RPG Retrospective: Halloween 2015

Some context. Every year, I build a massive Halloween game, where I go all out on minis, terrain, costumes, food, and just an overall gaming environment. Today, I started prepping for the 2016 run, and I thought it’d be fun to share some photos of last years!

These are in as much chronological order as I can summon.

The RPG of choice that year was Numenera, and the theme was trying to determine the strange goings on in a blasted clockwork town to the North.

Of course, as befits Numenera, there was some…shenanigans going on.

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Movie Review: The Nice Guys

nice-guys-movie-poster-2016This weekend, I took some relaxation time, and the wife and I went to see a film. I’m a bit of a Shane Black fan, loving Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, and lots of his other work (he basically write perfect neo-noir, and I love me all the types of noir).

So The Nice Guys was right up my alley. And boy. It was literally camping in my alley, wanting to hang out and be my best friend.

The plot is delightfully simple, yet convoluted in the right timing (I’ll get to that in a second), the acting is top notch, and the action is shaky cam free!

For me, thrillers or mysteries live or die by the timing of plot reveals. I’m a pretty sharp guy, and my wife can attest, that I figure out plots pretty quickly and are pretty accurate in my predictions.  The trick is not revealing too much too early, and that’s a hard craft for most movies. Which is ok. I’m a limited sub-set of an audience, and I don’t expect every movie to match me.

The Nice Guys nailed the timing issue of their reveals (as Shane Black often does), delivered a lot of delightfully dark humor around those reveals, but kept the plot simple enough that it didn’t feel preachy or in your face with its twists. It felt natural, and you felt swept along on the journey as these two very broken men face down crime-ridden 70s LA (which, by the way, felt absolutely perfect. The clothes, the music, the theme. It was everything I wanted to see about 70s LA).

It was perfect noir. Absolutely perfect.

Also, read this article if you need further convincing.

 

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.

8/10


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.

10/10


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.

7/10


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.

7/10


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.

5/10


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.

8/10


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.

10/10


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.

7/10


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.

9/10


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”.

8/10


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.

Pendragon and the Importance of Thematic Rulesets

Last night I had the opportunity to play Pendragon, by Nocturnal Media. Pendragon is an RPG that has cropped up on my radar multiple times, but I’ve never had access to a copy or known anyone who does.

I was given a copy of the core book as a gift recently, and as some friends had wanted to learn how to play RPGS, I felt a game based on King Arthur and the commonly known mythos was an excellent choice.

Wow.

I was completely blown away by this game. I don’t believe I’ve been that impressed with an RPG at any point I can recall. We only had a few hours, so we did character creation and a short intro session that ended with all the characters being knighted.

1.) Character Creation

Pendragon is a variation on the well-known Chaosium dice system, and uses a single d20 roll to resolve actions. You have roll under your skill. Pretty simple. The character creation starts with the basics. Age, name, order of your son in the family hierarchy. The game also uses a innovative trait system, to determine your characters virtues, their strengths, their weaknesses, and emotional responses to situations. This was the game changer for me. I was able to help several people who had only either RPG’d once, or never to determine how their characters would react. If they had a question, I’d suggest they look at their highest virtue and respond in that way to the situation.

Is it a perfect system? No. But is it excellent? Yes. It was fantastic. Attribute and skill generation is generic and fairly straightforward. My only complaint was the lack of a skill table to easy pick skills and determine what skills you can have. We had to spend some time hunting through the rule book to find rules for different skills.

After character creation was wrapped up, we ran through the books quick introductory adventure to turn our squires into knights. The adventure was simple, effective, and taught the game the types of roles. Excellent. Pendragon is rapidly becoming my RPG of choice.


 

However, this brings up some thoughts regarding RPGs. The Pendragon RPG works because the entire ruleset is designed around a single concept. You play a knight. There’s no other options. You are either Pagan or Christian. All the options fall in skills, advantages and such.

So when the rules for Pendragon are built around the single framework of delivering the game of being a Knight during Arthur’s reign, they do it well. That’s the only goal they have.

Whereas games like Dungeons and Dragons, World of Darkness and other systems are built to effectively deliver games regardless of setting, have rules that sometimes don’t quite fit. You have to drop and mod the rules to effectively deliver the game you want to.

I suppose this is part of my aging in RPGs, but I find that I prefer single system rulesets that are built to deliver thematic game play over generic systems. Interesting. It’s a new discovery for me.


 

Kickstarters of Note:

A World of Dew – Samurai Noir RPG

East Texas University – College Level Horror RPG