Review Policy

So, there’s a weird juncture, where as someone who is trying to publish a game, and a consumer of the same industry products, that you have to keep your opinion to yourself.

As such, I will no longer be reviewing roleplaying game products. In the interest of honesty, I’ve left my previous reviews up (all except the one right before this was determined. I said what I said, and I will adhere to that), but it’s unfair of me to publicly express these opinions, nor appear to demean, or detract from my colleagues, and their efforts and hard-work.

If you wish to hear my private and personal opinions, you’re welcome to message or contact me asking for them.

Otherwise, enjoy my past reviews, and I’ll find other items to fill the void on this blog!

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Planet Mercenary – A retrospective?

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Planet Mercenary is a game I helped to write and did a majority of the rules design on, especially the initial engine and concepts.

It’s a game I’m very proud of. Exceptionally so, and I consider it firmly in the “Best Work” category of my career (which while small, is growing rapidly.)

Last night, the Game Chief Secrets PDF was delivered to backers.  That marks the last big item from the Kickstarter owed to backers.

It also marks at least three months of downtime without thinking about Planet Mercenary (the team is taking a break.)

With the looming conclusion of the first round of the Planet Mercenary lifecycle, and the break hanging over my head like the famed Damocles Sword, I find myself reflecting about Planet Mercenary and the journey it set me on.


That’s September, 2013. That’s is the day I sat down with Howard at the Dragon’s Keep (a game and comic store) in Orem Utah, and we talked about how I’d approach a Schlock Mercenary roleplaying game.

He told me a mechanic he had in mind that had been roughly outlined (Mayhem), and basically put me in a on-the-spot job interview, asking how I’d approach the design problem.

Howard has a mind for story telling, humor and understanding what an audience needs as opposed to their wants. It’s these qualities (among others) that make Schlock Mercenary amazing, and it was apparent even in that first conversation, that those qualities were going to be core to how he approached Planet Mercenary.

You all know the phrase: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” That’s exactly what this meeting was. Years of homebrew, entering online adventure and RPG writing contests, and dinking around as a freelancer or consultant made for a fun hobby.

Suddenly, it was a job.

And when Howard sent out those tweets that night after our meeting, it was a job like one I’d never had.

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This was the day I had to sell Sandra Tayler on Planet Mercenary (to the best of my recollection.)

If you don’t already know, Sandra is…sort of the gatekeeper for Hypernode Media. She’s business-minded power behind Schlock Mercenary, and her and Howard handle all of it together.

This was the day where the project would live or die. Kinda a big deal. Sandra has a mind for business and potential I find myself jealous of. She understands what she does in a way I can only hope to approach.

In the Game Chief Secrets PDF, Sandra talks about this day and meeting, so I’ll avoid it. Just one note.

She says I was focused and sharp. All I remember is throwing up on the way to the meeting from nervousness, and the rest of the meeting is kinda blurry.

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This cover mock-up is an older one, and it wrongfully omits Sandra’s name (which thankfully, the actual book has printed on there.) I’m terribly at google-fu. No skill points there.


The Schlock Mercenary fandom is rabid (in a single word.) There’s an active reddit, Facebook group, forum thread, all the pieces. They support Howard and Sandra, and were exceptionally welcoming.

There’s even a whole, very active Facebook group for Planet Mercenary. It’s one thing to make something, it’s another to be able to watch it be embraced, criticized, and commented on.

It’s apparent that Planet Mercenary has a life of it’s own.


At the core of the experience are Howard and Sandra.

At points we were talking once to twice a week, with emails every day in between.

When you work with someone that much, you either learn to appreciate and love them, or you learn to hate and dread them.

Luckily, on my half (and hopefully Sandra & Howard’s), I landed squarely on the love and appreciate side.

Sandra & Howard are wonderful collaborators, among the best I’ve worked with (and I’ve worked with some serious talent.)

They’re supportive, understanding, engaged, and passionate about all their projects and all parts of their jobs. Even the ones that grind on, or drag, or could be considered tedious. They bring the same zeal and drive to everything they do.

I couldn’t have asked for better partners, and I’m grateful that they invited me in to their world and let me play around in their sandbox for bit.

I count myself lucky in some ways I never thought I would.

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One quick note. I often comment on how only a handful of folks know how the popular sophont type of Esspererin got named.

During the Kickstarter, one of the stretch goals was more playable sophont types. We hit it, Howard and I were reviewing the list (at this point, we had something like 30 sophonts prepped for the game.)

Howard sent out an email listing the sophonts we hadn’t included, and some requests for “something robotic”, “something small”, and some other requests. I sent back a something small that became the Queltro (a popular sophont in it’s own right.)

With a wry joke (I’m not funny like Howard or Sandra), I also sent in a bonus small sophont (because “two Something Smalls, make a Regular Sized Sophont.) I had asked my wife for some feedback before I sent them over (as I’m wont to do.) She mentioned the game needed gremlin space fairies.

Below is the original pitch for the Esspererin (dated 5/12/2015.)

Extra Something Small: Extra Something Smalls are tiny little humanoids with 4 wings. They can actually survive in the vacuum of space without breathing, and LOVE mechanics (their home planet never developed technology like that, due to their size). They’re considered bad luck, and tend to act like pilot fish, following ships around space ports and repair station, doing “unauthorized repairs, which usually go horribly wrong.”
  • Gremlins: Anytime a Extra Something Small does a Mechanic, Engineering, or Computer’s check, invert the color of the Mayhem dice. That’s right. The two regular dice are now Mayhem dice. The mayhem dice is now a regular dice. However, the GM automatically gains the Mayhem card before a player can look at it and this card can’t be negated by a player. The Extra Something Small gains a RiPP every-time they make one of those skill rolls. 
  • Flight: Extra Something Smalls can fly. Simply allow them to move in 3 dimensions. No biggie here.
  • Skill Bonuses: +1 Dodge, +1 Computers, +2 Engineering, +1 Mechanic.
  • Skill Penalties: None. 

Obviously it changed. I have to confess, I’m exceptionally proud that the Queltro and Esspererin are such integral parts of the Schlock Mercenary canon, and that I could provide the story seed that Howard was able to take and spin into something wonderful and unique. Every time they appear in the comic or a player raves about them, I smile. Knowing something I helped start is going to last a long time and bring enjoyment to others is a feeling I never thought I’d have.

And since I promised: Esspererin stands for “As Per Erin”, since the base idea of space gremlin fairies came from my wife in a conversation with her.

Howard says: “Small correction. Esspererin is not “as per Erin.” It’s “Extra small something, per Erin.” E.S.S., per Erin.”

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You can buy Planet Mercenary here. And I think you should. Not just cuz I get paid if you do (I do), but because it’s the smart thing to do if you like good, clever, unique games.

Top Ten RPGs of 2017

Like last year, I’m doing a non-review of my favorite RPG products of the year.

I don’t review RPG products anymore, but I can certainly tell you what I loved. This is simply my impressions and responses to products that have come out.

Consider these recommendations, but there are so many great RPGs out there. It was hard to choose the best of list, and there are many more I wish I could mention.

It’s been a rough year for a lot of folks, and gaming is a great way to cope with life stresses!

I also never put my games on this list. But if you want to buy my games, there’s links in the menu on the left!


RIFTS_PG_Cover_90010.) Savage Rifts: Technically, this was a 2016 release, but I didn’t get my print copies from the Kickstarter until January 2017, so I think it counts. It wouldn’t be a Best of list for me without at least one Savage Worlds game on it!

An update of Palladium’s Rifts setting to the excellent Savage World ruleset, Savage Rifts brings the gonzo and weird Rifts world into an accessible ruleset.

It doesn’t feel like Savage Worlds, instead feeling like Savage Worlds reflected through a funhouse mirror. All distorted, weird and fun.

It’s imminently accessible, the books are a fantastically fun read.


pic3689282_md9.) Starfinder: There’s a lot of Science Fiction on my list this year, which is interesting.

Starfinder is a great book. I’d pretty much gotten off the Pathfinder bandwagon when D&D 5e came out (I preferred the streamlined nature of 5e), but man, if Starfinder hasn’t grabbed the lapels of my attention and stared me down.

It’s got great art, a fun setting, and a strong focus on streamlining some of the crunchy bits of Pathfinder, while still obviously being Pathfinder.

It’s still a bit crunchy for me, but unlike Pathfinder, I can actually see myself attempting to run Starfinder.


pic3537715_md8.)  Changeling: The Dreaming – 20th Anniversary Edition: I missed the boat with the original editions of Changeling, but man, if I am not fully on board now.

These edition is gorgeous. It’s equal parts throw-back to the early editions (which I now have and own), and equal parts advancement.

The art lands, the prose is exactly what I’ve had expected, and this is a game that knows what it wants to be.

I love it.


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7.) Tomb of Annihilation: As long as Wizards of the Coast keeps pumping out great 5e products for D&D, I don’t see  it’s inclusion on this list fading. This year, there’s actually two D&D products.

First, is the Tomb of Annihilation. A modernized homage to the classic Tomb of Horrors, it’s a huge campaign with lots of cool pieces (like dinosaur races), and a fun setting.

It’s got a good mix of the “old-school” feel, while still being squarely the modern D&D we know and love.


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6.) Xanathar’s Guide to Everything: Oh look, the second D&D 5e product.

About three years into the D&D 5e life-cycle, Wizards has released it’s first major “crunch” update, providing tons of options for players to change, improve and differentiate their characters.

Lots of cool subclasses. Lots of cool feats.

Just, lots of cool here. I see this being an essential tome at my table.


pic3340551_md5.) Blue Rose: So I never played the previous True20 edition of Blue Rose, but I remember it catching my eye on the shelf.

This new edition is a massive tome, chock full of content. It’s got a super developed setting that feels very different from other fantasy settings, a complete inclusion of the Fantasy Age ruleset, and a lot more!

I really dug this book, and while we didn’t play a campaign very long, I can see myself returning to it.


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4.) DEGENESIS: The Killing Game: So, DEGENESIS is one of the prettiest (if not the prettiest) RPGs on the market. Period.

The ruleset is fantastic, and The Killing Game is an amazing adventure/campaign for the DEGENESIS setting. It’s just packed with amazing art, stunning layout, and it’s visually, just a work of art that I can’t help but stare out.

The game deserves far more attention and market penetration than it’s getting.


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3.) Paranoia: Red Clearance Edition: Man, I dig Paranoia. Always have. I loved the zany rules, the crazy take on satire.

This new edition is a surprising amount of content in a tiny box. A totally revised ruleset, with lots of new elements, a shift in focus (no longer Communists, but Terrorists), and a lot to love, I can’t recommend it enough.

It’s a steal for what you get at the price point, and we’ve already had hours of fun from it.


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2.) Middermark: So, I’ve not played Torchbearer in the Middarmark setting yet, but hot damn, I love this book.

It’s a work of art. Carefully crafted and an obvious labor of love by the lead writer, Thor, Middarmark pushed my like of Torchbearer into a full-blown love affair.

It introduces new rules, a new class, tons of wonderful world building (tree and weather tables, a throwback to Greyhawk,) with evocative and great art throughout.

I absolutely adore this book, and it is just amazing.


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1.) Star Trek: Adventures: So yeah. This is absolutely the best game of the year. Let me list the reasons why.

I love Star Trek. It’s a two decade long love, and it shows no signs of abating (despite Discovery’s attempt to kill it.)

I love this version of the 2d20 ruleset. It’s a perfect match, and it’s clear the designers of this game are on the same page as I when it comes to what makes Star Trek, Star Trek.

It’s a fun, easy read.

It’s huge. Just packed with stuff. It’s crunchy in all the right places, while simple and fast in the right places.

Yeah. It’s the perfect Star Trek RPG!

 

 

RPG Review: King Arthur Pendragon v5.2

Will played in my Pendragon campaigns many times. The man knows his KAP.

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Will Raves

It’s not fair. I mean, what game has a chance against Nocturnal Media’s King Arthur Pendragon RPG?

Am I giving away the ending? Oops. Please carry on.

The Review

I’m going to approach this review as if you know nothing about previous versions. That said, King Arthur Pendragon 5.2 is a mainly cosmetic update from KAP 5.1. I own both in PDF and 5.1 print-on-demand hardbound, and they contain mostly the same content. A few errata have been merged in, but otherwise, the two versions can be used interchangeably. Primarily, the changes relate to layout and art.

But, oh wow. The new art is impressive.


1.) Size and Production Quality 

The Pendragon book isn’t the most massive RPG book I own, but it’s nowhere near the smallest either. Most of my previous reviews have been of minimalist RPGs who’s rules could be distilled into a few pages if you wanted them to…

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Alan talks on Writing Excuses

At LTUE 2017, I got a chance to sit down with the talented Writing Excuses crew and talk about how to turn ideas and stories into games!

You can listen to it HERE.

We talk about Planet MercenaryTiny Frontiers, and various components of games. Luckily my fantastic hosts make me sound smart, and we had a great time.

I certainly hope I get the chance to do it again!

 

 

 

Star Trek: Discovery Thoughts

So, I watched the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery last night. First thing you need to understand, is I’m a massive Star Trek fan. Hugely so. It’s likely my favorite IP. There hasn’t been lots of Star Trek stuff to go gush over til recently (new RPG, which is amazing. New TV show. Kelvin timeline finally gets good in Star Trek Beyond) so my fandom has lain rather inert the last decade plus.

Well, no more. Star Trek: Discovery is airing, and I can finally let loose the rampaging beast that is my Star Trek love affair.  I have lots of feelings here.

So what *did* I think of Discovery? Well, anonymous internet reader, I’m glad you asked. Spoilers abound below the logo here.

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Let’s do this right:


THE GOOD

  • The Visuals: It was very pretty. The ship and uniforms screamed Star Trek (I adored the new ship designs they’re working with). It was a high quality and pleasing show to watch.
  • Michelle Yeoh: First off, Michelle Yeoh can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. Also, she’s the perfect fit for a Star Trek captain. I can’t imagine a better choice. And of course, she was excellent as the captain of the Shenzhou.
  • Sonequa Martin-Green: Excellent acting, considering the writing she got (more on that later.)
  • The rest of the Cast: Solidly turned in performances. No complaints. They looked like a Starfleet crew (visually, acting, and more).
  • New Intro: I really liked the new intro music and graphics.

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This is the big section. THE BAD

Ok, so. I can’t bullet point this section because it’s way too big.

War Story: Why is Discovery a war story from the start? Star Trek has always been about exploration, hope, and diverse species working together.

I mean the famous opening leads with: “”to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations.” I’m not saying you can’t have violence or physical conflict in Star Trek (obviously you can, and should), but TNG and DS9 (which were the most “war-like” of Star Trek) still had the focus revolve around exploration, discovery and the future.

Sigh. There was nothing to indicate this is anything more than a science fiction war story, which really irks me.

Inter-crew conflict: Gene Roddenberry famously had a “no long-term inter-crew conflict” rule (which obviously was broken in the past, but never seriously, or with long term intent.) Now, as to the sanctity of that rule, I don’t think it’s necessary. We all know conflict drives good stories, and the Discovery writers have long made their intent to dispense with this rule clear. Shockingly, guess what didn’t work for me.

Good drama, pathos and conflict among a crew drives good storytelling. Having your first officer lead a mutiny against her captain of seven years (who wants to give her a command, and clearly serves as a mentor who things highly of her)? That’s stupid and lazy.  Especially when there was nothing given to us in the prelude up to that moment that suggested Burnham would take Sarek’s advice over her captain. It’s an absurd level of conflict with no basis for existing. Completely stupid. I mean, what’s the thought process?

Here I am, a highly trained, very successful Starfleet officer, raised by Vulcans to be logical, confronted with an enemy empire we’ve not contacted in a hundred years. My adopted father, a Vulcan ambassador, says the Vulcans always attacked Klingons on sight, and then the warlike race sued for peace. Hm, my captain won’t open fire based on my recommendation, based on this single piece of information, only I am aware of! I know! I’ll directly break the chain of command on the bridge, and then attack her when she reprimands me! Then I’ll order the crew to open fire on an enemy who hasn’t attacked us, or even powered up weapons?

It’s inane. Martin-Green turns in such a great performance, I feel so bad that she got such terrible writing and plotting.

I don’t even know what to think.

The Klingons: Oh. Yeah. Sooooo, this was a thing. First off, NONE of those Klingons were memorable. Their scenes dragged on under the weight of all Klingon dialogue and subtitles (and I love subtitled films.) Their make-up was uninspired, and it was just a mass of 90s goth club costumes, dialogue spoken through a mouth full of cotton, and unmemorable characters.

Other Star Trek has been so good at making the individual Klingon’s individuals that, it was jarring to have to deal with the opposite.

WHY IS IT A PREQUEL?If you made some minor adjustments and updated a few details, you could slap this movie into the timeline 100 years after Star Trek: Nemesis (the last stop in our canon timeline) and we’d have an all new story that moves Star Trek further into the future. This obsession with prequels and re-writing what has gone before didn’t work for Enterprise (even when Enterprise is good, the prequelness hurts it), and I have no faith it’ll work long term here.

Sarek: What the crap was that? I know Spock and his father didn’t get along or talk much, but did Sarek have a human ward he never told Spock about…who..also served in Starfleet? And was probably somewhat infamous (as that mutiny would suggest?)

It really throws the claims of “main timeline” into murky water and tells them to tread for a bit.

Here’s a bullet point list of the rest:

  • Holograms (I can’t recall a time they used Holograms like this pre-TNG, and not even in TNG/later shows that much after season 1.) Does Sarek have a desk in the exact spot in his office, so he can mirror Burnhams? How does that sitting thing work?
  • Burnham’s placing her opinions over Starfleet values: Geez, someone did not get a complete psych eval. Why is a commanding officer so willing to throw Starfleet ideals and values to the wind to satisfy their own needs/beliefs?
  • The idiotic plan to capture the Klingons? Why would you beam TWO human Starfleet officers (Captain and First Officer) into enemy territory because you “need to redeem yourselves?” I mean, first off: A living officer with years of military experience is still worth more alive than dead to the Federation. It’s a boneheaded tactical decision.
  • WHERE WAS THE DISCOVERY?

Look, for all my complaining I’m glad there’s a new Star Trek on TV. And I hope it’ll be good. But I’m gonna be waiting til the season is wrapped up. I canceled my CBS All Access this morning.

I hope Star Trek: Discovery finds its feet and moves itself forward into something resembling Star Trek in the long term, and for it’s sake, I hope it happens fast. I’m not sure how long viewers are going to pay for CBS All Access to watch ST:D without more to it.

A boring life update post.

So what’s going on in the life of Alan these days. This poor blog has been a bit neglected.


Moving

The wife got a new job, so we’re moving! As I can work anywhere, it’s really irrelevant where we live. However, this means my day is filled with work. Frantic packing. Stress.

But it’ll be good. The new place is a better fit for our family and lifestyle (less fast-paced than SLC Valley where we live now).


Working

Oh man. Am I working like crazy.

In the last 3 months, I’ve released 2 roleplaying games, ran a Kickstarter (currently on), helped with two others, and am prepping two more releases in the next few months, and more next year.

I got a new job. It keeps me pretty busy. I’m still doing work for Nocturnal Media, Planet Mercenary and a few other items.


Gaming

With the impending move, the gaming has slowed a bit, but here’s what we’re currently playing:

  • Star Trek: Adventures – I actually get to play in this sucker, and I’m playing the Human Captain, Montgomery Rhodes. I should do a bigger write up about this.
  • Blue Rose – The new edition of Blue Rose grabbed me and one of my groups is trying it! Good times.
  • D&D 5e – We’ve got an ongoing D&D 5e campaign that is going great.

There’s other odds and ends in there, but that’s the primary thrust!


Puppies

Oh yeah. I have two puppies.

We’ve had Fae (the Black & White Chihuahua / Greyhound mix) since April-ish. She’s a little terror who runs on pure energy, and Ella (a Chihuahua-something mix) whose sweet and clingy and tolerates Fae with excessive patience.

They’re pretty freaking adorable, and they keep me busy. Also much healthier!

Ok, there you go. Life update! Expect your regularly served gaming posts and record reviews to start as soon as the move is over and my records are unpacked (sad Alan).

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