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

Monday, 21 September 2020

Miskatonic Monday #52: Down New England Town

 Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...


The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.



—oOo—


Name: Down New England Town

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Michael LaBossiere

Setting: Small town, modern New England

Product: Scenario
What You Get: Ten page, 3.15 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Hometown Horror Maestro Horror
Plot Hook: 
 Sheriff stumped by removed remains of the recently deceased director of horror movies. Could his death have become a horror movie?
Plot Support: Five NPCs, new Mythos creature variant, and a map.
Production Values: Tidy layout and decent illustrations.

Pros
# Potential hometown sidequest

# Simple story, one session scenario
# Good mix of NPCs for the Keeper to roleplay
# Potential convention scenario
# Easy to adapt to other time periods
# Roleplaying focused investigation
# Scope to play up the horror movie aspects

Cons

# Simple story, one session scenario
# Uninspiring new Mythos monster variant
# Underwritten investigation
# one note, combat climax

Conclusion
# Solid addition to any ghoul campaign
Scope to play up the horror movie aspects
# Roleplaying investigation needs development

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Tour de Tabletop

A minor side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has delayed this review, because it has also delayed the reason for this review. The 2020 Tour de France was due to have started on June 27th and finish three weeks later on July 19th, but its starting date was delayed until 29th August and it is due to finish today, 20th September. Consequently, this review—of a cycling-themed game—is equally as late. Published by Lautapelit.fi, Flamme Rouge is a cycling racing game designed for two to four players, aged eight and above, which can be played in between thirty and forty-five minutes. The mechanics involve racing on a modular board, the hand management of dual decks, and simultaneous action selection, supporting play that is both simple and tactical, and ultimately, providing a game that really feels like a stage of one the Grand Tours—the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, and Vuelta a España. Plus, there is nothing to stop a playing group to play 
Flamme Rouge more than once to simulate a Grand Tour!

In 
Flamme Rouge, each player controls a team of two riders. One is the Rouleur, a good all-rounder, capable of maintaining a good pace throughout a race, the other is the Sprinteur, capable of bursts of great—typically as they are racing for the finishing line. Throughout the game, each player will control the speed of both his Rouleur and his Sprinteur, each of whom has a sperate movement deck. In general, he will keep his cyclists in the pack—or peloton—to conserve energy and speed, protecting the Sprinteur until close to the end when he can launch a sprint attack or he might launch a breakaway from the peloton and get to the finishing line before anyone else. However, this will exhaust a cyclist and probably enable the peleton to catch up. All cyclists though can take advantage of the slipstream effect to catch up and keep up with the cyclists in front of them. Since every team is trying to do this, the cyclists will be jockeying for position throughout the game.

Open up the box and you will find twenty-one double-sided Track Tiles consisting of Start and Finish sections, plus various straight and corner sections. All of the Track Tiles have two lanes and on the reverse are marked with Ascent and Descent sections which indicate mountain sections. There are eight custom plastic Cyclists—one Rouleur and one Sprinteur per player, marked with an ‘R’ and an ‘S’ respectively, and four Player Boards, one per player. Each board has spaces for the two decks of cards a player will draw from throughout the game. The game’s almost two hundred cards are divided into ten decks. Four of these are Energy decks for both the Rouleur and the Sprinteur, whilst the other two are Exhaustion decks, again one for Rouleurs and one for Sprinteurs. Each player has two Energy decks, one for his Rouleur and one for his Sprinteur. The two Exhaustion decks are drawn from by all of the players. Both Rouleur and Sprinteur Energy decks consist of numbered cards—each indicating the number of spaces a Rouleur or Sprinteur can move, the Rouleur’s between three and seven, and the Sprinteur’s between two and five, plus several nines. The value of the Exhaustion cards are all equal to two. Lastly, there are four Reference cards and six Stage cards. Each of the latter gives a layout for the Track Tiles to model a Stage from one of the Grand Tours. Lastly, the large, four-page rulebook explains how to set up and play Flame Rouge.

All of these components are of an excellent quality. Both the cards and Track Tiles have a linen finish and the Track Tiles are of thick cardboard. The rulebook is short and easy to read, and includes samples of play where necessary. Lastly, the plastic cyclists are not quite as nice as the other components, but both the Rouleur and the Sprinteur have different poses and the back of their jerseys are marked with an ‘R’ or an ‘S’ respectively for easy identification. The look of the game, of French cycling the 1930s, is really attractive and gives the game a classic feel.

Game set-up is simple. Each player receives a Rouleur and Sprinteur, Rouleur deck and Sprinteur deck, and player board, all in the same colour. The Track Tiles are laid out according to one of the Stage cards or a Stage of the players’ own design, and both Exhaustion decks are put beside the Stage layout. Then each player places his Rouleur and Sprinteur at the start of the Stage layout, the order determined by age and the last time the players each rode a bicycle.

Each round of 
Flamme Rouge consists of three phases—the Energy, Movement, and End phases. In the Energy phase, each player draws four cards from either his Sprinteur or Rouleur Energy deck, selects one to play, and returns the other three to the bottom of the appropriate deck. Then he does it to the other deck so that he one card from both of the Sprinteur and Rouleur Energy decks ready to play in the Movement phase. This can be done in any order, but once a card has been selected, a player cannot go back and change it.

In the Movement phase, the players reveal their cards and begin moving their cyclists, starting with the one at the front and working backwards in order. Each cyclist is moved forward a number of spaces as indicated on the respective Energy cards. A cyclist can be moved past another cyclist, but cannot land on a space occupied by one. Instead, the cyclist moves in behind the other. This will typically forces a player to be conservative in the choice of Energy cards he plays in order to prevent his wasting them in attempts to get his cyclists to pass those ahead of him, and whilst the players with cyclists at the front have a wider choice in the cards they play, they not do want necessarily to separate their cyclists from the ones behind them lest they begin to gain Exhaustion cards.

The End phase, all played Energy cards—for both Sprinteur and Rouleur—are discarded, and Slipstreaming and Exhaustion occur. If a cyclist ends his movement with exactly one empty space between him and the cyclist in front of him, then the cyclist can move exactly one space forward and close the gap. If there is more than one space between cyclists, then they are considered to be separate groups. It is also perfectly possible and legal to slipstream multiple groups, the slightly strung out cyclists taking advantage of the slipstream effect to come back together form a larger pack.

However, if there is still a gap of more than one space between any cyclists after those able to take advantage of the Slipstream effect, then those cyclists earn an Exhaustion card each. This is added to their respective Energy decks and when drawn and played, only enable a cyclist to move two spaces. What this means is that it pays for a cyclist to be conservative in his use of Energy. In the peleton, he can maintain the same speed as his fellow cyclists and gain advantage of the Slipstream effect if a rival cyclist decides to speed up. There is nothing to stop a cyclist making a break from the peleton, and just like in an actual Grand Tour, racing off into the distance, his player using the high value Energy cards in a cyclist’s deck to gain an advantage over his fellow cyclists. Just like a Grand Tower though, this will tire the cyclist out fairly quickly, modelled by the breakaway cyclist picking up more and more Exhaustion cards over the course of several turns. These will come to clog up a cyclist’s Energy deck, even as his player uses the higher value Energy cards up and discards them, ultimately slowing a cyclist down.

In the base set-up, a game will typically see the cyclists jockeying for position right down to the finishing line when Sprinteurs make a break for it in an attempt to win the stage. In the advanced game—which really only adds one or two rules, mountains can be added to Stages. Mountain sections on the tiles are marked into two colours—orange for ascent and blue for descent. When a cyclist is in an ascent section, and therefore travelling fairly slowly, the maximum value of any Energy card played is always five. If a higher value card is played, the number of spaces of movement it grants is reduced to five. Conversely, on the descent sections, when the cyclist is travelling really quickly, the minimal value of any Energy card played is five. What this means is that lower value Energy cards can be played and the cyclist gets the benefit of the increased value and because the card is also discarded from the game, it means that the player is not forced to use it later when it will not help his cyclists. This includes Exhaustion cards, and this is one way in which to remove them from a cyclist’s Energy deck.

Effectively, 
Flamme Rouge is a finely balanced energy management game, with players needing to keep their cyclists up with those of the other players and either not let their rivals get to far ahead—or at least keep up with them when they are! A player can also keep track of what Energy cards his rivals have played, but it is still possible to be outfoxed by a rival especially when mountains come into play and break up the cyclists into smaller groups. The mountains are all but a necessity as without them, Flamme Rouge is well, a bit flat, and just as the mountains break up the terrain, they provide an opportunity for the players to break up the bigger groups and form breakaways.

Flamme Rouge looks good and is both easy to learn, play, and teach. Above all, Flamme Rouge plays and feels like a stage of a Grand Tour, and there is a great ebb and flow to it—just like the real thing. For gamers who are also fans of cycling, Flamme Rouge is a game they are going to appreciate, whilst being accessible by gamers who are not cycling fans and cycling fans who are not gamers.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Magic, Murder, & Mystery

Dead Light and other Dark Turns: Two Unsettling Encounters on the Road is not a wholly new book for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. This is because it combines one of the first scenarios published for the then new version of the venerable Lovecraftian investigative horror with a wholly new scenario and several scenario seeds. The ‘old’ scenario is ‘Dead Light’, published in 2014 as Dead Light: Surviving One Night Outside Of Arkham, which in this new anthology published by Chaosium, Inc. has been joined by the new scenario, ‘Saturnine Chalice’. What connects the two—or at least what they have in common—is that they take place whilst the investigators on the road, and either because of the weather or because they get lost, the investigators will be confronted with mystery, magic, and mortality. Both scenarios are set in the 1920s, are quite nasty, both are self-contained, and both are nominally set in Lovecraft Country. What this means is that either can be slotted into an ongoing campaign whilst the investigators are travelling between locations or run as oneshots, and be moved to any remote location—all with relative ease. With a little effort, they could also be shifted to time periods other than the Jazz Age of the 1920s. Other than that, each scenario is very different in terms of structure, tone, and story, and so will provide very different roleplaying experiences.

‘Dead Light’ opens with the investigators on the road out of Arkham, heading for the town Ipswich. The weather has drawn and as the road is lashed by a fierce storm, the investigators are forced to slow—which proves to be fortunate when a disheveled and bewildered girl runs into the road. Thankfully, the investigators can take refuge with other travellers at the roadside Orchard Run Gas and Diner. Here they can also learn who the girl is and where she came from, but that begs the question of what forced her to flee into the night when the weather is as bad as this? Another question is what caused a local farmer to swerve his truck so leaving the road all but blocked and left him incoherent with shock? Is it because he is just drunk or are his claims of a bright light that caused him to swerve on the road true?

Further checking on the girl reveals more of the mystery and something of the threat that the investigators will face in and about the Orchard Run Gas and Diner. The threat almost has a Science Fiction feel to it and that is perfectly in keeping with the nature of Cosmic horror. Although its origins are never quite revealed, the purpose to which it has been put can be discerned, and it is horribly rational and thoroughly in keeping with the wider miscegenation found in Lovecraft Country.

‘Dead Light’ is both a tale of jealousy and greed, and a survival horror scenario. As a survival horror scenario, it is light both in terms of the traditional Mythos and detailed investigation. As a tale of jealousy and greed, there are plenty of opportunities for roleplaying though as the consequences of both come to roost in and around the Orchard Run Gas and Diner. The likelihood is that the scenario is much physical in nature as the investigators and the NPCs are stalked in the woods surrounding the roadside stop. Yet as physical as the scenario is likely to become, any investigator attempting to confront the threat with brute force is likely to end up sorely disappointed and quite possibly dead. What this means is that the investigators will need to look for the means to stop the threat—and doing so will reveal the origins of the threat and perhaps the human folly that led to its release.

The issue with survival horror and with a threat as deadly as that in Dead Light is that it is too easy to kill the investigators. Whilst the thing is hunting them and everyone at the café, the Keeper needs to pace the scenario and not have it hunt down and kill everyone. This does not mean that she should be lenient should a player have his investigator act foolishly, but with plenty of NPCs around to show how the monster works, the Keeper should sacrifice them and so hint at the thing’s lethality and give time for the investigators to uncover what is really going on. The danger here is that in the hands of an inexperienced Keeper, ‘Dead Light’ has the potential to result in the death of everyone at the Orchard Run Gas and Diner—including the investigators. A more experienced Keeper will know to play and draw the events of the scenario and the deaths of everyone present out over the course of the evening. Pleasingly, ‘Dead Light’ gives the Keeper the means and advice to that end. Essentially, the second or revised edition of the original scenario, minor tweaks and edits having been made here and there, ‘Dead Light’ is a still as good a scenario as it was in 2014.

‘Saturnine Chalice’ is a radically different scenario in comparison to ‘Dead Light’. It is very much smoke and mirrors, a drawing room mystery bordering on farce, all contained within a puzzle box. The scenario opens again with the investigators on the road and then, whether they have got lost or their vehicle has run out of petrol, needing to go for help. They find themselves at the home of Augustus Weyland and his daughter, Veronica, their hosts welcoming, offering to help them with their plight, and even inviting them to dinner. Surprisingly, both father and daughter are willing to not only entertain the existence of the occult, but openly discuss it, which seems all the stranger given that the investigators have not come looking for it—at least not at the Weyland house. As they interact with the hosts and servants, things get odder and there seems to be gaps in what each knows, culminating in what is a truly bizarre dinner—a scene which the Keeper should really relish portraying.

This and other clues should indicate that there is something strange going on in the house, which should ideally drive the investigators to search the house further—and if they refrain, then other events certainly will. What the investigators find is a clue-rich environment pointing to the events which lead up to the current situation, what is going on when the investigators enter the house, and how they can escape their predicament. Two methods are suggested in ‘Saturnine Chalice’ for handling these clues. One is to rely for the investigators’ skills and abilities, but the other is for the players themselves to take the clues and work out themselves aspects of the puzzle their investigators find themselves in. Certainly, the latter option adds a degree of physicality not normally present in Call of Cthulhu investigations. However, this may complicate play for some players and potentially increase the playing length of the scenario’s single session. Here the Keeper needs to take into account her players’ playing preferences—or at least be aware of their being expressed if ‘Saturnine Chalice’ is run for relatively inexperienced or new players.

In comparison to ‘Dead Light’, ‘Saturnine Chalice’ is far more of cerebral affair, though there are still moments of action. Both possess a fair degree of back story as well as potential hooks which could be developed by the Keeper—especially if either is run as part of a Lovecraft Country campaign. Even if the links are not developed, both are easy to slot into a campaign, or simply run as oneshots.

Rounding out Dead Light and other Dark Turns: Two Unsettling Encounters on the Road is a half dozen scenario seeds. In keeping with the theme of the book, these all start on the road. They take the investigators to a roadside cabin camp where the fellow guests are up to something in the nearby woods, past a strange, giant animal attraction which could be something more, to a suitcase left in the middle of the road, and then on past the same signpost—again, to be diverted into a deadly game of cat and mouse in a scrapyard, and at last, to a chance to be charitable and pick up a pair of innocent looking hitchhikers. In some cases, the scenario sees include one or more explanations as to what is going on, and a couple do include some interesting historical background. That said, some of them are perhaps a bit mundane. All though require some effort upon the part of the Keeper to develop into a full scenario.

Physically, Dead Light and other Dark Turns: Two Unsettling Encounters on the Road is nicely presented. It is well written, cleanly laid out, and the artwork, cartography, and handouts are all decent. The only thing which could be held against the book is that it is in black and white in comparison to the publisher’s other for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, but to be fair, this does not detract from the production values and this is still a good looking book.

Even with just the two scenarios, Dead Light and other Dark Turns: Two Unsettling Encounters on the Road is a nicely versatile anthology. Both scenario are very different in terms of their structure, tone, and play style, but both are easy to use. Whether the Keeper is looking to taunt her investigators with a night’s survival horror or a puzzle to unlock, Dead Light and other Dark Turns: Two Unsettling Encounters on the Road delivers both for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition
along with a few extras.

Friday, 18 September 2020

[Free RPG Day 2020] Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible – Maw of Abraxas

Now in its thirteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2020, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 25th July. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Again, global events meant that Gen Con itself was not only delayed, but run as a virtual event, and likewise, global events meant that Reviews from R’lyeh could not gain access to the titles released on the day as no friendly local gaming shop was participating nearby. Fortunately, Reviews from R’lyeh has been able to gain copies of many of the titles released on the day, and so can review them as is the usual practice. To that end, Reviews from R’lyeh wants to thank both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles.

The contribution to Free RPG Day 2020 from Fantasy Flight Games is Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible – Maw of Abraxas. This is a quick-start for use with Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible, the roleplaying game based on the setting for Richard Garfield’s KeyForge: Call of the Archons, the world’s first Unique Deck Game. It uses the Genesys Narrative Dice System—first seen in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Third Edition—but ultimately derived from the original Doom and Descent board games. 
Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible – Maw of Abraxas comes with everything necessary to play—an explanation of the rules, four pregenerated characters, and an exciting, action-packed scenario for the Game Master to run. What it does not come with is dice and the fact that both the Genesys Narrative Dice System and Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible—and therefore Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible – Maw of Abraxas—use propriety dice is a problem. Not an insurmountable one, but a problem, nonetheless.

Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible – Maw of Abraxas opens with a rules summary. The core mechanic requires a player to roll a pool of dice to generate successes and should the roll generate enough successes, his character succeeds in the action being attempted. The complexity comes in the number of dice types and the number of symbols that the players need to keep track of. On the plus side, a player will be rolling Ability dice to represent his character’s innate ability and characteristics, Proficiency dice to represent his skill, and Boost dice to represent situational advantages such as time, assistance, and equipment. On the negative side, a player will be rolling Difficulty dice to represent the complexity of the task being undertaken, Challenge dice if it is a particularly difficult task, and Setback dice to represent hindrances such as poor lighting, difficult terrain, and lack of resources. Ability and Difficulty dice are eight-sided, Proficiency and Challenge dice are twelve-sided, and Boost and Setback dice are six-sided.

When rolling, a player wants to generate certain symbols, whilst generating as few as possible of certain others. Success symbols will go towards completing or carrying out the task involved, Advantage symbols grant a positive side effect, and Triumph symbols not only add Successes to the outcome, but indicate a spectacularly positive outcome or result. Failure symbols indicate that the character has not completed or carried out the task, and also cancel out Success symbols; Despair symbols count as Failure symbols indicate a spectacularly negative outcome or result, and cancel out Triumph symbols; and Threat symbols grant a negative side effect and cancel out Advantage symbols. Only Success and Failure results indicate whether or not a character has succeeded at an action—the effects of the Advantage, Triumph, Despair, and Threat symbols come into play regardless of whether the task was a success or not. Task difficulties range from one Difficulty die for easy tasks up to five for Formidable tasks, and in addition, certain abilities enable dice to be upgraded or downgrade, so an Ability die to a Proficiency die or a Challenge die down to a Difficulty die.

In general, the dice mechanics in the Genesys Narrative Dice System—and thus,
Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible – Maw of Abraxas—are straightforward enough despite their complexity. They are perhaps a little fiddly to assemble and may well require a little adjusting to, especially when it comes to narrating the outcome of each dice roll.

Combat is more complex. Initiative is handled by a skill roll—using Cool or Vigilance, and attack difficulties by range and whether or not the combatants are engaged in melee combat. Damage is inflicted as either Strain, Wounds, or Critical Injuries. Strain represents mental and emotional stress, Wounds are physical damage, as are Critical Injuries, but they have a long effect that lasts until a Player Character receives medical treatment. When a Player Character suffers more Wounds than his Wound Threshold, he suffers a Critical Injury, and when he suffers Strain greater than his Strain Threshold, he is incapacitated. The various symbols on the dice can be spent in numerous ways in combat to achieve an array of effects. So a Triumph symbol or enough Advantage symbols could inflict a Critical Injury, allow a Player Character to perform an extra manoeuvre that round, and so on, whilst Threat and Failure symbols inflict Strain on a Player Character, three Threat symbols could be spent to knock a Player Character prone, and so on. 
Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible – Maw of Abraxas includes a table of options for spending Advantage, Triumph, Threat, and Despair in combat, as well as a table of critical Injury results. It does not, however, include a table for spending Advantage, Triumph, Threat, and Despair out of combat—a disappointing omission for anyone wanting to do a bit more with their character’s skills. That said, the Game Master should be able to adjust some of the options on the table to non-combat situations.

Lastly, the rules in 
Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible – Maw of Abraxas cover NPCs and Story points. Apart from nemesis-type NPCs, most NPCs treat any Strain they suffer as equal to Wounds, and Minions work together as a group. In Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible, there are two pools of Story Points—one for the Player Characters, one for the GM. They can be used to upgrade a character’s dice pool or the difficulty of a skill check targeting a character—NPC or Player Character in either case, or to add an element or aspect to the ongoing story. The clever bit is that when a Story Point is spent, it does not leave the game, but is shifted over to the pool of Story Points. So if the Game Master spends a Story Point to increase the difficulty of a Player Character’s Perception check to determine the motives of an NPC, she withdraws it from her own Game Master pool of Story Points and adds it to the players’ pool of Story Points. As a game proceeds and Story Points are spent and move back and forth, it adds an elegant narrative flow to the mechanics and will often force the players to agonise whether they should spend a Story Point or not as they know it is going to benefit the Game Master and her NPCs before it comes back to them.

A character in Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible has six characteristics—Agility, Brawn, Cunning, Intellect, Presence, and Willpower, plus a range of skills from Charm, Computers, and Cool to Ranged (attacks), Skulduggery, and Vigilance, as well as range of special abilities. The four pregenerated Player Characters include a Saurian Crœniac with a Cybersensor Implant for better perception and a hacking rig; a Human Discoverer whose Zoomclaw is a rocket-propelled grappling hook that both climbing tool and weapon; a Spirit Arbitrator, an incorporeal being clad in containment armour who was exiled from his knightly order for bounding with a sentient sword called Vizer; and an Elf of the Shadowws whose faerie companions aid him in mechanical tasks and acts of skulduggery. All four Player Characters are nicely presented in a busy, but easy to access character sheet.

Each Player Character also has a way to use Æmber, the golden, glowing substance found only on the Crucible—the setting for Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible—which is often processed to perform a single, specific function, such as currency. In its raw state it can be used to do strange and wondrous things. For example, Saurian Crœniac uses it to fuel a hazard field which makes attacks against more difficult, the Human Discoverer to make attacks with Zoomclaw jet-propelled, and so on. These are all one-shot abilities until the characters can obtain some more raw Æmber.

The setting for ‘Maw of Abraxas’, the scenario in
Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible – Maw of Abraxas is Crucible, the ‘Impossible World’, a Jupiter-sized world made up of innumerable different zones, each a different environment or climate. In effect, it is a multiverse in one place, a multi-genre setting made up of multiple settings. In ‘Maw of Abraxas’, the Player Characters will see just a few of them—a glass jungle, a tightly regulated agrisector, a lake wrought with multiple storms, and the ancient ruins of a lost civilisation. In the scenario, the quartet of heroes have been asked by their boss, the tentacular Fixer, to recover the Cube of Realities, a weird artefact with the capability of warping the world around its user. He wants to ensure that it does not fall into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, the militant, xenophobic Martians already have it, but to prevent it being stolen or falling into the hands of their enemies have hidden it aboard a prototype saucer ship which even they cannot track or scan for! However, contact with the saucer has been lost, but fixer has learned that its designer created a device, the Vez Q-37 Scanulator, which can detect where the saucer is. So all the Player Characters have to do is steal the Vez Q-37 Scanulator from a Martian base and fight their way out, get across several sectors by Teleporter Cannon and then a couple more by whatever means necessary, find the lost saucer ship and grab the Cube of Realities. Easy, right? Of course not!

Consisting of just three acts, ‘Maw of Abraxas’ begins by dropping the Player Characters in media res and never lets up on the action or pacing. It should provide a session or so’s worth of play and comes with suggestions as to what each Player Character could do in a scene, and showcases a little of the diversity of the Crucible as a setting. The Player Characters all feel very different and the adventure should give them each a chance to shine.

Physically, 
Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible – Maw of Abraxas is very nicely presented, in full vibrant colour. The artwork is excellent, if a little busy in places, and the book is well written and easy to understand.

The one downside to 
Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible – Maw of Abraxas is that it uses the Genesys Narrative Dice System and that means using propriety dice. Now on the weekend of Free RPG Day 2020, the dice app for Genesys was available for free and that was very generous of the publisher. Of course, if a group is already playing Genesys or Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible, and has either the dice or the app, then Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible – Maw of Abraxas is easy enough to run and play, whether that is as extra scenario for an existing Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible campaign or as an introduction to the setting. If not, then Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible – Maw of Abraxas is unplayable, which is a pity because it is a fun scenario, though of course, a Game Master might be inspired to get either dice or app after reading though it so that she can run the scenario.

That issue aside, 
Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible – Maw of Abraxas is an entertaining and fun introduction to Keyforge: Secrets of the Crucible. As a quick-start to both rules and setting, it is exactly the type of thing you want to pick up on Free RPG Day.

Monday, 14 September 2020

[Free RPG Day 2020] Starfinder: Skitter Home

Now in its thirteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2020, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 25th July. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Again, global events meant that Gen Con itself was not only delayed, but run as a virtual event, and likewise, global events meant that Reviews from R’lyeh could not gain access to the titles released on the day as no friendly local gaming shop was participating nearby. Fortunately, Reviews from R’lyeh has been able to gain copies of many of the titles released on the day, and so can review them as is the usual practice. To that end, Reviews from R’lyeh wants to thank both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles.

One of the perennial contributors is Paizo, Inc., a publisher whose titles for both the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the Starfinder Roleplaying Game have proved popular and often in demand long after Free RPG Day. For 2020, the title released for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is Little Trouble in Big Absalom, and the title released for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game is Starfinder: Skitter Home. As in past years, this is an adventure involving four of the cheerfully manic, gleefully helpful, vibrantly coloured, six-armed and furry creatures known as Skittermanders—Dakoyo, Gazigaz, Nako, and Quonx. They were introduced in the Free RPG Day adventure for 2018, Starfinder: Skitter Shot, in which as the crew of the starship Clutch performed salvage tasks in the Vast beyond the Pact Worlds and then came across a derelict luxury liner, before being boarded by pirates and forced to crash land on a nearby world and survive as detailed in the Free RPG Day adventure for 2019, Starfinder: Skitter Crash. The foursome return in Starfinder: Skitter Home—not to have adventures, but to have fun!

Starfinder: Skitter Home shares elements with Little Trouble in Big Absalom. Both are written for player characters of Fourth Level and both consist of two adventures which can be run together or separately—and in any order. In Starfinder: Skitter Home, the four Skittermanders have come to their home world of Vesk-3 for a vacation—first for a party and a celebration, and then for a leisurely safari. The party, detailed in the scenario ‘Festival of the Exclipse’, is at Reetamander, a festival celebrating a lunar eclipse on the skittermanders’ home world. There are games to play, market stalls to peruse, songs to sing, and once the eclipse is over, food and drink aplenty. Events—or rather the intervention of a horrid villain—means that things go awry, but the heroes do get to have some fun first. Unfortunately, the villain turns the Reetamander against its celebrants and the heroes must come to their rescue and stop him from enacting his inconceivable plan! Overall, ‘Festival of the Eclipse’ is a fun adventure, intentionally raucous—even a little riotous, and a very positive adventure since it plays into the helpful nature of the Skittermanders and there are some nice rewards for the Player Characters being helpful.

The second part, or scenario, in Starfinder: Skitter Home is much darker and a shift in tone. In ‘Hunters Hunted’ the heroes have been given the gift of an underground hunting expedition into the caves beneath Vesta-3 where stridermanders—massive, terrifying cousins of the skittermander species—are said to be found. Unfortunately, when the Skittermanders arrive at the hunt agency, it seems all trips into the caves are off, because contact has been lost with the last trip which went into the caves. Of course, the Skittermanders, being as naturally helpful as they are, they offer to join the search for the lost hunting party and pointed to an ancient side tunnel which nobody has been able to check yet due to the agency being short-staffed. ‘Hunters Hunted’ is a mini-dungeon, consisting of just eight locations, and focusing on stealth and exploration. It is all perfectly playable and enjoyable, but not quite as much fun—and nowhere near as raucous as ‘Festival of the Eclipse’. There is a sense of urgency to it though, as the surviving members of the lost party are hurt and very much in need a rescue.

Rounding out Starfinder: Skitter Home are the Skittermander pre-generated characters. There are four of these provided for use with Starfinder: Skitter Shot. They include a Priest Mystic, a Xenoseeker Mystic, a Spacefarer Soldier, and a Scholar Mechanic, all Third Level (up one Level from Starfinder: Skitter Crash). Each is detailed on a full page, complete with background and a really nice illustration, as well as the stats. Players will need to refer to the Starfinder Alien Archive for full details of the Skittermanders, but really, they should be played as they appear—bumptious, gleeful, up for a challenge, and manically helpful!

Physically, as with Starfinder: Skitter Shot and Starfinder: Skitter Crash, Starfinder: Skitter Home is very nicely laid out and presented. The artwork is excellent, the writing clear, and the maps—placed inside the front and back covers—easy to use. All exactly as you would expect for a scenario from Paizo, Inc.

If a group has played Starfinder: Skitter Shot and Starfinder: Skitter Crash before it, then doubtless they will be pleased to return to playing the humorous, if not silly, Skittermanders. Players new to Starfinder and Skitterfinders may find the rules of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game slightly more complex than they expect and they certainly will not have the same sense of attachment to the Skitterfinder quartet as someone who has played either—or both—Starfinder: Skitter Shot and Starfinder: Skitter Crash will have. Either way, the likelihood is that they will enjoy ‘Festival of the Eclipse’ more than they will ‘Hunters Hunted’, as it gives more scope for fun and action, and gives more for them to do, whereas ‘Hunters Hunted’ is just a bit too straightforward an adventure to be really exciting. Overall, 
Starfinder: Skitter Home is very nicely presented, but really one for fans of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game rather than a good introduction to it.

Sunday, 13 September 2020

[Free RPG Day 2020] Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start

Now in its thirteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2020, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 25th July. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Again, global events meant that Gen Con itself was not only delayed, but run as a virtual event, and likewise, global events meant that Reviews from R’lyeh could not gain access to the titles released on the day as no friendly local gaming shop was participating nearby. Fortunately, Reviews from R’lyeh has been able to gain copies of many of the titles released on the day, and so can review them as is the usual practice. To that end, Reviews from R’lyeh wants to thank both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles.

The Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start is the second title for Free RPG Day 2020 to be ‘Powered by Kids on Bikes’, the other being Kids on Brooms. Published by Renegade Games Studios and based on the Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse graphic novel series, the players take on the roles of Junior Braves, essentially the equivalent of young scouts who are have gone away on camp for week to learn outdoor skills, good citizenship, and teamwork. Unfortunately, since they went away, something has happened, something which has caused apocalypse and brought society to its knees. Of course, being away from their family, friends, and society at large, the Junior Braves have no idea exactly what happened, so part of playing through the 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start is about establishing what happened as much as it is establishing contact with their friends and families.

The 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start comes nicely complete. It includes a good explanation of the rules, six pregenerated Player Characters, and a sandbox ready for a group to play. In this way, it is complete and presents a ready-to-play package in a way which Kids on Brooms failed to be.

Instead of character generation, the 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start includes six Tropes—or basic character types. These are Honcho, Rustic, Ruffian, Tinkerer, Dreamer, and Tribe Master—the latter the leader of the troupe whom the Game Master roleplays as well as the NPCs. Each of these has its own special ability. For example, when the Dreamer earns a Brave Token—the equivalent of luck points or tokens—his player must give one to another Junior Brave, and the Ruffian gains a +3 bonus to solve problems involving force or chutzpah when his player spends a Brave Token. As per Kids on Bikes, each Junior Brave is defined by six stats—Brains, Brawn, Charm, Fight, Flight, and Grit—to which are attached to a die type, from a twenty-sided die for the character’s best stat down to a four-sided die for his worst stat. The ten-sided die represents an above average stat, whereas an eight-sided die represents a below average stat. So, a Honcho has a Charm d20, Fight d12, Grit d10, Brawn d8, Brains d6, and Flight d4, and a Rustic has Brawn d20, Charm d12, Flight d10, Brains d8, Fight d6, and Grit d4.

Tropes in the Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse and thus the quick-start do not have skills, but in keeping with the theme of the game, they have Skill Patches, each sewn onto their Skill Sashes. Example Skill Patches include Orienteering, Woodworking, Knots & Ropes, Radios & Codes, and Sign Language. Each of these grants a +3 bonus to skill rolls—or possibly +1 bonus if only tangentially relevant. A Junior Brave will also have a Flaw, which can complicate his actions and increase the Target his player needs beat on a die roll. If a Junior Brave fails a roll due to his Flaw, he earns two Brave Tokens rather than the one usually awarded for failure. Lastly, a Junior Brave has some equipment and gear, stored in his ‘Pack and Pockets’. These consist of a pocketknife, sleeping bag, and a canteen, plus three items he would have had with him on the camp. Some of these are limited use items and will likely run out during the adventure included in 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start.

Mechanically, the 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start uses the same mechanics as Kids on Bikes, Teens in Space, and Kids on Brooms, with each of a Junior Brave’s stats being represented by a single die type. For a Junior Brave to do something, his player rolls the appropriate die for his Trope’s stat and attempts to roll over a difficulty number set by the Game Master, for example, between ten and twelve for an impressive task that a skilled person should be able to do. A player can add a +3 bonus if his Junior Scout has an appropriate Skill Patch and a +1 bonus for any Brave Tokens he wants to spend—or his fellow players want to spend if their Junior Braves are collaborating. However, complications increase the difficulty of the target number by three for each one. If the die roll beats the difficulty number, the Junior Scout succeeds, but if the roll is equal to the difficulty number, then he succeeds at cost, as in ‘Yes, but…’. It should be noted that the mechanics in Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start that player-facing in that only the player roll dice—the Game Master never does.

A potential cost of failure is Stress and Trauma. Stress typically consists of bruises, cuts, scrapes, panic attacks, depression, and other forms of distress. Stress can add a complication to an action, but overnight rest or reassurance can get rid of Stress. However, should a Junior Brave suffer more than four Stress, he suffers from a Trauma. This represents serious injury or distress and until the Junior Brave recovers—which takes either medical treatment or weeks of rest—he cannot use one of his Stats.

Just as the Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse categorises damage into Stress and Trauma, it divides its adversaries and dangers into Troubles and Threats. Troubles are the overall danger, the ultimate cause of the danger that the Junior Braves must face and , such as a zombie uprising, alien invasion, and the like, whilst Threats are individual parts of the Troubles the Junior Braves will encounter upon returning from camp. Notably, Threats are scaled down in Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse, so if a town is taken over by a biker gang, Junior Braves will deal with a few of the Bikers rather than whole gang. The point is that as much as Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse is a post-apocalypse roleplaying game, it is lighter in tone and scaled to the capabilities of the Junior Braves, who are , after all, still children.

Rounding out 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start is a complete set of starting characters, as well as ‘Perils at the Pit-Stop’, a complete campaign starter. The Junior Braves return home from camp and taking a break from the journey in the town of Penelope, discover the clerk at the gas station was dead and zombie-like. What has happened and is it like the zombie television show the Junior Braves are definitely not allowed to watch? ‘Perils at the Pit-Stop’ includes a full description of the town, its current factions, and hints at some of the mysteries going in within its boundaries. It is essentially a mini-sandbox, a place for the Junior Braves to explore and make discoveries, and so there is no single defined plot or outcome, though there are several Troubles which they will encounter.

Physically, the 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start is a simple black and white booklet. It is well written, the artwork is good, and the map nicely done.

Like other ‘Powered by Kids on Bikes’ roleplaying games, the 
Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start is easy to pick and up and play, the rules are simple—made all the easier by being player-facing, and the set-up easy to grasp. Unlike Kids on Brooms, the Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start comes with everything necessary to play. So with just the five characters and the given scenario, ‘Perils at the Pit-Stop’, the Junior Braves Survival Guide to the Apocalypse Quick-Start should provide both a couple of sessions’ worth of play and a good introduction to the full roleplaying game and the setting.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Jonstown Jottings #28: Tradition: Sandheart Volume Three

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford’s mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha13th Age Glorantha, and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.

—oOo—


What is it?
Tradition: Sandheart Volume Three is both the third part of the campaign set in Sun County in Prax following on Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 and The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2, and a campaign framework for all three parts, for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is an eighty-nine-page, full colour, 29.15 MB PDF.

It is an eighty-nine page, full colour hardback.
Tradition: Sandheart Volume Three is well presented and decently written, with artwork that is full of characterthe image of a VW Camper Rhino disgorging sixties-style hippies on the India hippie trail is worth the price of admission alone.

Where is it set?
As with Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 and The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 before itTradition: Sandheart Volume Three takes place in Sun County, the small, isolated province of Yelmalio-worshipping farmers and soldiers located in the fertile River of Cradles valley of Eastern Prax, south of the city of Pavis, where it is beset by hostile nomads and surrounded by dry desert. Where Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 is specifically it is set in and around the remote hamlet of Sandheart, where the inhabitants are used to dealing and even trading with the nomads who come to worship at the ruins inside Sandheart’s walls and The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 is set in and around Cliffheath, on the eastern edge of the county, Tradition: Sandheart Volume Three is set in and around a cave known as Dark Watch on the far western edge of the county.

Who do you play?
The player characters are members of the Sun County militia based in Sandheart. Used to dealing with nomads and outsiders and oddities and agitators, the local militia serves as the dumping ground for any militia member who proves too difficult to deal with by the often xenophobic, misogynistic, repressive, and strict culture of both Sun County and the Sun County militia. It also accepts nomads and outsiders, foreigners and non-Yemalions, not necessarily as regular militia-men, but as ‘specials’, better capable of dealing with said foreigners and non-Yemalions.

What do you need?
Tradition: Sandheart Volume Three requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. RuneQuest – Glorantha Bestiary might be useful. 

What do you get?
Tradition: Sandheart Volume Three is not really a scenario, but more a campaign framework around which the earlier scenarios, Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 and The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 can take place, as well as other scenarios of the Game Master’s choice or devising. This is because it concerns events at one location, a location that by tradition—and if the Yelmalions do anything, it is by tradition—the militia must visit year after year, and perform the same ceremony each time. And each time, the ceremony is completed as instructed by the cult, and nothing happens. In fact, nobody in the militia knows why the task is carried out one year after the next, because nothing ever happens and why it was done the first place has been long forgotten. Only this time—no, only next time, and the time after that, it will be different, and perhaps the members of militia assigned the duty just might find out why the cult has been performing this ceremony for hundreds of years… 

What this means is that if the scenario is played as is, it will not have the impact that playing it episodically will do. Essentially, being asked to return again and again to perform the ceremony at the Dark Watch Cave—without the benefit of a break in the narrative, signals to the Player Characters that their being at the cave is significant rather than the ordinary task it is initially intended to be. So, Tradition: Sandheart Volume Three is best played before, between, and after the events depicted in Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 and The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2. The downside of this is that if you have already run either of those, then Tradition: Sandheart Volume Three takes more effort to implement. Another issue is one of what else to run between the parts of Tradition: Sandheart Volume Three. The setting and tone of the ‘Sandheart’ series is quite particular—and it is not one that is easily supported by the other scenarios available on the Jonstown Compendium. Advice to that purpose would have been useful. (Potential scenarios which would work include Jorthan’s Rescue Redux,* Rock’s Fall, and Blue Moon, White Moon.)

Please note that for the purposes of transparency, I co-authored Jorthan’s Rescue Redux.

The Player Characters’ initial forays into the Dark Watch Cave will somewhat mundane, a simple task of lighting several braziers within its walls and then maintaining a vigil overnight. Here is a chance for them to explore the fullest extent of the cave and so educate themselves about its layout for when they return the next and subsequent years. However, the Dark Watch Cave has a deep, dark secret. It is home to a demon of darkness and deceit, one which is trying to escape its prison. Over the course of four tests—as the first four parts of Tradition: Sandheart Volume Three are known, the vigilance of the Player Characters will be tested again and again, as attempts to enter the cave and break their watch grow in their intensity and obviousness. In the early tests, they are actually quite amusing—and there is opportunity for some light-hearted roleplaying, but as the Player Characters return, they become vicious and ultimately spread to the wider area. In these later stages, the tests emphasises action and combat rather than roleplaying, but that reflects the threat which grows and grows over the course of Tradition: Sandheart Volume Three.

Ultimately, the likelihood is the Player Characters will fail and in order to defeat the darkness, the Player Characters will need to undertake a Hero Quest. Compared to the first part of the campaign framework, this is a radical change in pace, structure, and play style. It is very rigidly structured and both players and their characters—as well as the Game Master—need to be quite regimented in how they play through this. It presents some fantastic scenes, especially for Yelmalions as they fight against Darkness, and should they prevail, brings Tradition: Sandheart Volume Three—and if used in conjunction with Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 and The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2—the ‘Sandheart’ campaign to a rousing climax.

In addition to a full description of Dark Watch Cave, Tradition: Sandheart Volume Three comes with three handouts, full stats for the NPCs and monsters, and multiple maps of the Dark Watch Cave. Some of the handouts are slightly lengthy and as the campaign framework progresses, it does grow in complexity and the need for increased preparation upon the part of the Game Master.

Is it worth your time?
YesTradition: Sandheart Volume Three is an excellent campaign framework around which to structure the ‘Sandheart’ campaign and bring it to a rousing climax.
NoTradition: Sandheart Volume Three is not worth your time if you are running a campaign or scenarios set elsewhere, especially in Sartar.
MaybeTradition: Sandheart Volume Three might be useful for a campaign involving Yelmalions and the worship of Yelm from places other than Sun County, but its framework structure may be more challenging to use if the Game Master has already run Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 or The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2—if not both.