RPG Review: Cypher System from Monte Cook Games

CSR-NormalToday I’m reviewing the Cypher System Rulebook from Monte Cook Games.

It’s a generic RPG system, designed to make storytelling both faster, easier on the GM, and flexible enough to do anything.

1.) Size and Production Quality 

So, Cypher System Rulebook is large. 400+ pages, with full-color illustrations, layout and more. The sidebars contain call-outs, page references and more, that make using the game exceptionally easy. Big win, and a beautiful book.


2.) Art

The art is pretty good throughout the book for the most part, but there are a few pieces that just aren’t very good. It’s a little disappointing, but, in the end, the majority is pretty good, and evokes the feeling each particular section is going for.

The cover is fantastic, and I really like how it shows the main 4 types of campaigns the CSR is pointed towards.


3.) Content and Rules

The “Cypher” system is based on the same ruleset that powers Numenera, The Strange and in a diluted way, No Thank You, Evil!. It’s a system that has been discussed extensively in other places, so I won’t get into details, but I find the character creation to be a joy compared to other games.

The idea of “I’m a [adjective] [noun] who [verbs]” is easily accessible to a majority of players, and makes the character creation fly by. It’s easy to explain and understand, and helps to guide players through the system.

The dice system is probably my least favorite component of the game. It’s a little too unwieldy and hard to explain to new players when they’re playing. The idea of “the difficulty times 3 is what you need to exceed on a d20, but effort/edge can lower the difficulty, so you have to roll X” leads to the GM constantly re-explaining that portion of the rules to new players. For the simplicity the rest of the game follows admirably, this particular mechanic bothers me. It’s not a bad mechanic, but I think it is a little too difficult to use.

The items and flexiblity of the system in running/playing other games is apparently, and the several chapters dedicated to emulating particular genres are very well done.


4.) Game Master Section


Each particular genre section contains information about running the Cypher system inside that genre, and custom rules for that genre. The Game Master section also includes a “bestiary” that covers all the genres, rules for setting tone, theme, and guidance on how to deliver the expectations of each genre. It’s fairly complete but lacks in a few sections.


5.) Pre-made Adventure

There is no pre-made adventure in this game, so instead, we’ll look at the “Campaign Worksheet” add-on. It’s an excellent page, devoted to helping you determine exactly what the game is you’re running, what’s allowed, and what particular rules you’re using, then giving them to players to allow them to have the full campaign in mind. It’s very well done, and necessary to the game.


Total Score: 43/50


Hey, that’s a pretty solid score. It’s beat out all the FFG games, and only falls behind Pendragon and Keltia (theme is my winner there). It’s a good book, and a good generic system, and one I’d recommend to newer RPGers or players who are wanting a fast paced, cinematic, and storytelling focused system. The rules rarely get in the way of the game, and it’s a pretty fun ride on the read through.

I’d purchase this game again, and the fact that I keep trying to come up with campaigns to use this game for is an indicator of how it’s caught my attention.


RPG Review: Angakkuit from AbstractNova

166565-thumb140.jpgAlright. It’s time to review another RPG! This time, it’s Angakkuit, the RPG of Inuit myth and legend from AbstractNova

As a disclaimer: I was granted a free PDF of this RPG to review.

1.) Size and Production Quality 

Angakkuit is a smaller RPG, clocking in at 72 full-color pages. The book is 8 by 11, well laid out (truly, it was a gift of layout, so easy to read), and concisely written. No complaints, and I think the price point lands just about right.


2.) Art

I’m a reasonable guy, and as a guy who’s worked in RPGs and games, I understand art is expensive. But I also know it’s not something you skimp on. The art in Angakkuit is great, but exceptionally sparse. There’s maybe a half-dozen to a dozen pieces in the whole book. That wasn’t nearly enough for me, and I could have used more to understand the setting.


3.) Content and Rules

So, Angakkuit uses a deck of cards for resolution. It has a mechanic, where based on your skill, what certain cards mean for your success. It’s not too hard to understand, although a bit hard to keep track of.

The mechanics are…workmanlike, in that they service the needs of the game, but certainly aren’t terribly evocative or latched into the game setting.

The bits of setting fluff were great, and really did an excellent job educating me regarding a culture and mythos I’m not personally familiar with. It was enough to inspire extra reading and research and I found everything I read interesting and new. It was a good feeling, and well presented.


4.) Game Master Section

The GM section is essential in this game, and they sell it well. It covers a myriad of topics, from character death, how to use dreams as storytelling, monsters to fight, and what sort of adventures to run. There were a few parts that either were too short, or too long, or didn’t present all the information you’d think you’d want. Overall though, well done.


5.) Pre-made Adventure

The premade adventure conveys the themes and elements of the game in an excellent manner, and is concise but still interesting. They divide it into several “scenes” and they flow naturally from one to another. Very well done.


Total Score: 39/50

I love RPGs that explore cultures, mythos, settings or worlds unfamiliar to me. I love learning, and I love learning through a game (even though it’s never accurate, it works for me). Angakkuit hits all those notes for, with it’s carefully attention to detaiul, setting and theme. Hence the high score.

I’m unsure I’ll run it with it’s base mechanics again, but I can easily see myself adapting it to Savage Worlds (my favorite generic system).

Angakkuit is a game I’m happy to have in my PDF library, and I’ll be picking up an extra copy in PoD from DriveThruRPG very soon to put on my physical shelf. I’d recommend it to anyone.


RPG Review: Age of Rebellion from Fantasy Flight Games

Age_of_Rebellion_Core_RulebookAlright. We’re back for part 2 of my Star Wars Review Trilogy (wow).

This time it’s Age of Rebellion up for review (following Force and Destiny). Age of Rebellion is set in the time-frame preceding the Original Star Wars Trilogy, much like Force and Destiny, but with a very focused look at The Rebellion, and the soldiers, diplomats, and such that make it up. Age of Rebellion came out before Force and Destiny, and after Edge of the Empire, so it appears we’re taking a reverse viewing of these books, back to the beginning!

This book is being reviewed after 4 weeks of a Star Wars campaign powered by this system, so it’ll have a more nuanced look at the rules.

1.) Size and Production Quality 

Much like Force and Destiny, Age of Rebellion is a 440ish page hardcover that retails for 60$. The interior is full-color, and the layout and graphic design are great. It’s pretty clear this book is in the same line as F&D and you’d be hardpressed to find difference in the layout.


2.) Artstar_wars__age_of_rebellion___setenna_hase_by_anthonyfoti-d7r3avd

Much like F&D, the art is fantastic. Top notch art direction set in the Star Wars universe captures the feel of the setting, and imparts a definite and different feel than it’s successor.


3.) Content and Rules


In my Force and Destiny review, I discuss my views on their dice mechanic, so I won’t replicate them there.

In a lot of ways, this book is almost identical. You have six careers, each with 3 specializations. The Jedi focus has been replaced with a focus on soldiers, commanders, and military minds, and the game has a very strong bent towards rules that enable you to buff allies, lead troops, and conduct tactical plans before combat begins.

It’s got a very militaristic style of campaign, with missions, objectives, and more like that. I don’t think the game suffers for it, but it’s certainly a game that requires a particular desire to play in that sort of campaign.

Morality from Force and Destiny has been replaced with Duty, a focus on what drives your character to join the Rebellion, and also impacts the level of equipment you can requisition.  It’s entirely possible that I misread the intent behind this section, but it appears that as you increase your Duty, you get access to better equipment, less oversight, and more.

Additionally, the Duty mechanic requires the Gamemaster to focus on a particular group member’s duty each session, which seems like it could cause a issue, if the duty can’t be easily slotting into the campaign story the GM wants to tell.


4.) Game Master Section


The GM section is very similar to Force and Destiny, and delivers the same tone. My only issue is I wish it would have delved a bit into the make of the military arm, political arm, and espionage arm of the Rebellion, and given me some terms, and more detail regarding that.


5.) Pre-made Adventure

The premade adventure is a very military-esque mission, focused on the needs of the Rebellion and very basic and easy to play. It’s fairly uninspired, and it didn’t grab me as much as the pre-made in F&D did.


Total Score: 37/50


Not quite as good as Force and Destiny, and the more I’ve played this game/its counterparts, the less enamored I am with it. The mechanics are very good, but the multitude of symbols makes the game difficult for newer players to grasp quickly, and the spending of said symbols additionally causes similar problems.

If you like Star Wars, and non-Jedi characters, and are going to play the FFG game, this book is a must have, and you won’t regret getting it.

RPG Review: Force and Destiny from Fantasy Flight Games

650x650_c13baceb7d11ef628be0d2c5ead3e94f4b5040456b3ed0559772cca5Well. Force Awakens is out. Star Wars is on the forefront of the pop culture consciousness in again. So I’m going to review the 3 corebooks of the 3 lines of Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPGs: Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny.

Also I got all 3 for Christmas, and since Force and Destiny deals with a subject dear to my geek heart, it’s first. That subject is Jedi, that awesome combination of mystical laser sword wielding samurai, and paladins.

That’s right. Space Paladins.

At the time of this review, I’m running a Star Wars campaign using these books, so I’ll be reviewing them with an eye towards that purpose more than I usually do.

1.) Size and Production Quality 

Force and Destiny is a massive 440+ page, full color, hardcover book. And it’s heavy. Pages are thick, well constructed. My only concern was the fact that after I’d received the book, and opened it for reading, I can already feel the binding starting to crack and give way. Little concerned for the life span of such an expensive book. Buying it would be 60$ just for a replacement.


2.) Art

The art in the book is fantastic. Simply stellar art, both displaying familiar and new characters. There’s excellent depictions of various game states, character options, and species. The variety is just astounding, and I don’t think a single piece was a miss for me. Plus lots of Jedi art is always great.


3.) Content and Rules

FFG’s Star Wars ruleset is…interesting. It’s an excellent example of the “fail forward” mentality that is gaining more and more traction inside the RPG design industry. The system is a little less intuitive than others I’ve read and played, but after a few minutes and reading the play through examples a few times, it flows really smoothly.

My only complaint with the execution and intent of the rule system is the need for special dice. The book does have a table for conversion of the custom dice into regular dice, but it involves a much more time consuming study of your roll, instead of the speedy narrative result one would like to see. I feel like purchasing the dice for this game is pretty essential to a good experience (at least in my opinion).

The inclusion of the “Morality” system to determine your character’s strengths, weaknesses, and where they fall on the “Light/Dark” spectrum of the Force is exceptionally well done. It competes for the best morality style system I’ve seen implemented in an RPG.

The spread of character classes (6 classes, each with 3 specialties…I’ve seen that before…) is deep. Each character class has 1 “Lightsaber combat” specialization dedicated to the combat aspect of the lightsaber. The other two specializations are dedicated to other parts of the archetypes the class fulfills.

Example: Warrior Class has 3 Specializations: Shii-cho Knight, Starfighter Ace, and The Aggressor.

It works pretty well in execution, allowing for a focused and trained starting character. The rules for switching between Specializations are well done and fairly easy execute, allowing for a good build of your character into your preferred idea.

The biggest deterrent regarding the content of the book is the lack of a “1 Page Character Creation” reference. The rules for creating a character are spread over several dozen pages, and require a lot of flipping around and searching in text for rules regarding how skills and talents are acquired and spent.


4.) Game Master Section

In a book that is so focused on the “fail forward” idea of gameplay and interpreting unusual dice results, the GM section is the most important tool for imparting how to leverage the results you get, and this book doesn’t disappoint. It’s full of great advice and more than enough ideas to turn the game into a great story opportunity.

It’s well done and useful. It’s not perfect. There’s a few things that assume you know RPGs and in a IP this popular, I think you’d wanna be a little more new player friendly.


5.) Pre-made Adventure

The pre-made adventure in the book links to the one in the GM screen, allowing for you to have players gather the components to make their lightsabers, and explore the history of the Jedi order and what the Force is. It’s exceptionally well done, and works greatly in tandem. As a stand alone intro adventure, it is still excellent, but does lose a bit of its “oomph”.


Total Score: 42/50

This is a pretty good score, as it should be. It’s an excellent book that completely captures the essence of Star Wars. Historically, I am unsure how it holds up to legacy items like the WEG Star Wars (I’m putting that on the calendar for a retrospective sometime soon), but Force and Destiny is a book I’m proud to own and have on my RPG shelf.

Having ran the game, it flows well. My biggest complaint, is that the game gets bogged down in “Spending” these symbols the custom dice generate, and that can slow the nature of combat.  A simple half-page cheat sheet, published for free by FFG would alleviate that problem and remove most of my worries.

RPG Review: The Lone Wolf Adventure Game from Cubicle 7

LoneWolfBoxIt’s time for another RPG review! This time it’s the Lone Wolf Adventure Game from Cubicle 7!

The Lone Wolf Adventure Game is based on the series of Lone Wolf Gamebooks by Joe Dever, and is both a continuation of those books (both mechanically and in spirit) and an advancement of those game books into an RPG.

1.) Size and Production Quality

The Lone Wolf Adventure Game comes in a box priced at $30 retail. That’s pretty cheap for a full RPG, but about right for a “beginner box” as many bigger RPGs do now days. Inside the box are several things: 6 ready-made characters (both basic and master level, we’ll get into that later), tokens, handouts, reference sheets and 3 books: The Book of Kai Legends, Training, and Wisdom.

Each book is full color and ranges from 60 to 100 pages in length (it’s about 240 pages total between all 3 books). All are soft cover, and have art on almost every page. It works well, and for 30$ you won’t be disappointed in the contents.


2.) Art

The art is the same artist that decorates The One Ring roleplaying game, and gives a very distinct vibe. There’s a lot good here, and the spot illustrations and graphic design are top notch, as befits a Cubicle 7 product.

My only real complaint, was I felt like I kept seeing the same pieces over and over again, and while there was some reuse of pieces, it was actually different pieces that were very similar. A minor quibble, but it mattered to me.


3.) Content/Rules

Each of the 3 books covers a different section.

The Book of Kai Training is an “intro to roleplaying” book, and covers a lot about the setting, called Magnamund. It explains the role of Kai Lords in the setting, and how they manage (basically, they’re fantasy Jedi, complete with some mind-reading, force pushing, animal calming, and small object moving abilities). It covers creating new characters both on the basic level, and the Master level.

The difference is the complexity of the rules. Basic level is the simplest common denominator between the rules, and is really easy to use, play and go with. Master-level is much more akin to a complex RPG, while still retain the base mechanics of the basic level. The best part is the layering levels of rules, where the narrator can add new rules and mechanics as he deems appropriate, as to teach all the players the rules at the same level.

Some parts of the book revolving around Master level rules weren’t very clear, and I had to do some hunting through text to figure out various mechanics, rules, and interactions. The book is exceptionally new player friendly in it’s layout, and interface, but there’s some loss of clarity in it’s attempt to have a newer player friendly place.

The base mechanic harkens back to the old Lone Wolf books, and you flip a “coin” onto a grid of numbers rated from 0 to 9 to determine your starting skill check, and then add your level. It’s exceptionally new player friendly, and for more experienced gamers, contains rules for using a d10 (hint, 10s count as 0s, and the rest of the numbers are the same).

The Master-level mechanics work well, but involve a lot more math and creation then I expected at their highest level.


4.) Game Master Section

The Book of Kai Wisdom covers all the rules of the game in a single place for the Narrator to manage the game. It also has a lot of setting fluff, and covers what the steps to scale some of the mechanics. After reading it, I discovered many of the lingering rules questions I had from Training were answered here.

It’s a little frustrating to be flipping through 2 separate books to try to piece together mechanics that could have easily been condensed into a single book.


5.) Pre-Made Adventure

The Book of Kai Legends (the third book in the series) contains two missions that scale the rules up from basic to master by introducing new scenarios as the newly appointed Kai Lords move through the land being fantasy Jedi. It works for what it is, a learning adventure, and the full-color illustrations of NPCs and maps make it very immersive and easy to show and tell your players.


Total Score: 39/50

Not a bad score. The game suffered from some writing issues, and lack of clarity, plus a pretty heavy docking for having to flip between multiple books.

However, the game does pass the “Would I play this?” test, with flying marks in one particular section. This is a roleplaying game that will hook new gamers on RPGs easily, and with intuitive mechanics and an easily accessible setting. This is the one I’ll be busting out when I have to teach children, or newer players, and it’ll be a go-to game on my shelf.


RPG Review: Fantasy Age

GRR6001_450_d9ffbea6-fda4-4ef0-b275-a8521e0bd371_1024x1024At GenCon this year (yes I was there. This blog has been sadly neglected), I picked up a copy of Fantasy Age from Green Ronin Publishing. So here I am writing a review. A super unscientific review.

As a note, my previous experiences with Green Ronin have been hit or miss. I love Mutants and Masterminds (both 1st and 2nd edition, hated 3rd edition), was middling on the A Song of Ice and Fire RPG, and their d20 offerings always felt half-completed to me. I bought fantasy on the strength of 2 principal factors: Price, and Size.

So let’s start there.

1.) Size and Production Quality.

Fantasy Age is only 144 pages. That’s not big at all. It’s in the standard RPG size format and hardback. Pages are in full color, and the layout is wonderfully easy to read. It’s logical, the stream of writing makes sense, and everything fits together. The pages aren’t thin, the book feels sturdy, and since it’s so light, I don’t get the impression it’ll break. 10/10

2.) Art.

The cover is pretty, and evocative, and I like it. The interior art however, is too “generic fantasy” to really do anything for me. It’s not bad, just bland. Left me pretty cold. 3/10

3.) Rules.

There’s only rules in the 140ish pages (taking out the index/character sheet), so let’s get cracking.

The base mechanic is the same as the Dragon Age RPG (with some tweaks), and it worked there, and it works here. It’s simple, fast to play, and fun. So no worries there.

First up comes character creation, as it should. All the basic fantasy races are here. Not missin’ one. The idea of rolling for random racial traits is interesting to me. I like how it provides uniqueness, but it feels a little gimmicky in the long term.

The backgrounds after are interesting. They don’t provide a lot, but gives good roleplay and some small mechanical “benefit”, and handle the wealth idea of the game.

Classes. Again, pretty basic. Magic, Warrior, Rogue. The specializations are what set these classes apart. Each class has a lot here, and that gives a ton of options to a game. Not badly done.

Equipment. What you’d expect from a fantasy RPG. Interesting note, the game does have built in blackpowder weapons, which reminded me of the AD&D 2e players book, and their inclusion of small amounts of firearms.

Magic. Here’s some interesting ideas. The idea of set spells at certain levels of proficiency is great. However, this section feels unfinished. There’s only a handful of “talents” and each talent only has 4 spells. The talents feel a bit randomly selected, to ensure anyone can play anything, but some obvious ones are missing. This section felt the most lacking to me.

Rules: 6/10

4.) Game Master Section.

Shoot me now. Another generic regurgitation of “what type of GMs are there” and “what types of players are there”. As if a simple google search won’t turn up a thousand articles rehashing the same tired idea. The basic idea of the section is obligatory to any RPG, and frankly, kinda…poorly done in comparison. Maybe I’m just tired of seeing this same thing. I’m sure it’s beneficial to some people, but I can’t imagine who picked up a game called Fantasy Age and didn’t already know a bit about RPGs*. 1/10

*EDIT: I should clarify I guess. The rest of the game master section (particularly the discussion of how to handle settings for a generic ruleset) is actually pretty well done and useful. I’ll modify the score, cuz I really did like those parts.

*FURTHER EDIT: It was pointed out to me that a lot of Titansgrave fans probaby are picking up this book based on the Tabletop show of the same name. In context of this, this section is probably pretty important in this book of all books. There’s probably a new wealth of RPG players who deserve a quality education on this, and I shouldn’t have been so dismissive of this particular section. Forgive this reviewer, and take that for what it’s worth. I have never seen the show, and I didn’t pick up Titansgrave, so it slipped my mind in the review.


5.) Pre-Made Adventure

The premade adventure is pretty generic and really uninspiring. Not much to say here. 1/10

Final Thoughts and Score: 

Unmodified Score: 25/50 (50%? Not great)

Modified Score: Regardless of any issues I proclaim above, I really like this game. Parts of it aren’t for me (which you can say about any RPG). Does this game pass the simple “Would I run this?” test? Yes it does. I would absolutely run this system and game.

Final Thoughts: I like the potential here a lot (hence my modified score above). It’s solid, well thought out in most aspects, and works great for me. It needs a book about customization and creating your own content, and perhaps a book with additional options for characters/players (More magic, less generic races, some extra specializations would be great), but overall, I say that if you’re looking for a generic RPG system,  and you prefer heroic, cinematic action, this is definitely the game for you.

Game Review: Cash n’ Guns

cash-and-gunsI had the chance to pick up the second edition of Cash n’ Guns at GenCon. So what is Cash n’ Guns?

Aside from flagging this blog and my search history and ensuring the NSA (like they already weren’t) will monitor me, it’s a game about pointing toy foam guns at your friends and taking their fake money.

How you ask? While, the Godfather, counts to three, and then all mayhem breaks loose as everyone is pointing toy guns at everyone else.

It’s sort of like someone turned a Coen movie into a board game.

And it’s fantastic. The ruleset is simple, fun, and dynamic, without being one-sided or antagonistic (surprising, right?). Anyone can play it, and learn it in a matter of minutes (probably 1, but I’ll give some leeway).

For 40$, it was a purchase I will never regret. Even if the NSA does start watching me closely.