Fluff 4/5 – Even though the book is not that big there are a lot of elements that give it a good score here. The art is clean. There are sections of the game book that appear to be written by characters in the novels and the author of the game even gives himself a position on the staff in the park. If you can find a whole copy of the game book there are cardboard cutout cards that allow you to track characters by genre type and special abilities very easily. And the art is consistent on the cards to match the art in the game book.
Overall Crunch 3/5 – The rules are a little light, while that is done to try and reflect that this is supposed to be a simulation of a simulator it does lead to the need for a little tweaking. Played on its own it can make some things seem a little to challenging or easy. But that happens in every game system. With the rules being as light as they are here that makes it easier to tweak.
Overall Mod 5/5 – Ok so due to the meta meta factor for this game I have to put the mod at 5. You can change so much just by dropping this in to Cyberpunk and making it the Disneyland there. You can drop it into Rifts and making it a lost remnant of the old world of the greatest entertainment for the masses in the new. You can drop it into a D&D game and make it run on magic instead of tech. You can toss it into SLA Industries and make it lethal. There are so many ways to work with this and to tinker it, it just blows the mind.
Overall Fun 4/5 – Ok so with all the positives why am I only giving it a four of five for fun? That comes from personal experience with the game. It is a challenge to take a setting like this and play it on its own. You really need to add an outside framework for the world the park is in otherwise you will end up with a one off game. And for someone who enjoys running stories, that just does not work for me.
Total Score 16/20 – Ok so we got a fairly high score here. However this is not a game that I am going to say just run out and read it and see if you like it. Because of the nature of the game, and the setting, you really need to know if you want to run one off games, or if you want to insert it into another game world. If you are a fan of the books and a player of RPG’s then just for the novelty of it I would say hunt it down for a read.
Anyway, now you know my thoughts, as always though think for your own bloody self and decide if something is right for you or not.
So then gimme the dice, I need to find out how many d4 I can fit into a sphere without poking holes.
Keep gaming and have fun all!
So while I am reediting more of the Delta City materials (you guys who had seen this stuff before could have said something about how crappy my editing and grammar was ya know, it would not have killed me) I wanted to keep posting weekly. So this review has come up.
I have a feeling I may have mentioned these three books before but to do an actual review on them is something else.
I am willing to bet that most gamers out there know people who really piss them off. When it comes to gaming. Those slick folks who can just nanoseconds after rolling the dice right in front of you have a fully detailed background for their character. Tying it into all the previous games you have ever played and putting in so much color and flavor you have to wonder just how all that crap came to life in under an eye-blink of time. I mean given time I can think up a fairly good backstory. I will likely tinker the crud out of it and revise it a few times before I give it to a GM but so it goes. And I know there are other players out there who feel like their character sheets should be enough work and that a background is not needed at all, “I am just here to roll up stuff and make fleshy things scream and bleed on the tips of pointy things.”
Well it is because of that frustration and the sad shaking of heads that they have to have a background that Task Force Games started up their Central Casting series of books. Published between 1988 and 1991 the three Heroes books (Heroes of Legend, Heroes Now, and Heroes of the Future) are all designed so that you can roll up (yeah completely at random) a time period correct character background. The level of detail in these books is so in depth that it makes every other background generator look like the creators half assed it.
Some of the things that this series of books does is to give you some bonus and penalty scores that would need to be converted into the game engine you are playing in. The write ups are mostly for a percent based system. So if you happen to be playing something like Rolemaster you should be fine right off the bat. In a mixed format like Palladium you are going to need to do more converting. And in something like Hero System or the original DC Heroes, it becomes a real challenge to convert the points in anything that represents a linear crossover. The thing is with a quick talk with a GM most of the time background details can get added, points can get swapped, things can get bent so that you can fit things in and make it work.
Now then you will notice that I mentioned that you can roll this all up randomly. And you can. But you can also use the books in a decision tree format to get the background that you want. Because two or three steps in you may find something clicks and suddenly you know where you need to go with this character, or piece by piece you may feel your way through until you come up with something part rolled, part chosen, and part just fate, yeahhhh it had to be fate.
What seems really strange to me about these books is that they seem to have fallen almost completely into the collectors market. You cannot find mention of them in Wikipedia, even in the Task Force Games page who originally published the books for Flying Buffalo who’s page does not mention them either. You cannot find PDF copies of them in any legal sales format. And when you can find them in Amazon or Ebay you are looking at paying anything from 90 – 800 dollars for a copy depending on condition and seller. What I have been able to find out about them tells me that they had a very short print run, like many things that TFG created. Also their publication happened at the same time that TFG was going out of business and selling their properties to other parties. So there may be some long standing issues with rights. It may be that they all went back to the original author Paul Jaquays (now known as Jannell) but even in her Wiki page the books only get a very brief mention. With the number of items being republished in PDF form in recent years and the fact that the prices for the originals are soaring I find it hard to believe that whomever has the rights has not brought them back to the digital world to try and make some money off it.
Next thing to bring up is why am I doing three books in a single review. Well that part of this is easy. All three books follow the same pattern. Birth on through the moment right before you start adventuring. Regardless of setting. They all use the same mechanics and styles. And THAT is a true miracle. When they were being published there were so many specialized game worlds with so many unique game engines that making materials to support them also became very diversified. But the author stuck to her form and format to try and make universal support. I think that was an awesome choice and it really did unify the books into a single whole support setup.
So lastly lets get into the numbers shall we…
Overall Fluff 5/5 – These books are pure fluff. It is all for story and all for fun and to add some depth to your own work and your own worlds. They work great for PC or NPC characters.
Overall Crunch 2/5 – These things are really rules light and can be used in a lot of ways. They are not directly tied to any specific RPG but are easier to use with some games than others.
Overall Mod 3/5 – There is need to mod versus fun to mod. Basically unless you are playing one of a few specific games you will need to mod your results if you want to bring anything more than a story into your game. The fun to mod side is using these books as a decision tree instead of as a random roll set of tables.
Overall Fun 5/5 – I have a lot of fun with things like this, and have in the past used these books to create back stories that are just so impossible to understand they can be used to create legends or insane NPCs. Sure I could do that on my own, but going this way I have an excuse so I dont get blamed directly 🙂
Total Score 15/20 – Overall a good score here. I have to say that I really wish these were more available and that some of the mechanics might be revisited so that a table of standard conversions could be created allowing the bonus’ to be read into most major game engines. But I enjoy using them and even still have my original copies. 😛
Well thats it for this week. Hopefully next week my re-editing will be done and I can continue to drop more Delta City goodness.
Hope everyone is having fun out there gaming.
Now Gimme the dice, I have to roll up random laundry and I am hoping to get something other than socks….
Just because I thought it would be a funny combination of having something listed as being 21 and teenage at the same time.
So how many of you out there are familiar with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? And no I do not mean the animated ones from the late 80’s early 90’s. And no I dont mean the Michael Bay abominations that made it to the big screen. I am talking about the original Turtles. Before there was any desire to have politically correct non-lethal child friendly cuddly turtles. I am talking the original TMNT. Done in black and white. Where you could only tell the turtles apart by the weapons they carried and by actually reading the dialog to understand how different each one was. These turtles used their weapons to injure and when needed, kill enemies, who were trying to kill them.
These are the Turtles that I know and love. These are the Turtles that were created back in 1984 (or at least first published) and in 1985 there was an RPG put out about those Turtles by Palladium Books.
Now then dispite what the wiki page says these Turtles were not part of RIFTS. RIFTS did not come along until five years later. So if anything RIFTS is an expansion of the Turtles :). A more honest timeline would be that Heroes Unlimited came out, then TMNT, and in true Palladium fashion another game setting called Ninja’s and Superspies, released in 1987 could be used to expand the martial arts past ninjitsu. After publishing about seven books for the TMNT over several years Palladium and the original creators of the Turtles called it quits. Dont know why, I do care, but I cant let that drag me down. Now then one thing I cannot speak to is if the mechanic for mutation was originally part of the TMNT game or if it was first in Heroes Unlimited. I have not seen a first printing of the HU game. But I can say that it is one of the things that makes the game really cool. And it has been in every edition of the HU game that I have played and still exists in the Palladium books and it still lives in the After the Bomb RPG that Palladium still releases.
Like other licensed products by Palladium the TMNT game does its best to keep to the source material and give players a good way to get into the world of the characters they have come to love without actually forcing them to just play the characters from the source material.
The game also has one of the coolest game rules that I have ever encountered. I have modded it a little bit from time to time over the years to add it to other games that I have played. The team character rule. As originally printed if players are going to share an origin and all be the same type of mutant animal then you get extra character levels. So if you have four characters of the same animal type sharing the same origin, with the same mutations then you are all starting at level four. If you have a different animal type, or different mutations still sharing the same origin then you drop a level off of that. It was something that encouraged players from the start to build a story together. I usually found it too limiting for a game group to all want to be the same animal so I would mod that so that if they all just shared the same origin then it was all they needed to get the bonus levels.
The mutation mechanic also allows you to build just about any kind of mutant you would like. And the supplemental books added ways to give your animal super powers, and to even use animals that came from other times. Personally one of my favorite builds is a T-rex that stands about four feet tall that has super strength and practices Muay Thai. Yeah, you can do that kinda stuff with this game. I also really enjoyed making a mutant porcupine that looked totally human but still had quills and was trained as a bookkeeper/bodyguard. You can do some totally off the wall stuff with this mutation engine and it all balances out. But to do all that I brought up means you have to use multiple books and so we need to pull it back to the main book itself.
I have lost track of the number of times I have played this game over the years. And considering that the first copy I had was back in 1986… I think… It is a lot of years. Sure I have had good game sessions and bad ones, but mostly it has been fun. And considering the number of ways that Palladium books crossover, it can get really weird the things you can do. Ahem… yeah… A band of mutant animals and ninja with a couple of supers and a disgruntled mystic taking over the SDF1 and driving it to RIFTS earth to try and stop the Coalition. Shhhhh, shhhh, dont fight it… it will all be over soon.
Ahhh still trying to pull back to the main book…
Ok here we go… So this game engine still suffers from the usual issues you see in a level based engine for character growth, and it does not allow for later enhancement or alteration of mutation. Mutation is a point based system derived from potential bio energy, and that potential is usually limited only by the size of the creature. So the bigger you are the less energy you have. To get more you need to get small. Now then sadly the original engine did not completely balance that energy level and so there were one or two animals that you could mutate the heck out of while others you would struggle to get a pair of opposable thumbs. Back when I started playing this just meant that there were a few animals that never got played. Later in life it just takes a few minutes to re-balance any animal to a set of numbers that works completely.
Ok so how do the numbers look?
Overall Fluff 5/5 – The story bits and art are mostly from the original comics and the creators. The character backgrounds and samples are also from the original character info from the comics. Some of the supplemental art is from artists who really understood the TMNT mindset.
Overall Crunch 3/5 – There was a need right off the bat with the original printing to do some game balancing, but overall the Palladium rules are a solid level based system. The rules are a bit soft on some of the gear and tools you can use and their overall game effects, but if you have other books by the publisher it works easy enough.
Overall Mod 4/5 – This particular Palladium book seems to have brought the mod to the table. It is easy to balance things out, and of course you need to mod all characters according to taste, while also having the first and best team creation rule in an RPG.
Overall Fun 5/5 – Speaks for itself. Mic drop.
Total Score 17/20 – Ok so there are a lot of points here. Is it worth it? To me this is one of those games that if you love any version of the Turtles, you need to hunt this down. You wont find any legal PDF copies online, because, licensing. You can usually find them in used book stores starting at about 10 bucks.
Ok so once again, my thoughts my opinions, get out there and game for yourself and make up your own mind 🙂
Keep it fun folks
Gimme the dice, I need to see if I can make all my skill rolls to get through all the running around today.
Ok yeah so its a little odd for me to do two game reviews in a row but I have a need to get this one out there.
You see there is a movie coming out shortly Ready Player One. Based on the book of the same name by Ernest Kline. (Movie / Book) Now then I am not sure how much they are going to keep in the movie, but in the book Tomb of Horrors plays a role. I am tempted to give a book review on Ready Player One, but let me just say that if you ever played Adventure on the Atari, and geeked in the 80’s you will likely find several things to enjoy in the book.
So what is the Tomb Of Horrors? This is a module created back in 1975 for AD&D. Published in 1978, and became a tournament standard in 1981. Penned by Gygax it created the S series of (mostly) tournament modules for convention play. That means the module comes with a lot of add ons that you did not always see in D&D modules. Like art books so you could show your players just what they were facing. And a list of tournament PCs so you at home could play the same characters that came up at the convention.
Now then the S series of modules in general gets some serious crap from players. It also gets some of the best reviews. The whole batch of four modules was reprinted by Wizards of the Coast in a hardcover archive format in 2013. So you wont have to pay collectors prices to get it. You can also download it in its entirety online. There have been remastered versions that were published for D&D 3.5, 4th and I think 5th edition as well. Also a Return to the Tomb of Horrors was created to be an official sequel but to my mind its not.
The reason why it gets so much crap, and the reason I do not see Return to the Tomb as a sequel, is because the modules are mostly TPK (Total Party Kill) modules. These things are hard core and so over the top that in all likelihood your players will not get out alive. Seriously. There are steps in the module that say things like “Count to six, any players that have not stated that their characters have moved to another part of the room by the time you reach six, those characters are dead.” There are several moments like this. No chance is listed to detect the trap, high powered magic items are needed to see them, and if you are playing AD&D the old way, then they are freaking rare.
I have been a player in this dungeon twice. Decades apart in play time. The first time we had a TPK. The second time we ended up having one player make it out alive with cuttings from the rest of us so we could be resurrected or reincarnated. And when that character suggested that now that we know what we are up against we could go back and really clean up, the rest of the party killed him and refused to get him brought back to life. To be honest though, as a player I look forward to the day I have a team at the ready that can clear this place. The design is sweet, the set up is of course a challenge, and if you actually get to the real final boss you had better have some serious spells and magic at hand because that beast can auto kill up to eight party members without you getting a save.
As a DM I have looked to the Tomb of Horrors for inspiration. This thing is not a one off game night kinda place. This is what the approach to the final boss of an epic story should be. This is the place you have to bring your best, everyone on the team needs to bring their best. And if you as a DM have inspired the players with your story and your encounters that lead up to the Tomb then you are going to see them pull out all the stops and they will have one of the best games of their lives. I have not used the Tomb… yet… but I have built it into more than one of my worlds so that I can use it as the finale should the players go after the big bad.
Frankly I think that “I survived the Original Tomb of Horrors” products could make Wizards of the Coast some serious bank with old school players.
So how do the numbers look on this beast of an adventure?
Overall Fluff 3/5 – There is very little backstory as is the case with a lot of the early modules, as it was designed to be dropped just about anywhere. The added art is very VERY 70’s fantasy. Sometimes it is a little hard to look at, but the level of detail is awesome and can be useful in game. However it is also in black and white so all the color elements that come up in the module need to be described in just as much detail to really make them work well. Flavor text is minimal, which is actually unusual.
Overall Crunch 5/5 – Normally a module would not have much in the way of crunch but this thing has so many GM Fiat moments (the players get no say in the moment shit just happens) that it sort of feels like there is a good selection of new rules and the materials are presented in a way that makes it work.
Overall Mod 1/5 – Now then usually I find it really easy to change a 1st edition D&D or AD&D module over to something else like 3.0 or Pathfinder without an issue. However those same GM Fiat moments make it a pain to convert it. Other game systems might allow a save or have some kind of warning that you would have to put into place, or a character might have an ability or power that could nullify a trap or something. Meaning you need to take a lot into account if you are going to try and change it around and fit it into something other than its original setting.
Overall Fun X/5 – Ok I am fudging the hell out of this one. As I said above this thing is written as a TPK module. It is winable but it is not an easy win by any means. I have heard more horror stories about this module than almost any other adventure. But the folks who have survived and made it back with stories to tell seem to walk a little taller if you know what I mean. Having lost characters to it twice myself I am leery about going back in, but I want to. I need to rate this one as an X because sometimes I love it for the inspiration it brings, and some times I hate it because of just how lethal it is.
Total Score 9+X/20 – Ok so this is my first review with a variable score. Because I torn with the love it or hate it. So it is both a 10/20 and a 14/20 at the same time. I honestly think that if nothing else folks should look it over, and see what I mean about it being an inspiration. Then love it or hate it you can figure out what to do with it on your own.
So as always I have to say remember that this is my opinion and you need to decide for your own bloody self if this is for you or not. I am not here to make up your mind for you, just to put my words out there and see how you feel about it.
Ok now gimme the dice, I need to see how many cats would survive if I set a thousand of them loose in the Tomb. Curiosity and all that 😉
Keep gaming and have a great time folks.
Ok so even though I have a request in to do a review of another product I decided to go with Spycraft instead. Why, well it is a d20 game and this is the 20th game review I have set up, and my wife and I have been watching a lot of Archer lately and when I busted up during a season 4 episode I told my wife I could actually turn this whole thing into a RPG setting she actually said she would play it. Since she has never expressed even a joking interest in playing a table top RPG before it got me thinking very seriously about how to put a game together. And that train of thought lead me into Top Secret (the game not the movie), and Spycraft. Still have not settled on a game to use yet, but that is a story for another post.
So a little history on Spycraft. Spycraft is a d20 rpg that came out after the publication of the original 3rd edition D&D but before d20 Modern. Originally published by Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) currently under license to Crafty Games, unless they have finally bought it completely and I have not heard. Now then the time line is a little funky on publication as I can only find notes online that say it was published in 2002, just a few months before d20 Modern came out, but I have a PDF and a copy of the book that says copyright in 2001 and lists that for the original print date. I know that distribution may not have happened until 2002, I mean if you look into the history of AEG’s early print and to shelf history it reads a lot like Palladium Books history. Sorry guys but neither company has a rep for getting things to the stores in a timely manner or anything close to when you stated it would be published.
Not here to rant about that though.
Spycraft took the original d20 Players handbook and stood it on its ear to create a modern setting. This was not the only game to do that, but in my personal opinion it is the one that did it best. They took a few hints from the licensed Star Wars RPG that Wizards of the Coast was publishing and improved on them. Examples would include having a defensive bonus instead of just an AC and having your Hit Points/Life Points being tied more directly into your Con than being based on a roll every level. Instead of a race you would have a Department, and the classes, while they stuck to a lot of the basic tenants of D&D at the time (there is a function that each class does really well and most others can only half @$$ at best), they also established a firm role for the characters in the setting unlike d20 Modern. The fact that you can still multi-class gives you the chance to make very detailed agents and enemies. They also added class level features called Budget Points and Gadget Points. Not as quick to use as simple cash, but better than the d20 Modern finance system by far. The initial setting reminded me a lot of the old Top Secret game but with a lot better depth and detail. Making a comparison on that is not really fair as Top Secret had to come in at under a hundred pages, and Spycraft came in at almost 300.
Second edition made some very interesting changes to pull it a little further from the basic d20 system, but that is also not something for this review.
Having had a lot of fond memories of being a teenager and really messing with Top Secret game sessions… (“Ahead of you in the darkness you see a stair case.” “Ok we stare back.” and “You have successfully snuck to the door without being seen. All of your intel says your target is inside that next room.” “Ok so we open the door just a little and toss a grenade in.” “You what?!”) I was really looking forward to having some fun with Spycraft. Unfortunately the first two groups I played with were all about recreating James Bond situations, and that meant that you could not really go off the rails and one of the players was always going to be the main spy. The games rarely lead to the types of teamwork the game engine makes possible or the levels of fun I was trying to recapture. So I let it go for quite a while. The potential was there, but my game groups did not really want to go in that direction. But now with Archer on my brain, I am looking again.
Ok so that gives you some background. How does it rack up in the scores?
Overall Fluff 3/5 – The art in the game is hit or miss, and the background material is sparse in some areas. Admittedly later supplements fleshed things out a lot, but the core rule book was more about making sure you could play, than making sure you had everything you might want in a setting. Like I said earlier though it is a big improvement on the old Top Secret game. It is enough to spur the imagination and not force you down any one path.
Overall Crunch 4/5 – Being a d20 game engine much of the rules are cut and paste. Easy enough to get by with. The added rules are good and do not bog down action, they just mean you need a little more time to set everything up before you begin an adventure. Overall I think it is one of the better d20 adaptations.
Overall Mod 4/5 – Again it is a d20 engine so you can mod the hell out of it. Because of its independent concepts it is a little challenging to bring in outside source materials, but a little effort there and you can come up with some really X-files like stuff.
Overall Fun 2/5 – Yeah this score is a little low. And that is more from my personal experience with the game than from its potential. A game setting like this is going to be something where everyone wants to be James Bond or Maxwell Smart. The one person who can get it all done. But RPGs are mostly about teamwork and story telling, not being a stage hog. Same sort of challenge you usually get in a pulp setting.
Total Score 13/20 – Could have been higher if I had a better time with it originally, but I still see a lot of potential to dust it off and run with it anyway. Anyone who is into d20 games could get this running really fast. I am still looking forward to putting together a Wheel-man / Black Ops character so that I can add a Transporter like character to a Spy game.
As always my final recommendation is to look it over and decide for yourself if this is the game that will do what you want and let you play what you want. If not then toss it. If it is, then AWESOME you got a winner. 🙂
Well thats it for now. Hope everyone is having a great 2018 so far and is remembering to date documents and checks correctly. Yeah checks, some of us still use them.
Now gimme the dice. I need to check to see what sort of random encounter is showing up here next.
Yeah so I am always on a superhero kick, it just has not shown itself here as much as it could have 🙂
I wanted to do this review more for adding a little bit more visibility to the publisher in a way that is not just bitching about them. There has been a lot of web traffic in the past few years about Palladium and the owner of the company than I have really seen for anyone else. I am not saying that the people ranting are incorrect in their points of view, but I want to put something out there that is not feeding those fires, and just talking about one of their classic products. If you want to read about or participate in those conversations then I suggest you look for them online elsewhere as I will actively delete any comments that bring those things up.
So Heroes Unlimited is another one of those super games that makes some interesting claims about what they provide, and when they provided it. They, at one time, called themselves the first complete superhero role playing game. If you are skilled with search engine image searches you can still find them. Since the game was first published in 1984 and there were a ton of other supers games coming out at the time I think you may have to take a broad perspective to get a real feel for who was first at what, most complete at what, or, well, anything really.
Just like anything else that has come out from Palladium the game engine is their Megaversal system. Which means it is a class and level system. Unlike some other class and level systems it does not allow you to multi-class. So your mutant will not also have cybernetics, or magic or anything else. They will always be a mutant and that’s it. Now then there are ways around that, like just going ahead and having the GM approve that the money your character saved up will buy a talisman that gives you something extra, or that the accident your character was in means you need to get them cybernetics as well. But this takes some home brewing and it can make things a little unwieldy. There are other elements that are very strict as well in playing the game. The combat system is a little bit hinkey, and if you are thinking about starting characters at first level, I really cannot recommend it. I remember sitting down to play a first level game back in high-school and we had one fight take hours. Unless you do some serious power tweaking on average you will need to have one character hit a thug at least five times to knock them out. If you are facing an enemy super you need to look more along the lines of about twenty five times with above average rolls. Part of the reason fights can take a long time is because of the way the Megaversal engine works with damage. Characters have classic hit points, but they also have SDC – Structural Damage Capacity. The rules describe the SDC as being the same as all the cinematic damage you see in the movies that makes the hero look beat all the hell and back but never actually slows them down. Personally I love the idea, but the number values that most characters build up means you can shoot one in the face with a rifle about six times and it will not faze them. On the up side they have things like a random background generator that you can have tons of fun with, and an alignment system that feels a lot more natural to me than the one you find in D&D. Also on the up side, even thought the system does not allow multiclassing, the individual classes themselves are actually pretty cool. Some allow for more customization than others, but you can still create just about anything you want.
The power level of the characters in the game actually can be seen as an issue for some players. The game engine does not really allow you to get a Superman or Thor level of power. You can look like it, but you cannot get a power level that will let you pick up battle ships and beat others with them, or use your optical laser to cut through a mountain. That is because the game engine is trying to keep things somewhat balanced between the mutants, the mages, and the super spies. It is a hard thing to do when you want to put rules into place so that a super spy feels useful when mages, psionics and alien robots are all on the same team. There has to be something unique that each character can do, or at least something they can do way better than anyone else. And still have it feel that way both in and out of combat. And that is something that the first edition, specifically the revised one, does really well.
The other challenge Palladium faced is that they want to make games that can all cross over. So their big gun Rifts can be crossed into your super world with everything else they do. Sadly the power creep in the Rifts setting makes this a pain in the butt to keep up with. But at the time of original publication, it worked and worked well.
When it was first published the game did not get a lot of support, and the only other book for Heroes Unlimited for quite some time was a licensed product for Justice Machine. A comic book series that most of you will never have heard of before. Still its in my collection because I know them, and loved the characters in the original two series. I think the reason they put that book out though is because they did not really put much into the original book in the way of setting, or pre-generated villains to fight. Of the five villains they did publish in the main rule book all of them are min-maxed and higher than level one. So there is no entry level play possible without some work by the person running the game. Even when they later published Villains Unlimited there was only one character in there that was level one. If I remember correctly. I don’t have that in front of me while I am writing this, and so if someone out there has the first edition VU and wants to correct me I will admit being wrong.
There is a ton of material in the book for tools, toys, vehicles and so on, that anyone can get with the right money, so you can even set up a super hero base pretty easy and kit it out without much effort.
If you get the idea here that I am pushing even though I am bouncing around a lot, the game is very much a mixed bag. There are some really cool aspects of it, there are also some really ‘WTF did I just read’ aspects of it. It got a little better in the 2nd edition, but that is not being covered here.
So how does it score?
Overall Fluff 2/5 – There is some really cool art, and some really bad art. There is a very cool section about world hot spots that they used in a lot of their other games. There is no setting and only five NPCs so not a lot to work with. And unlike other Palladium games there is very little color commentary by NPCs or even book quotes.
Overall Crunch 3/5 – The rules are a mixed bag and I would honestly recommend that if you don’t play the Megaversal engine a lot you might want to start with another one of Palladium’s games so you can get accustomed to everything you will need to do to shake and bake the game to fit your needs.
Overall Mod 2/5 – Not only is the game not easy to mod while maintaining the balance it created it is necessary if you want to step outside the standards even a little.
Overall Fun 4/5 – So with all that in mind how do I still find it fun? I know the engine, I know the system and I really do like being able to play supers where I don’t have to worry about meeting up with some boyscout with an S on his chest making me and everything I do seem useless to the city. There is a lot of fun to be had if you are willing to invest the time to get to know the rules and make an investment in some of the supporting materials to take a little bit of the stress off the game masters shoulders.
Total Score 11/20 – Another low score for a game I have played for years and will keep playing. One of the reasons I loved this game right off was due to the fact I could mix it with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game and Robotech. That also required more than a few mods but still… heh that was fun.
So I hope everyone is remembering to have their own opinions and enjoying whatever games they love to play, regardless of what anyone like me says about them.
Now gimme the dice, I need to have a random encounter for breakfast.
Welcome back readers. Anyone who knows me even halfway well knows of my love for all things superhero. My long term love of comic books and the worlds built in them. And this of course leads to superhero role playing games. The very first one that I played was the Marvel Super Hero RPG that was published by TSR back in the day. Next came Heroes Unlimited by Palladium. Then Champions by Hero Games/ICE. After those three I sort of picked up games all over the place. One of them was Villains and Vigilantes (V&V) by Fantasy Games Unlimited.
I was first exposed to V&V by Dragon Magazine. This was back in the 80’s when Dragon was not just a magazine that supported Dungeons and Dragons, but it also had articles that would support other game systems and game companies. I do not remember the issue number for the magazine but they had an article about powerful female characters in superhero settings. Marvel Super Hero got a bit about Phoenix, and for V&V they published a character called Maxima I believe. They gave her a great background and by reading over the stats I was interested in how the game mechanics worked. It would be a few years before I got my hands on a copy of the game itself. Now then for those who only know the modern online version of Dragon Magazine I suggest you look back at the old issues. There is a lot of interesting things for a lot of games that you can find there. Even in support of Steve Jackson Games Car Wars, Dragon magazine was the first place that had rules published for using tanks in the game… heh.
Now then while FGU claims on their web site that V&V is the first successful superhero RPG, I am not sure I can support that idea. V&V was first published in 1979, and did not see a lot of popularity (according to their wiki) until 1982. Meanwhile Superhero 2044 was published in 1977, making it the first superhero game that I know of. And when Champions was released in 1981 it sort of took things by storm if the distribution people I have talked with are to be believed. So I am not sure I can believe that it was the first successful superhero game. Also remember that the US is not the only place publishing role-playing games. MANY other countries publish games and I would love to get more of them. Especially things like Golden Heroes from the UK. There are also very very indie publications that may have only seen local distribution in a city, not even getting to a large audience. So the claim is tenuous that they have the first successful superhero RPG.
Now then even though I have doubts about the game being the first successful superhero RPG, I can say that it is very long lived. Even though it has been around since 1979, there are still new publications coming out for the game. And FGU is still soliciting for new things to come out. The only other game that I know that is still sporadically publishing is Heroes Unlimited. Champions has been on hiatus for the last several years due to, well lots of things. Marvel Superheroes has been licensed to other company and the original game engine is now running a completely different game. DC Heroes has been licensed to others and so on. It looks like Superhero 2044 is going to make a comeback, maybe, but it never had a lot of publications to support it.
Once I got the game in hand I quickly found it both very cool and very frustrating at the same time. On the frustrating side is the combat system. Instead of setting up skills the game engine uses the powers to govern combat. Making it harder or easier to fight based solely on the power you use. Defense is also governed the same way. So they made a table for it. Then you modify the table with other tables that govern experience and a few other things. Now then, to be honest, in most respects this really simplifies combat. However it makes it so generic that you will not be able to get much variety between characters with the same powers. On the positive side they had some really innovative ideas about things like character generation. You see in this game you are supposed to start with an honest assessment of yourself for your basic stats. That’s right this is one of the few games where you are your character. And one of the things that this means is that if YOU have a skill or a knowledge so does your CHARACTER. Brilliant really. When every other game system is warning players about the difference between what you know and what your character knows and the challenges of role-playing that difference, these guys just said shuck it and ran with the idea of you being your character. They do not kill the option of just randomly rolling stats, and they give options for it, but to cover skills they, well they dont really save to talk about taking on a profession and you can do those things. The second is experience. Now then with most level based advancement systems you are going to see very specific growth. In a point based system you have the option of doing whatever you want even if it does not make sense for the character. Well much like 3rd edition D&D and Pathfinder this game combines them. Once you start your character you select a mode of training. This training will give you advances when you level up. Every time you level up you can select a different type of training. They give a lot of suggestions but also have a little marker that says ‘Whatever’ (no, it literally says Whatever) because all of the training listed is suggested. You can come up with your own ideas and the GM can approve or not.
Now then please remember this review and my comments about the game are based on the 1982 Revised version of the game. There are newer editions and even alternate versions of the rules that were revised by other game companies during the life of this game. So if you know of alternates to the things I am talking about, that is cool. I know they are out there and I even have some of them, but this is where I got my start with the game and this is what I am reviewing.
Ok so background and flavor text in place. Lets take a look at the numbers I put on it.
Overall Fluff 2/5 – Other than the art by Jeff Dee, there is really very little you can call fluff in this game. There is no setting, there is no background. All that is up to you and the people you play with. I give it two stars because I really like Jeff’s artwork.
Overall Crunch 3/5 – I talked a bit about the rules above. One of the things that really caught me up in the game was that they also talked about the legal ramifications of superheroes. Citing actual laws and how they could be applied. Some might think of this as fluff, but I see it as a part of running the game.
Overall Mod 3/5 – This is a tricky one. You can mod within the rules, a little. But mostly if you want to mod it you need to get home brew and find ways to slip in changes that dont kill the system as it exists. Its not that easy really, but it can be done.
Overall Fun 4/5 – So with only twos and threes above how can I still call it a four for fun? Easy. In-spite of the challenges it is fairly easy to play and replay. It is one of the few games that tells you to play yourself and rewards you for it. It is inexpensive in a world of high priced game books and it lends itself to just about any super hero world you can imagine.
Total Score 12/20 – Ok so its only a 12 of 20 but it is still fun. I still like it and even have both digital and paper copies. Would I recommend it to others? Only on a limited basis. If you like supers and you enjoy the ideas above then yes, whole-heartedly. If you enjoy putting your own world into place and don’t need a background, then yes. If you want to play in a pre-made world or don’t have the time for building your own then no. So just like everything else I review, its going to come down to you and what you enjoy.
Ok so thats in the tank. 🙂 I will be back next week with more of… something. 🙂
Hope everyone out there is having a grand ole time and if you happen to be in the US and celebrate Thanksgiving or Native American Remembrance or whatever excuse you want to have family and friends over to binge on turkey and other foods then I hope you have a great time.
Now gimme the dice, I need to see if I can make a defense against feline mind control.
Wow, ok it was June last time I did a game review. And like I told you in the last post this is one that I have not played yet.
So how can I review a game I have not played yet? Well people on other sites do it all the time, but this time I have, I feel, enough experience with most of the material to make a few jumps in logic without an actual game session under my belt.
You see Starfinder is the latest game from Paizo, the company that created Pathfinder and kinda took over for the massive crowd of gamers that loved D&D 3.0 / 3.5 when Wizards of the Coast stopped supporting that product line. Since shortly after the initial release of Pathfinder there have been elements in the game community that have been begging Paizo to do a Pathfinder Modern like WOTC did with d20 Modern to put the d20 system that ran D&D 3.0 / 3.5 into modern and futuristic settings (look at the supplements list on the d20 Modern wiki and you can see d20 Future for sci-fi and other settings – you can also take a look at the d20 version of Star Wars [Not my favorite version of Star Wars RPG], in many ways these licensed products are why there was so little support for d20 Modern). Several fans have cooked up their own materials and published them online. I wont give links to those because half of them seem to have predatory adds and its a pain to keep up on who has what. Feel free to go looking but keep your security monitors up at full speed when you do.
So finally now Paizo took their Pathfinder rules and made a sci-fi game setting. Starfinder is it.
Here is where things get a little hairy. It is not a straight translation. There are a number of rules and mechanics changes that will make game play different. However they do have a section on how to play Starfinder with Pathfinder, and I could see from the get go that while there are changes the basic structure is so closely similar that it would be easy to just skip the difference in some of the mechanics and roll with it one way or another. In some respects I look at the engine and changes as being a possible Pathfinder 2.0 game engine. There are only two game engine changes that I do not really agree with, but it is easy enough to put those aside.
Paizo already has a few products planned to support the new setting. But it remains to be seen if this is going to be a long term, and well supported game. Looking at everything Paizo has done over the years to support Pathfinder, I have to say that I am kinda hoping that they will put just as much time and effort behind Starfinder. And I also hope they avoid the long term decline that we have seen in the quality of Pathfinder products… that is a rant for another time though, and considering how many people have already ranted about that online I would feel like I am in the middle of a ‘been there done that’ moment.
So what has Paizo changed in Starfinder? Well lets start with character generation. The primary format they suggest using (see its not the only way to do it but they call it out for game balance reasons) is that you use a point based stat generation system and that no stat should start above 18 after all the race and background modifications are in place. It is not a bad system overall, but when you compare it to the way you could roll an 18 and add race mods and so on to a Pathfinder character and start with a stat of 20 or more it seems a little out of place. Thankfully the roll option is still there for those who cant live without it. Next change is that players have three selections they need to make for their characters to get things started. Pathfinder has race and class. Starfinder adds Theme to that. Theme is an interesting new aspect that basically flavors your class in a number of ways. It provides level dependent benefits that can also shape your character. While you can multi-class still you cannot multi-theme. And for those who worry that adding a theme element might make you more restricted in how you can design or play your character, don’t worry they actually have a ‘theme-less’ theme so that you can free form it a bit. Next big changes come in the areas of combat. I want to start with something that comes up in character generation but is not really worked with much until you talk about combat. Characters in Starfinder have Stamina Points, and Hit Points. Stamina Points (SP) get burned quickly and recover quickly. Once your SP are gone you burn Hit Points (HP) and they are harder to recover. This mechanic reminds me of the Palladium Books SDC (Structural Damage Capacity) and HP set up. However I think the Starfinder version is better defined. The big challenge here is that by adding SP you make it harder to kill things. The sad part is that this mechanic is needed because the weapons in this setting do more damage than you may be used to if you have been playing Pathfinder. Next change is that you have two versions of Armor Class in Starfinder. Energy and Kinetic. I know that Kinetic is a type of energy, but… well… yeah ok just roll with it. Both are calculated from the same base, but one protects you better against some of the energy weapons and spells (yeah there is still magic here) and the other against ones that just use brute force. You will notice that there is nothing in my statement about ranged or melee attacks and that is on purpose. Next up is a modification to the Combat Maneuver system. One of the best innovations that Pathfinder did to improve on d20 was to simplify combat maneuvers. Things like tripping or tackling an opponent. Starfinder changes the way you calculate the values but nothing else really. It does not change much, but it does change the overall values a bit.
None of the changes are bad, they are just different.
Some of the cool adds that they have in the game include several new races, new classes (one of which reminds me more than a little of a leveled version of a Green Lantern or a Nova Corps member) and a ship design system that I wish I would have had ages ago playing d20 games. Yeah, its pretty cool even if it relies heavily on an initial template, after that you can smeggin go to town and make some really cool ships.
The setting for the game is tied in tightly with the Pathfinder solar system. They give a lot of tasty tidbits and history in the main book. For a core rule-book it is fleshed out pretty well, so it is really interesting to think where they will take it from there.
Now then my initial testing of the game (I do this with just about everything that I get that has related rules in another game… hence why I know so well the Palladium power creep) I made up a couple of Starfinder characters and pitted them against Pathfinder characters of the same level. First level characters in Pathfinder got mopped. Not because of higher skills or abilities, but due to gear and Stamina Points. Fifth level was actually a closer match but only when the Pathfinder characters thought ahead and used their skills. Tenth level if you have a Pathfinder mage you come out on top, monks also do some significant wiping up. Fighters and rouges have serious issues unless they have feats that allow them to get a-hold of Starfinder gear and weapons to turn them against the Starfinder characters. To my mind the rules changes do not make this a case of power creep though. Starfinder characters are in a world with more fire power, and slightly different mechanics. But take it as you will.
Ok to get down to the numbers so this does not turn into a really huge post.
Overall Fluff 5/5 – The art, the background, the flavor text. Yeah this is a quality publication when it comes to the fluff. Most of the book is very easy to read and can give you a ton of ideas. Not just for a Starfinder game, but there are some interesting things in there about relations between some of the races and cultures that just sort of sings.
Overall Crunch 2/5 – The rules in this game are mostly well placed. However I found myself diving into the index a lot to get more information about topics. In the exact opposite to the fluff the initial rules material is usually enough to tease you about something but not explain it well. So to really understand some of the rules you need to go to a couple of places to make sure you know what the changes from the Pathfinder system means. I have been told that if you are completely new to the game it is easier to follow than if you are experienced.
Overall Mod 4/5 – So yeah, it is a Pathfinder/D&D 3.5 product. If you know anything at all about the engine you can mod the hell out of it.
Overall Fun 2/5 – This one is just an estimate as I have not played any more than my power creep tests. I think it will be fun, but finding a crew to play a sci-fi pathfinder that has both tech and magic will not be fun. Yeah I know I did not really go into that but yeah there is magic and tech.
Total Score 13/20 – I do see a lot of potential here. And to be honest some of my scoring may be biased by the fact that I am currently looking at rules engines for my own sci-fi setting and want the perfect one. Also that I may be impacted by the slow decline in quality that I have been seeing in Pathfinder products for the last few years. So I will accept that I may be biased, but I am honestly looking forward to seeing what can come out of this game.
Allright so that covers the review… Usual disclaimer that this is all my personal thoughts and you will need to think for yourself to really figure out if this game is for you or not.
Now gimme the dice… I need to roll for dodging kitten claws while typing.
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 🙂