Darkzel Scholarship Update

Bleeding Cool have an article up about the scholarship, which is nice of them.

I’m extending subs through to the end of January.

If you make art – of any kind – and are in school, college or university you can sub.

Check the link at the top of the page for more info.

REVIEW: Numenara

numenera_coverNumenera is a new(ish) roleplaying game by Monte Cook, funded by Kickstarter and associated with the ‘Torment’ computer game sequel. It’s a Sci-Fantasy game with an ‘anything goes’ aesthetic but it’s also a game with some bizarrely contradictory themes and design decisions.

This is another big-ass brick of a game book, 400 pages of full-colour goodness packed to the gills with ‘stuff’.

Numenera is set in ‘the ninth world’, a time and place a billion years into the future, where civilisation upon civilisation has come and gone – each leaving a technological legacy behind that is no longer distinguishable from magic. It’s a world of technomagic and mutations, constant oddities and endless, lost mysteries. It’s wide open and, somehow, comes across as feeling more fantasy than science fiction, but with a flexibility to the setting that makes it feel more acceptable to go overboard than many fantasy settings.

The system itself is pretty simple, a d20 against a set difficulty  (so wild success and failure is fairly likely rather than average results), non-random weapon damage and a whole bunch of modifying effects, skills and special capabilities that somewhat complicate the basic rules, but not overly much.

Characters are defined by their broad class (Glaive/Nano/Jack – which amounts to fighter/mage/rogue) and by a trio of descriptors, with some amount of additional customisation. For example, you might be a ‘Charming Jack who Controls Gravity’ and that combination will give you a good grounding for RP and baseline of statistics. Characters advance through ‘tiers’, which is something between freeform character advancement and levels with total XP spent accumulating to take you up to the next tier. It’s the best (or worst) of both worlds, depending on your preference.

Two innovations are presented in these rules. The idea of effort, and leaving all the rolls up to the players.

The Games Master leaves the players to roll their attacks and their defences and it’s the result of these rolls that determines what happens, rather than the more conventional back-and forth. This has its advantages, but it does require a lot of trust and also means that the creatures are relatively simplistic and the players have to be aware of their statistics. If you like to keep things hidden or hit people with a surprise, this won’t work so well for that.

Effort is an expendable resource you can use to make things easier and, as a rules innovation, it’s one that it seems odd we haven’t had before. It plays a roll similar to fate or hero points in other systems but rather than representing ephemeral luck, it represents stamina, willpower, grit and determination – the ability to focus and concentrate on a task. Spending effort lowers difficulties, making it easier for you to accomplish things. This works very well and is definitely an idea I’ll be stealing for my own games.

Alongside this light, modern system there’s a lot of call-backs to old-school play as well, particularly in the form of random tables for just about everything under the sun. There’s definitely an old-style aesthetic and style to the game, but more of the Conan influence than a direct D&D/Tunnels and Trolls inspiration. Planetary Romances and books like the Majipoor series or the Dying Earth, so a different meaning of ‘old school’ than that which those of the OSR might mean.

Presentation-wise, Numenera is clean, crisp and clear but the illustrations are sometimes a little small and fiddly on the page and could have done with being expanded. Especially since they’re so important to establishing the look and feel of the game – such as there is a unifying look and feel.

What we have, then, is a wide-open setting full of boundless sci-fantasy and magitech possibilities, with a light and flexible system (though it could do with a few more codified options for character types) and a host of bizarre looking inspirational art. That, along with some other material in some other chapters on equipment, monsters etc would take you to a book of about 200 pages. The rest is taken up with some sample adventures (personally I don’t think this is a good use of real estate in a main book unless it’s really bare bones) and a whole bunch of setting material.

Including so much defined setting material in companionship to these rules and this broad a level of game possibility seems an odd choice. To tie down the sheer potentiality to specific people, places, things, encounters seems to somehow lessen the raw sense of potentiality and awesomeness you get from the material up to that point. Of course, you can ignore all of that and come up with your own stuff but when writing a review you really have to review what’s there as a whole.

All things considered Numenera is an interesting game with some interesting approaches to rules and character creation/definition, but it is also a game of contradictions. Unalloyed new-school rules married up to old school aesthetics and random tables. A wide-open game world of infinite possibilities that is then bound and chained down to a specific setting. I would have preferred, I think, a slimmer volume of rules, concepts, ideas and examples – without the setting. There is a setting book coming out separately and it may have been better to leave that part of it to that, rather than having so much in the main book. I’d have kept it more optional.

Style: 4 (only inconsistency lets it down).
Substance: 3 (the extra substance that’s included is to the detriment of the book overall, but there’s no denying that it’s there).
Overall: 3.5
Final Word: This game is wide open for some enjoyable weird-ass games and the system is probably a good one for introducing slightly older n00bs to role-playing but it feels overindulgent and could have done with being stripped back and leaner – at least for the core book.


Review: Iron Kingdoms – Kings, Nations & Gods

IKRPG Book 2 CoverKings, Nations and Gods is the first full-scope companion volume for the new version of the Iron Kingdoms RPG, a minis focussed (but not essential) RPG set in Privateer Press’ wargame world of Warmachine and Hordes.

Kings, Nations and Gods presents the updated history and geography of the world of Immoren along with the demography, politics etc of the game world and new career and equipment options.

As someone who played the old d20 version, but never liked the system, I was blown away by the level of game detail in the older books. KNaG is a worthy successor but doesn’t go into quite the same level of detail as the old d20 version. In a way this is good, leaving more gaps for players and Games Masters to put in their own ideas and thoughts but as praised as the older version was, it seems odd to have shifted away from that, but it’s not entirely unwelcome.

That’s not to say that this isn’t a weighty book, hardback and nearly 400 pages it is jam packed with information and since it also includes full-on game information it is dually useful, not only as a lore sauce but as one that greatly expands the personalisation of characters and the scope of equipment for the game.

As with the previous version it’s divided into sections, by region with the history and current events/situation leading up and into the game information.

For me, the product shines in its sheer level of presentation and content, primarily as an equipment/character book and secondarily, since I already have the original world books but don’t follow the wargame, catching me up on the state of the world. Reading through the product, the history and current events cause ideas for games to leap out – whatever sort of concept your gaming group runs on.

There’s some flies in the ointment though…

1. Distributing the character.equipment/warjack information throughout the book makes quick reference of it difficult. I’d have rather separated the actual ‘engineering’ (the stats) out into an appendix for quicker and easier reference.

2. My copy has blurred printing on a handful of pages through the book rendering those pages virtually unreadable. Fixable by finding a pirated PDF but I’d rather not have had to do that. It’s a let down in a book that otherwise is very well presented. I have no idea if this is a problem just with my copy or whether it’s afflicted others.

3. I feel really, really sad for Llael.

4. There’s nothing to speak of on Cryx, Ios, Rhul, the Skorne etc. I imagine this’ll be coming in another book. Rather than Kings, Nations and Gods this could have been called ‘Hoomins’.

Style: 4
Substance: 4
Overall: 4

Review: Lords of War


74bc47b725191caf57adcdd6c2a4227b_largeLords of War is a two player card game (at the basic level) set in a fantasy world. There are two sets on sale at the moment, Orcs Vs Dwarves and Elves Vs Lizardmen. A third set, Templars Vs Undead is due to come out, having been successfully funded via Kickstarter along with some accessories such as a shiny play mat and a further set of cards to add terrain rules. There’s also a bunch of optional rules for army customisation and so on that only really come into play now the multiple sets exist.

Gordona_IronhelmIt’s a really simple game concept, though a lot of fun for killing some spare time at a con, on a train journey or when a game of something else finishes early. It’s not ‘deep’, though there’s game lore and surprising tactical elements, which makes it a great way to introduce people to ‘non-standard’ card games and fantasy imagery. They’d also be suitable for younger kids who – at least – have a grasp on basic addition (not to say it’s educational, I want you to buy it!).

The decks come based around different themes that do influence how they’re played. Strong defence or strong attack, ranged attacks or cavalry units. Different cards have different values on their various ‘attack vectors’ (the corners and sides of the cards) and different defence values. If the total of attack beats the defence, the card being attacked is removed, otherwise it stays. Cards are placed in turn and the values compared as you go along.

Amara_SilvershadowEach box set is a complete set of the game which makes them a great value gift for gamey-wamey type people.

Presentation-wise the boxes are compact and well made, the folded game boards are as good as they can be, but it is hard to make them lay flat. On the plus side, you don’t have to use a board at all. It just makes it easier to keep the cards aligned if you do. The cards are colourful and well made and while the elves are rather reminiscent of Games Workshop’s high elves and the lizardmen remind me of the Slaan, the Dwarves and Orcs somehow manage to look a bit different (Saxon and Fungus the Bogeyman-like respectively).

It’s definitely worth a punt.

Style: 4
Substance: 3
Overall: 3.5
The Final Word: A great, value for money game suitable as a gift and time-filler. I’d love to see a science fiction version!




CLICK Pacrim

Review: Traveller 2300AD (MongTrav)

2300ad_1I loved the original Traveller 2300 in the boxed set. Poring over the scant pages it had a killer combination of (relatively) hard science, plausible background (this was the 80s and the Cold War was still on) and adventure of the type we were seeing in films like Aliens. It also had the depth of system that came with Traveller and while GDW’s system can be a bit unwieldy and odd, it seemed to suit 2300, possibly more so than regular, imperial Traveller.

Certainly, for the hard sci-fi fan, 2300 without psychics, with more ‘alien’ aliens and its basis in the 1969 Stellar Survey giving it a much more Clarkian/Bovan edge (many Bovans died to bring us this hard SF…). That’s a big part of the reason I liked it, despite an equal love for cheesy space opera and science-fantasy.

I had been umming and ahhing about picking up the MongTrav version of 2300 for a long time, but the BITS guys are hard to say no to and had a copy so, what the heck.

Mongoose’s 2300 requires a copy of their basic Traveller rules, of which I have the pocket version – itself great value for money. 2300 is a full size book of the ‘Palladium ilk’ (B&W interior, colour softback cover).  It weighs in at about 300 pages and as a result of its size packs in a great deal of material.

Some things are updated, with some nods to developments in science and science fiction in the intervening years. In particular there are some nods to the overriding theme of transhumanism with more cybernetics information and DNA modification – somewhat calling to mind Blue Planet. You really have pretty much everything you need in one book with plenty of spaceship information, design rules, weapons, vehicles and everything else to play it straight out of the basic two books.

2300That said, Mongoose have supported the 2300 line with a book of adventures and a technology supplement. GDWs back catalogue is also available on RPGNOW, so you shouldn’t be wanting for material (which is probably about 90% compatible) with the MongTrav version.


The presentation of 2300 is disappointing. The print quality is not great, the cover isn’t particularly inspiring or evocative and whether cover or interior the book lacks contrast, which makes the art seem faded. Some of the CGI illustrations are… not great, while others capture the classic vehicles and design feel very well.

The layout is basic, but that’s fine. Needless complications are not the best. It is, however, inconsistent in that the titles and sections are lost with needless complications which – coupled with the lack of contrast – make those parts a hard read.

What is disappointing is that a particular memory – that of the wonderful weapon and gear illustrations from the box set – was not replicated here, replaced by a dry list.


No complaints here particularly. The book is packed with information and setting content. There’s plenty here for you to use and lots to read through.

The GDW 2d6 system, resurrected and tweaked in MongTrav is not the best for such a hard setting. It lacks granularity – at least at the personal scale – in a way something like BRP does and which makes BRP uniquely suited to ‘realistic’ gaming. It shines when it comes to starships and vehicles though and it wouldn’t take too much tweaking to add a bit more variety.

T2300_gunsWhat was terribly disappointing, at least to me, was the failure to update the Near Star List and the ‘arms’ of exploration, along with the failure to update the background. It’s not like there weren’t options, there having been reports on the dangers of limited nuclear exchanges resulting from proliferation (leading into alternate post apocalypse scenarios) and updated stellar cartography. Dr Ganymede has done his best to address the second problem HERE and, given time, I might spend a little effort on these issues myself.

Final Analysis

I bought the book for sake of nostalgia and, paradoxically, found the lack of updated information to be the biggest disappointment (presentation being the second). It would, perhaps, have been a great deal of effort to update the near star list and the background, but it would have made the new version of the game really stand out and fit a modern outlook – enhanced by the renewed interest in exoplanets and planetary exploration.

Style: 2
Substance: 4
Total: 3


Review: Duty & Honour and Beat to Quarters

65115I’ve been meaning to pick up these indie games for a while. One – Duty and Honour, is a Napoleonic era game while the other, Beat to Quarters, has a broader remit of the ‘age of sail’. In both cases the basic books would probably serve for running military or naval games from 1700 all the way through to the American Civil War (with a little tweaking).  Ostensibly BtQ is set in 1780 onwards and D&H from 1803-1815 but that’s pretty much by the by.

Each game is compatible with the other, though D&H is a little more ‘crunchy’ and BtQ is a little more abstract.

Both games use a card-draw system with draws based on character capabilities compared against a ‘card of fate’ to determine how well you do.  How well you match the card with your draws (dependent on your character stats) determines how well you do. Matching suit is good, matching number is better, matching the same card exactly is the best possible. Jokers are wild. Anything else is a fail.

While the games support individual actions of all kinds, the games are meant to be military games and thus operate best at the level they were designed for. That is, the skirmish (unit vs unit action) or ship versus ship. Each character in the unit gets to contribute individual actions and then the quality of their leading officer (along with equipment, ship etc) determines which side wins.

58749It makes for a relatively quick way to resolve relatively large scale military actions while preserving individual contributions in a way other unit-level games (like Tunnels and Trolls) sometimes fail to do.

The games themselves are relatively short on information presented outside the mechanics, but the explanatory points, lifepaths and GM advice make up for this if you read the book carefully and completely. It’s not like there’s exactly a paucity of information on these periods either, plenty of it online.

Presentation-wise the books are nicely put together, B&W interiors with striking line art by Peter Frain. The art very much sets the tone and feel – alongside some historical illustrations and evokes the proper mood. The writing and viewpoint is unapologetically British and very much anti-French, which is only right and proper.

If you want to run something like Sharpe (spoiler, Sean Bean DOESN’T die) or Hornblower then these are the games for you. BtQ would also be eminently suitable for running a pirates game, or something like Assassin’s Creed 4.

Both games are very hackable indeed and various hacks have been staples at Indiecon for as long as I’ve been attending that convention. I think I recall the system being used for Battlefleet Gothic RPGs, Vietnam war (Tour of Duty) games and many others. Anything unit to platoon, or ship based, it should work a treat for. Flintloque would be another obvious choice  if you wanted to take a fantasy angle.

Another huge selling point of the game, I think, is how it is uniquely suited it is to online play. The nature of the card-draw tests and the unit level action means that engagements can be completed relatively quickly and in a more literary fashion suited to the slower, asynchronous style of forum and email RP. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a big step towards making this style of play more complete and effective.

I do wish more customisation were possible for smaller ships in BtQ and that there were more customisation options, but a Games Master can fix this issue with relative ease.

Style: 4
Substance: 3.5
Overall: 3.75
The Final Word: More options! More information on the time period! Pirates! Then it’ll be perfect.

Review: Noteboard

carousel-item-3The Noteboard is a fold-up dry-erase board made up of laminated, index-card like sections. It’s 35″ by 15″, double sided, with one side blank and the other divided into a variety of 1″ grids, overlaid over one another for hexes, 1″ squares, 1/3 inch squares and/or isometric. Obviously this has a great variety of uses for making notes, making on-the-spot presentations, brainstorming and other ideas but as this is primarily a gaming blog we’re interested in the gaming uses.

I’m not a big user of game boards or miniatures. Partly because I use the ‘theatre of the mind’ but also because of the transportation issue. For those who do use gameboards I think the Noteboard provides a cheap and easy alternative to lugging a lot of scenery around, cutting down on convention luggage and having something to hand for relatively impromptu gaming sessions.

I do like to keep a vague idea of where characters are in relation to each other, and with a board like this you can doodle without wasting paper, erase lines that show movement and do it all without creating too much of a mess or having to use multiple sheets of paper. For something like FATE with its ore vague use of the ‘zone’ concept a quick whiteboard doodle is also a great option.

As a GM this thing is also a less fiddly godsend for keeping track of initiative order, hit points, status effects and so on.

The board comes with a dry-erase marker/eraser and the bag can also double as an eraser itself. There’s also enough room in the bag that you could squeeze in some small dice and some flat character/monster tokens such as those found in D&D 4e’s ‘Monster Vault’ or Gamma World. Minus the game book, you could have everything you need in one pocket-sized bag.

carousel-item-6My only reservations about the board would be:

  • The proportions – I would have preferred a squarer board, something like 24 x 24.
  • The gaps – Between the sections there are – inevitably – gaps, but they are a little bit big for comfort.

Style: 4
Substance: 5
Overall: 4.5
The Last Word: Useful for gamers of any stripe, but particularly useful for those who like using game boards and tokens/minis during their games. What we need next are reusable vinyl stickers and themed, foldable game boards with textures! Or many I’ll save that idea for myself…

‘Realistic’ Medieval Character Generation (MongTrav)

Inspired by the idea of a ‘realistic medieval RPG’ as mentioned here: http://www.gamespot.com/articles/mafia-creator-reveals-open-world-medieval-rpg-for-next-gen-consoles/1100-6416823/ After all, where else did you die during character creation?

holygrailRealistic Medieval Character Generation for MongTrav

Step One: Statistics

Roll Social Standing First 2d6

2-7: Serf
8-9: Freeman/Guildsman
10: Clergy
11+: Nobility or Clergy – Choose

Serfs and Freemen:

Strength, Dexterity & Endurance: 2d6-(1d6-1).
Intelligence: 2d6-1
Education: 1d6


All statistics 2d6


Education: 2d6-1
All others 2d6

Massacre-of-the-InnocentsStep Two: Infant Mortality

Roll 2d6. Add +1 if Freeman or Clergy, +2 if Nobility

2-7: You die while an infant. Roll a D6, on a 1-2 it was when you were born, on a 1 you took your mother with you.
8-9: You suffer a terrible injury or illness during childhood. Roll on the childhood injury table.
10+: You survive to adulthood.

Childhood Injury

Roll 2d6 and lose 1d6 from the statistic.

2 Social Standing (Disfigurement and injury has a negative effect)
3 Education (Learning disability/memory problems)
4 Intelligence
5 Dexterity
6 Strength
7 Endurance
8 Strength
9 Dexterity
10 Intelligence
11 Education (Learning disability/memory problems)
12 Social Standing (Disfigurement and injury has a negative effect)

If this takes a statistic to zero, you’re dead.

Medieval-monk-writingStep Three: Literacy

Clergy are automatically literate.

All others must roll 2d6. +1 for Freemen, +2 for Nobility

2-7: Illiterate.
8-9: Very basic literacy.
10+: Fully literate.

Step Four: Background Skills

Serfs/Freemen: Animals 0, Survival 0, Trade 0, Archery 0.
Clergy: Administration 0, Language (Latin) 0, Advocate 0.
Nobility: Leadership 0, Language (French or Latin) 0, Melee 0, Archery 0.

Step Five: Terms

At this point you are fourteen years old. Terms last four years and you roll twice to see what skills you get. There’s no promotions or mustering out. You are what you are. Failed survival rolls result in a roll on the childhood injury table.


2 Deception +1
3 Carouse +1
4 Animals +1
5 Athletics +1
6 Athletics +1
7 Animals +1
8 Deception +1
9 Carouse +1
10 Animals +1
11 Gambling +1
12 Endurance or Strength +1
Survival: Endurance 6+


2 Administration +1
3 Athletics +1
4 Art +1
5 Broker +1
6 Animals +1
7 Guild Appropriate Skill (Nothing outside your guild’s remit) +1
8 Guild Appropriate Skill (Nothing outside your guild’s remit) +1
9 Gambler +1
10 Deception +1
11 Carouse +1
12 Any Statistic +1
Survival: Endurance 5+


2 Animals +1
3 Carouse +1
4 Art +1
5 Advocate +1
6 Leadership +1
7 Administration +1
8 Deception +1
9 Diplomat +1
10 Language +1
11 Gambler +1
12 Education +1
Survival: Intelligence 4+


2 Animals +1
3 Advocate +1
4 Administration +1
5 Athletics +1
6 Art +1
7 Language +1
8 Leadership +1
9 Diplomat +1
10 Deception +1
11 Carouse +1
12 Social Standing +1
Survival: Social Standing 4+


Any character can choose to take a criminal term instead of their normal term, if they want.

2 Advocate +1
3 Athletics +1
4 Animal +1
5 Carouse +1
6 Deception +1
7 Stealth +1
8 Gambler +1
9 Melee +1
10 Archery +1
11 Persuade +1
12 Dexterity or Intelligence +1
Survival: Dexterity 7+, failure indicates that you’re put to death. If Clergy or Nobility you can try to succeed a second time on Social Standing 7+, if you fail this time you take an injury from punishment. Otherwise you get off scot free.

End of Term

1. Make your plague check by rolling 1d6. First term 1-3: You die of plague. Second term 1-2: You die of plague. Third term: 6: You die of plague. If you live past your third term, you’re not going to die of plague.
2. Roll to see if you’re called to military service. Clergy are exempt. On a 1-2 you go to war. Gain +1 to one of the following skills of your choice: Melee, Archery, Animals, Survival. Make another survival test, Endurance 7+ and take an injury if you fail.

Other notes:

Aging effects start at age 30.

Good luck surviving that!

Mechanisation of the Space Princess

"Andromeda" Still

Seemed appropriate…

Earthing McDonnell has created a rather wonderful resource for Machinations of the Space Princess players, an editable database for monsters, ships, equipment, traits. Anything and everything you might want or need for your MotSP game.

Now all you need to do is fill it with cool stuff for others to use, stuff from your games!

The link is HERE.

Now, go forth and stuff it to the gills with awesomeness.

I’ll be adding bits and pieces to it when I have the time!