Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday, 24 July 2016

An Appendix N Short #2

For the most part, books and games released under the Old School Renaissance have been put by the small press, whether that is Labyrinth Lord from Goblinoid Games or Swords & Wizardry from published by Mythmere Games. To date, the only larger publisher to offer an Old School Renaissance RPG is Goodman Games with its Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. What set this RPG apart from just about every other RPG and every other fantasy RPG is that every player begins the game playing Zero Level characters—and lots of them! In going through their first adventure, there will perhaps, be survivors who will survive to achieve First Level and acquire an actual Class.

The Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, is though, published under the same Open Gaming Licence as other titles for the Old School Renaissance, which means that other publishers can release support for it. One such publisher is Brave Halfling Publishing, a small press outlet best known for its ‘White Box’ iterations of classic Dungeons & Dragons-style RPGs such as X-Plorers and Delving Deeper. Now, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, the publisher has released a small selection of adventures under the Appendix N imprint.

The first of these is Appendix N Adventure Toolkit #1: The Ruins of Ramat, a Zero-Level, ‘Character Creation Funnel’ designed to be played in a single evening or session. The second is Appendix N Adventure Toolkit #2: The Vile Worm. Like The Ruins of Ramat  this second scenario is designed to be played by between eight and twelve characters and like The Ruins of Ramat, this scenario has appeared for previous rule sets, as The Vile Worm of the Eldritch Oak for Swords & Wizardry in Brave Halfling Publishing’s Swords & Wizardry White Box, as The Vile Worm from Arcana Creations—again for Swords & Wizardry, and then again as The Vile Worm of the Eldritch Oak from Lord Zsezse Works for use with Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Which means that it has a bit of a publishing history and so must be worth reprinting.

In The Vile Worm, the adventurers are travelling in a forest when they encounter a hermit, a priest of nature, who offers them a chance to rest and partake of a meal. He is of course, nothing of the sort, being a crazed berserker who discovered the sacrificial site of an ancient cult and now sees it as his duty to capture and give up victims to the vile worm that the cult worshipped. Whether or not the adventurers accept his invitation, they will find themselves ambushed and wondering at the truth of this madman. This truth is revealed over the course of three rooms, each quite detailed, and two or three combat encounters. In the process, the adventurers will hopefully rescue the berserker’s current victims and thus save a family. The worm itself is a nasty oozing creature bent on turning the adventurers into hosts for its eggs.

As atmospheric and as detailed as the scenario is, this is all that is—an extended encounter. Unlike The Ruins of Ramat, there is not material here to take it much further into an on-going campaign. Like The Ruins of Ramat, this scenario comes with a pair of hand outs that the Judge can use to illustrate certain locations and these are nicely done. Similarly, the cartography is excellent.

Unfortunately, Appendix N Adventure Toolkit #2: The Vile Worm has a couple of problems. The first is the one that beset Appendix N Adventure Toolkit #1: The Ruins of Ramat. The ‘Appendix N’ element of the scenario’s title—Appendix N Adventure Toolkit #2: The Vile Worm—denotes the fact that it is inspired by ‘Appendix N’, the list of inspirational fiction found at the back of the original Dungeon Master’s Guide that so influenced Dungeons & Dragons and then Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. This designation leads to expectations that these fictional inspirations, whether it is Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, will be discussed or at least made clear. Sadly, this is not the case, but perhaps in future releases such a discussion would be a worthy inclusion…?

The second issue that that Appendix N Adventure Toolkit #2: The Vile Worm is short. It is an extended encounter, but little more, and lacking the extra material that can be added to a campaign, The Vile Worm feels all too brief… Nevertheless, Appendix N Adventure Toolkit #2: The Vile Worm is a solid, if short, adventure that works for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game as much as it does for other RPGs for the Old School Renaissance.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Not Quite Out of the Gate

For a great many, Dungeons & Dragons was their first RPG, but as popular as the game proved to be, this did not stop publisher, TSR, Inc., from diversifying and looking for potential success with other genres. This resulted in games such as Top Secret, Star Frontiers, Marvel Super Heroes, and GANGBUSTERS, which in the case of the latter three, were designed as much to be introductions to the hobby as much as they were to new genres. The Old School Renaissance has plundered many of these titles, sometimes over and over, so that there are innumerable interpretations of Dungeons & Dragons, as well as versions of Marvel Super Heroes in the form of FASERIP and continued support for Star Frontiers. With continued support for these three RPGs, it would seem that GANGBUSTERS and Top Secret continus to be TSR’s unloved title, but in 2015, after twenty-five years since the last release for it, GANGBUSTERS is getting some love and support again.

Originally published in 1982, GANGBUSTERS: 1920’s Role-Playing Adventure Game is an RPG set during Prohibition Era America in Lakefront City, a setting roughly based on the Chicago of the period. It has the players take the roles of crooks, gangsters, reporters, cops, private eyes, and FBI agents and depending upon the scenario and campaign, fighting crime, taking a piece of the action, getting the big scoop—and earning Experience Points for it. Beyond the core boxed set, the RPG was supported by six releases, five of them scenarios and then the misnamed third edition in 1990. Then in 2015, Mark Huntrevisited the setting and the system with a brand new release, GBM-1 Joe’s Diner and has since led to the release of GangBusters: The Blue Book Detective Agency Beginner Game, a new and introductory edition of the game that focuses on playing private investigators. This, together with a new and expanded edition of GBM-1 Joe’s Diner and Welcome to Rock Junction, formed the basis for the Gangbusters Limited Edition Box BEGINNER GAME. Of course, for professional reasons, Reviews from R’lyeh cannot review any of the aforementioned books or indeed the boxed set, but it can review other releases from Mark Hunt for GANGBUSTERS and his Rock Junction setting, beginning with GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend.

Written for use with Second Level characters, GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend describes a location and its staff, that of Vickers’ Race Track, a dog track owned and run by dog enthusiast, Margaret Vickers. Other notable characters include a rich young investor with a penchant for putting money on the dogs, plus his staff; a rich old lady whose dog—and the key to her lockbox on his collar—have gone missing, plus the private eye hired to find the animal; and a vet and his faithful companion. A number of punters that might be found at the Vickers Dog Track are also listed, though they are little more than stats. One NPC, the reporter Kit Baker, reappears from GBM-1 Joe’s Diner.

Unfortunately, neither the dog track or its operation are described beyond cursory details. Nor is there a map of the dog track and its facilities. All of which will be a problem from anyone who is unfamiliar with such places in the here and now, let alone in the Prohibition Era. What this means is that the Judge—as the Game Master in GANGBUSTERS is known—will have to do a fair amount of research of his own if he wants to get the most out of GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend. Further, there is not the wealth of detail and scenario ideas and hooks to be found in GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend as there was in GBM-1 Joe’s Diner—both the original version and the new version, again leaving the Judge with more to do.

What GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend does do is add rules for dogs in GANGBUSTERS. Whatever the size of dog—small, medium, or large—they all share the same stats as humans do in the game, but with Driving being replaced with the new Loyalty stat. This is a measure of a canine’s devotion to its master and how well it will obey his orders, whether that is running away or staying with him, or simply learning tricks. This enables a Judge to create dog companion for his NPCs as much as the players create them for their characters. They can also spend Experience Points to increase a dog’s Loyalty. These rules are supported by the inclusion of the Veterinary Medicine skill.

In terms of presentation, GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend is disappointing. It does not feel as it has been edited at all and this detracts greatly from the supplement as does the inconsistent layout. As with other supplements for GANGBUSTERS from Mark Hunt, GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend does benefit from the use of period photographs, but this cannot wholly address its presentation problems.

There is plenty of potential in GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend. After all, a dog track should be rife with dramatic tension—gambling, fixing races, stick ups and punch ups, money laundering, and much, much more, but none of this is brought out in the supplement. It should tell us what goes on at the track and what should go on at the track, but it never does. Whilst a better, cleaner layout would do much to make this a more professional supplement, it would not be enough to bring out the full potential of the underdeveloped and underwhelming location. Simply, GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend should be brimming with potential and possibilities, but sadly it falters long before it reaches the finishing line.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Devilish Cards & Dice

Imps: Devilish Duels – A Dice & Card Battle Game is the latest game from Triple Ace Games, following on from designs such as Rocket Race: A Steampunk Rocket Building Card Game, Halfling Feast: a card game of competitive eating for 2-4 players, and Cadaver: A Game of Lighthearted Necromancy. Launched at UK Games Expo 2016, it is described as a ‘hybrid dice and card battle game’ for two players in which each player sends a team of four mischievous Imps to fight a number of elemental trials and determine who is top Imp wrangler and thus top wizard!

Now it should be made clear that this review is of a press preview version of Imps: Devilish Duels which like the preview print and play version contains just twelve Imp cards. The full version will come with a total of twenty-six Imp cards. This press preview version also comes with a plastic battle tray, whilst some Kickstarter versions of the game will have a wooden one. Both versions include a six-page rules booklet and sixteen six-sided dice. The colours of the Imp cards and the dice match according to their element: Air (white Imp cards and clear dice), Earth (green), Fire (red), and Water (blue). 

At the beginning of the game each player selects the four Imps that he will send into the trials and receives eight dice, two of each colour. On each round both players select four of their dice of any colour and one or two of their Imps to send into the trial. Then both players take in turn to roll their dice and compared with each other in a set order, so the green dice for the Earth Trial, the red dice for the Fire Trial, the blue dice for the Water Trial, and the clear dice for the Air Trial. Then the players can each roll and add two dice of their choice or reroll dice dice already in play. Then the final totals for each trial are compared, the higher total winning that player the trial and a bonus for the or a double bonus if the winning total is double or more than the other player’s total. So if a player wins the Earth Trial, then he can increase one of his dice by one of the subsequent trials, that is Fire, Water, or Air. If his total is double or more than his opponent, then he gets to increase two of his dice by two each. Note that no die can be increased beyond six. Winning subsequent trials force dice rerolls on an opponent, removal of his dice, and so on until one player wins wins the Air Trial and can banish one of his opponent’s Imps. Play proceeds like this until one player has managed to banish all of his opponent’s Imps and wins the game.

There is a cascade effect to winning trials, so that winning one trial gives an advantage to the next and so on and so on, but this is no guarantee that a player will win the final Air Trial and banish his opponent’s Imp. Good dice rolls will nearly always beat bad but modified dice rolls. Then there are the Imps. Every Imp has an ability that can aid a player with its Mischief. So the Earth Imp Puck allows the players to conduct an extra Earth Trial after the Fire Trial; the Fire Imp Soot deducts one from all of an opponent's Fire dice or forces him to reroll one of his Fire dice; the Water Imp Squirt adds one to each of a player’s Water dice or allows any of them to be rerolled; and the Air Imp Nimbus enables both players to combine their Water and their Air dice in the Air Trial. 

In initial games, it makes sense for both players to bring one dice of each elemental colour to their initial rolls. In later games players can pick and choose which dice they roll as well as which Imps they bring into play. To an extent, the player who goes second does have a very slight advantage over the other since he can react to whatever the first player rolled and can assign his dice to where he might be able to beat his opponent. Choice of Imp plays an important role too as their Mischief can greatly influence the outcome of a trial which if won affects the next trial and so on and so on…

Physically Imps: Devilish Duels – A Dice & Card Battle Game is up to standards of other games from Triple Ace Games. The rules are clearly written and although the game might be slightly easier if the Elemental Trials outcome table might have been on the back page of the rulebook, this is basically picking a nit… The artwork on the cards though is really very nice and each captures the character of each Imp.

Although it initially looks complex, Imps: Devilish Duels turns out to be straightforward to play and easy to teach. It also offers a pleasing tactical experience as each player brings their best Imps and their mischief into play. The twelve cards in the press preview version of Imps: Devilish Duels offer more than enough options to replay the game over and over, but the full game will offer even more. For a two-player game, Imps: Devilish Duels – A Dice & Card Battle Game packs a lot of tactical punch into both its box and its twenty-minute play time.


Imps Devilish Duels: A Dice & Card Battle Game is currently available to fund on Kickstarter.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Symbaroum's Promise Delivered

As strong as the tone and atmosphere are in the Symbaroum Core Rulebook, it did not explore or deliver on the raison d'être at the heart of this Swedish RPG. That is, having the player characters set out from Thistle Hold in the newly founded kingdom of Ambria to venture into the Davokar Forest where they might hunt for treasures and search for the secrets of the lost empire of Symbaroum that the forest now covers. This was disappointing, but it did mean that future supplements would have to deliver on the hints and mysteries that at the outset, Symbaroum promised. The good news is that The Copper Crown, the first supplement for Symbaroum to see print, delivers on said hints and secrets, and further, fulfills the promises of both the setting and the set-up in Symbaroum.

Published by Järnringen and distributed by Modiphius EntertainmentThe Copper Crown contains not one scenario, but two—‘The Mark of the Beast’ and ‘Tomb of Dying Dreams’. Whilst both scenarios can be run separately, they are really designed to be run in sequence as sequels to ‘The Promised Land’, the scenario in the Symbaroum Core Rulebook, thus together forming the trilogy, ‘The Chronicle of the Copper Crown’. Since they are designed to be run in sequence, what this means if they are run independently is that the GM will need to have one or more other scenarios beforehand as they do grow progressively more challenging. If the GM has run ‘The Promised Land’ prior to running The Copper Crown then they will have some experience, but it may not be quite enough…

‘The Mark of the Beast’, the first and shorter of the two scenarios, is a murder mystery set in Thistle Hold. A serial killer is on the loose in the frontier town—though the authorities would prefer not to acknowledge—but the flurry of flayed and mutilated bodies that have appeared in the town’s alleys is hard to ignore. The player characters will be drawn into this plot when a contact of theirs gets involved. This quickly puts them on the track of some treasure hunters that might be connected with the men who were being hunted by the Elves as they travelled through the Titans. If they brought some bad back from the Davokar Forest, then what of their compatriots in Thistle Hold?

Essentially, if ‘The Promised Land’ prefigures the events of ‘The Mark of the Beast’, then ‘The Mark of the Beast’ is a bloody, gruesome piece of Grand Guignol that sets up everything for ‘Tomb of Dying Dreams’. This takes the player characters into the Davokar Forest, ostensibly to determine the fate of an Ordo Magica expedition sent to excavate an ancient tomb, but in actuality, following up on the consequences of a previous treasure hunting expedition that they encountered in ‘The Promised Land’ and ‘The Mark of the Beast’. The denouement comes in the focal point for any treasure hunting expedition—and as the title suggests—a tomb. It is a nasty little affair, complete with a number of deadly traps, but it is not what is really interesting about ‘Tomb of Dying Dreams’. Instead what is interesting about the scenario are the factions and entities interested in the tomb and its content, the entities in particular. All three are ancient creatures or things, some inimicable to mortal life, some willing to deal with mortals if only to have them as their agents—at least temporarily. One of those entities should be of particular interest to certain of the barbarian tribes in Ambria, though this is not mentioned in the scenario itself.

Besides the two scenarios, The Copper Crown comes with an appendix of new rules and a septet of new artefacts. The new rules mostly consist of new traits, but the new artifacts are quite singular items. Together with the events of ‘The Chronicle of the Copper Crown’, they highlight how nasty some of the artefacts from the past really are. That said, there are objects here that the player characters will appreciate possessing. Rounding out The Copper Crown is a set of handouts for the two scenarios, all done in vibrant colour.

Amongst the artefacts is mention of the Dwarves. This is the first mention of them, at least in the English language version of Symbaroum, though they are detailed in the original Swedish RPG. So technically, discussion about the Dwarves is not a secret, but The Copper Crown does actually begin to explore the secrets of the setting for Symbaroum. So we learn something of the region’s history prior to Symbaroum, its geography, and one of the reasons behind the Iron Pact. Not in any great detail, no more than a sentence or two, but certainly more information than was given in the Symbaroum Core Rulebook and it lays the groundwork for supplements to come.

There are some oddities. Notably in the choice and range of measurements used, which veer between Metric and Imperial and back again whilst also stopping off at the use of ‘fathoms’ as an indication of height. Putting aside the fact that this is actually a nautical measure of depth, surely this inconsistency should have been picked up during proofreading? Now normally, Reviews from R’lyeh would simply mention that a book needs further editing or proofreading, but in this instance, the use of multiple, often inconsistent terms is confusing and warrants the specific highlighting of the problem. Which is essentially, poor localisation.

The other oddity is that The Copper Crown does call for quite a range and depth of Abilities—the Loremaster Ability in particular, and that at Adept and Master on several occasions. For a first campaign and what may be the second and third scenario they are playing, this is quite a high demand for the player characters. Now in ‘The Mark of the Beast’ a solution is offered, that of getting an NPC to step in and help with getting a particular clue or piece of information. If they do that, the player characters automatically get the clue, but in return they owe a favour to the NPC that helped them. So far so good, so standard storytelling and roleplaying interaction between the player characters and the NPCs, but the scenario, and thus Symbaroum, go one step further in cementing this relationship. Whilst the player characters may have gained the clue, they will not benefit from any experience gained in doing had they otherwise learned the information themselves until they fulfill the favour for the NPC. 

This is an interesting storytelling mechanic that will build and cement relationships between the player characters and the NPCs and the setting itself. Unfortunately there are no suggestions as to what the NPCs that give their help in ‘The Mark of the Beast’ might want and that is a missed opportunity.

Physically, The Copper Crown is well presented with the same clean layout as the Symbaroum Core Rulebook. Aside from the oddity of the mixed measurements, the editing is better than in the Symbaroum Core Rulebook. As with the Symbaroum Core Rulebook, the artwork in The Copper Crown is excellent, some of it old, some of it new, and at its best, giving a sense of ominous grandeur.

Although the two scenarios in The Copper Crown could be played separately, doing so would miss the plot, the scope, and the underlying theme of the trilogy formed together by ‘The Promised Land’, ‘The Mark of the Beast’, and ‘Tomb of Dying Dreams’. All three can be summed up in the dangers inherent in exploring the Davokar Forest, in hunting for treasure, and in dealing with beasts and forces beyond the understanding of mankind. When coupled with the brutalism of the setting and the challenges this presents, The Copper Crown is a solid scenario that serves as an effective showcase for both the setting of Symbaroum and and its set-up.

Ideas and Happiness

The first thing that you need to know is that despite its name, CVlizations is not a game in which you take a tribe and guide it through the ages exploring the world, expanding territories, conquering allies, developing technologies, and building wonders, the aim being to develop the greatest civilisation. So it is not a game in the mode of the classic Civilisation, the Civilisation from Fantasy Flight Games, any of the  computer game versions, or indeed, 7 Wonders from Asmodee. So there is no map and there is no conflict. The second thing that you need to know is that CVlizations is a civilisation-themed card game in which you take a tribe and guide it through the ages, collecting resources, and developing ideas that will make the tribe happy. The third thing that you need to know is that CVlizations won the award for Best Family Game at UK Games Expo, which is the United Kingdom’s biggest hobby gaming convention and the second biggest in Europe after Essen in Germany.

Released by Polish publisher, Granna, but available in English through Coiledspring Games, CVlizations is based upon an earlier game, C.V., in which you guide a character through their entire  making many important decisions about their professional career, relationships, interests, and life goals. In CVlizations though, you guide a whole tribe through its history, but where C.V. uses dice to generate and direct your actions, CVlizations uses just a single set of cards per player from which a player selects his actions. What this means is that CVlizations is not as random as C.V. and that each player has more choice in what he can do. This also means that CVlizations is a slightly more complex and more thoughtful game. This means that it is not quite a ‘gateway’ game like Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne, but it is still a family game and so relatively easy to teach and play. Adults will pick up it with ease and anyone who has played a gateway game like Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne will have no problems learning the game.

Designed for two to five players, aged ten plus, CVlizations can be played in roughly forty-five minutes (though longer on the first game and quicker with practice). It consists of five sets of Order cards (eight cards each); thirty-two Idea cards for Ages I and II; sixteen Idea cards for Age III; twenty food, twenty stone, and twenty wood tokens—these are the game’s resources; thirty-six Happiness point tokens; one wooden Leader Helm token to track player order and one wooden Crown token to track the Ages; two player aid cards and an eight-page rulebook; and a board where the resource tokens are stored, the Ages are tracked, and the Idea cards are stored and displayed.

CVlizations is a played over three Ages, each Age consisting of three rounds. During a round, each player selects, plays, and discards two of his Action cards; all Action cards played are resolved; and each player has an opportunity to buy an Idea card. At the end of each round, the Leader Helm token is passed onto the next player and then a new round begins. During an Age each player will play a total of six Action cards, so he will need to be careful in the cards he chooses to play. Once three rounds have been played, a new Age begins and the players receive all of their Action cards back. During Age III, Idea cards are drawn from the Age III deck. At game’s end, the players count up their Happiness Points and the player with the most wins.

The Idea cards are what each player is trying to buy. Each Idea card is unique and comes packed with a lot of information. This includes its name, its type (Building, Tool, Invention, or Ideology), a cost, a special rule or power, and the number of Happiness Points it grants at game’s end. For example, the ‘Gunpowder’ Idea card is a Tool card, costs one Food and two Wood tokens to purchase, and grants one extra Food when the Hunting action is taken and one Happiness Point at the end of the game. Whereas, the ‘Law’ Idea card is an Invention card, costs two Food and two Stone tokens to purchase, limits the number of resources that can be stolen from you to one per turn, and grants two Happiness Points at the end of the game. Most of the Idea cards grant powers, although some of the Ideas from Age III do not, merely granting Happiness Points. In general, Idea cards Ideas from Age III are more expensive than those from Ages I and II, but grant more Happiness Points.

At the core of CVlizations are the Action cards and how they are played. Each player has an identical set of eight Action cards. They consist of—in the order that they are numbered and resolved—Thieving, Logging, Hunting, Quarrying, Cunning, Slacking, and Trading, plus Doubling. Thieving allows you to steal from other tribes; Logging, Hunting, and Quarrying allow you to gather Wood, Food, and Stone respectively; Cunning lets you gather any resources; Slacking allows you to gather Happiness Points; and Trading allows you to swap resources. The Doubling card is not numbered because when played it doubles the effect of the card it is played with.

Action cards are always played in pairs, one face up so that everyone can see it, the other face down so that no one can. This is because the number of players who play an Action card determine its effectiveness. If only one player plays an Action card, it has a minor effect for that player; if two players play an Action card, it has a greater effect for both players; and if three or more players play an Action card, it either has a minor effect or no effect at all. So the Thieving card allows a player to steal one resource if one player plays it, two resources if two players play it, and nothing if more than three players play it. Both the Cunning and Slacking cards work the same way. The Logging, Hunting, and Quarrying cards gain a player two (one player), three (two players), or one (three plus players) resources of the respective types. The Trading card works in reverse, so it lets a player turn one resource into three of another kind (one player), two of another kind (two players), or one of another kind (three plus players). Lastly the Doubling card allows a player to do the action on the other card played again if one or two players play it. The effectiveness of each Action by player number is clearly marked on each card.

Since one Action card is played face up and one face down—though some Idea cards change this—CVlizations involves a certain amount of card counting as the players keep an eye on what each has and has not played. Only a certain amount because only one card of a pair can be seen and because in most cases, as soon two Action cards of one type have been played, there is limited benefit to gain from playing another of that Action card. (Alternatively, a player might play an extra Action card of the same kind to effectively block the other players.) Players higher up the player order of course have more choice in what they can play, but for all players as an Age progresses, the number of Action cards they can play and thus their choices diminishes. Further the card counting becomes easier as an Age progresses because everyone has fewer Action cards to play. Overall, this is a simple, but clever mechanic.

Physically, CVlizations is a lovely game and very well presented. The rules themselves do feel slightly underwritten, but they are easy to understand. In terms of presentation, the artwork on the back of both the Idea and the Action is not bad, being perhaps a bit scraggly and scruffy, but it actually looks bad in comparison to the artwork on the front of both cards. This is because the artwork on the front of card is utterly charming, Piotr Socha’s paintings neatly encapsulating the idea or concept on the card in a style reminiscent of children’s picturebooks. These illustrations are not without a sense of humour and they are worth taking a closer look at.

CVlizations is an easy game to learn and play. I read through the rules twice in ten minutes and brought it to the table at my regular gaming group meetup without any issue. Everyone grasped the rules quickly and enjoyed playing the game, saying that they would happily play it again. We did find that more reference cards—two are included in the game—would have been useful, but this did not greatly hamper play.

CVlizations is a light Civilisation-themed card game that is suitable for family play while still offering thoughtful play for experienced players. Certainly experienced players will appreciate the clever Action selection mechanic and for them CVlizations is a light-to-medium filler. For family play, CVlizations is probably a step up—perhaps two—from a gateway game, but without undue complexity. For either group, CVlizations is an engaging design with delightful artwork.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Consumptively Consumptive

Although there is no scenario in the rulebook for Shadow of the Demon Lord, the first RPG released by Schwalb Entertainment following a successful Kickstarter campaign, one of the excellent decisions upon the part of the designer has been to release support—and release it early—in the form of scenarios for the game. This way a gaming group can get playing quickly, even if they are just using the core rules presented in Victims of the Demon Lord: Starter Guide plus the adventure. In addition, the publisher has also released Tales of the Demon Lord, a complete mini-campaign that takes a party of characters from Zero Level up to Eleventh Level. In the meantime, the twentieth adventure is A Case of Consumption.

A Case of Consumption is written by David Noonan, best known as a co-author of titles such as Urban Arcana for d20 Modern and more recently of the Ultima Thule campaign setting from Sasquatch Game Studio. It is the seventh adventure written for characters who have entered the Expert Path, that is of Third Level or higher, and comes as six page, 12.75 MB PDF and presents a missing persons case that turns into an alimentary dungeon delve. It takes place in the town of Thorpe, just east of Crossings in the Northern Reach and although this location gives the adventure a passing link to the ‘Off the Rails’ adventure to be found in the campaign, Tales of the Demon Lord, the link is minor at best and A Case of Consumption could easily be located elsewhere.

The scenario begins when the player characters are summoned—though this may be at the point of a sword or two—to Castle Garnach, which overlooks the town. Lord Garnach has discovered that his three children are missing and he wants them found, which for the player characters means a job—and if successful—a sizable reward. Worse though, all three are all suffering from Consumption, so not only is time of the essence, there is the possibility that whoever has the children might also have caught it, and worse, in effecting a rescue, the player characters might come down with it themselves! There is some investigation involved in determining where the children have gone and who took them there, but the bulk of the scenario is an exploration of their destination.

Their destination then is a nearby cave complex on the shores of Mirror Lake. It is relatively short complex at just five locations, with each location being of a singular nature, all of it very much concerned with the themes suggested by the scenario’s title. To say more would give way the conceit at the heart of the scenario—and that is all too easy given the brevity of A Case of Consumption. This brevity also means that the success of the scenario will mostly depend upon what the players and their player characters bring to it rather than its plot. Overall, A Case of Consumption feels somewhat thin, even consumptive in the true meaning of the word.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

The 13th Age Starts Here II

The Strangling Sea is for 13th Age, the dramatic Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG published by Pelgrane Publishing. Written by Robin D. Laws—better known for Pelgrane Press’ GUMSHOE System series of RPGs like The Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues et al—it is designed for a party of First Level heroes and takes them to a strange environment on what is essentially a McGuffin hunt. It is about as straightforward an adventure as you would want and is easy to set up and run.

The McGuffin in question is Inigo Sharpe, famed architect, inventor, magician, and seer. He has been missing for several years now after having annoyed one Icon—one of the beings or personalities that drive and direct the events of the world—and then having done a runner, is currently thought dead! Now one of those Icons has heard that Sharpe is still alive and wants him found, whether that is to have him finish one of his fabulous devices, build one of them, or repair one of them. Or indeed destroy one of them. It all depends on the Icon and on the device—and that depends upon the relationships that the player characters have with the Icons.

The Strangling Sea begins with linking the McGuffin to the player characters’ relationships with the Icons to establish both an antagonist and a patron. Nine of these relationships are offered as a potential patron. Each explains what Sharpe was doing for that patron/Icon, gives an alternative, how the fact that Sharpe is now alive was discovered, and what one of the player characters will receive as a reward/incentive from the outset. Each of the magic items is something that a player character would want. Alternatively the Book of Loot is a ready source of substitutes. Now each of these set-ups is good—good enough that it is shame that just the one of the several given will be used in the scenario. Oh and the patron also provides the player characters with the initial lead.

One lead and one battle later and the heroes are on their way to a quite singular location. This is the Stranglesea, a seaweed mat that forms a sargasso in the midst of the ocean that has long imprisoned ships and stranded their crews, the latter falling prey to previous inhabitants, the sea life above and below the seaweed mat, and the strange lassitude that falls upon its inhabitants. As the player characters arrive, the Stranglesea is home to three ships and crews. They include a crew of desperate Dwarves and their blocky steamship, motley sailors with neither ship nor hope, and a tribe of sea goblins trying to make the Stranglesea its home.

Naturally they hate each other—and it is this hatred that drives the main section of the scenario. In addition to navigating the dangerous flora and fauna—on and under the Stranglesea—the player characters will have negotiate back and forth between the three factions if they are to locate Sharpe. Which given that this is 13th Age means a fight—or three. This does not mean of course, that the players cannot negotiate their way out of one fight or another, but everything in The Strangling Sea is set up for a fight… Just in case.

The factions themselves are nicely drawn with clearly defined motives, but the GM is free to change these as he likes. It helps that the exact location for Sharpe is not set in stone, but rather can be decided upon by the GM or defined by the actions of the player characters. Once the player characters have found Inigo Sharpe—and then had to deal with him because he is a ‘character’, one whom the GM will enjoy getting into his teeth into—there is the matter of getting him to the player characters’ patron. This ideally should involve another battle and with any luck, one that should should descend into farce as everyone makes a grab for Sharpe.

And with that, Inigo Sharpe should be out of the characters’ hair, but being an awkward sod, the likelihood is that he will abscond from his next employer and either want the player characters’ help in getting away or said employer will want help in bringing him back to finish whatever job he was hired to do. This though, is for another scenario. In the meantime, The Strangling Sea will be enough of an adventure to raise the player characters from First Level to Second Level.

The Strangling Sea is clearly laid out and well organised to provide the means for the GM to create a decent first adventure for his player characters. It is also a good adventure for a starting adventure for beginning GM as it is very easy to set up and get playing and the adventure itself is very straightforward. In fact it is probably too straightforward an adventure for an experienced playing group. What it does do though is nicely take the GM through the set-up process of linking the plot and events of the scenario to the relationships that the player characters have with Icons. Indeed, this is probably more interesting than the scenario itself and thus of course, such a shame that so much of it will go unused.