Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: We Lived!

This time last year, I wrote a "Year in Review" post, so I'm doing that again. This is about more than just the blog, or gaming, but about me in general in the year 2012.

I said last year that I didn't feel wildly optimistic or pessimistic going into 2012, and I did experience several ups and downs. We had a few frustrating financial setbacks, while I plowed ahead at work and got a promotion, which had the very awesome effect of getting my wife health insurance for the first time in a while. We also moved, this time into the nicest place we've lived at since we've been married.

I released a couple of new comic books, rebranding Hellrazer to The Chronicles of Rachel Strand, and took on a new comic writing gig with another company called Plan B Comics. Johnnie and I ended the webcomic version of Rachel Strand, focusing instead on print releases.

I continued working for Daring Entertainment as a freelance editor, while moving into a bigger role with Savage Mojo, helping to guide the larger marketing presence. I was also recently offered a writing gig for another Savage Worlds licensee.

For the first time in a long time, I actually got to game again, as we resumed our Necessary Evil campaign and have taken it near its ultimate conclusion. I also began teaching my son Marvel SAGA, and we played in a couple of games with him as Spider-Man (his favorite superhero).

I made a couple of appearances on Mike Lafferty's BAMF Podcast, including playing a demo game of Fiasco (which I've never gotten to play a full game of, yet), and was supposed to make a couple of more appearances, but we've never gotten the schedule worked out for us.

The blog also saw its first guest post, a playtest report of tremulus by Jimmy Bise, Jr.

I still have not finished Max Monkey, the albatross hanging from my neck. Need to finally put that thing to rest once and for all.

I did get to be a guest of honor at SoonerCon, though, and that was a great experience.

As I look into 2013, here are some things I have in mind:

- Keep the blog rolling. A few months ago, I felt a bit upset at how...neglected...the blog had felt. The fact is, at the end of the day, of all the writing I do, the blog is the only thing that's really mine. I can't let that falter.

- Keep the comics coming. This one is harder to pull off, due to the fact that more than just myself is involved in the making of comics...but I still have to keep pushing forward.

- I plan to open a new fiction blog in January. The goal is 12 short stories next a month. I won't post them on this blog, so as not to confuse anything too much, but hopefully they will be fun writing exercises.

- Keep gaming. Necessary Evil is almost finished, and we began working on porting our old Midnight game to Savage Worlds this weekend. We definitely need to get some Deadlands going, too. I bought me a tablet recently (an Asus Transformer), so hopefully I can use more of my gaming PDFs at the game table.

- FINALLY finish Max Monkey, and then figure out what the future holds for the character.

I hope you had more good than bad in 2012, and I hope 2013 brings you happiness and success.

Come back tomorrow for Tommy's Top Six and the biggest giveaway we have ever offered!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Buster Squad 5: A Necessary Evil Actual Play Volume 12

The Penultimate Session

As the team made its final preparations, Dr. Destruction said he was working on repairing Talos, and Kale was floating in something that resembled a Bacta Tank from Star Wars. Mindstorm asked if Kale would be ready for the mission, Destruction simply said that it would be up to Kale.

Mindstorm went to see Kale, who began speaking to him telepathically. Mindstorm told him he needed Kale to stay behind, in case Dr. Destruction made a big move. He told Kale that Vesper and Flux would be alerted to the situation, to give Kale back-up. In Kale and Talos’ place, Mindstorm recruited…Cyber-Burglaire. Mindstorm told Kale that they would handle the V’Sori…and Dr. Destruction…and Leviathan. Kale mused that Mindstorm had become a lot more optimistic.

Talos, speaking through the walls of Destruction’s base, said he was working on acquiring a new body as they spoke. Oh, and that he was totally going to kick Bully’s butt.

Mindstorm, Socks and Bully met with Dr. Aden, Cyber-Burglaire and two V’Sori, which made the team nervous…until they realized that the two V’Sori were really disguised Atlanteans. The group departed for space.

Mindstorm and Socks told Cyber-Burglaire to find a way to ensure that Bully survives the deactivation of the Drones, and Burglaire stuck his fingers up Bully’s nose and jacked in, Cyborg to Cyborg, in hopes of an answer. As they neared the satellite, he reluctantly said that he had no way of saving Bully…not with as little time as he had to work with.

Aden bluffed the team’s way onto Satellite 15, and told the V’Sori technicians that greeted them that they had prisoners but that their ship was malfunctioning. They bought the bluff, and the team made it on board.

As the team attacked the control room, they made short work of the technicians inside…but Fins arrived, the first of which managed to hold Cyber-Burglaire in his spot! As Socks was finishing off one of the technicians, another Fin busted in, moving super fast! Socks, Bully, Mindstorm, Burglaire and the two Atlanteans were trying to battle these two Fins when a third Fin and several War Spheres entered the control room…and the new Fin immolated one of the Atlanteans!

The remaining Atlantean (dubbed “Steve” by Socks) acquitted himself well, shaking off attacks from War Spheres and dropping a couple of them. The flame throwing Fin went after Bully, but his attack missed and he blasted Socks and the Gravity controlling Fin, killing his ally! Cyber Burglaire managed to initiate the Drone Shutdown command…which also caused the War Spheres to collapse, but caused Bully to collapse as well! Then an ominous message flashed up saying “Champion Ultimatum Enabled”.

Burglaire struggled…and managed to isolate Bully’s programming, giving him one final command…”Live”. Bully came to, and spoke for the first time since his return. Mindstorm told Socks, who had explosives strapped to him, to go set the explosives on the power core of the satellite! As Mindstorm left the command room, he found the wounded Dr. Aden, who had taken his captors by surprise and forced them to attack each other, but was mortally wounded when they fought back. He told Mindstorm to win and it would all be worth it. Mindstorm took Aden to the shuttle but could not understand the controls to alert Dr. Destruction. Aden used the last of his power to direct Mindstorm through the V’Sori controls before passing away.

The team boarded the shuttle and flew away as the satellite exploded.

Notes: “Steve the Atlantean” became a dark horse favorite for handling himself so well in the fight.

As the team returned to earth, they caught the news that the Earth had erupted into full-blown war, with resistance pockets battling all over the planet. The V’Sori military presence in Japan had been sabotaged, and 4-Star and Lucky had emerged from hiding in New York to lead a battle in the streets. In Star City, Dr. Destruction was raising the call to arms when he was consumed in a wall of dust and the signal went out.

The team flew to Star City and began departing the shuttle. They caught wind of a red and blue blur, but couldn’t make sense of it yet. On the way down, Mindstorm was blasted and suddenly lost his powers, crumpling to the roof of a building! As he struggled to recover, he heard the sound of a basketball beating on the roof, and turned to come face to mask with the leader of the V’Sori’s Death Squad, who said it was time for a little “one on one”…and removed his helmet to reveal that he had been Mindstorm’s brother Vincent Blevins all along!

Mindstorm gave Vincent a pretty big “You Suck” speech, punctuated by a crack of thunder, which nearly caused Vincent to wet himself. Mindstorm, powerless, attacked Vincent with a vibro-knive! Vincent and Mindstorm went back and forth, with Mindstorm eventually drawing first blood. Vincent alternated between trying to shoot Mindstorm and trying to pistol whip him, and Mindstorm kept wearing him down with repeated stabs and slashes, before stabbing Vincent in the chest and pushing him to the rooftop. Sneering at Vincent, he carved his heart from him chest before commenting “Huh. I guess you had one after all.”

Meanwhile, Socks and Bully were surrounded by Fins, to which Bully quipped “Not enough Fins.” The two partners were back to back, battling the Fins, when the wandering warrior Hiro attacked one Fin and the elven swordsman Sarveen battled off another.  Socks, Bully, Hiro and Sarveen made short work of the Fins, when the Death Squad arrived, punctuated by Jacko’s chainsaw firing up! He charged at Hiro with it, but Socks intercepted him and forced the chainsaw up high…holding him in place for Bully’s vicious gore! The Death Squad stood shocked at the devastation wrought on one of their own, by the monster they helped create. Baldwin, Cervantes, Dante and Murtha entered the fray, but Kale teleported to the scene and gave Murtha a horrible sneak attack, giving him an immediately lethal infection, putting an end to the leadership of the Death Squad right away.

Cervantes dared Kale to battle him, saying he could absorb his magic, but Hiro dropped him with a huge martial arts kick. As Bully ended Dante, Socks pulled Baldwin to Hell. Socks squeezed the life out of Baldwin, who begged off, saying he was only following orders. “So am I,” was all Socks offered in reply.

Mindstorm stumbled upon a crater near the rooftop where he faced his brother and found Dr. Destruction laying inside. To his utter shock, Destruction’s helmet was cracked open to reveal King Mero of Atlantis…the hero known as The Aquarian! Mindstorm, stunned, immediately telepathically summoned Kale.

The team entered the pit and Mero coughed, smiling weakly at them. He telepathically reached out to them and showed them everything that had come before…how he had been rescued from a V’Sori attack by Dr. Destruction, only to have Destruction pass away quietly from a stroke. How he took over the mantle of the Dr. How proud he was when Mindstorm told him that he refused to kill rogue operative Vesper, taking her under his protection. How he grew to trust the team more and more, not just as foot soldiers, but as heroes that the world needs. He explained how he could never tell anyone…because the V’Sori were mindreaders.

And then, the spectre of death fell over the team…and Buster Squad 5 (er, four), found themselves staring off with Champion…the long dead hero of Earth, killed in the initial V’Sori invasion, now turned into a powerful failsafe Drone by the V’Sori, activated when the team shut down the Drones. The squad prepared themselves for combat…when everything froze. A flash of light erupted, and everything went black.

When their vision was restored, Kale, Bully, Mindstorm (who had his powers restored) and Socks found themselves standing alongside Dr. Destruction (who had been healed), a reconstituted Talos, Tula Michaels, Sugrot the rogue Fin, Vesper and Cyber-Burglaire…the force selected by the mysterious Outsider, creator of Star City, to battle for the planet Earth. The group had been transported to a barren, moonlike area filled with large skeletons.

Socks spotted Champion coming in the distance.

As Champion swooped in, the team put their heads together to figure out how to stop him, with Meros pointing out that he is vulnerable to Gamma Radiation. Mindstorm asked Vesper if she could create Gamma Radiation. She said no. Kale said he could.

Kale summoned energy from the depths of Leviathan’s power, unleashing a bolt that rocked Champion and left him with two Wounds. Sugrot opened fire and managed to harm him further, while Dr. Destruction unleashed his Ray of Destruction and finished him off! A huge opening salvo for the forces of Earth!

The remaining V’Sori team, led by Shocklord H’reed, arrived behind the fallen Champion. Talos immediately joined Destruction and Sugrot near the front lines, with Bully and Socks joining as soon as they could. Tula, Mindstorm, Kale, Vesper and Cyber-Burglaire tried to get into position to attack from a distance.

The V’Sori and their allies focused their attacks on Dr. Destruction, revealed to them as not only the leader of OMEGA, but also as the King of Atlantis. A well-placed blast from a Fin killed King Meros, enraging Earth’s defenders. Sugrot immediately executed the Fin that made the killing shot, gaining some measure of vengeance.

The final battle was otherwise not close, nor was it dramatic. Earth’s defenders were too strong and too determined. Fittingly, the final combatant for the V’Sori was first Shaken by Socks, then struck down by a bolt of lightning from Mindstorm.

Everyone returned to Earth. Champion slumped to the ground, defeated. King Meros lay dying in the pit, reaching out one last time, explaining that The Outsider had shielded the Earth from the V’Sori as a result of the conflict on the moon, then allowing the team to see how he had tried to help each of them, before softly uttering his final words: “Thank you…for proving me right.”

The V’Sori that could, escaped. The V’Sori that couldn’t, went into hiding. Many of the Fins broke ranks, joining Sugrot and forming a K’tharen island nation. Socks vowed the hunt the remaining V’Sori to the ends of the Earth, while Mindstorm reminded the team of one last goal…one last promise…to free Kale from the grip of Leviathan’s control. Socks asked, to no one in particular, what might happen if he ate an Atlantean God’s heart.

NOTES: Bittersweet, but only one session remains. If I had known that Champion was going to go down in the first round of the final battle (Kale’s opening attack hit for 44 damage, due to Champion’s weakness to Gamma Rays), I would have beefed up the final V’Sori contingent, maybe keeping the Death Squad alive until the end, instead of having them attack Bully and Socks in the streets.

We took the week off for Christmas, but the plan is to wrap it all up next weekend, as the team faces off with an Atlantean God.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tommy's Take on Outremer

clash bowley likes alternate history in his RPGs…so it should be no surprise that Outremer, the third in the Blood Games series, is another alternate history RPG.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The PDF (available at RPGNow for $10) is 298 pages and set in an alternate history in which the 11 Crusader States referred to collectively as Outremer have survived into the 16th Century. It is based off of the Starpool system, which I describe in greater detail in my reviews of Blood Games II and On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service. Essentially, you roll a pool of d20s (equal to your rank in a skill plus one) and every die that comes up under a target number counts as a success.

Outremer uses the Association rules from On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service as well, thus providing players with a ready made excuse to be hanging out together, again providing robust options for PC groups. I’m not a big history buff, so the detail and research that clash puts into the book is very helpful, starting with the extensive side-by-side timelines, showing just where history diverged from real history at each step.

The Lifepath style of character creation again returns, with character options very similar to On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service by my reading. Half-Angels and Immortals return as character options, but are also joined by Half-Djinn, which are new to Outremer. Half-Djinn can control the elements, fly and assume a gaseous form. Path characters like Esotericists, Magus and Minstrels also return, but are joined by Crusaders (who can inspire others, heal them and make miracles happen), Kabbalists (the “rational mystics), Sorcerers (who summon and control djinns), Mechanists (who use Djinn animals to create complex machines), Oracles (prophets) and Dervishes, who are not unlike Muslim Paladins.

You can also create Quasi-Path characters like Snake Charmers, Fortune Tellers, Healers, Mystics and Faqih.

The already robust skill list from On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service only serves to get larger here, taking up a full five pages, though not all skills from OHMAS are present.

The religion chapter is expanded here, covering more than just sects of Christianity, adding sections on Judaism and Islam, as well as further details for the various Christian Churches. This is welcome material. This chapter also adds Relics and Artifacts, which are interesting in that they require individuals to believe in them before they can be used on them, for good or for ill.

An adventure generator is included, using d20 rolls to provide a rumor, a place and what is behind the rumor, as well as the expected reward. Given that I love random tables…

The NPCs chapter provides lists of not only NPC templates and guidelines, but random tables to roll on to generate your NPCs quickly.

As in other Blood Games releases, characters use MAG points to keep effects in place, with Magi and Minstrels having their own exceptions to the rules.

The creatures chapter features a lot of reprinted beasts from OHMAS, as well as some new ones, like the Manticores, Rocs and Sandwalkers. Djinn, which had a small statblock in OHMAS, get a completely blown up entry here, much like Fairies did in OHMAS and Vampires did in Blood Games II.

The section on Outremer covers a lot of ground, including the wildly diverse peoples. Each of the nations gets a close-up map, plus fact sheets that show the ancestry of the region, the traits prevalent to the country and a list of their notable relations with other nations. Interestingly, the Nations have Traits not unlike the player characters do, categorized into Political and Social categories.

Slews of optional rules are provided, from different ways to organize the team to variations on shields to using favors as currency. Random charts are provided for various cultural names, as well as appendices discussing cuisine and Muslim Titles.

WHAT WORKS: I really do love clash’s layout, with the helpful details in sidebars. The extra detail being present in the book so I don’t have to look for it is also great. I’m a big fan of both Lifepaths and random charts.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: If you already own On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service, a lot of that book is present in this one, including the art. An unfortunate side effect of making a game completely self contained. For me, personally, the Middle East – past or present – isn’t a section of the world that holds a ton of interest for me as a gamer.

CONCLUSION: For me, personally, Outremer falls short against the previous Blood Games releases due to the focus of the game: As mentioned, I have no interest in playing or GMing in a Middle Eastern setting, historical or not. That said, the material in this book is completely compatible with the other two games if you have the extra to spend. Not a bad game, just not my cup of tea, setting-wise. Might just scratch your itch for fantastic historical horror set in the Middle East, though.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tommy's Take on Justice Wheels #1, #2 and #3.

Justice Wheels #1: Black Scarab

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The first in the Justice Wheels series for ICONS by Fainting Goat Games, it includes a character (Black Scarab) and his car (F.A.L.C.O.N.). With art provided by Scott Harshbarger, both the car and the character looks fantastic. Black Scarab is essentially a much cooler looking Moon Knight, with a villain variant that has him going all Azrael and thinking the only way to save the world is to burn it down. Fine line between justice and vengeance. Perhaps most importantly, it provides crunchier vehicle rules, as well as chase rules, or teams buying the Vehicle power as a group. There's even a handy chart to compare movement powers (fliers getting a bonus to escape burrowers, for instance). Finally, the PDF includes a printable cutout for both Black Scarab and his car.

WHAT WORKS: If you want more vehicle rules, this is fantastic. Black Scarab is a cool Moon Knight twist, and the villain variant is interesting enough that I would put him to use in a supers game, easily. Great art.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: At 50 cents, there's not much to complain about. The ultra crunchy rules are not a great fit for ICONS, but that's not surprising as it's not an ultra crunchy game.

CONCLUSION: My understanding is that the Vehicle rules here are supposed to show up in...Team-Up, I believe. The art is great, the character is interesting...really, the biggest complaint is that you'll need to buy it with something else in order to avoid the small order surcharge from One Book Shelf.

Justice Wheels #2: The Auguste Anarch

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The August Anarche is the second Justice Wheels release, featuring a character and their vehicle, and comes across a lot like The Joker if he were built like Kingpin. He has enemies in both the police and mafia, because he's trying to make his mark in the underworld, and he has a sweet, sweet roadster. The hero variant recasts him as a modern day Robin Hood, making his stat block continue to work completely unaltered. The vehicle rules from volume #1 are reprinted in #2, so you don't need #1 in order to use #2. You also get a printable stand up of the August Anarche and his roadster.

WHAT WORKS: The hero/villain twist works out well once more, and August Anarche being inspired by the Joker but having a few tweaks isn't bad. It is nice that the rules are included here as well, in case you want to jump in here instead of volume 1.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Half the product is reprinted material (the veihicle and chase rules), but one could argue that's as much a pro as a con.

CONCLUSION: If you just want the rules, get The Black's $1 cheaper. Otherwise, it's a really good, low cost pick-up. Scott Harshbarger again provides the art, and it looks great, though I prefer Black Scarab's art over Auguste Anarch, if I had to pick just one.

Justice Wheels #3: Bluejay

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: You know the deal by now...a character and their vehicle. This becomes the first release to feature an aerial vehicle instead of a car, as we get Bluejay and his Golden Eagle airship. Adrian Smith provides the art this time, and it's very good, though lacking a bit of punch that Scott Harshbarger's first two releases had. Bluejay is the weakest concept thus far, being a boy genius who won the lottery and decided to build an airship to fight crime. He has villain version where he steals the material for his airship and decides to take revenge on everyone that doubted his intellect. An adventure hook for the villain version is provided, as well as the Vehicle rules and cut outs of the character and vehicle.

WHAT WORKS: The links inside this document are clickable, whereas they weren't in the past, and the layout looks a bit better. It is a welcome sight to see a non-car vehicle utilized in the Justice Wheels set.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Neither the hero nor the villain version of Bluejay clicks as well as the Black Scarab or the August Anarche did.

CONCLUSION: Better technical improvement to the PDF compared to the first two, even if the creative end falls a bit shorter this time. The vehicle proves to be the most interesting part of this release, showing off the range of the Vehicle rules. Now we just need a Wizardry (Gadgets)-like allowance for multiple vehicles, ala Batman.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Buster Squad 5: A Necessary Evil Actual Play Volume 11

Return From Space!

The team returned from space, after Talos magnetically froze up Cyber Burglaire’s jaw, over three days after leaving…and returned to their base to find someone was inside. Socks prepared to pounce, before realizing that he recognized the scent of human freedom fighter Tula Michaels! The team relaxed until she walked out of the kitchen eating potato chips, which infuriated Talos. Mindstorm had to telekinetically hold him back.

Socks bragged that he blew up a satellite, which made Tula jealous. Word had been spreading that resistance was growing world wide, with the V’Sori losing their grip on Africa thanks to a surge of magic powered by primal spirits. Tula mentioned that she had been in South America, busting an old Nazi lab that had V’Sori connections. Seems V’Sori agents had been working with the Nazis all that time. The Buster Squad 5 were glad to be home…when their commlinks flared to life and Dr. Destruction told them that the V’Sori had been hard to work on trying to salvage something off the coast of Newfoundland. The team, plus Tula, loaded into their ship and headed to Newfoundland.

As they arrived, Kale had the ship hover in place over a salvage ship, which had an old submarine on it. Socks recognized it as being a US submarine from 1944, though he didn’t know WHY he knew that. It still had large chunks of ice covering it. Talos and Socks dropped to the salvage ship below and Mindstorm flew Tula to the deck. The team missed the Fins lurking on the upper deck of the ship, and two more emerged. A slimy V’Sori voice told the team that they wouldn’t disrupt THIS salvage like they did the last, and D’Bloc emerged from the submarine…flanked by World War II legends 4-Star and Lucky, presumed dead since 1944! The two men had a faraway look on their faces and D’Bloc ordered his men to attack!

Mindstorm, who was already summoning a storm before he left their ship, dropped a bolt of lightning on D’Bloc, frying him where he stood! (I made multiple Soak rolls and D’Bloc never came close to surviving.) 4-Star and Lucky seemed to shake off the Mind Control, but still looked confused as to what was going on. Mindstorm said they would explain later!

Kale teleported to the deck as Talos grabbed Socks and jumped to the upper deck to fight the Fins up there, Socks and one Fin trading blows while Talos shrugged off attacks from the other. Tula was shot by another Fin, and Socks wisely made it a point to yell out “Die, you Nazi bastards!” while chanting “USA! USA! USA!” This caused 4-Star and Lucky to pause and consider the situation before attacking, and Lucky charged one of the Fins and dropped him with a superpowered punch. 4-Star fired his Shooting Stars at another, dropping that Fin. Socks and Talos finished off their fins as a new figure tried to escape the submarine!

Mindstorm saw the escaping figure and told Kale to stop him, which he did with a well-placed palm blaster. The figure, Japanese super spy Shugenja, summoned an illusory attack that startled Kale momentarily. Lucky tried to attack Shugenja, ending the fight that began on the sub back in 1944, but Shugenja dodged him. Talos also attacked and failed, while Kale managed to wrap up Shugenja in inky darkness.

Mindstorm read Kale carefully and saw that he was about to kill the super spy, and ordered Kale to back off. Mindstorm then began to tell 4-Star and Lucky what had happened over the time they had been frozen…that it was now 2005. That Japan and the United States eventually became allies…until the V’Sori crushed both nations. Talos explained the fall of the Japanese empire to Shugenja, draining the fight from the patriot. Tula explained that OMEGA was the only resistance left…and the three frozen legends put aside their fight to leave this boat with the Buster Squad 5.

Arriving at a rendezvous point with Dr. Destruction, he seemed pleased that The Buster Squad had provided him with “two and a half” legends (which Lucky objected to). He led the men to his own ship and they departed, leaving the team to their own devices.

NOTES: We took a mission break here. Socks took Improved Frenzy as his advance, finally putting him on even par with the Fins, attack-wise. The mission is designed to have a fight with 4-Star and Lucky, but Mindstorm got a high card and rolled well, wiping out D’Bloc and putting an end to the mind control before it became a problem. I was going to have them attack everyone out of fear and confusion, but Socks made it a point to call out the Fins as Nazis and scream “USA! USA! USA!” so I gave him the point for effort. Then we carried on…

Tula asked Socks if he would maybe want to get some disguises and go to a movie and he said yes! Talos said he would shrink down and go with them, to Socks’ dismay. Another goofy argument erupted between Socks and Kale (happens once a mission or so) and Kale finally crossed the rubicon and actually mind controlled Socks and forced him to leave the headquarters and go to the movies.

Talos was stunned. Mindstorm said he had it coming.

Red flags also went off, at least with the players, because the last time an NPC female took a PC out on the town, Belladonna betrayed Mindstorm.

As the others left, Kale solemnly told Mindstorm that he was scared. He says that, with all due respect, he was never like the others…he was a kind and peaceful Atlantean until everyone he loved was killed before him in a V’Sori attack, and he gave over his soul to Leviathan for the promise of power…and revenge. He knows that he won’t survive this war…and he knows that his soul is damned. And now, it frightens him. Kale goes on to say that he is slipping. Socks is a killing machine, but he is literally what the V’Sori made him to be. Kale has access to all this power, but is moving towards the quickest and most lethal solution to any problem. He’s moving from not caring if people die…to becoming their executioner. He says that as the team has gotten better…he has only gotten worse.

Mindstorm says that maybe it’s not too late. That they can find a way to save him from Leviathan. Make a new deal.

As Socks, Tula and Talos leave the movie theatre, there is a commotion in the streets and the bloodied form of The Patriot, who Buster Squad 5 recruited some time ago, stumbles up to Socks and collapses against him. Spitting up blood, he tries to explain that his Cell is dead, that Drones did it…and says something about Supers before Patriot dies in his arms. Socks picks up a big whiff of fluoride off the body and contacts the rest of the team. Talos grabs Patriot and leaps back to HQ while Socks and Tula return on foot.

 It occurs to Socks that Patriot wasn’t saying “Drones and Supers”…but that Patriot was saying they had Super Drones! They examined Patriot’s body and found deep cuts and large bruising all over his body, with the fluoride being at its heaviest there. Socks said he could trace Patriot’s trail back to their headquarters and maybe find the Drones. Tula said she would take care of Patriot as the team headed out.

Socks picked up the trail…only to have a Super Drone open fire from a rooftop…and another Super Drone, wielding swords, charge out at Kale and cut him deeply! Kale crumpled to the ground, dying! (It should be noted here that Mindstorm’s player was rolling Kale’s Soak rolls and, using Common Bond, burned through EVERY benny he had trying to save Kale…and failed.)

Talos jumped to the rooftop to take out the Blaster Super Drone, while Socks shredded the Sword Wielding one. Mindstorm tried to attack the Blaster Drone with ranged attacks with little luck.  As Socks ran to the ladder access to the roof, a third Super Drone sped out of the darkness and hammered Mindstorm with multiple blows! As Mindstorm crumpled to the ground, he recognized the former OMEGA operative Zephyr – now part cyborg and a quite twisted Super Drone – standing over him! Socks managed to kill the Blaster Super Drone and jumped off the rooftop, hitting the ground running and charging at Zephyr…

…when the fourth Super Drone arrived, and Bully – fallen teammate of Socks, Mindstorm and Kale – intercepted Socks with a gore. Socks managed to roll with the hit and absorb it, but the shock to his system was much worse. Zephyr grabbed Mindstorm and began to pummel him repeatedly. Socks attacked Bully and only drove him into a Berserker Rage (which seemed curious that a Drone could do that), and Talos leapt down to attack Bully…only to get gored and smashed to pieces.

Seeing the thus far very resilient Talos shattered rattled the players…but Socks grabbed Bully by the horns and screamed at him.

“You’re still in there! They can’t take Bully away! Nothing can take Bully away! Not even death!” (Paraphrasing, as my memory is cloudy…but he did this while playing the Sidekick Adventure Card.)

Socks then turned away from Bully, exposing his back to him, and went to Zephyr, horribly wounding the Super Drone. Zephyr, who had momentarily sneered at Mindstorm, seemed to have a glimmer of recognition as Bully’s shadow fell over him and the hulking minotaur-like Super Drone crushed the speedy, Shaken Super Drone.

Mindstorm immediately dropped to Kale and began using his Electrical Control to cauterize the wounds, and try to shock Kale’s system back into operation. (He played “That One Issue Where…” Adventure card to gain Healing). To the surprise of everyone, Kale’s body began to respond to the efforts.

Before the team could process all of this, loud, clanking footsteps filled the streets and the team looked up to see Dr. Destruction standing in the streets! A ship began to hover over him and he said “This one is mine. The next one’s won’t be. GO.”

As the ship’s ramp lowered to the ground, Mindstorm telekinetically grabbed as much of Talos as he could while carrying Kale in his arms up the ramp. Bully, at their insistence, grabbed the rest of Talos and he and Socks ran past Dr. Destruction as a large cannon appeared in his hands and he opened fire on the Drones and Fins that were beginning to swarm in!

Destruction entered the vessel as the ramp raised and he dropped the cannon on the floor as he told Socks “You know how to fire a ship’s guns, correct? Fire at will.”

Mindstorm joined Socks, using lighting bolts to attack their pursuers as Destruction’s ship flew away from Star City…before plunging into the ocean.

Mindstorm finally had a chance to face Bully…and he simply hugged the giant, saying “I’m sorry.”

Destruction informed the team that the time was upon them…they could take three days rest, no more…because Dr. Aden had come through for them. OMEGA finally had the key to shutting down the Drones – worldwide – once and for all.

Notes: A very emotional session. Seeing one of my players use Common Bond to spend EVERY benny he had, at the beginning of a fight, to save an NPC is a sight I will not soon forget. My other player’s use of Sidekick to counteract the Super Drone programming for Bully, I thought, was a nice touch…you want character development in an RPG? Socks, a mindless killing machine, used the power of friendship to bring his best friend back. Mindstorm’s player told me, when Bully appeared, that he wanted to punch me. I call that a success, folks.

At the end of the session, Mindstorm took Shooting d12. I figure we only have a couple of sessions left and this campaign will draw to a close.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tommy's Take on The Grimm RPG

Teach Your Kids To Game Week may technically be over, I’m not sure how that works, but I had one more review I wanted to post for that reason that I didn’t get to earlier this week: Grimm by Fantasy Flight Games.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The version I am reviewing is the standalone, non-d20 version from 2007, that is apparently long out of print (with Amazon prices in the low $100s). The PDF is available on RPGNow for $20. This review is of the hardback version of the book. Grimm is an RPG about kids being sucked into a fairy tale world where the fairy tales have gone twisted (slightly more so than the original versions in some cases, anyway).

Fantasy Flight RPGs, at least at the time, used a common format of a full color flavor section at the front of the book, followed by the rules and such in black and white.

The world of Grimm is one in which the Brothers Grimm stumbled across the Giant trapped in the beanstalk, and forced him to give them a mystical book full of tales that had yet to be completed…and as they completed those tales they created a new world, The Grimm Lands. Kids occasionally find their way to the Grimm Lands, where they become what other people define them as: The Jock, The Nerd, The Bully, The Popular, The Outcast or The Dreamer. Inside the Grimm Lands they find humans (who are also more archetypes rather than full people), talking animals, mythical monsters and stuff that is truly bizarre (The Moon will purposefully shine its beams on you to alert predators to your location).

In character creation, you use one of the six archetypes and customize your character, spending 8 credits to increase your Traits, which are grouped together as Core Traits, Playground Traits and Study Traits. You can even lower one Trait to raise another. Traits use “Grades” as their level, ranking from 1st Grade to 12th Grade. You also have a single Iconic Core Trait, which is the Trait that most clearly defines you, and gives you something extra you can do with that Trait. Then you can select either a single Talent, or a second Talent called an Origin Talent, which provides a bonus while inflicting a penalty. As you finish a story arc, your Personal Grade goes up, giving you more Wounds, 8 more credits, and a new Talent.

The Bully is a fighter who is at an advantage when he’s either ganging up on an enemy or intimidating those smaller than them. They can, however, learn to become a Protector, learning to interject themselves between a weaker ally and an opponent.

The Dreamer has trouble focusing on the “real” world…but that’s okay, because they are no longer in the real world. Dreamers can cast spells spontaneously and eventually imagine themselves into being the True Hero they always thought they were. However, they are more vulnerable than most to charms, spells and illusions.

The Jock has a undeniable Will To Win that the others don’t, a by-product of their sports focus.

The Nerd is physically lacking, but can actually force logic into the Grimm Lands, fending off some creatures by filibustering it with an explanation of how it shouldn’t exist.

The Normal Kid is so normal that he fades into the crowd. You probably don’t even remember that he was at your birthday party. The Normal Kid is always the one the monsters of The Grimm Lands focus on first, though. However, the Normal Kid can pick up Traits and Talents from other kids (when they are knocked out), and can eventually assume an Unusual Heritage (three sample ones are provided, including being Grimm Lands royalty, being a werewolf and being a fairy, though the GM is encouraged to create a unique one for the PC).

The Outcast just never seems to fit in, though this allows them to become the rogues of the game, slipping in and out of the shadows, picking pockets and deceiving others.

The Popular Kid can shred others’ self confidence, and can “go with” another character (PC or NPC), increasing their stats and self-worth by doing so. Of course, breaking up has the opposite effect on the poor character that the Popular Kid dumps…

The Core Traits cover Cool, Pluck, Imagination, Luck and Muscle. Each entry not only describes when the Trait might be used, but provides sample difficulties and a special use of the Trait for those that have selected it as an Iconic Trait (like using Muscle to shake off all Wound Penalties for a scene). Playground Traits are things like Hide, Seek, Scamper, Scrap and Throw…essentially, Traits you would use when you *do* stuff. Study Traits encompass 4-H, Book Learning, Boy Scouts, Country Club, Gaming (which covers everything from the rules for checkers to turning a witch into a frog), Home Ec, Industrial Arts and Juvie.

The Origin Talents include The City Kid (+2 to Grades while in Civilization, but -1 in the wild) or Home Schooled (which gives a bonus to Study Traits but a penalty rto Scamper and Throw).

General Talents cover a lot of ground, like Against The Odds (where you stand up to something that should overwhelm you), Cute As A Button (which can force even monsters to pause before attacking you), Dr. Doolittle (which lets you acquire animal friends), Grip on Reality (a bonus against illusions), I Don’t Want To Grow Up! (improve two Playground traits at the cost of a penalty against despair or temptation), In The Nards! (double the effect from a cheap shot), Spoiled (throw a tantrum to gain a bonus to certain rolls), Taunter (to get under people’s skins, of course) and many, many more.

The mechanic is called the Linear d6 system and works under the assumption that you will almost always perform at your level of ability. When you roll a die, you roll a d6, and on a 2-5, you perform at your listed level of ability. Roll a 1, and you perform at a Grade lower…but you also roll again, and if you roll another 1, it’s at ANOTHER grade lower. Repeat until you stop rolling 1s. So it is possible, but not likely, that a character with a 10th Grade rank in Seek may perform at a 2nd Grade level by rolling very badly. Alternately, if you roll a 6, your performance goes up a Grade and you roll again…another 6, another boost, until you stop rolling 6s. Now, there are other things you can do to affect your rolls, like having relevant Talents or Focusing to increase your Boost range.

In an interesting bit, everyone is assumed to only have a single d6, with the GM providing all bonus dice. When you are helping someone else perform an action, you don’t roll…you physically hand them your die as a symbolic gesture saying “Hey, I’ve got you.”

Action Scenes begin with a Dramatic Moment (Ambushes, Scares, Surprises), then goes into determining Turn Order (usually deciding who should logically act first), declaring actions, then performing actions.

Combat is surprisingly tactical, with options for fighting, evading, guarding and so on…and even multiple movement options (like intercepting an ogre trying to crush your Nerd buddy).

The equipment chapter generalizes a lot of things (light hand weapons, heavy hand weapons, so on), as well a general equipment list straight out of a D&D player’s handbook…but also includes Keepsakes (like crayons that let you draw a door that lets you pass through a wall, a baseball bat that lets you turn any small object into a missile weapon by tossing it up and hitting it, or a flashlight that can pierce illusions as well as darkness). Even more potently, there are Talismans like a Bag of Breadcrumbs (which leaves a trail but summons crows), Crystal Slippers (that provide a bonus to Cool tests, unless they have the Spoiled Talent), or the Sword of St. George which is a Big Time weapon but requires a pure heart.

Characters who have Imagination as their Iconic trait can use Imaginings, which go up in levels (Level 1 might provide a candy cane “found” in your pocket, Level 2 may heal your of two wounds, Level 3 can cause it to rain and the only upper limit is decided by the amount of Imagination expended).

Magic is also important in the Grimm Lands, though using Magic weakens kids and can actually change and warp them over time. There are six types of Magic, ranked in six Circles. Artificers can make an object immune to normal damage at the 2nd Circle, for instance, and can turn straw to gold (or any other material into another) at the 5th Circle. Enchanters can cause people to become fascinated with them at the 1st Circle, or Worship them at the 6th Circle. Guardians can Inspire people at the 3rd Circle, or raise a Ward from the dead at the 6th Circle. Seers can get brief flashes of the future at the 1st Circle, or pluck information from people’s minds at the 6th. Witches can cause Blemishes that can get worse with higher Circles, and even utterly destroy villages that have offended them at the 6th Circle. Finally, Wizards can Summon creatures to their aid, unleash powerful Blasts and grant Protection. Note, in every case these are just samples of each Circle.

The GMing chapter targets how to make a Grimm Saga, starting with the Goals: Presumably, the kids want to escape…but maybe they want to heal the Grimm Lands, or maybe it’s not about an ultimate goal, but about the kids growing up. Tone is also discussed, as Grimm has horror, fantasy and adventure elements, but you can also make it light hearted, especially in parts.

One handy section provides ideas on how to give each archetype room to shine, like Bullies having to whip a town into shape in order to fight bandits, The Normal Kid having the one Trait needed to accomplish something because the other kids are so over specialized and so on.

The setting chapter immediately sets out to flip the fairy tales on their ears. For instance, gnomes have hollowed out the Beanstalk, and use it to help those willing to pay the price travel from one part of the kingdom to another. The Checkerboard Kingdoms is the place where all the kingdoms that were sucked into the Grimm Lands were forced into one area, each taking a perfectly square position. The Glorious Empire is ruled by The Emperor with No Clothes. The Land of Fear is ruled by the Fearless King and the only village is haunted constantly. The Great and Awful Forest has magical streams that can poison you, give you the ability to small magic, heal you and more…and the Forest is also the hunting grounds of the Big Bad Wolf. It is also home to The Cottage of the Three Bears, The Gingerbread House and the old woman who used to live in a shoe. The Rioting River has the London Bridge, barely being held together by blind mice, as well as the River Styx. The Sea is a haven of oddities and exploration, with this section filled with random charts to roll on. The World’s Edge Mountains is home to Snow White and the Seventeen Dwarfs, as well as the Headless Knights of the Headless Heights.

The bestiary covers animals, carnivorous plants, faeries of all types, giant bugs, giants, living objects, trolls,  and knights…as well as major characters like the Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella, The Dragon, The Rotten King, Mother Goose, Rapunzel and more. And just about every one of them are twisted in ways that are pretty horrifying.

The book concludes with a few summary charts and an index.

WHAT WORKS: I love the archetypes. The world is very, very expansive and has a lot of room to play around in. Great production values (love the picture of the Wolf Man being kicked in the nards). Plenty of options without getting overly complicated. I always like a magic system that has a little risk to it.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Imagination may be a tad overpowered, as may the Dreamer archetype in general. Despite often being promoted as being a suitable RPG for kids, the default Grimm Lands may be too dark for that. Grimm was originally a setting for the d20 system, and you can still see a few d20isms floating around in it.

CONCLUSION: I was a big fan of Fantasy Flight Games when they were producing stuff like this, Dawnforge and Midnight. The Grimm RPG line only ever had the one book released for it, but it is really complete with enough material in the book to run a full campaign and enough examples for you to expand the game if you need to (such as with Keepsakes and the like). The biggest flaw that the game has is that it doesn’t make a compelling case to not use Imagination as your Iconic Trait or pick The Dreamer over the other archetypes, from a min-max standpoint. Grimm seems like it could be amazing fun for groups willing to play kids…especially since the kids definitely have the ability to kick butt as they grow.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tommy's Take on Mermaid Adventures

It is, apparently, Teach Your Kids To Game Week, so I’m taking the opportunity to review Mermaid Adventures by Third Eye Games, an RPG designed specifically to encourage kids to try roleplaying.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This review is of the PDF version of the product, available at RPGNow for $9.81, and is meant to help kids take the plunge into roleplaying. Unlike most Third Eye Games products, it doesn’t use the Dynamic Gaming System, instead using the newly designed for this game Pips System. The basics are as follows: You have white dice and black dice (d6s), and you roll White dice (usually equal to a stat) and Black dice (usually equal to the difficulty) and count the successes (4, 5, and 6), subtracting the Black successes from the White successes. If you have at least one success left, you succeed. The game is Player Facing, with the players rolling all the dice.

The world is pretty broad strokes, with a sunshine and happiness Atlantis on guard against the mysterious and threatening Dark Lands.

There are eight species of Merfolk to choose from: Fishfolk (what you commonly think of when you think of a Mermaid), Eelfolk (who tend to be slippery pranksters), Urchinfolk (who like to scrounge for magic relics), Jellyfolk (keen stragegists), Octofolk (sorcerers), Rayfolk (the ninjas of the sea), Sharkfolk (hulking warriors) and Lobsterfolk (craftsmen and inventors).

The underwater world is also inhabited with typical sea life like fish and sharks, as well as the fearsome Kraken.

In character creation, you pick your Merfolk type, which gives you stats for Body, Mind, Charm and Luck, which you can then customize with 5 points. Each Merfolk type also gives you a free Quality. Then you roll on a series of random charts that include things like Fin Color and Hair Style, plus cooler stuff like Extras (maybe your character has a uniform of some sort, or an eye patch, or dynamite) and finally Goals (which give you a bonus White die when pursuing them).

From there, add 4 Qualities (like Writer, Thief or Puzzle Master) including Magical Qualities, which essentially give your character special powers (like Hypno Eyes or Water Bending). You can even spend those points on an animal companion or special items instead.

And that’s the basics of character generation.

The system is pretty simple, as noted above, though you can also apply up to three Qualities to help you with your die rolls (assuming they fit what you are trying to do). If White beats Black by 3 or more, it’s a bigger success, and if it’s 3 or less, it’s a more crushing failure. Ties are resolved as “You succeed, but…”

Combat is interesting, as you can attack with any of the 4 stats, and defend with any of the 4, again applying logic and storytelling to these choices. Whoever loses out takes damage to the stat they were using, which takes up to 4 hits…but if it drops to 0, you have to roll on a chart to see the effects. Body of 0 can put you in a coma or cause an item to break. Mind of 0 can give you migranes or fill  you with overconfidence (which would be BAD if you had just had your Mind dropped to 0). Charm can cause you to burst into tears or lose your voice. Luck can cause you to trip and fall or drain you of magic. And there are options on each chart that can force you to lose a point of the stat permanently, or regain one you’ve lost.

NPCs are abstracted down a bit, with a Hit total instead of Hits for each attribute. A really good selection of NPCs, beasts, monsters and even Top World creatures are provided.

The GMing section is short and sweet, and basically says “Make everything wacky and have fun”, which isn’t bad advice.

A random events chart is provided (why didn’t anyone tell me there were so many random tables?!), for those times when you need inspiration fast. These include Disasters (Underwater fire! Run!), Discoveries (Ooooh, a sunken ship!), Meeting Someone New (a bully is after you!), Magical (Body swap!), and Fun (The carnival is here!).

Sample NPCs are included, and I’m guessing these are Kickstarter backers and the children thereof, as much of the art looks a lot like redrawn photos in the face,

Five sample adventures are included. The first is a basic rescue attempt, complicated by the fact that the merfolk are under orders not to be seen by the surface folk, who are currently in need of rescuing. The second is a royal heist with a creepy twist involving undead and sea witches. The third is the Undersea Olympics. The fourth involves a child gone missing and the PCs attempting to save them. The fifth leaves the PCs stuck on the surface world as humans in a race against time to return to Atlantis.

An index is included, followed by a list of Kickstarter backers and a character sheet.

WHAT WORKS: The system looks like it would do a find job of handling any type of conflict, not just slugfests, and the charts for stats dropping to 0 are inspired. The amount of Merfolk is similarly impressive, and it would be easy to increase the available Qualities based off of the examples given. The bestiary is also pretty big, and the five adventures cover a broad range of stuff, giving you some good ideas as to the range of the game.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Despite not being marketed towards girls specifically, Mermaid Adventures has registered exactly zero interest from MY kid, in no small part because of the “Mermaids”.

CONCLUSION: Obviously, I’m a huge fan of Third Eye Games, but I was fairly underwhelmed when I heard the announcement for this game. After reading it, I may put the overall quality of the book ahead of Part-Time Gods and behind API and Wu Xing. The system is simple but has some nice wiggle room, and I’m glad to see it’s living on in another kid-friendly RPG, Camp Myth (which, thematically, may be more up my kid’s speed). Don’t judge the book by its surface…it has some impressive depths to it. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tommy's Take on tremulus

I’ve had a few blog posts about it, one of which being from my first guest blogger, and I’ve even ran it…though it’s not been officially released to the public. That said, the next review is for tremulus by Reality Blurs.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: tremulus came into my hands as the result of a very successful Kickstarter. I currently have the PDF (Kickstarter Edition v1.3) and am waiting the eventual physical book, as well as a number of other goodies. tremulus is a self-described storytelling game of Lovecraftian Horror using the Haiku system, which is a hybrid of Apocalypse World, FATE and Fiasco. It is a “player-facing” game, meaning the GM rolls no dice…all rolls are performed by the players. (Edit: The PDF is now available at RPGNow for $15.)

In a nutshell, any roll by a player is 2d6 plus an attribute, with the following guidelines: 10+ is a success, 7-9 is a partial success with a consequence and 6 or less is a failure of some sort.

The core game includes 11 Playbooks (character archetypes, essentially) and only one of these archetypes can be used in a game at a time. For instance, there is only one Detective, one Dilettante, one Journalist, etc. Each player picks a Playbook and customizes it, picking the name, distinguishing features, point arrays to be spread over the Attributes (Reason, Passion, Might, Luck and Affinity), and Special Moves.

See, Moves are the actions the characters can do in the game, and there’s a big list of Basic Moves, with each Playbook getting two Special Moves and each having a Lore Move. Basic Moves include Resort to Violence, Threaten, Poke Around and Act Under Pressure. In the game I ran, the lone PC was a Detective and his two Special Moves were Tough As Nails which gave him +1 armor at all times and Methodical, which let him use Reason for his Poke Around rolls instead of Luck, which turned out to be a huge boon for him. Additionally, he had a Lore move, called Playing a Hunch, which costs a Lore point and gives the Detective +1 on rolls involving a given NPC. Each of the Playbooks have their own unique flavor and options. The Basic Moves all have tips on when to use them, as well as ideas to help you interpret the dice rolls.

As is common in games inspired by Apocalypse World, the PCs are encouraged to work out their connection with each other beforehand, in this case tying into a Trust Mechanic, ranked on a scale of +3 to -3, and if it ever crosses either extreme, you learn a deep, dark secret about that PC!

As noted, this is a game of Lovecraftian Horror, though that doesn’t necessarily mean Cthulhu and the Elder Gods, just cosmic and unknowable horror (which the book makes a point of explaining up front). This also explains why there are two “damage” tracks: Harm and Sanity. Insanity and Lovecraft tends to go hand in hand. You can adjust the lethality of the game by allowing PCs to take Debilities for Health, Sanity or both (or neither, by default), taking penalties instead of facing death or insanity.

The Keeper’s Section is pretty extensive, preaching a “fiction first” approach (it IS a storytelling game) and the three approaches to starting a game (running with a playset, like the included Ebon Eaves, running with a framework like the Primrose Path Kickstarter framework, and just winging it). The game I ran was using the Ebon Eaves playset, and was really quite a fun exercise.

One of the twists in the GM paradigm is that GMs are largely assumed to use THEIR moves when they are spending points of Hold that they have acquired from PC failure. Keepers have Moves and Hard Moves, the difference being that PCs can interrupt Moves and they are reacting to the outcomes of Moves if you are using a Hard Move. For example, a Move would entail a creature leaping out of a closet, then asking the PC how they react. A Hard Move has the creature leaping out and hurting the PC, THEN asking him how they react.

Everything that opposes the PCs is classified under Hazards, grouped as Elders (people in position of power), Townies (larger groups in the setting), Landscape (Prisons, Mazes, Breeding Pits), Weird (pretty much anything that is ultimately strange and alien) and Doom (any bad practical circumstance). Each Hazard type has a set of Moves and a Subtype of their own to help you figure out how to use them.

The Keeper’s section then walks you through putting all of this together in order to make your framework for the game, by putting Hazards together, tying them together with a Lynchpin and adding a Texture (like Revenge, Transformation or Forbidden Love) to make a Thread…and then tying multiple threads together. This gives you five elements: The Tragic End (what happens if the baddies win), The Unknown (unresolved questions), Lurking Evil (the stuff in the PCs’ way), Darkness Grows (how the bad guys’ plans progress) and Theme (the aforementioned Texture).

Bad guys/NPCs are slightly more streamlined with PCs, and a selection of creepy monsters are included, like Ghouls (which I used in my one shot) and Shoggoths, as well as a handful of regular animals. Not a big selection by any stretch, but the focus will generally be on investigation anyway.

Rituals are also included, and are powered by Lore. Anyone can try to cast them, but you take damage if you don’t have enough Lore. For that reason, I strongly recommend not telling the PCs how much Lore a ritual takes until they use it (unless they do some crazy research first). These include enchanting weapons, summoning or dismissing entities and contacting Outer Gods.

A lot of other good advice is scattered around, including a bit on pacing.

The Ebon Eaves playset is included to get you started, and is quite interesting: You start off by asking the players two groups of seven questions, to which they must answer yes to three each. Their answers dictate the starting descriptions and plot hooks of the town, with each entry having a paragraph for you to read to them, and a paragraph for you to keep to yourself about the secrets of the town. These questions also help to set elements like the Hazards. By Sean Preston’s count, including turning the elements into Frameworks and adding Textures, the Ebon Eaves set alone provides 17.500 combinations. That’s impressive.

WHAT WORKS: A ton of great advice is present throughout the book. An improv happy group will have a field day with this, and there’s already a lot of great support coming from the Kickstarter stretch goals, including expansions to Ebon Eaves and a lot more Playbooks, as well as new Playsets. The system works well for horror, with its harsh and unforgiving damage systems, and the Playbooks being designed with all the PC Moves already on them makes the game much easier to pick up and go for newbies (speaking from experience here). Playset creation is similarly inspiring, using the players’ answers to help dictate the plot threads (and probably in ways they will never expect). One of the best “Player Facing” systems I’ve seen thus far.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Some of the terminology (Forwards, Holds, etc) can take a bit of getting used to. I always prefer a bigger monster selection. Some of the advice can be repetitive, and the organization feels like it could be cleaner.

CONCLUSION: We played one session of this with me not having a chance to fully read the book and all prep done at the game table and had a good time. My player for that solo session actively wants to play again (and he’s a hardcore Savage Worlds nut), but with more people so we can use the Trust mechanic in play. I also told him about some of the Playbooks coming to me as a Kickstarter backer and how many of them seem more his speed and he was pumped.

tremulus doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, though it does a really nice job of supporting investigative horror, providing a TON of structure to this as opposed to everyone standing around and swapping the story baton or something. It’s a pretty traditional horror/investigation RPG with some narrative quirks, and you can decide for yourself if that’s a good or bad thing. For us, it was a lot of fun…fun that we will surely revisit in the future.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Buster Squad 5: A Necessary Evil Actual Play Volume 10

New Session!

With the team laying low and Talos integrating into the group, the squad witnesses The Junk Yard Dog, an OMEGA member, being executed during a battle with Fins by an orbital satellite! Dr. Destruction breaks into their signal and informs them that the V’Sori have put a new weapon into play above the Earth, and that the team needs to take it out. Fast.

The requisite brain storming session begins, with the team trying to figure out how to find the satellite and how to get into space. With some thinking, they realize that space craft should be located at the airport, but will likely be heavily guarded, and they still don’t know where the satellite is. Kale and Mindstorm try to telepathically reach out to Dr. Aden, but fail, so Kale taps into the Omega resources to get word to Aden. Aden responds pretty quickly with the coordinates for the satellite! Still left trying to figure out how to get into space, inspiration strikes Kale. He tells the team to meet him at the airport…and he prays that they forgive him.

Mindstorm, Talos and Socks arrive at the airport, and Kale telepathically nudged them, saying that he was behind a hangar. When the team reunited, Kale refused to look them in the eye, saying that he knew they didn’t really have the right skills or resources to pull this off…so he made a deal with the devil. The team seemed unsure about how they should take this, when French thief Cyber-Burglaire said he would assist them! The team groaned, having dealt with Cyber-Burglaire before (in fact, having been directly responsible for Burglaire joining OMEGA), and Kale got some glares. Burglaire quickly broke into the hangar and the team surveyed the hangar, seeing the ship surrounded by about 25 drones. Mindstorm asked Cyber-Burglaire what he knows about satellites, which wasn’t much, but he said he could learn via the internet. Mindstorm asked him if he could reprogram the satellite, and Burglaire said yes.

The team tried to figure out how to get into the ship without fighting their way in, and Kale told Socks to sneak in from underneath, thanks to Mindstorm using Telekinesis to open the ship’s hatch. Kale and Mindstorm telepathically guided Socks to his destination, and Socks successfully slipped into the ship. Kale, riding Socks’ mind, saw the inside of the ship through his eyes and teleported into the vessel, then drew the other three teammates in as well. Burglaire hacked the hangar’s flight logs and inserted a scheduled flight for this vessel, and the team burst off into space, spying a V’Sori Warlord stalking around the hangar!

Kale piloted the vessel while Socks explored it. Before the team could even get a visual on the satellite, it opened fire on them! The vessel was sent spinning out of control and Kale only barely righted it before it came to a dead float in space! Mindstorm yelled at Burglaire for allowing the ship to be shot, but Burglaire countered that he had no idea the satellite would even try to fire that early! Talos grimaced and began to magnetically propel the ship an alarming speed, bringing the ship close to the satellite while Cyber-Burglaire hacked the satellite and temporarily disabled its gun! (Socks had an Adventure Card that boosted the group’s travel time in a day, making this quite fortuitous. As the team pulled in close to the satellite, Talos began to institute repairs, but they were going to take a loooooong time. Burglaire grimaced as the satellite tried to fire again, blocking the attack from firing. Socks found the ship’s guns and attacked, but did nothing. Kale rose from his seat in the cockpit and called on Leviathan, whose reach extended even here, and Kale hurled a mystical bolt through the ship’s viewport, blasting the satellite and causing explosions! Mindstorm closed his eyes and focused his Telekinesis, placing a shield in front of the vessel! (This was accomplished by an Adventure Card that allows a PC to gain 5 Power Points worth of Powers for one session, which Mindstorm used to gain Deflection.)

The satellite popped off a shot that narrowly missed the ship thanks to Mindstorm, and Kale ripped into the satellite again, while Mindstorm joined him by hurling Telekinetic bolts. Socks got ready to fire off another shot, but Mindstorm told him to take his time with this one.

Cyber-Burglaire locked the satellite down again and Kale fired off another bolt, this one doing nothing. However, Socks fired again and this time the well-placed shot set off a chain reaction of explosions that obliterated the Orca Death Ray satellite!

The downside? The repairs by Talos were going to take more than three days to fix because the ship was still crippled. Cyber-Burglaire offered a “Go Team!” but was rejected. Still, the team had won. Counts for something, right?

Notes: This one is straight from the NE book, and I could see it royally sucking for some groups, but everyone involved managed to find some way to contribute, even in the fight from the spaceship. Socks was firing unskilled from the ship and missing repeatedly, but rolled really well with the Aim maneuver, and then rolled even better on the damage roll (a damage total in the 40s, as I recall). Despite 7 Adventure Cards between the two PCs, they were complaining about how useless their cards were…then managed to use both to great effect. So great, in fact, that as Mindstorm crossed Heroic, he took Power Points and the Deflection power.