Tag Archives: RPG Lab

RPG.LAB REPORT: URBAN SHADOWS

RPG.LAB REPORT: URBAN SHADOWS

It goes without saying that previous iterations of the Powered by the Apocalypse system is a favorite among RPG.LAB participants. Between Dungeon World and Monster of the Week, we’ve had a lot of fun. This time around we snatched up a copy of URBAN SHADOWS from Magpie Games and, as one would expect, we had a blast.

Although the book doesn’t come right out and say it, it implies an urban fantasy world that is ‘very similar to our own – only darker’, and by that I mean it is a paired down version of something that VERY closely resembles the territory covered in early World of Darkness material. Some of the art is even reminiscent of that old 90s period piece that made White Wolf an RPG juggernaut of that decade. That being said, it is not at all like the World of Darkness in a very important way – it is a single, two-hundred and ninety seven page book that gets to the point and focuses in on why we like playing monsters and why we like entangling these creatures of the night in all variety of intrigue and catastrophe.

 

CHARACTER GENERATION

Like the vast majority of Apocalypse Engine games, character generation is simplified by the selection of the playbook (called an archetype in Urban Shadows). In this case, the books are separated into four factions (I will talk more about this in the setting and mechanics subsections) and each has two or three types to choose from. The factions and playbooks are:

MORTALITY speaks for three archetypes – the Aware, the Hunter and the Veteran. This faction speaks for human affairs and interests and the three playbooks are for players for whom the supernatural is still something external.

NIGHT is the faction of those things that primarily go bump in the night. The Spectre, the Vamp, and the Wolf are the stock character types for most dark urban fantasy. These are monsters to be sure (If you want a more sympathetic treatment of these types of characters try the Apocalypse game Monsterhearts) and when playing them you will deal with their weaknesses and politics.

POWER is the faction of those mortals who dare to seize supernatural power and insight for themselves. The two archetypes are the Wizard and the Oracle.

WILD is the faction of the truly weird shit with experiences and desires far from mortal. The two archetypes are the Tainted (which is a human possessed by a demon or other sketchy supernatural being) or the Fae which might as well be space aliens insofar as their ability to seamlessly integrate into mortal culture and society.

Like all playbooks, these are checklists that make character generation extremely quick and easy to deal with lending to the one-shot or short notice readiness of Urban Shadows.

“Character generation was great. Fast. Easy. By the time we linked all the characters together we had a likeable cast of weirdoes.”

“Like other Apocalypse Engine games, the character creation is nice and easy.  The character description options are flavorful, the architypes are cool.”

“I don’t think I did a good job in playing the character I initially created (she was not very serene!) Having said that, I like the simplicity that created unique characters with reasons to interact.” 

 

THE SETTING

In true Powered by the Apocalypse fashion, the setting for our game was cooperatively conceived. We decided on a fictional city situated in the real world. As the Master of Ceremonies, I decided I wanted to tell a moody story that didn’t necessarily put trenchcoat/katana at the fore. The characters (a degenerate Vamp, a disinherited Wolf, an ancient Tainted, and a very patient Aware) seemed pretty real and flawed and we wanted a world where their stories could be reasonably explored.

So Kingshore, Massachusetts came to be. Kingshore is a coastal resort city like Atlantic City, and like Atlantic City, it is in a state of terrible decline. It also enjoys the disdain of New England in general as it is considered a monstrous, neon horror that blights the provincial and idyllic route to Cape Cod and Nantucket. Off season, it is a gray and empty place where mobsters and monsters have made their moves since the late 19th century.

Behind the scenes, I gave interests and holdings to each of the four factions (making sure that PCs had a strong interest in these limited resources and opportunities) so that moving around the city would disturb these plans and create story and conflict. So once these drama traps were properly installed in four corners of the setting map, we were off to the races.

“The setting just sort of grew out of the cracks between the characters.”

“The setting really fit the feel of the game. An East Coast/New England, drizzly version of Sunnydale. I still have images from the game in my head.”

 

THE MECHANICS

In quick summary, games that are Powered by the Apocalypse use a very easy 2d6 task resolution mechanic. You roll the 2d6 and add the relevant attribute bonus (generally between a -3 and a +3). Results of 6 or lower result in failure and the granting of an experience point or other benefit. Results of a 7-9 are successful but with a cost, consequences or plain old urgency. A score of 10 is usually a total success whereby the PC is given the opportunity to narrate his or her awesomeness as seen fit.

Beyond the basics, Urban Shadows also adds a political element that is invoked at the beginning of each game. Each PC has a relationship with each of the four factions represented by a simple modifier. That modifier can be tested or otherwise strained to determine further engagement with that faction.

Did you succeed fantastically when checking the Night faction? Then you enjoy the envied seat right next to the Vampire Prince at the very important council meeting later that evening. Did you fail horribly when consulting a roll with the Power faction? Then the sociopathic necromancer that once devoured the souls of your ancestors has discovered you at last.

“Very easy to grasp. Having played other versions of the Powered by the Apocalypse engine I had very few questions and play was easy.”

“Again, the simplicity allows for an easy back and forth where everyone can focus on their parts without being confused by mechanics.”

 

IN CONCLUSION

Although we probably could have leaned on some of the game specific systems a bit more than we did, we had a blast. The story got fairly complex and nuanced rather quickly. To be honest, I thought this was going to feel like really hand-waved and hollow experience of dated tropes and brooding clichés. It was anything but! In fact, I would say that the experience of this particular RPG lab was largely unsatisfying because, after three short sessions, we had to abandon the Kingshore despite there being so much more story to tell.

“George runs a great game. His take on horror helps a lot with this one.”

“I quite enjoyed Urban Shadows – perhaps the most of all the PotA games I’ve played so far.  I think I’ll be running some US sessions after the current game I’m playing in concludes.”

 

George is the full-time assistant manager here at Games & Stuff.  He is an obsessive collector of RPGs both common and obscure. It is likely that this habit will become the subject of a horror game sometime in the imminent future.

RPG Lab Report – Shadow of the Demon Lord

I first heard about this game at a trade show when a friend brought it up and, upon detecting my ignorance, followed up with an awesome explanation of why I couldn’t remain unscarred by Rob Schwalb’s Shadow of the Demon Lord. Shadow of the Demon Lord certainly walks in the shadow of both D&D and Warhammer Fantasy, but it is here that it thrives and adds its own twist to the paradigm that makes it feel fresh and crazy metal. It has apocalyptic elements, splatterpunk moments, high fantasy nods, and steampunk aesthetics galore, but the synthesis is smart and polished while being animated by a system that is both light and intricate with theme and detail.

One thing of note: This lab report rotates around a game that was exceedingly gory and grotesque. The characters, the story, the events, are probably not safe for work. As a result, some of the actual play description will become inexplicably vague at points. Trust me, you want it this way.

NOTE: The words appearing in italics are the anonymous opinions and ideas of folks that participated in the Lab rather than my own.

THE SETTING
Before I launch into a description, let me say that the Shadow of the Demon Lord game is still unfolding. New content and scenarios are still being released and there is no sign of it stopping anytime soon.
There is a substantial yet digestible amount of setting material in the Shadow of the Demon Lord core book. It gives you cosmology with a great heap of weird gods spread out over multiple belief systems as well as general view of the game’s evocative map. After establishing all the important contextual stuff, we zoom in to the Northern Reach which is delivered in helpful detail. Exactly what you would expect and want.

Beyond this, however, are extremely fun rules for implementing the signs and effects of the looming doomsday when the Shadow of the Void – the Demon Lord itself – makes contact with our world and purges it from the manifest universe. Until that day, the world is cluttered with adventure hooks and interesting NPCs and serves as an optimal stomping ground for the player characters.

“The first thing that must be said regarding this setting is this: don’t expect lollipops and unicorns.  The very existence of the great being known as the Demon Lord causes the deterioration of reality and ultimately results in the end of the worlds that it sets its eye(s?) upon.  Campaigns for Shadow of the Demon Lord begins amidst the onset of this Apocalypse and the planet of Urth (that’s right, Urth) is ticking towards its doom.  The grim and horrible darkness that the adventurers may face our terrible in natural.  We encountered a demonic painting that spawned a hideous and gruesome demon child that exploded in a shower of viscera upon death.  Needless to say, the goblin and the orc fled willingly before the brunt of the fighting began.  Oh and did I mention that the orcs rose up against their human overlords recently, beheaded the emperor and turned the imperial capital into a city of bloodshed almost overnight?… because that just happened.”

“I frigging LOVE the setting. It’s dark and weird. Magic can be frightening and have HORRIBLE consequences. It’s a setting with scarcity, reminiscent of OSR games, but somehow without the obnoxious record-keeping. It had the best of REH’s Conan/Solomon Kane, with a ton of 80’s fantasy mixed in (Sword and the Sorceror, Beastmaster, Fire and Ice, Deathstalker, The Barbarians, Gor, Yor, Sorceress, etc). It licks the pleasure center of my brain with a scaly wet tongue.”

CHARACTER GENERATION
Character generation is fast and random. You choose a culture an Ancestry and the rest is rolled on a series of baroque tables that absolutely weep story hooks and character background material. There are six or so races that are detailed in the Core Book and the character’s initial career is some menial or disturbing task which constitutes the petty beginning from which your soon-to-be hero will arise. Once you reach first level after the intro scenario, you choose from four very familiar class archetypes that, in contrast with your starting career, creates a really fun creation process. Two tiers follow in which the character gets two additional paths added to the mix which really makes for a vast feast of character options.
For our particular game we ended up with:

  • A clockwork warrior/former soldier with terrible taste in friends.
  • A lecherous, gluttonous orc magician that specialized in manipulation and curse magic.
  • A changeling sorcerer that dabbled in magic dark beyond its own reckoning.
  • A goblin huckster with a penchant for the collection of spoons.
  • A square-jawed human agent of righteousness in the employee of the new religions.

“Character generation was very cool. Randomized Ancestry, Profession, Quirks, Personality, Age, Build, Wealth, Appearance, and an Interesting Thing makes for an incredibly fun and weird character generation process. Everyone at the table had an awesome, playable, weird character with a lot of potential for weird roleplaying. This might be my favorite character creation process in a modern game.“

“The Character Creation System of Shadow of the Demon Lord allows the players to create class-less level 0 characters and features a quick, easy, and fun method for creating low-powered characters who are interesting and unique in their ways.  The process allows the players to either select or randomly roll from many long lists of character traits, including the character’s height, her quirks, and, of course, their background.  These traits are largely irrelevant mechanically, but when your goblin thief owns a collection of fifty unique spoons, there is always something to blame when that stealth roll doesn’t go as planned.  The system really forces the players to recognize who their characters are and understand their characters in many ways, fleshing them out as the character progression progresses.  It also makes the character unique in their traits, not their mechanics.  The base character creation system basically gives the players minimal control over their characters’ mechanical benefits, which are largely dictated by their racial features, while maximizing their characters’ story, and, for that, I think it’s one of my favorites.”

THE SYSTEM
The system for Shadow of the Demon Lord has excellent economy of theme and mechanics. The simplicity invokes the feel of many of the best OSR games but it does not shy away from fast, fluid mechanics informed by newer rule sets.

The required dice are a d20 and three d6s. With skills, you target a difficulty of 10 and with attacks you target the opponent’s defense. Oddly, this scales really well and has held up for me, personally, in a way that conveys improvement without taking it to some berserk anime magnitude. Characters advance through three tiers of play and monsters are presented with something akin to a challenge rating.

The magic system is fun with schools of spells with a few ultra-detailed, flavorful effects each. Some are forbidden and accrue corruption which is a whole fun set of rules as well. Stack on some mean-spirited insanity mechanics and it all sings like a devil choir.
In combat, a fast/slow initiated system is handled cinematically rather than as a succession of unimportant rolls.

“[The rules are] Awesome. Easy to understand: D20 and add or remove extra dice for advantage/disadvantage. Roll for damage. Run away! Character sheet was awesomely tiny and easy to understand. I personally don’t like weird artsy character sheets (13 Age, Numenera, etc), but this one worked better for me than most. The backgrounds and flavor text organically make sense within the rules, and are easy to invoke. Themagic system is great, flavorful (and punishing, if you decide to cast nasty spells).”

 “Shadow of the Demon Lord features a simple d20 system that uses the addition of up to three six-sided dice to simulate the modifiers that may be involved in the roll, called banes and boons by the game, such as related professions, advanced equipment, clouded vision, unnaturally strong and putrid stench, etc.  This simple system limits the dice needed for the game to one twenty-sided and three six-sided and is great for players that wish to avoid having to perform many different steps of simple math.  The basic system is very enjoyable because it doesn’t clog the session and resolves itself quickly.  All skills are set at a fixed difficulty and made more difficult with the addition of banes to the roll.   This basic system is very enjoyable because it doesn’t clog the session and resolves itself quickly.  The character advancement system employed by the game is probably the most interesting part of the game, aside from the horror that comes naturally with the setting.  As the characters finish an adventure, the characters level up and at certain levels, gain the benefits of different paths.  These paths range from the simple warriors and magicians to the powerful duelists and exorcists.  This allows for crazy combinations asthe characters progress, such as a changeling who is a magician, an oracle, and a diplomat with abilities reflecting all three paths the character has entered.  This gives the characters of the game an amazing amount of versatility in their advancement.”

IN CONCLUSION
It is hard for me to remain objective when evaluating this game as it hits like thirty-six of my forty pet RPG buttons. With that taken into account, I think Shadow of the Demon Lord is a rock solid contribution to the fantasy RPG arsenal. It handles some difficult adult material in a way that is simultaneously reckless and puerile yet completely inclusive and fun.

The rules are a vital system that vanish behind the speedy, blood-splattered narrative and the setting lets you rampage across a cursed and demon-befouled land that crumbles all the more beneath the PCs triumphant steps.

“This game was excellent. After a session of character creation, we just got down to it. The system is light and fast, combats were exciting, and the scenario was appropriately horrifying and creepy. Fun all around!”

“This RPG.LAB took us, the players, through one of the MANY published adventures for Shadow of the Demon Lord.  The plot was extremely well entertaining, featuring a corrupt church official and his disdain with a new and bizarre group of ooze-worshipping cultists.  The story was filled with unimaginably disgusting and vile events, some of which were the results of our party members.  The end result was largely entertaining for everyone in the party and left us wondering a great deal of things, including when and how Gathik would be getting his spoon back from that greedy info-broker.  Even though the length of this RPG.LAB was short compared to the others, it was, nonetheless, a great and enjoyable experience.”

George is the full-time assistant manager of Games & Stuff. He is a fan of way, way too many RPGs.

RPG LAB Report – Feng Shui 2

Long ago, in a land called Daedalus Entertainment, a legendary game designer named Robin Laws created a game called Feng Shui. Feng Shui (which was often described in terms of other famous licensed properties like “The Big Trouble in Little China RPG”) was based on the created world for the CCG called SHADOWFIST which pitted several eccentric factions against one another in a battle for the control of various time junctures. Daedalus spit a few great supplements and then Atlas Games took the wheel and delivered several more. Sporting a stable of writers that might these days be unaffordable to all but the most successful of publishing companies, Feng Shui captured the imaginations of action- loving gamers with its simple 2d6 mechanic and array of evocative stunts and powers.

NOTE: The bits in italic quotations at the end of each section are player comments and not the expressed views of the RPG Lab coordinator.

SETTING

Oh the setting…

*deep breath*

Throughout time there has been a secret war – a Chi War – in which forces both positive and negative have played a pivotal role. The politics of magic and control are its heart and the players are the agents of heaven, hell and earth. Shaolin monks, cyborg apes, eunuch sorcerers, thousand tongued demons, magically transformed dragons, post-apocalyptic warlords, the immortal rulers of the netherworld and the Hong Kong Police Department have all played their part in this non-linear mess of a battle. Faction agendas, petty whims and good old fashioned heroism are the motivations and the winner’s definition of reality is the prize. The method is entirely based on control of concentrations of geomantic power that take the form of Feng Shui Sites.

“The setting is kind of deep, and rightly so: it’s a revised, slightly advanced edition of the setting that was used in the first edition RPG, inspired by the card game. Which is still being produced, by the way. It has to cover four distinct eras, ranging from feudal China through the British occupation, modern-day, and well into a self-inflicted apocalypse waste. And it has tips for covering other possible eras too.”

SUPPLEMENTS AND MATERIALS USED

Currently Feng Shui 2 only has two game specific supplements in hard copy – the core book and the screen (which also comes with a handy guide to fight locations and a few other bits). So, in addition to the character sheet, we only used these things.

CHARACTER GENERATION

Character Generation in Feng Shui largely makes DungeonWorld’s character generation seem lengthy and cumbersome by comparison. You simply pick an archetype (like Highway Ronin, Exorcist Monk, or Scrappy Kid) strap on some dramatic hooks and motivations, and boom, you are in. That’s it. You just pick the character that resembles your favorite movie hero and go for it.

Since you asked, we had:

  • A Drifter Swordswoman in flight from the terrifying affections of the Queen of the Darkness Pagoda…
  • A roof-hopping Masked Avenger who uses stealth and fear to punish the wicked of Hong Kong…
  • A seemingly bumbling cop with a knack for magical demon management that could end up saving the world…

“Character generation is minimal, basically a matter of filling out details to customize your chosen archetype. That said, the number of choices for archetypes fit the Hong Kong Action theater (HKAT) genre conventions quite nicely, so it doesn’t feel like you’re forced into builds.”

“What character generation system? At its simplest, character creation is a matter of picking a template and copying everything over, unless you printed from the PDF. Any customization beyond that is not only optional, but a matter of negotiation between player and GM. They get around this shortfall by having character templates so robust and iconic that they’re all pretty much playable right off the printer. This may seem to direct your efforts”

RULES

Outside of the unique powers (which are summarized in appropriate detail on the archetype sheets for ease of use), the rules are simple:

Postive 1d6 + Negative 1d6 + modifier vs. difficulty modifier (with degrees of success) With this simple mechanic, adjustable with special abilities and stunts, and exploding 6s, you are off to the races. Read over the combat section thoroughly is my advice. Although there is no one right way to enjoy an RPG, Feng Shui without ample action and violence is like ordering salad and ice water at Five Guys.

“People who like “crunchy” games won’t be able to wrap their heads around this one. It’s almost frightfully simple in places, but it has to be a little simple in order to keep play moving fast. This encourages players to come up with wilder, more descriptive actions more befitting a Hong Kong action movie, and benignly shrugs at GMs who hear all that scenery-chewing and say “Eh, why not.”

The laxness also provides a degree of freedom, for example, to play the Magic Cop as either a black-ops modern-day sorceror or as semi-bumbling comic relief. And don’t underestimate the fun of doing the latter.”

CONCLUSION

Needless to say, we had a blast. Gangsters were cut down, demons were defeated, cocktails were served and weeping guitar laments were played as the bullets flew.

Feng Shui has been one of my favorite gaming properties since its inception and the most recent edition is the best yet. Incredibly easy to prepare for and inspired by stuff we all know and love, this was a rewarding RPG.lab experience.

“This is my third (or fourth, if you count the one I ran) experience with RPG.Lab, and I’ve yet to walk away disappointed. This is a great idea and I hope you guys keep doing it, especially as new games keep appearing.”

George is the full-time assistant manager of Games & Stuff and the de facto GM of RPG.Lab. He is a big fan of way too many RPGs

RPG LAB Report – Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

Much like the Old World setting itself, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (especially this current edition) has seen a lot of turmoil and chaos, in and out of print, it still stands as one of the coolest systems and settings on the market today. Effectively forming the mechanical foundation for the extremely successful line of FFG’s Star Wars RPGs, this is the first RPG iteration of those funky dice mechanics many have come to know and love.

NOTE: The bits in italic quotations at the end of each section are player comments and not the expressed views of the RPG Lab coordinator.

SETTING

Despite its annihilation with the coming of the Age of Sigmar, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay preserves our fond memories of the Old World setting in all its whimsical and nightmarish glory. The Empire stands and its allies stand as the final barrier to the incursions of chaos and the impending terrors of the necromancer-god Nagash. Beastmen, Greenskins, and Skaven (there are no Skaven!) feed at the crumbling edges and fairly ordinary folk must find their courage and combat them if humanity is to stand a chance. The Empire boasts powerful wizards, warrior-knights, and champions of the Emperor Karl-Franz but such lofty achievements are far from where the game starts. Rat catchers, boatmen, and halfling cooks are more the order of the day and even the small things can be deadly and infectious.

“The setting is grim, but not necessarily depressing. Things can look bad at one moment, and still offer hope for improvement later. Also, while technically a fantasy setting, it offers numerous opportunities for horror of various sorts—virtually implacable foes, conditions terrible in multiple senses of the word.”

SUPPLEMENTS AND MATERIALS USED

For this game we mostly relied on basic careers from the core set. Insofar as races, we used the human variants from Hero’s Call as well as the halfling. Beyond that, the adventure was a custom scenario that takes place in the wealthy port of Marienberg.

CHARACTER GENERATION

So rather than using the recommended random rolling for character race, we decided to randomly select career cards. Once a career was selected, we agreed that characters would be human unless the career was exclusively for a specific race. The characters we ended up with were:

  • A Human Boatman
  • A Human Hunter
  • A Dwarf Troll-Slayer
  • A Halfling Chef

Once this was done we progressed through the point allocation that determined stats (along with racial adjustments), equipment and all of the other options specific to each character.

We also determined the party’s character. Yes. Warhammer has a party card that allows the Game Master to motivate the party with stress but also provides a special ability useable by the party. This party was a gang of “Brash Young Fools”. As the adventure unfolded, it quickly became obvious that this was the perfect choice.

“The greatest potential pitfall in character creation is selecting character class; you have to work with your other players to make sure that the group you ultimately form is diverse enough to handle much of the little stuff, but still competent enough in key areas like combat to continue moving forward.”

RULES

Despite the baroque appearance of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay dice, the mechanics are pretty elegant. Much like the Star Wars games, you have dice that are flat successes and failures. Beyond that, you also have results that determine a sort of atmospheric benefit or detriment. That way a character can fail, but still manipulate the situation so that they offer some benefit that the party can take advantage of. In addition to these basic results, you also have the Star of Chaos and the Twin-Tailed Comet of Sigmar which translate into extraordinary triumph and dismal, hell-stained failure.

Because the plot of the adventure was hinged on the remedying of a terrible chaos-tweaked disease, we also used the disease cards to model the onset of this awful pox (which was, luckily, only contracted by a single PC).

“As I mentioned above , this is not a stripped down system……But it is a cool one! The options that are available for social or combat encounters are broad and thought-provoking. The dice system is a dice- pool style with specialized dice. These dice allow for success within every situation….You could hit a Chaos-demon with a farmer’s shovel….but will it hurt it…?…Possibly. The dice pool system is a favorite of mine because it allows for many situations to be more exciting than a rolling of 1 d20 in other system’s.

Not only can you get injured but you can also become fatigued, or stressed out or corrupted…..All of which are story and mechanic driven so that your fight’s will be tougher and your social interactions will be more troublesome. The system helps pull you into the role-playing I think.”

CONCLUSION

It has to be said that the Warhammer Fantasy setting of the Old World has been largely eradicated through the lens of the miniatures game, it is still alive and well as far as the RPG is concerned. Having not run the thing for ages, I experienced a recurring joy brought about for both mechanical and narrative reasons. For those who long for the days of the Empire, the Vampire Counts and a never-ending deluge of chaos-tainted halfling baked goods, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is just the place to enjoy and re-enjoy them.

“You can’t say George was unenthusiastic about the game. He knew the material (both rules and components), had it organized for play (and so did at least one of the players), and wasn’t afraid to use them both. The situation was fairly straightforward, but not without its perils, as it should be for either a multi-session adventure or a very short-run campaign.”

George is the full-time assistant manager of Games & Stuff and the de facto GM of RPG.Lab. He is a big fan of way too many RPGs

WINTER NIGHTS are coming…

VikingHelmetThis January and February a cold wind will blow.

The Northmen are invading Games and Stuff. That’s right, no Winter Luau in these cold days, for the Vikings have sacked and raided these once glad shores and left little joy for a beachside party.

So what does this foretell? Much wonder is in store for these frozen months.

  • BACKSTOCK RAGNAROK! Old things must be swept aside to prepare for new and shining plunder. The Backstock Ragnarok sale now comes. In a few days, be on the look out for deals not easy to imagine.
  • It does not require Heimdall’s keen sight to notice the missing tables that once graced our fair hall. Where three once sat, tables four now stand, soon to be gleaming with new games to be demo’d. In 2016 G&S boasts to teach and show off our favorite games, and this winter we will turn our efforts to those games that  celebrate the fury in our axes and the steel of our hearts. (Horned helmet not included.)
  • This month RPG Lab is spinning a saga of four brave souls. For eight whole weeks, pre-selected customers have formed a band of terrible might and are even now pitted against a coming darkness in an original Yggdrasil mini-campaign. George will be updating the website with stories forged with this amazing Viking themed role-playing game from Cubicle 7.
  • SAGA Miniatures Game – Even more blades G&S has cast into the bright blacksmith’s fire. New and  needful things are in the works to hurl our favorite Viking-themed skirmish miniature game into a new age of strife and legend.

VikingSword

  • Heimdall’s Gjallarhorn now brings the end. Are you listening? The Customer Appreciation Program as it was once know is coming to an end most final. While you can continue to earn and redeem coupons for a short time to come, the last day to redeem coupons falls on March 31st. But a new dawn will come, and from Ragnarok’s blood and ashes a whole new system of renown will rise. More lore to come later, but in the meantime know that every purchase you make will continue to earn you “credit” in the new system.

RPG LAB – Dungeon Crawl Classics

RPG.LAB REPORT: DUNGEON CRAWL CLASSICS

Yeah. I’m actually doing this. An Old School Renaissance (OSR) fantasy RPG is the subject of this lab report. That being said, there’s a lot of talk about which D&D is real D&D these days and, frankly, it’s whichever version have REAL fun with. Period. The entire idea of authenticity in this department is largely the domain of grognards who just want to sit on their gaming laurels rather than embracing both the old and the new and perhaps having a great and unexpected way to play.

I have to say, there is no game I’ve played recently that does a better job at this than Dungeon Crawl Classics. It’s one of the game’s many slogans – “Adventure as 1974 intended you to, with modern rules grounded in the origins of sword & sorcery.”

And here we go…

THE SETTING

Where is the setting book? Isn’t there a book that’s just all the setting info? In short, no. The setting for DCC is largely represented by the flavor of its gods and other powerful beings. Clerics deal with gods (everything from Persian dragon gods to Cthulhu), Wizards and Elves deal with magical patrons (like the King of Elfland and the insane magus Sezrekhan). Beyond that, the game’s setting is largely represented by the stories and settings of its slim but awesome adventure modules.

The modules are loaded with hand-drawn art (no computer art here, folks) and even include the visuals of such early fantasy RPG masters as Erol Otus himself!

All in all, the setting occurs in the playing, revealed by the modules you use and the concealed in the ones yet to be run.

“I enjoyed (the setting) immensely. Can’t think of anything I would change. Bought the book after finishing this RPGLab, so that’s about the highest praise I can give this.”

“I’m a huge fan of pulp fantasy, and I think it captures that vibe pretty well. The dangers are all pretty unique. I like that there is little opportunity to game the system (“This is a beholder, it should have X hitpoints and hit us with eye lasers”) because everything is wondrous and strange.”

CHARACTER GENERATION

Balance. It’s the bugaboo of all RPGs these days. The implementation of point buy character generation, carefully figured methods of equalizing every power against every other has created a sort of weird entitlement to being on equal ground with everyone else.

DCC balances play with the same method that real life is balanced – absolute chaos and chance. The extreme to which DCC takes this idea is really lies at the center of its unmitigated glory. DCC begins with a type of adventure called a “funnel”. Every player randomly generates a set of three to four utterly worthless peons that begin at zero level. You are a classless upstart with dreams of vorpal weapons and nothing more than a prayer and a dream to get you there. Starting professions include such glorious beginnings as pig farmer, halfling chicken butcher, and elven glassblower. You have three crappy pieces of equipment, and with that, it’s off to the funnel dungeon – where you die in droves until only the strong remain. Once you have your last peon standing, you will be rewarded with a class and proper gear opportunities and it is at that legendary moment that the world becomes your bloody, instant death laden oyster.

Personally, as a DM, I LOVE the funnel experience. Slaughtering droves of characters and describing their ludicrous ends in splatterpunk comedic fashion is entirely rewarding. Players embrace the doom with great descriptions and, in the end, really treasure their remaining character.

“The standard 3d6 in order is quick and painless, and the random occupation is great too. The lucky roll, however, seems mostly useless; Most characters won’t be able to utilize luck due to having a mediocre score, and some of the lucky rolls are just junk.”

“Having never done a “funnel” type of creation before, I was very curious on how the process worked. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The pre-generated stats, careers, and basically life of the 0 level characters was actually fun, what with rolling for everything, and having to develop a character from whatever you end up rolling. The wanton destruction of said characters was also a plus in my eyes, as it was more of an act of just surviving rather than trying to advance as fast as possible, which was a refreshing change of pace. I ended up with just one character surviving (not the one I wanted to survive), but some other players had multiple survivors, which then led to the agonizing problem of who gets to move on and who doesn’t.

The only thing I would suggest is that it is definitely easier if somebody in the game is an experienced player, either playing or DMing. The sheer amount of characters (we had 20 total) running around at the zero level would seem to be a tough start for a new GM. Our gaming group had nothing but experienced players, so the game ran like clockwork, whereas I think it would be a little tougher (but doable) for a less experienced group.”

THE SYSTEM

Fans of Dungeon & Dragons 3rd edition’s more elegant mechanics will find a lot to love in DCC’s system. It’s largely d20 driven and Armor Class and hit rolls do not resort to nostalgic crap (and I DO mean crap) like algorithmic AC and Thac0.

The weirdest element of the game (and perhaps its most baroque mechanic set) is it’s insanely detailed magic rules. Whether divine or arcane, the spells of DCC all require a check that is somewhat of a push your luck mechanic. If your effort is insufficient, the spell will fizzle and you will lose it for the day. If your effort is too mighty, you may get more than you bargained for in your result gone huge. If you really crap the bed, you will very likely end up with magic deformities or a disappointed deity.

“Works well. The whole system has been simplified from all the THACO, Armor Class, and the myriad of other stats that you need to keep track of for some other systems. The “vibe” of the system still feels like a true old school RPG, even though it is simplified. I think, with some slight modifications, this could work with just about any of the “sword & magic” style fluff used in other systems.”

“The system itself seems to lend more towards heroic fantasy than I imagined. Being able to use stat points as a currency in some situations, lots of crazy things happening with crits and fumbles… it feels very fun and cinematic, with a splash of extra gore that takes it to PG-13 or beyond. It’s still very much meat-and-potatoes Dungeons & Dragons. The system totally excels at crawling around in ruins, but will probably groan under the stress of gameplay not related to combat or exploration. Luckily, the setting is plenty focused on combat, weird monsters and ancient ruins.”

IN CONCLUSION

Now don’t get me wrong, If I’m going to sit down and play a serious narratively driven version of D&D with carefully plotted NPCs and enormous amounts of story prep, I would likely choose something like Pelgrane Press’s 13th Age.

However…

If I want a raging nightmare of gods and crazy battles against things that have razored tentacles hanging out of both ends while a motley crew of badasses hack their way to treasure, traps and heaps of weird magic, it’s absolutely going to be Dungeon Crawl Classics.

This game is THE retro-OSR experience that many folks are talking about when they describe the D&D of their childhoods.

“Playing DCC in RPG lab was excellent. Better than other organized play experiences and most pick-up games.”

“RPG.LAB is a great notion that should be bigger. People are going to teach me how to play a game that I already have an interest in but maybe my fellow players are unwilling or not ready to step away from their comfort zone. . . . Seems sweet! There should be more publicity for this and people should flock to the opportunity.”

“Totally enjoyed both our host and the fellow players who survived this adventure. You guys (and Gals) really brought out the spirit of roleplaying during our sessions and made it great. Can’t wait until the next one I’m picked to be in. Thanks to the staff of G&S for continuing to run this event. I highly recommend both this game and (if you are into or curious to try roleplaying) to get into one of these sessions. You will not regret it!”

RPG Lab Report: Through The Breach

RPG LAB REPORT: THROUGH THE BREACH

Through the Breach - Logo

I’ve been a big fan of the Malifaux setting since the earlier days of the miniature game. Malifaux somehow takes a number of the most over-used genres and tropes and, with Frankenstein ingenuity, stitches them into a fresh and vigorous monstrosity. Victorian-steampunk-pulp-cowboy-gothic-horror-with-zombies-and-katanas-for-days would normally not make it to my plate, but exploring the world of Malifaux through the lens of the interesting and original role-playing game that is Through the Breech is absolutely worth a dabble from any serious lover of RPGs.

THE SETTING

The world of Nythera (often called Malifaux after the setting’s primary city) is a truly evocative and complete experience. From the time the characters are warped through the Breach (the magical gate between worlds) into the iron gothic beast city of Malifaux to the inevitable showdown with a half-demon nightmare-made-flesh in some tumbleweed town, the setting drips theme and a passionately honed aesthetic.

To say the story of Through the Breech is rich is an understatement. Standing on the shoulders of Wyrd’s miniature games’ setting, we get to explore that same material in ultra-granular detail. We get to walk around the oppressive courtrooms and gallows that are the mark of the tyrannical Guild. Characters explore the gremlin-infested Bayou’s haunted by primordial Neverborn boogeymen. Rifling through the viscera of undead constructs we can take on the role of necromancer-scholars resident at the University of Transmortis.

The massive mishmash of genres is actually a strength of the setting. It gives the game an infusion of possibility that plays to the strengths of whichever Fatemaster (TtB’s word for the GM) it needs. My strength is horror and non-steampunk Victoriana so I tried to cleave to those components when preparing my short arc for RPG LAB.

I thought the Malifaux setting was very well depicted in the game. I feel it added an extra layer of excitement and appreciation to an encounter, when through the Fatemaster’s descriptions, you recognize something within the game that you know and love. That’s not just a 9 ft tall bare-chested motionless man with grotesque mechanical enhancements, that’s a Guild Executioner! I felt that it rewarded those familiar with the Malifaux lore and miniatures game, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’d be interested to know how the two players who weren’t as familiar with the setting felt when three miniatures game players started geeking out once it donned on us what we were up against.”

“I feel like the background presented in Through the Breach makes for an excellent history text for the world of Malifaux and a wonderful supplement to the stories and fluff presented in the Malifaux tabletop miniatures game books and the Wyrd Chronicles. If this was the only material I had ever read about Malifaux as a setting, I’m not sure how excited I would be by it. It reminds me a bit of The Sixth World Almanac for Shadowrun 4. Kinda clinical, dry, encyclopedic reading but full of neat information if you’re already invested or want to know exactly when Goblinization started (or the Powder Wars began) or what the state of the Italian Confederation is in 2073 (or which of the many slums contains Little Kingdom or Red Chapel).”

“The setting is certainly rich in detail. It is very dark and oppressive, though, which can be a turn-off for some folks. Your characters begin the game at a point lower than most starting characters in other games, with barely enough cash to get anything beyond what their pursuit gives them.”

CHARACTER GENERATION

Character creation is one of the two systems in Through the Breech that are of award-winning quality. The player characters of TtB are called Fated and are defined by a cryptic occult prophecy that is defined at character generation and revealed through each session of play. Character generation is inspired by a pack of playing cards (the task resolution device used in TtB instead of dice – identical to the deck used in the miniatures game) and plays out in the fashion of a Tarot-told story. Each step creates an aspect of the character including the eldritch lines of his Fate. This system is not overly static and allows narrative driven tweaks to escape the binding conventions of classes yet still provides enough customization that niche protection can be maintained.

The other use of the character’s fate poem/song/scripture is that it is the device around which the Fatemaster builds his campaign. Each session of play, one of each player’s five lines of prophecy is resolved through the story. This allows a strangely organic game skeleton which by its very nature is forced to reinforce core player character themes and story background.

“The way cards are used in a Tarot-like form for character generation makes it an interesting process. While it adds a random element, it still allows for enough customization that I didn’t t feel like I was playing a cookie-cutter character. The organization was a bit tricky, as I felt like I had to shift back and forth between the pages containing the steps and the section detailing each step’s options. Some things, like Magic, require you to read through the last chapter very closely to understand what each choice entails.”

“It’s very different from other RPG systems I have run/played in. I’m still unconvinced that the Destiny system built into it works all that well, at least as more than a kind of “milestone” system that could just as easily be arbitrary to the GM. The tarot layout, how it generated abilities/skills and the large table of stations (backgrounds) to give you a kind of “kickoff” to thinking about your character are all enjoyable and well done I think.

“I went into the process with the intention of allowing the character creation process to tell me what my character will be, as that seemed to be the intent. I was pleased that it didn’t actually limit my options terribly much. The end result wasn’t anything I’d have ever predicted, but was also a character I enjoyed playing immensely.

The only real gripe I have with it is some of the compatibility issues with the pursuits, which we experienced when the tinkerer needed to have a pneumatic limb that it was impossible to afford on starting currency alone. It’s something that’s easily solved by the GM, though I think this character generation system could drive rules lawyer types crazy (net positive maybe? 😉 I don’t really feel much needs changing in the process, and I would probably only do so if I wanted to alter the tone of the game from the start. Things that spring to mind are starting with Fated who are already a bit more established in Malifaux with additional funds or equipment access, possibly an additional general talent as I felt that was fairly limited (though partly due to time constraint), or making manifested powers and additional grimoires readily available to start of sprinting on something epic. That’s all normal RPG game running type stuff when you decide the kind of game you want to run though so hardly specific to this setting and ruleset.”

THE SYSTEM

Through the Breech is powered by a deck of cards. It uses an attribute + skill pairing that is modified by the drawing of a standard playing card. Suits have different effects for different characters and situations and jokers, depending on color, can cause both beneficial and detrimental mayhem. Special powers also have suit specific powers that can be triggered to spectacular effect.

In all cases, the task resolution deck (called a Fate Deck) is used by the players at the Fatemaster’s behest. When a card is needed, a player is directed to draw a card. The player has a hand of cards for any given session that they can use to cheat certain outcomes if needed. This hand refreshes at various points during play but is generally limited to a given session or short story arc.

As a game master, I have a preference for hidden information when it comes to the game’s probability. It allows me to fudge and ignore die outcomes when they’d make the story less interesting. That being said, Through the Breech’s method seemed a bit easier to steer than other games that use this transparency and level of player narrative control.

“I found the TtB system mechanics to be a straight derivative of the miniatures game. You get two Action Points (AP), you get a Free action (or 0 action), these are fundamentals of the miniatures game. The types of actions are also directly related to the miniatures game, use an AP to Focus your strike, get a positive twist to attack and damage. It would not feel unfamiliar to transition from one game to the other. “

“The mechanics are immediately familiar to anyone who has played the miniatures game. That’s both a positive and a negative though. On the one hand, the similarity is nice and an experienced Malifaux player will already know the value of AP, the general actions like focus and defensive and will have a good idea during character creation the kinds of things that will be important later on. On the other hand, it’s just different enough that an experienced Malifaux player may glance and skim past vital differences like how the communal fate deck works (the GM never flips, so opposed duels are actually fairly different in a way), how initiative works, the value in the additional actions presented by trick and impose or what skills will really be useful.

In general, I think that Through the Breach does an excellent job of capturing the Malifaux experience in an RPG format that is immediately recognizable to anyone with any tabletop RPG experience and Malifaux players in particular will already feel quite comfortable with the card mechanics involved. A comparison of the two wouldn’t be complete without mentioning just how different Malifaux the miniatures game and Through the Breach the RPG are. In Malifaux, your crew consists of *extremely* powerful and unique individuals and there is often quite a strong relationship between the gamer and a specific master (and often faction). Crazy abilities and varied personalities are the norm and there’s a definite sense of empowerment from executing the complex inner-workings of each crew successfully.

Through the Breach doesn’t have this, but also has more. The player can still generate a very strong relationship to their character, but with an RPG it becomes more about growth. I believe the system provides the tools, for a Fated to become *quite* powerful eventually but they also get to enjoy a more day-to-day existence Breachside… something that the miniatures game will never really do (and shouldn’t).”

IN CONCLUSION

At first, I found the rules of Through the Breech quite daunting. Luckily, the enthusiasm of RPG LAB participants and my love of the setting pushed me through the initial bumps and resulted in a great payoff. The game has an atmosphere like few others and core mechanics that only reinforce this.

I would recommend this game to anyone who likes any of the contributing genre elements as well as those folks who like truly stylish RPGs with astounding art direction.

GEORGE HOLLAND is the assistant manager here at Games & Stuff. He takes enormous pleasure in the grotesque and wondrous.

RPG Lab: Rocket Age

RocketAgeHeaderRocket Age is a game I’ve been waiting a long time for. Although the RPG market is flooded with steampunk and retro-pulp RPGs, this one hits a subtle note in tone that is different from the others. It plays its setting straight without losing the crazy unbound-by-actual-science idea of science fiction without turning everything into a self-deprecating cartoon. There is certainly room for those tropes if you want to inject them but there’s nothing inherently stupid about the setting treatment or the character options. In fact, despite some of the strange PCs that rose up out of the character generation process, I feel like all of the characters had a sincerity, heart, and dignity that wasn’t undermined by juvenile anime shtick or buried under piles of dust and monocles excreted by attempts at historical consistency or slavish adherence to the classic literary types. Translation – it doesn’t get in the way of its own fun either by being too serious or too childish.

THE SETTING

Perhaps one of the drawbacks to its sleek early 20th century visual design is that one might mistake Rocket Age for some generic pulp sci-fi game with rules for rocket ships and a glossed-over history of our 1930s Earth. It is not. It’s crazy and detailed and is filled with story options and the kind of stuff around which you can really build a long-running campaign with a lot of interlocking substance.

The game takes place in a universe where in 1931 Einstein, Tesla and Ray Armstrong (replacing Goddard who fell ill) flew the starship Eagle to Mars and discovered an ancient, extremely advanced civilization in on the precipice of decline. From the Martians, the three geniuses took technological and creative inspiration which inevitably precipitated into all variety of scientific wonders and the deep end of the rocket age gets into full swing. Although the game so far focuses a lot on Venus and Mars, I suspect Jupiter and Saturn-focused books won’t be long off.

“The setting is very detailed; honestly, in some case, it feels overly detailed. There are certainly a lot of story opportunities available, but the spread of them in terms of location and people uneven. Personally, I find the concept of the Venusians as a lost race more compelling than the complicated caste politics of the Martians. I hope to see more upcoming material dedicated to them.

There’s also an odd feeling looking through the background that the writers attempted to take the retro Sci Fi genre and interweave it with modern social/political story elements. The setting seems more aimed at having the heroes fight against social injustice than, say, battle evil masterminds or explore ancient civilizations.”

CHARACTER GENERATION

Creating a character is quick and point based. Perhaps the longest consideration was given to the selection of everyone’s character’s species. To say that Rocket Age has a lot of character options is a gross understatement. In the core book alone, there are three races from the moons of Jupiter, gorilla-like Venusians, numerous castes of Martians and good ole Earthlings. Equipment is plentiful, detailed and storied. For exceptional equipment, players have a pool of story points that they can use to purchase and power some of the more extreme, game-altering gear. That being said, leftover points can be used to directly cheat fate so saving a few for a rainy, laser-laden day might be a good idea.

The characters we came up with were:

  • A human Rocket Ranger who embodied every square-jawed, charismatic moron you’ve ever loved.
  • A practically minded human scientist that added a touch of sanity to the cadre when she wasn’t diving into toxic or dangerous alien specimens.
  • An optimistic Venusian wayfarer who pursued matters with forthrightness, manners and a jewel-encrusted ceremonial axe that could deflect lasers.
  • A gnarled survivor of the Iotian purges that bootstrapped himself out of the muck with the help of a can-do attitude and a European disintegrator rifle.

The ship is basically a shared character. The core book gives good examples of ships and other modes of transportation. The one thing our group didn’t like was the lack of ships with a small, party-sized crew. Nonetheless, we decided to go with the spirit of this sci-fi before science and just customized our minimum crew count for our own narrative needs.

“I wish I had not gone into the game virtually blind.  I don’t think I understood that you really should specialize in a handful of skills or how important attribute stats are.  I was a bit of a generalist, and that did not do me any favors.  The dice mechanic should have clued me in.  There were times I definitely regretted my choices in character creation.  Looking back, the career packages were a little unbalanced; take a look at the generic citizen package compared to the Rocket Ranger.  While I suppose the cost does lead to more customization of citizen, looking at this adventure and other seeds, it seems to behoove you to pay for a high powered package in the beginning.  The layout of the character creation section was far to much book flipping to be fun.  The concept of character career packages is intriguing, though. I loved how they fleshed out the aliens – familiar, but unique.”

“I found the character generation pretty straightforward. It’s somewhat linear, in the sense that the selection of species and career has a fixed set of abilities, so there’s a bit of a cookie-cutter feel to how characters start, but there’s enough leeway for players to make some customizations and personalize them.”

THE SYSTEM

The Rocket Age RPG uses the very smooth Vortex system that has also been seen in Cubicle 7’s Doctor Who and the Primeval RPG.  It largely got out of our way when we needed it to. The system is basically:

2d6+ skill rating + attribute rating vs. difficulty rating

Damage on weapons is staged at three outcomes of mayhem with rules for automatic death effects (in case you want to use this game for grittier play – it could be incredibly lethal in cruel hands) based on a successful roll and the increments of success beyond the minimum needed.

Aside from looking up some specific equipment here and there, Rocket Age got out of our way and let us tell the story we wanted to tell.

“The Vortex system shows its roots from the Doctor Who RPG pretty clearly, especially in the way it handles combat. Task resolution is relatively easy, which helps. The rulebook needs to be better organized; we spent a lot of time having to look for certain rules that were not clearly spelled out or. in one case, not mentioned at all.”

IN CONCLUSION

Overall, I was happy with Rocket Age and I think the players were too. It did everything we wanted to and we weren’t buried under overly novel mechanics nor a freakishly cumbersome setting. The virtue of planets and isolated space bases makes the story as modular as you need it to be.

For our game we only used the core book. Nonetheless, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the game is well supported with three supplements including a full campaign and a comprehensive Mars guidebook.

RPG Lab Report – Dungeon World

RPG.LAB REPORT: DUNGEON WORLD

I’m going to say it up front: Dungeon World was my favorite RPG LAB to date with no visible runner up. I had heard a lot about Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World (the game from which Dungeon World takes its entire mechanical basis) over the last few years and had pretty much written it off as an overly rules-lite storytelling game with a lot of controversial art and themes. I figured it was a post-apocalyptic hype game that had been artificially elevated to hipster grandiosity on no real merit of its own.

I was entirely wrong. Dungeon World may very well have permanently changed my view of role-playing. As a consequence of this, this lab report is going to be a little bit unusual because we didn’t really have a setting for the game until we started playing.

Dungeon World is a low-prep fantasy RPG with all the tropes you know and love from bog-standard fantasy RPGs. The big difference is that the game is a quid pro quo interrogation that occurs between the GM and the players and the players with each other. There are no rounds, turns or scenes per se. The entire thing unfolds as a result of questions that beg for more detail and story.

CHARACTER GENERATION

So character generation in Dungeon World is great. I love it for several reasons.

First, character generation is incredibly fast. Character sheets are class specific and have all of the relevant information for that character for the entirety of their adventuring career. Your name, appearance, race, alignment, stats and special abilities are all the result of quick selection from your sheet. This does two things I like, it speeds up character generation and it prevents the “against type” and “unique snowflake” brand of player from wasting everyone’s time with the tiresome nuances of their personal adolescent power fantasy. That being said, in my new home game I’ve found that aesthetic restrictions are a VERY GOOD THING for Dungeon World. It points the characters at a specific tone for the game so that it doesn’t uncontrollably sprawl into D&D kitchen sink nonsense.

“I enjoyed [character generation], it was very simple, and it does something very unique (in my limited experience) in the RPG world. It allows you to create your character through gameplay, not through your character sheet. Many systems tout flexible character systems that allow you to ‘build the character you want to play’, through the use of skills, aspects, traits, etc. Since Dungeon World has such a simple action system (more on that later), you really just take your simple character and apply personality. So the coolest thing is, you are not limited at ALL by your character, which is extremely liberating. And extremely FUN.”

“I found the character creation to be very simple, but still interestingly complex when it comes to forming a character. I particularly liked the bonds between party members. It made the group feel more like a team and less like a group of random murder hobos. I found myself more interested in the other characters and what they were doing. How would they react to each other.”

THE SETTING

As I mentioned before, we did not have a setting before the game started. It sort of fell out of the story of the characters. As one of the PCs was a Druid that had selected “The Stinking Mire” as her home turf, we started the game there. It eventually became clear that the Stinking Mire was a frogman infested swamp with an ancient, effluvia-weeping toad demon at the center of it that spews corruption into the environment creating all sorts of horrible mutants and evil monsters to come into being. We also found out that there was a town at the edge of the mire called Braggart’s Folly which was run by a scumbag crime boss by the name of Otto Seven-Fingers. Although the town’s economy is visibly based on trade and peat-farming, ultimately it’s a hub for swamp cults and bayou thugs that create some cool problems for our heroes. Especially the peasant-manned poison cult built around the furious spirit of an undead hydra.

It’s very important to note that this setting unfolded from a single check mark on the Druid’s character sheet and dozens of questions asked by the GM and the players. Braggart’s Folly happened after the first session when I asked the PCs where they wanted to go. They said “The nearest town” to which I responded “what’s it called?”, “what’s it like?”, “how does it survive?”, “who’s in charge?”, etc.

“I feel that the setting is very open for all kinds of potential. You need to have the right kind of players because they are such an important part of building the setting. Players can create the town or city they come from during a session and have that mean something more than a line on the character sheet.”

“It’s a hard question to answer, since it’s basically open-ended versus a designed setting like Forgotten Realms, Eberron, or Golarion. With that said, I like the gaming principle of embracing the player’s design input – it changes the game flow more towards improv, which is a fun change.”

THE SYSTEM

As I mentioned before, Dungeon World is “Powered by the Apocalypse” – the engine first implemented in D. Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World. This is the same engine found in Dungeon World, World Wide Wrestling RPG, Jason Morningstar’s Night Witches, Evil Hat’s Monster of the Week, Sagas of the Icelanders, and MonsterHearts. Given this wild array of settings hinted at in this pile of games, it is safe to say that the Apocalypse engine is pretty freaking versatile.

The engine is based upon the idea of Moves. Moves swing back and forth between player and GM like a pendulum in an endless play of back and forth. Player’s control all the dice (even monster damage) and have an enormous amount of control over the way they engage with the game. Your turn happens when you have something cool you want to do. You then roll a die to determine the outcome – on a success you get your cake and eat it, on a partial success you get something of what you wanted, and on a failure the GM gets to get a little mean and creative and the character gets an experience point (because you only learn from your mistakes!). If you don’t want to do anything, you just sit there and wait until you are inspired or until the GM decides you need some poking to instigate involvement.

Beyond this basic mechanic, there are tons of simple systems for organizing and growing your campaign by way of heavily storied magic items, guidelines for locations and NPCs, and something called a front (like “All Quite on the Western Front”) which helps organize the inspired material you and your players have generated for meaningful future use.

“The Apocalypse World System is perfect for this type of Fantasy RPG. The rules are simple and straightforward. Everything is accomplished with moves that just move along the action you want to happen. It doesn’t get so bogged down in the minutiae of rules and how something can’t happen because of this penalty or needing that feat. I particularly liked earning advanced moves instead of having to go through a complicated leveling process. It leaves more time for the story.”

“As I outlined in my previous answers, Dungeon World affords players unprecedented options by removing some key game structures (especially from a GM’s perspective) and replacing them with an invitation to cooperatively create. From a player’s perspective, it’s interesting characters inhabiting an interesting world, doing interesting things. I think it’s phenomenal, and at the same time can be a very risky endeavor, if the players are not engaged or willing to experiment with the game’s fiction.”

IN CONCLUSION

I cannot say enough to praise this game. If you ever see me circling the racks and have questions about Dungeon World or the basics of any of the other games Powered by the Apocalypse, just hit me up and I’ll be happy to gab with you about it.

I had an absolute blast and I think the five players that joined me this month did as well. It is a rare occasion that when I am done running a game for RPG LAB that I am immediately inspired to start running a home game immediately. In fact, it’s unheard of. Except in the case of Dungeon World.

“I’ve never delved much into fantasy settings, but this one had me reconsidering the genre. It seemed to cover every aspect. The material on the website provided some useful expansions of what was in the book. The Apocalypse World System seems to suit fantasy well, but I can’t imagine it lending itself to extended campaigns. At least in the beginning, leveling up seem to happen pretty quick and the complication of the advanced moves to story seems like it would negatively impact a long story arc. As a player, I’d have liked to explore a greater variety of moves and how to apply them. The final session, to me, was incredibly useful. Joel and I often run each other in games, and hearing how to use this system from a GMing standpoint was awesome. Especially to hear it from so many different people.”

“I was very happy with RPG lab, George’s willingness to stop at key “Scenic Vista” points along the way and explain the mechanics was very effective at explaining what is a very new and unique (to me, at least) way of approaching gameplay. I felt that our post-mortem session examining the month’s game was very interesting, and gave us an opportunity to ask questions and deliver feedback about gameplay, as well as giving us an opportunity to ask YOU about any challenges and your experience RUNNING the game.”

RPG Lab Report – Star Wars Edge of the Empire

A Guest RPG Lab Report by Jeff Hall

In my first foray into running RPG Lab, I was lucky to run something I know intimately well – Star Wars Edge of the Empire. One of the reasons I decided to run EotE is that I have been writing for the game for FFG and I wanted to bring some of that experience to the table. With all the Star Wars hype that has been happening as of late, it was also prime time to get more people talking about this great game.

Character Creation
The Character Creation system for EotE is very well done. You are given templates to choose from and then a pool of experience to help you flesh out the character you want to make. The game does not use Levels, so this allows for a lot of flexibility in how you structure your character. Fantasy Flight has made a large number of player aids and specialization decks to have all the information you need right at your fingertips.

Character generation was simple and straightforward. with a level-less system you have a LOT of flexibility with creating your character. Understanding the cost of increasing various character qualities is a little tough at first, but there are numerous player aids that put all of the information on a page or two to assist with the XP calculations. Overall, I was very impressed with the amount of flexibility both in creating your character, and also in the many ways you could expand those options as you gain XP. If you can imagine it, the game will let you build it. 

I was pleased with the simplicity of the process, and the speed at which someone (like me) is able to pick up the book cold, get the information necessary to make a character of a type they want, and put that all down on paper in less than an hour.  And that hour includes some degree of table chatter, so an experienced player could probably do things in half the time.

Setting
Ummmm … It’s Star Wars. 🙂

That said, breaking down the Star Wars game into three distinct RPGs has allowed FFG to flesh out the game system and universe in many interesting ways. Edge of the Empire’s ability to explore the seedy, underside of the SW Universe allows for very interesting stories to be told. Heroes and Villains can rise and fall far from the battles against the Empire if the GM wishes. There are limitless opportunities for fantastic storytelling!

It’s Star Wars, so setting materials are both varied and plentiful. Our game took place both on planets that were iconic to the movies, and some that I had never heard of, but the tone of Star Wars remained consistent. The game system was also flexible enough that almost any Star Wars resource material could be used to create the world, city, or setting you desired without much effort. 

The System
The Star Wars RPGs utilize a unique dice system that is an evolution of the story dice introduced in Warhammer Role-Play 3rd Edition. While daunting at first, once you begin play the dice merge seamlessly with the story and help craft a very robust narrative. Achieved a success with some Advantage? Well then perhaps you shot out the door controls while blasting at those Stormtroopers! Made your computer roll but ended up with four Threat? Unknown to you, a silent alarm has been tripped and enemies are closing in. There are tons of great ways to interpret the dice in a session.

The custom dice are a wrench; to play properly you need two sets, but everyone at the table can use the same two sets. Beyond the dice, the system seems to be consistent whether working with interpersonal tests, personal combat, challenge tests, or vehicle combat (like spaceships), and this is a good thing. The system is also notable for allowing for qualified successes and failures (the “yes, and…” and “no, but…”), critical successes and failures, additional increase or decrease of difficulty through boost and setback dice, and stepping up dice through the use of shared force points (which sadly makes them available for the GM to use later in a cosmic balance sort of thing).

I think it’s a great system. At first the custom dice had me a little put off and intimidated (I’ve been tied to the d20, d10, and d6, for a long time…) but after a few rolls of the dice with the custom symbols and seeing how they represent success, failure, and additional narrative results, they were a lot of fun. Given the total flexibility of character generation it’s also important to make sure the group of players are diverse in their skills and abilities

Conclusion
I had an absolute blast running Edge of the Empire. I had a fantastic table of players who all really dove in and embraced their inner Star Wars fans. I would love to see these characters and players again in the future blasting off across the Outer Rim!

This was my second RPG Lab experience, and I think it’s a great program. These are the kinds of things that set apart Games and Stuff from other retailers. They are the reason I chose to spend a little more in the store instead of online to save a few bucks. It’s a fantastic program to expose players to new systems they’ve never tried, or maybe never event heard of. Four weeks is just long enough to get into a system and truly evaluate it. One-shot single session games are great, but they often leave new players constantly trying to play catch-up in a swirl of new mechanics. With RPG Lab, I’ve started to feel really comfortable by the end of the first or second game, so there’s still 3 more sessions to relax a little and enjoy the system now that I’ve got the basics down. Jeff’s module was fantastic, and kept the tone of Star Wars consistent throughout. It had a good blend of many game mechanics including combat, space combat, negotiations, and at one point pretty much pleading to a Hutt for our lives. It was balanced and challenging, but never so much so that we felt the challenges were impossible to overcome. It certainly felt heroic. 

I was pleased with the players I got a chance to game with and the responsive GM.  I’m coming back to the hobby after a decade-and-a-half away and this is just the sort of experience I needed to feel comfortable at a table.  I’d definitely jump at the chance to play with everyone again.

Good, as usual. The best RPG Lab showcases the system and setting, and presents use cases for various aspects of the system (the aforementioned interpersonal, combat, or challenge tests), and this one did all of those.

“Interested in RPG.LAB? Feel free to contact us at: rpglab@gamesandstuffonline.com to reserve a space in one of our upcoming games!”