#WeirdHookMonth #RPG #TTRPG – Musical Instruments

alex-wucherer-erichzann-final-kl-medium-large-1414337306Hook

1966. South American Nazis, realising their age, pursue occult instruments. The viol of Erich Zann, but also a shawm, cittern, spinet and tabor, all made of the dead. Each is powerful, but in concert, in West Berlin, they will summon Azathoth to cleanse the city & trigger WWIII.

Suggested System

Cold City by Contested Ground Studios, if you want something more story-game related, The Laundy Files if you’re more traditional.

Art by Alex Wucherer

 

 

Review: Airship Pirates

Introduction

Airship Pirates is either a work of genius or a foolhardy and doomed endeavour. Steampunk is big, yes, but it’s still a subculture and this isn’t just a Steampunk RPG its an RPG tied to a particular Steampunk band – Abney Park. There’s a risk, then, that this game could be passed over by people who aren’t simultaneously RPG fans, Steampunk fans and Abney Park fans. That’s a bit of a tall order. That said, subcultural ties worked out great for Vampire.

Background

Something has gone wrong with time and the world has changed, peculiarly. Down on the surface things are a bit post-apocalyptic, up in the air and in mountaintop cities things are all a bit neo-victorian and mighty airships ply the skies, well above the dangerous chrono-fused plains, wastes and jungles below where all manner of monstrous creatures from Earth’s past are wandering around. An oppressive Empire, a wild and dangerous world and airships cruising the skies. It’s a ripe world for air piracy, plunder, adventure, freedom fighting and maybe, even, making things better or worse by tinkering with time yourselves.

Mechanics

Airship Pirates uses the Heresy game engine, which is the same game engine used for Victoriana. While there are a few changes here and there it’s almost entirely compatible with Victoriana – which could make things quite interesting – and thus has the same little rules oddities that Victoriana has, namely the use of both negative dice (chance of reducing successes) and reduction in dice pool which, statistically, amounts to almost the same thing and seems needlessly finicky.

Where Airship Pirates advances the system is, in particular, with the design and customisation of airships which is hardly surprising, given the name of the game, but which could provide a sound basis for the design of vehicles and devices in Victoriana and anything else that comes along using the Heresy system.

Atmosphere

I’m not that familiar with Abney Park being more of a Vernian Process man myself but the game clearly draws quite strongly on the imaginations, costuming, music and lyrics of the chaps and chapettes of Abney Park. The book is full colour, though this pretty much means ‘sepia’! The stories and quoted lyrics do paint a picture but much of the book is, thankfully, a fairly straightforward and unobfuscated world guide.

Personally I was a little disappointed it was concentrated on America, but the bally Abney Park people are filthy colonials and I suppose it gives one room to carve a little bit of the world out for oneself. Many of the ideas presented compensate for yankee parochialism, pirates and aerial cities for just two.

Artwork

It’s hard to nail down exactly what to say about the art. There’s a mix of styles and competencies on display but it’s all appropriate and the eclectic mix of material fits the chronologically kerjiggered nature of the setting. I don’t know if it would necessarily work in another game or setting but it works here.

Conclusion

The genius of this game is that due to all the temporal flux and reality issues going on characters could be crossed over between people’s games, taken and played at – for example – convention games and then going back to their home games. I wish there was a Heresy LARP system because with the crafting/costuming talent and effort of the Steampunk community some LARP events and groups could really accomplish something special and there’s not necessarily any need for them all to jibe perfectly together.

On the plus side

  • Pirates!
  • Airships!
  • Accessible vehicle rules.

On the minus side

  • Tied to a relatively obscure band mythology.
  • Heresy system quirks.
  • ‘Impure’ genre

Score

Style: 4
Substance: 4
Overall: 4

Good News Everyone!

It has come to my attention, after a little gentle prodding, that things are somewhat on the move again in our partnership with Cubicle 7 Entertainment. Some delayed projects should be getting a little bit of a punt back into gear and after some delay Agents of SWING will be available through Cubicle 7 as well and will go into proper distribution.

Huzzah!

All this stuff is extremely unpredictable and sort of tentative at the moment but I have my reassurances that things will be getting back into gear and I shall endeavour to let you know as and when I know more. Still, SWING getting into distro? Groovy baby!

Review: The One Ring

Introduction
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the main books that describe Tolkien’s ‘Middle Earth’ have been the subject or inspiration of a great many games down the years. Computer games, RPGs and others have all fed on his rich world-building and sense of epic adventure which, itself, comes inspired by Celtic and Nordic myths such as The Ring Cycle.

ICE defined the Lord of the Rings in roleplaying terms for many, many years and to many their work is still the defining work on The Lord of the Rings in the RPG hobby, though as a ‘slimmed down’ version of RoleMaster it wasn’t the most accessible and the rules sometimes didn’t make absolute sense.

The Decipher version tied in nicely with the movies but somehow never really managed to break out of that ‘licensed’ ghetto that some games fall into and never really managed to catch that many people’s attention.

I started out gaming with ICE’s Middle Earth Roleplaying and every fantasy game under the sun incorporates Tolkien-style elements and inspiration at some point or another. Any game trying to live up to Middle Earth has a lot standing in its way from comparisons to previous games and the attention of Tolkien fanatics and scholars to the fact that whatever the source material, it’s still ‘just another’ fantasy game.

Story
This book describes an adventuring world that takes place some years after the end of the events of The Hobbit. The dragon Smaug is defeated, the lands of his desolation are being reclaimed. The dwarves have a king under the mountain again and Mirkwood is beginning to be cleansed.

The characters come into this new and even hopeful situation, ready to become heroes. There are still orcs and spiders, ruins, bandits, tensions between the people who became allies at the battle of the five armies. Plenty of opportunities for heroism and adventure.

Rules
The rules of The One Ring are a bit of an odd mixture of old-school and indie design elements and there’s much that reminds one of board game design as well. One can see hints of influence from White Wolf, FATE, Warhammer 3rd Edition and even, perhaps, from the Lord of the Rings MMORPG. The game is neither a true narrative game nor a crunch-heavy traditional game but falls somewhere in the middle – which is something that suits me just fine as that’s where I fall.

The game uses a d12 for all rolls and this is accompanied by a variable number of six sided dice, depending on your capability, skill and so on. One irritant is that the game uses ‘novelty dice’ and while they’re not essential to play – you can make do with normal dice – they do make things a damn sight easier. Integral to the rolls are two special faces on the 12 sided dice (the eye and a gandalf rune) marking critical success and failure, and the way the numbers are marked on the six-sided die, half outline, half solid and the 6 marked with a tengwar rune.

Success or failure is denoted by the total that you roll and the degree of success by how many tengwar runes you roll. The d12 being a flat roll means a ‘crit’ occurs on a flat probability curve while numerical totals themselves are more upon an average curve, depending on the number of dice. This is a peculiar mix of probabilities and it’s hard to tell how that will play out on a mere read through. Such common critical successes and failures is good for heroic, luck-of-the-draw games but TOR is written as a much more low key game, perhaps more suited to the average results you get from multiple dice.

The rules do reflect the preoccupations of Tolkien’s work, the importance of race and heritage, the importance of morale, the spread of corruption and weakness in the hearts of men. It does manage to avoid the ‘ubermensch’ problems with Tolkien elves, though this might annoy some purists I think it’s a good way to keep them under control. That said, the emphasis on race and past can be something of a straitjacket and character customisation isn’t as broad as it could be. Given that it bucks the current trend of super-competent starting characters and gives you a genuine learning curve, that’s not so bad.

There are formal downtime rules, called the ‘Fellowship phase’ which are welcome and it’s nice to have these sorts of things codified. Something we’re seeing in more games besides TOR of late. Again, this can be a little restricting but a skilled GM (Or ‘Loremaster’) should be able to overcome all these strictures.

Combat feels quick and quite deadly, not something to be undertaken lightly, but if the Loremaster wants to avoid total party wipes there are several ‘outs’ he can employ, or he can play it hardcore.

Character death and retirement is softened in its impact by rules for passing on a legacy to the characters that come after you. With the various books that will make up the series moving the timeline on this is a wonderful idea (one I’ve been toying with myself for other games) but ‘missing’ are rules for founding a family or dynasty and playing your own character’s children – something I’d like to see appear in later supplements.

People who are dismissive of The Lord of the Rings often talk about it as a ‘long walk’ with a little action here and there but travel and the landscape is an important part of Tolkien’s work and the atmosphere of his books. There are extensive travel rules then, and they’re a good thing to have. Wandering and exploration being such strong hooks for adventurers. Given the lighter rules-touch elsewhere this can feel a little strange, but it’s welcome nonetheless.

The Loremaster’s rules are mostly just a reflection of the character rules. The bestiary is a little wanting but covers the basic orcs/goblins, trolls, wargs and wolves that turn up so readily in Tolkien’s work as well as the spiders of the Mirkwood. Tolkien didn’t really use a great many monsters in his epics and so it’s not all that surprising, what is surprising is the inclusion of vampires, a barely mentioned side-note in Tolkien’s work but here presented in the main bestiary.

Some of the rules feel a little too simplistic, but the building of traits, skills etc upon that basic foundation do allow for a greater degree of complexity than first appears. I think it may take 2-3 sessions of play for this to become apparent and for people to settle in to how their characters work, but that’s faster than many games.

Atmosphere
Rules, writing and art all conspire to create a good atmosphere and I would compare the look and feel most readily with Dragon Warriors, likely due to the artistic influence of Jon Hodgson. This is a green and somewhat grubby Middle Earth which makes me think of Exmoor, Stonehenge, The Scottish Highlands and trips to Danebury Ring. It is all very evocative and effective and everything dovetales nicely to convey the atmosphere they’re trying to get across and the mood of play which is respectful – perhaps to a fault – to the source.

Art
Jon Hodgson is, to a great extend, defining the look of British fantasy in the gaming scene for me and this shines through in his work on this book and the work of his compatriots. Despite the international authorship this is a British game through and through and has broken free of the trappings of the LOTR movies. This game has its own distinct look and stands up to the earlier MERP very nicely, even overtaking it thanks to modern full-colour printing. The parchment background reduces readability somewhat, there’s a lot of what can feel like ‘wasted space’ but in this case I believe it enhances the readability and helps make the text clearer.

Conclusion
It is disappointing that a ‘Dark Heresy/Dragon Age’ approach has been taken to the game in that it’s going to be split over several books but fans will, of course, come up with their own filler material for other peoples and places in the meantime. Characters can feel a little straitjacketed and could start to feel samey after a while, this fits the source material and how important heritage is though. It’s a beautiful book with an interesting system that’s well explained and graspable to novices as well as RPG experts.

The three things that hold it back from a perfect score are its limited scope in space and time within Middle Earth and its reliance on novelty dice. While they’re not needed, it would be aggravating to use normal dice.

The last thing is a problem that’s out of the author’s hands. Much as in playing a Star Wars RPG you cannot help but feel that anything your characters might do or get involved in is going to be overshadowed by the characters from the books. In Star Wars there’s, at least, a whole galaxy to play in, Middle Earth is much smaller than a galaxy and the setting of this first book is smaller still, not to mention the time frame slaps you right between the deeds of the heroes of The Hobbit and the coming deeds of The Fellowship.

On the plus side

  • Fabulous and evocative art.
  • Deep and respectful approach to Tolkien’s work.
  • Hybrid game system should satisfy hardcore gamers and story gamers alike.

On the minus side

  • Novelty dice.
  • Limited setting
  • Time/space limitation will make expansion difficult. 

Score
Style: 5
Substance: 3
Overall: 4

Cubicle 7 Shiny Version of 100 Fantasy Adventure Seeds

The slow but steady release of my tie-ins with C7 continue with the release of this shiny art-inclusive version of 100 Fantasy Adventure Seeds. Can’t wait to get my author copies, you can order it at your local store (please do) or via C7’s site HERE.

Interview with me on ‘It Came from the Cubicle’

I was interviewed about various bits and pieces for Cubicle 7’s podcast ‘It came from the Cubicle’.
You can listen to my dulcet tones and marvel at how posh I sound HERE

New Year, New Stuff/Old Stuff

Well, it’s a new year and I’m still working through the huge amount of stuff that came through last year, bit by bit, a lot of freelancing which has boned my personal work, but is leading to a sudden glut of stuff going on.

The latest developments on these various scores are (with Cubicle7):

And with LPJ Design:

A setting that’s coming together rapidly with some post-apocalyptic, necromantic, fantasy goodness. Click on the name above to link to the free previews.

Other than that I’m working, fitfully, on finishing 100 Conspirators and moving Agents of SWING forward, hopefully I’ll have more information for you there soon!