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

Monday 15 April 2024

Miskatonic Monday #276: Pass the Giggle Water

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 Invictus, The Pastores, Primal State, Ripples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was Five Go Mad in Egypt, Return of the Ripper, Rise of the Dead, Rise 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.

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Christopher DiFoggio

Setting: Arkham, 1929

Product: Scenario for Call of Cthulhu: Arkham
What You Get: Thirty page, 5.30 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: A race against the rage...
Plot Hook: When rage comes to Arkham, can the source be found?
Plot Support: Staging advice, eight NPCs, ten handouts, one map, and two Mythos monsters.
Production Values: Untidy.

# Scenario for Call of Cthulhu: Arkham & Lovecraft Country
# Introduces NESI or ‘New England Shadow Investigations’ as an Investigator organisation
# Can be played with one Investigator
# Angrophobia
# Toxicophobia
# Methyphobia

# Needs a good edit
# Linear
# More floorplans and maps a necessity
# Includes a deathtrap which might kill everyone
# Another poisoned alcohol scenario for Call of Cthulhu
# If the safest route into the mansion is via the basement, how do the Investigators get to the basement?

# Underdeveloped and under presented
# Potentially serviceable scenario that almost works, but ultimately is something for the Keeper to fix

Miskatonic Monday #275: The Schoolmarm’s Ghost

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 Invictus, The Pastores, Primal State, Ripples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was Five Go Mad in Egypt, Return of the Ripper, Rise of the Dead, Rise 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.

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Andy Miller

Setting: Oregon, 1877

Product: One-on-one scenario for Down Darker Trails: Terrors of the Mythos
What You Get: Fifty-eight page, 23.36 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Ghost, but in the Beaver State
Plot Hook: An inheritance and a haunting points to...?
Plot Support: Staging advice, one pre-generated Investigator, eight NPCs, sixteen handouts and images, seven maps and floorplans,
three Mythos tomes, and two Mythos monsters.
Production Values: Decent.

# Scenario for one player and her Keeper
# Good introduction to both Call of Cthulhu and Down Darker Trails
# Probably the best conversion notes in the world
# Richly detailed investigation
# Extensive notes included
# Phasmophobia
# Osmophobia
# Androphobia

# Needs a slight edit
# Scenario hook is a Call of Cthulhu cliché

# Excellent, easily adapted introduction for one player and her Keeper
# Takes a hoary old cliché and turns it into a richly detailed and thoroughly enjoyable investigation in the Old West

Sunday 14 April 2024

Your Wrath & Glory Starter Set II

In the far future of the 41st Millenium, the Gilead System has been isolated from the Imperium of Man by the Cicatrix Maledictum, the Great Rift that unleashed waves of supernatural darkness and malignant power from the Realm of Chaos. The system, rent by internal strife and disagreement from within as to how to survive and threatened by the Ruinous Powers and its allies from without, teetered on the edge of collapse, but hope arrived in the form of the Varonius Flotilla, a Rogue Trader fleet under the command of Jakel Varonius, bringing ships and forces which could ensure the system’s survival. The only vessels to have made contact since the opening of the Great Rift, the Varonius Flotilla is seen across the Gilead System as its saviour, but the fleet alone can only so much. There are wars across the system, the chances of starvation grow daily, and alliances have to be made, even with xenos. This is a time for heroes, for ordinary men as well the Imperium’s genetically enhanced super soldiers, the Space Marines, Psykers, scribes, and others to work together to withstand the Chaos and protect all those it would suborn and destroy. Under the command of Jakel Varonius himself, such agents will become the most distant, but worthy arm and blade of the Emperor himself! Can the agents save the Gilead System? Will ‘wrath and glory’ be theirs?

This is the set-up for the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set. Published by Cubicle 7 Entertainment, this is the second attempt at a starter set for the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory, previously published by Ulisses Spiele in 2019. It follows the same format as the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set in providing everything needed to play and get started in action, horror, and intrigue of the 41st Millenium. This includes ‘Traitor’s Hymn’, an adventure set aboard the Varonius Flotilla; ‘The Varonius Flotilla’, a guide to the fleet; six character sheets; three reference sheets; Wrath, Glory, and Ruin; and a set of eight six-sided dice, including a Wrath Die. ‘Traitor’s Hymn’ is a detailed adventure designed to introduce both the setting and the mechanics of Wrath & Glory, but ‘The Varonius Flotilla’ is designed to not only detail that setting, but also support further play with both background and further play with extra scenarios that will extend the usefulness of the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set.

Open the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set and the first thing that you see is a gatefold sheet with the words ‘READ THIS FIRST’ on it. This introduces the basics of everything about Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory, essentially preparing each player for his first choice—what will he roleplay? Underneath is a sheaf of six gatefold character sheets, each of which details a Player Character or Agent. A lot of thought has gone in terms of the design of these gatefold character sheets. On the front of each, there is a summary of who and what the Agent is, as well as warning not to open the character sheet up unless the player is definitely planning to roleplay that character. Inside, the character sheet presents the stats and details in easy-to-read fashion, plus a background, and possible connections with the other Agents, secrets, and objectives. It includes notes on each Agent’s talents, abilities, and equipment too. There is a full-page illustration of the character on the back. None of the secrets are heretical, but they are often dark and may make life difficult for the Agent. The Agents consist of a Sanctioned Psyker, a Sister of Battle, a Rogue Trader, a Skitarius, an Aeldari Ranger, and a Space Marine Scout. The inclusion of an Aeldari Ranger, a Xenos, indicates the desperation which is driving the surviving factions and forces in the Gilead System to work together.

‘Traitor’s Hymn’ is the beginning scenario. It is designed to introduce the setting, the Agents, and the concepts behind the roleplaying game in a step-by-step process. As play begins the Agents are aboard The Herald Varonius, a voidship transporting notables to the Varonius Flotilla. They are attending a grand banquet for the guests aboard when everything goes awry. Before that, each Agent receives a flashback which allows his player to make a choice, roll some dice for the first time, and have some time in the spotlight. The events of all six flashbacks tie into the adventure. There is the chance to learn a few more clues before the action begins and the voidship is inexplicably thrown into the Void. However, the Geller Field which would normally protect the crew and passengers of The Herald Varonius is fluctuating, which means her Geller Field Generator is malfunctioning. Which means the Agents are going to make their way into the bowels of the ship in order to find the cause and if they can, fix it. Between them lie Chaos infestations and manifestations, cultists, and worse, via an entrail-strewn library, a combat turned execution arena, twisted hydroponics gardens, and more before they reach the bowels of the vessel and discover the real culprits behind the situation The Herald Varonius finds itself in.

Mechanically, the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set, and thus Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory, is a dice pool system using six-sided dice. Rolls of four and five are counted as ‘Icons’, and a roll of six as ‘Exalted Icons’. Tests are typically rolled as combinations of an attribute and a skill, or just the attribute, the latter being fairly broad, with a Difficulty Number of three being ‘Standard’ difficulty and a Difficulty Number of five being ‘Challenging’ difficulty. If a player rolls a number of Icons equal to the Difficulty Number, the task is successful. Any ‘Exalted Icons’ rolls are worth two Icons rather than one. However, if enough Icons are rolled on a test and there are any ‘Exalted Icons’ left over, they can be ‘Shifted’, or removed from the dice pool. A ‘Shifted Exalted Icon’ can be sued to gain more information, make the Test exceptional and give an extra beneficial outcome, add an extra Effect Die in combat, or add a point of Glory to the party’s pool.

Included with any roll, is the Wrath Die. This is of a different colour. It works like a standard die, except when one or six is rolled. On a one, it adds a complication to the task, whereas a roll of six is counted as an ’Exalted Icon’, but also adds a point of Glory to the party pool. In combat, it indicates that a Critical Hit has been scored. A player also has access to Wrath Points. These can be spent to reroll all dice that rolled a one, two, or three on the dice in a Test, add a minor element to the narrative, or to take an Action to recover Shock which has either been lost through combat or misadventure. The party as a whole, has access to the Glory Pool. Glory Points can be spent to add dice to a test, to add more damage to a successful attack, to improve the effect of a Critical Hit, or to seize the initiative.

Combat uses the same rules, with an Agent able to take a Combat Action, a Simple Action, a Reflexive Action, a Movement Action, and a Free Action on his Turn. Initiative simply passes back and forth between the players and the Game Master until everyone has acted. Both Armour and an Agent’s Resilience stop damage, any left over being suffered as Wounds. The Wounded Condition means that the Difficulty Number for Tests increases, but a player can roll his character’s Determination. Any Icons from this roll convert Wounds to Shock, but suffer too much Shock and an Agent may end up exhausted.

Fear Tests are based on an Agent’s Resolve, failure giving the Agent the Fear Condition. Corruption Tests are based on the severity of the source of Corruption, a player rolling his Agent’s Conviction to withstand its effects. Corruption will increase the Difficulty Number for future Corruption and Mutation Tests. The latter will occur when the number of Corruption Points exceeds an Agent’s Conviction. The Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set only provides a few options for Mutations, there being a more extensive list and advanced rules in the core rulebook for Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory.

Whilst the Players have access to Wrath and Glory, the Game Master has Ruin. Points of Ruin are gained when an Agent fails a Corruption Test or a Fear Test, or the Game Master rolls a six on the Wrath Die. She can expend it to reroll failures on Test, to Seize the Initiative or have NPC act in an ambush, to restore an NPC’s Shock, and to make a Determination roll. Ruin is also spent to activate certain abilities on NPCs and creatures of Chaos.

‘The Varonius Flotilla’, the second book in the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set, details both the Varonius Flotilla and the Gilead System. This includes the major NPCs with their goals and agendas and their quirks and secrets, and the various ships of the fleet, the last being The Herald of Varonius. The latter is where ‘Traitor’s Hymn’ is set and it is also the reward which the Agents are assigned at the end of the scenario. What that does, is give them the means to travel back and forth across the Gilead System, undertake further missions, and do both with some agency. ‘The Varonius Flotilla’ notes that of Jakel Varonius, the rogue trader and commander of the fleet, has brought the shuttles across the whole fleet under his command to lessen individual ship control, tie the fleet together, and to give him an information network in the form of the shuttle pilots. Besides bringing support and relief to the Gilead System, the Varonius Flotilla is also searching for resources in the system to exploit, despite it having been settled and worked for millennia.

The ’Ports of Call’ section details the eight worlds of the Gilead System, including the major locations, NPCs, threats faced by the world, and important features. Notably, there is one of each major type of world found within the system, thus, Gilead Primus is a Hive World, Ostia an Agri World, Enoch a Shrine World, and so on. Each world is given a couple of adventure hooks as well. Lastly, there is a discussion of the Warrant of Trade that Jakel Varonius holds as a Rogue Trader, before ‘The Varonius Flotilla’ presents six further adventures that will take the Agents back and forth across the Gilead System. In terms of play, these are relatively, offering a single session each unless the Game Master wants to flesh them out further. In comparison, ‘Traitor’s Hymn’ will probably take tow to three sessions to play through.

One issue in terms of play between ‘Traitor’s Hymn’ and six extra scenarios is that the Agents are not going to improve or learn from their experience. To do that, the Game Master will need access to the core rulebook for Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory. That said, a starter set is typically not designed to facilitate that aspect of play, the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set being no different here, and of course, the Game Master can adjudicate the rewards as necessary if her players want to continue playing beyond the confines of the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set.

Another issue is the player count required for the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set. There are six Player Characters or Agents, but ‘Traitor’s Hymn’ requires a minimum of five players. It can be played with four players, but one of the other Agents becomes a communal NPC. It is a high demand, and perhaps it could have been written with the lower player count in mind and allowed for an adjustment in terms of more rather than fewer players.

In terms of setting, the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set draws the Game Master, her players, and their Agents in a couple of steps. First, ‘Traitor’s Hymn’ gives an immediate experience of the milieu and sets them to explore the setting of the Gilead System detailed in ‘The Varonius Flotilla’. Together, the two books do the same for the wider setting of the Gilead System detailed in Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory. However, there is a third thing that it should do as well, and that is follow in the footsteps of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set which is supported by its own series of scenario anthologies, beginning with Ubersreik Adventures: Six Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik. That enables the Game Master and her players to continue playing with the same Player Characters and in the same setting.

Much like the earlier Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set, the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set is not a good introduction to roleplaying and nor is it designed to be. It just does not start from the first principles to do that, but that is fine, because as an introduction to Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory, it does a very good job and does so in an attractive package. Similarly, the rules presented have been stripped down from the core rulebook, but there is more than enough to play through the contents in the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set. If the Game Master and her players have access to the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory core rules, it would be possible for the players to create their own Agents and play through the scenarios included here, but unless they adhere to the archetypes given in the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set, some of the nuances of the pre-generated Agents and their ties to the Gilead System and the events of the scenario in ‘Traitor’s Hymn’ may be lost.

Physically, the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set is a handsome boxed set. Everything inside is of good quality—the gatefold character sheets are particularly well done—and vibrantly illustrated. It does, unfortunately, need an edit in places.

Overall, the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set is an impressive introduction to the setting of the Gilead System and Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory, its playthrough preparing the Game Master and her players for wider adventures. For anyone wanting to roleplay the action, horror, and intrigue of the 41st Millenium, the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Starter Set is the perfect place to make that stand against corruption, chaos, and Chaos!

Saturday 13 April 2024

Jonstown Jottings #90: Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon

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 Glorantha, 13th 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.


What is it?
Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon is a supplement for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha which details an insula or city block with the ruins of the Big Rubble in Prax. It includes a complete description of an atypical city block in the Old City and an example city block, the eponymous ‘Insula of the Waning Moon’, plus four scenarios.

It is a ninety-four page, full colour hardback.

The layout is tidy and it is decently illustrated and comes with extensive floorplans. The Greek style illustrations are nice touch.

The PDF includes floorplans which can be used with miniatures.

It needs an edit.

Where is it set?
Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon is set in the ruins of Big Rubble in Prax. It is set after the liberation of Pavis by Argrath.

Who do you play?
Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon does not require any specific character type.

What do you need?
Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary.

The Big Rubble: The Deadly City will also be useful.

It is a suitable addition to New Pavis: City on the Edge of Forever and the rest of The Pavis & Big Rubble Companion series with some adjustment.

What do you get?
Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon draws upon archaeological plans to present a type of building block found across the old city of Pavis and the Big Rubble, which can be found in various states of repair across the ruin. This is a large, square city block complete with businesses and residences. In the case of the Insula of the Waning Moon, these consist of food sellers, an oil seller, stables and a carter, and an inn, plus residences and a sunken garden. These are mapped out in some detail with a series of large, easy-to-read floor plans measured in one Mostal (or metre) squares.

The insulae were standard designs across the whole of Lord Pavis’ city and details the history and general features of the design, the history of their ownership and how that changed from being municipal to hereditary, and how the design changed as the city’s fortunes declined. Thus, they can be in various states of repair, from simple walls to fortified strongholds in various locations throughout the Big Rubble. This is a possible subject for expansion and a table of ideas as to what might be found in insulae across the various building phases their design would have been useful.

The supplement also address the change in attitudes to adventuring in the Big Rubble with the liberation of Pavis. Where the Lunar administration encouraged adventuring, now it is seen as looting the city’s cultural identity. There is also the push to clear and resettle parts of the Big Rubble. This presents other opportunities for work, though, and building materials from the insulae are still worth salvaging. In addition, a group of Player Characters could actually settle in the Big Rubble, finding an insula that they can occupy and fortify. This is not without its risks as their presence will attract the attention of predators—both human and non-human—from the surrounding area.

There are four adventures in Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon. The first two short, one-session affairs and both involve vermin and both involve the Player Characters simply walking past the insula. In ‘Thirsty Work, the Player Characters come to the aid of a family living the ruins which is using the well in the Insula of the Waning Moon as its source of water, but it has dried up. There is not much to reward the Player Characters if they help, except the gratitude of the family and the knowledge that they have rid the Big Rubble of one more Chaos beast. The second scenario, ‘Lucky Snake Ball’, begins when the Player Characters see snakes slithering across their path and into the insula. Inside they discover a ball of writhing, fighting snakes. Dealing with the odd phenomenon reveals a second problem, one very common to the Big Rubble. It should also expose the cause of the ‘snake ball’, which a rather neat little magical item.

The third scenario, ‘No Good Deed’, is the longest and most heavily plotted of the four, as well as the most traditional. The head of one of the Pavis Survivors clans employs the Player Characters to find his daughter who he thinks has run off to become a Lunar convert after she saw the good work that their missionaries were doing in the Big Rubble. Which is made all the more difficult because the Lunars have fled Pavis. The Player Characters will need to deal with some of the poorer inhabitants of Pavis that live in the ruins and who are very wary of strangers. Eventually, they can track her down to the Insula of the Waning Moon, where she is not living with Lunar missionaries, but has been captured by a gang looking to hold her to ransom. The gang is on the make, so seasoned adventurers will not find its members to be two much of threat, although they could get lucky, plus they have the benefit of being holed up in the insula. How the Player Characters deal with the problem is left up to them, obvious solutions such as paying the ransom or mounting a rescue are described in detail.

The fourth scenario is more of a set-up than an adventure. In ‘First Rule of Fight Club’, the Player Characters are hired to escort a party overnight out into the Big Rubble to a ruined insula. As the title suggests, a fight club is being run. Not though, with the Player Characters, but with slaves. How the Player Characters deal with this is left up to them, although a rescue attempt would be very dangerous. They could take the money or they could devise a solution, it all depends on how they feel about the moral dilemma presented to them.

All four scenarios take place in then Insula of the Waning Moon. This, though, is not all at the same time and the only factor linking the four scenarios is the city block itself. So, they do not form a campaign. Instead, the insula is somewhere that the Player Characters might pass again and again and nothing happen, but very occasionally it does or they have reason to go there. This makes Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon easy to drop into an ongoing campaign set in Pavis and the Big Rubble.

Where the scenarios could have been improved is in the presentation of the set-up and possible consequences. The set-up for each is written for the player’s benefit rather than the Game Master’s, so it does take a while for the Game Master to actually find out what is going on, and the consequences of the scenarios are also always fully explored, especially, in some cases, the consequences of the Player Characters doing nothing.

Is it worth your time?
YesRubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon is a solid addition to any campaign set in Pavis and the Big Rubble, with a building type that can be easily customised and four scenarios to slot in between the major plots of the campaign.
NoRubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon is ideally suitable for campaigns with extensive urban and ruined areas, such as Pavis and the Big Rubble, and that is not where my campaign is set.
MaybeRubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon because the Lunars and the war against inflicted a lot of damage, so the insula could be relocated to any formerly Lunar-occupied town or city that has city blocks and its scenarios adapted to the new locations.

Psychics Save the Free World!

A line of cars, black, with the Stars & Stripes fluttering from the bonnet. The scene jumps. A cheering crowd, flags in their hands, waving. A band strikes up with anthem that always announces his arrival. Men in black, sunglasses hiding their eyes, but you know they are looking. Are they looking for you? You look up. The man in the suit. Striding. Waving. Grinning to the crowd, but not to you. The scene jumps again. Looking at the man. Looking at where you are, but from far away. It jumps again. Hands move quickly. They know what they are doing. There is something in those hands. Is it a device? A trigger? A rifle? There is bang. Close to you. The scene jumps. There are screams. People are running. You cannot see the man… Oh my god! Is it real? Will it be real? Will you be there? Fortunately, this is a vision, a premonition, it has not happened. Yet. But it might. Someone really wants to assassinate the President of the United States and the someone is the USSR. Nobody is going to believe you though, nobody except your fellow psychics in the program. Certainly not since the head of the program was killed in a car crash—why did nobody see that coming?—and funding from the US government got cut… Now it is just you, armed with your premonitions, which stands between you and the death of the leader of the free world and the consequences that would have.

This is the set-up for Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War, a roleplaying of secret government projects and conspiracies in which the psychically gifted, trained as part of a program to spy on the Soviets, are the only ones who know that the President of the United States’ life is in danger. Except, of course, for those involved in the conspiracy to assassinate him. Published by LunarShadow Designs as part of ZineQuest #3 following a successful Kickstarter campaign, it is designed to be played as a one-shot, of the Player Characters responding to the premonition and attempting to prevent it from happening, but it can be played as a longer campaign and it need not be about the assassination of the President. There are plenty of pinch points throughout the Cold War, from the Hungarian Uprising and the Bay of Pigs to the Moon landings and the stationing of Pershing missiles in Germany, which serve as inspiration for Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War.

However, given its subject matter, what inspires Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War is not the obvious cinema and television of the period. So instead of dark psychological thrillers or the constant dread of all too many of those who lived through the era, it takes its inspirations from lighter fare. The question is, what exactly is that inspiration? If not The Manchurian Candidate or The Parallax View, or similar films and television series, the most obvious inspirations, what then? These after all, are not only great cinema, but also great inspiration in terms of tone and atmosphere. Unfortunately, Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War does not include a bibliography and that is a serious failing. So why not dark psychological thrillers or the constant dread? The simple answer is Safety Tools. This is not a criticism of Safety Tools in general. They deserve a place in the roleplaying hobby and they deserve a place in Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War since it is set in the past when negative social attitudes were rife. Yet to ignore the inspirations for its inspiration means that Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War is really doing a disservice to its audience. It should not only have included them, it should have included them as an option and allowed the Game Master and her players to make that choice given the genre of Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War.

A Player Character in Project Cassandra has an Identity, a Background, ten Skills, several Knowledges or areas in which he is an expert, and a single, unique psychic power. The Skills are divided between three categories: Mental, Physical, and Specialist. The Skills can be anything that a player likes, but the Mental and Physical, skills are broad, whereas the Specialist skills are fairly narrow. To create a character, a player assigns a Rank value of one to one of the three categories, and a Rank value of two to the remaining pair. The player assigns four Skills to one category and three skills to each of the other two. The Player Character starts with a single Knowledge. It has no numerical value, but is used once per session to introduce a fact or truth related to the Knowledge into the game.

Identity: Maureen Herslag
Background: Housewife
Premonitions: 14
Mental – 2: Intimidation, Haggle, Chutzpah, Being Nosy
Physical – 2: Cleaning, Look Anonymous, Dodge, Athletics
Specialist – 1: Pistols, Self Defence,
Knowledge: Cookery
Power: Yesterday

Project Cassandra uses what it calls the Precognition Engine. To undertake an action, a player must roll six six-sided dice and obtain as many successes as he can. Each roll equal to or under the value of the skill counts as a success. The difficulty and the number of successes that a player has to roll varies between one and seven, the latter being almost impossible. Successes can also be spent to overcome a challenge, such as picking a lock or punching out a senator’s aide/Communist sympathiser, representing both the amount of effort it takes and the amount of time it takes. It might be done in a single action, or it might take several. A failed roll will result in a Player Character suffering a consequence, typically a narrative consequence, but it can also be a condition, such Paranoid or Bloodied. A player can choose to suffer a Condition in order to gain an extra success, meaning that it has come at some cost. A Condition can increase the difficulty or it can make a Player Character’s Premonitions more difficult to use.

A Player Character starts play with fourteen Premonitions. These represent his ability to see the immediate future and can be used to reroll any dice that did not roll successes. They recover slowly, at a rate of one Premonition per night of rest. A Player Character’s tenth and fifth Premonition is special. It grants the Player Character a more detailed vision of the future, specifically about the next scene. A Premonition is also used to activate a Player Character’s power. Most people will be unaware of psychic powers, but some are Nulls, who have no psychic footprint and who can negate a Player Character’s power if it is used directly on them. The conspiracy does employ Null agents as well as psychic agents.

The set-up to 
Project Cassandra is intended to be fairly freeform. It begins with the players and the Game Master building a conspiracy. Together they create an Opening Vision and answer some Conspiracy Questions. This should set the era, the nature of the conspiracy, and so on. Typically, this will involve the assassination of the President. For example, ‘How will the President be killed?’, ‘Where will the attack take place?’, and ‘Why will the world believe you are responsible?’. Project Cassandra incudes some sample questions, an example of play, and good advice for the Game Master on running the game and what Safety Tools to use. There are notes too on running longer term conspiracies—longer than four sessions—but they are fairly brief.

Besides five ready-to-play Player Characters, 
Project Cassandra includes two Mission Profiles, also ready to play. The Opening Vision of ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ sees President Kennedy assassinated in Berlin in June 1963, and starts with a bang for the Player Characters, whilst ‘The Dark of the Moon’ is pulpier in tone, asking the Player Characters to confront what hidden secrets Apollo 12 brought back from the Moon. Both come complete with questions to set the stakes and details of the conspiracy.

Physically, Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War is generally well presented and nicely illustrated. However, it could have been much better organised and it takes a while to work out quite what is going on. Once done, the roleplaying game is easy to grasp. The other aspect of the roleplaying game which could have been made clear on the cover is the fact that it is a storytelling game.

Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War is in need of a bibliography and really some general background about the period, because not everyone is going to be familiar with it. However, for those that are, Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War does have an enticing set-up. That though is far as it goes, for Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War is storytelling game, and the uncovering of the conspiracy and the prevention of it coming to fruition as well as the set-up depends on both players and Game Master working together. For the most part, Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War is best suited for a group which has some experience with storytelling roleplaying games and some understanding of the period.

Friday 12 April 2024

Friday Fantasy: A Gift for all of Norway

The land of Norway is one of mountain ranges and fjords, and according to legend, one of the mountain ranges is not at a mountain range at all! Instead, it is the body of a Jötunn, Hrungnir, who has been lying sleeping ever since he was killed and thrown out of Ásgard for being a very bad guest and threatening his hosts, whereupon his body turned to stone and formed the mountains! In the many centuries since, Norway has since changed, not least of which was the widespread adoption of Christianity and abandonment of the Old Ways. Not every Norwegian has abandoned the Old Ways though, and there is a cult whose members believe that they can be restored. The cult believes that when Hrungnir was killed by Thor, his mighty hammer, Mjonir, knocked a piece of the giant’s heart free that also fell to Earth. If the Heart of Hrungnir is restored to the mountains where the Jötunn is said to have fallen, the cult believes that a great gift will be bestowed upon the people of Norway. Only recently has the cult found the Heart of Hrungnir once again, in the possession of John Ostergaard, a London merchant, as part of his Cabinet of Curiosities. However, as the cult begins to make threats against him, John Ostergaard discovers that the object of the cult’s attention has been stolen!

This is the set-up for A Gift for all of Norway, a scenario for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. The Player Characters are hired by John Ostergaard—perhaps at the recommendation of The Magnificent Joop van Ooms—to recover the Heart of Hrungnir. He is a hard, but fair bargainer, and will tell the Player Characters that he believes a recent acquaintance, Francois Arquette, stole it and is taking it to Norway. The Player Characters, of course, will follow in its stead.

A Gift for all of Norway really begins with the Player Characters standing before a cavern entrance on Hrungnir’s Peak. Once they enter, what they discover is a series of caverns, initially connected by a single, often convoluted tunnel. In places, the tunnel walls want to open and digest the Player Characters, oozes float around waiting for the opportunity to attach themselves to intruders, and there are signs too, of others already having passed through the caverns. The long tunnel connects to a bat-infested cave and another lined with sticky vines. The dungeon is actually quite long, but consists of a very few locations. In fact, bar confrontations the strange creatures to found within the caverns and the tunnel connecting, and perhaps cultists dedicated to restoring the Heart of Hrungnir to its rightful place, proceeding through the dungeon is very quick and the Player Characters could be in and out within an hour or two’s worth of actual game play with the Heart of Hrungnir in hand… Except…

Well, there is an ‘except’ here, and it is very much a big ‘except’ and a very small ‘except’. It also hinges on the fact that the legends are true, that Hrungnir’s body really did fall to the Earth and form a mountain, and that part of his heart is missing. What this means is that the tunnel and caverns the Player Characters are travelling through is his partly ossified alimentary canal. Now adventures in which Player Characters penetrate and explore the body of some gigantic beast or even a god, are a known design choice such that they have become almost a cliché in their own right. In general, the Player Characters find a way in via the mouth or nose or ears, but not through the anus. A Gift for all of Norway is, of course, written for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying, so using the rear entrance was a given.

Anyway, the Player Characters will find the Heart of Hrungnir very quickly. Then they have a choice. Go home, return the Heart of Hrungnir to its ‘rightful’ owner, and take the money, or give it to the cultists or perhaps explore further and see if there is any truth to the cultists’ belief that a great gift will be bestowed upon the people of Norway if the Heart of Hrungnir is also restored to its ‘rightful’ owner. What that gift is, is left up to the Game Master to decide, but the inference is that whatever it is, might have been good for Norway during the age of the gods, but in modern day, Christian, Norway? Not a chance… Thus, taking the money is the good choice, whilst being overly curious is the wrong one. Which all begs the question, is that it?


Physically, A Gift for all of Norway is well done. It is well written, the descriptions are good, the artwork fine, and the maps excellent.

A Gift for all of Norway combines a number of elements common to Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying. One is the consequences for the Player Characters if they are too curious. The other is a big, stompy threat that will probably unleash hell upon the surrounding countryside, and in most cases those scenarios have been a combination of entertaining, clever, and amusing. Unfortunately, A Gift for all of Norway is none of those. It is not that the scenario is bad per se, and it is certainly not a case of the scenario being presented badly, but rather that A Gift for all of Norway is not really sufficiently interesting or atmospheric to entice the Game Master to want to run it. At best A Gift for all of Norway is a sidequest that could have severe consequences for Norway and the Game Master’s campaign, but if it does not, the effect is underwhelming.


DISCLAIMER: The author of this review is an editor who has edited titles for Lamentations of the Flame Princess on a freelance basis. He was not involved in the production of this book and his connection to both publisher and thus the author has no bearing on the resulting review.

Magazine Madness 29: Senet Issue 9

The gaming magazine is dead. After all, when was the last time that you were able to purchase a gaming magazine at your nearest newsagent? Games Workshop’s White Dwarf is of course the exception, but it has been over a decade since Dragon appeared in print. However, in more recent times, the hobby has found other means to bring the magazine format to the market. Digitally, of course, but publishers have also created their own in-house titles and sold them direct or through distribution. Another vehicle has been Kickststarter.com, which has allowed amateurs to write, create, fund, and publish titles of their own, much like the fanzines of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest. The resulting titles are not fanzines though, being longer, tackling broader subject matters, and more professional in terms of their layout and design.


—named for the Ancient Egyptian board game, Senetis a print magazine about the craft, creativity, and community of board gaming. Bearing the tagline of “Board games are beautiful”, it is about the play and the experience of board games, it is about the creative thoughts and processes which go into each and every board game, and it is about board games as both artistry and art form. Published by Senet Magazine Limited, each issue promises previews of forthcoming, interesting titles, features which explore how and why we play, interviews with those involved in the process of creating a game, and reviews of the latest and most interesting releases.

Senet Issue 9 was published in the winter of 2022. As an issue, it does something different. This is to spread its wings away from its usual subject, that is, board games, into roleplaying—though only a little! This is in the issue’s interviews with designers and publishers who have both had a big influence on the games hobby and industry, one more recently, one over the course of decades. Never fear though, for outside of these articles, Senet Issue 9 is very much a board games magazine. This does not stop the editor highlighting one of the issue’s interviews in his editorial, which is perfectly reasonable, since it is with a designer and publisher who is a very big name in both the board game and the roleplaying hobbies—and other hobbies—here in the United Kingdom.

‘Behold’ is the regular preview of some of the then-forthcoming board game titles. As expected, ‘Behold’ showcases its previewed titles to intriguing effect, a combination of simple write-ups with artwork and depictions of the board games. Notable titles previewed include Pandasaurus Games’ The Fox Experiment, co-designed by Elizabeth Hargrave of Wingspan fame, which is a ‘roll-and-write’ design about the Belyaev-Trut experiment into fox domestication, in which the players attempt to draft friendly foxes and use them to breed even friendlier foxes, whilst Moon, the third and final part in a trilogy of card-drafting games from Sinister Fish Games which began with Villagers, takes the series off planet to colonise the Moon as well as increase the player interaction with this style of game.

‘Points’, the regular column of readers’ letters is only as thematic as to be all from readers praising the magazine, so is a whole lot less interesting than in previous issues. ‘For Love of the Game’, continues the journey of the designer Tristian Hall towards the completion and publication of his Gloom of Kilforth. In this entry in the series, he addresses the issue of  acknowledging your inspirations when it comes to your game, both in terms of other game designs and other sources. He cites Donald X. Vaccarino being inspired by the deck-building aspect of Magic: The Gathering for his Spiel des Jahres award-winning Dominion, but actually lists other sources for his inspiration for his own Gloom of Kilforth, such as the Fighting Fantasy books, Dungeons & Dragons, and J.R.R. Tolkien, so although this represents another nod to roleplaying in the issue, it does feel one-sided.

Senet follows a standard format of articles and article types and Senet Issue 9 is no exception. One explores a theme found in board games, its history, and the games that showcase it to best effect, whilst another looks at a particular mechanic. In addition, there are two interviews, one with a designer, the other with an artist. The particular mechanic in the issue is the engine-building game. In ‘Rise of the Machine’, Alexandra Sonechkina examines the history and state of the mechanic, starting by making an interesting suggestion that Monopoly, a fairly poorly regarded game, is actually an engine-building game—although not one in the modern sense. That, though, is really as far as the history goes in the article, as it looks what makes a good engine-building game. The article is an interesting look at what the mechanic can do, but it could have benefited from boxed sections highlighting particular designs and used them to track some of the mechanic’s development to give more context. Although interesting, the article does not feel complete.

The theme article in the issue is pirates! Matt Thrower’s ‘Pirates on Board’ is a far thorough look at the history of its subject, whose more recent surge in popularity as a theme can be traced back to 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean, and before that with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Along the way, it notes the historical nature of the subject means that it has long been a popular subject for wargames, such as Wooden Ships & Iron Men and Blackbeard, both from Avalon Hill, but the fantasy element of pirates means that it is seen as a suitable subject for lighter board game designs too. Examples include Cartagena and Pirate’s Cove, yet as the hobby has matured, there has been an acknowledgement the fantasy of pirates does not always equate to the actual history, since they are both villainous and violent, though less so with other board game themes and history. Thus pirate-themed board games tend to romanticise the history and make it palatable for a wider audience. It does, though, come up to date with a look at the issue of actual piracy and counterfeiting in the board gaming industry, but does not come to any more conclusion than that it is an ongoing issue. ‘Pirates on Board’ is an entertaining piece that nicely continues the magazine’s thread of examining the themes common to modern and not so modern board games.

The much-heralded highlight of the issue is ‘The Games Master’. This is the first of the two interviews in the issue, and is with Sir Ian Livingstone, co-founder of Games Workshop and co-creator of the Fighting Fantasy series, as well as designer of board games like Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One. The lengthy interview, which starts with Livingstone’s first experiences with board games and takes the reader through the founding of Games Workshop, the games he designed, the creation of the Fighting Fantasy series—the primary roleplaying focus in the interview, and beyond to what he plays today. It is a good, solid interview, interesting and informative, liberally illustrated, though more so if you have not read other interviews with Livingstone. The interview is, of course, timed ahead of the release of Dice Men: The Origin Story of Games Workshop, which expands upon the various subjects explored in the piece and more.

The second interview in Senet Issue 9 is with Johan Nohr, the co-creator and illustrator of Mörk Borg, the Swedish pre-apocalypse Old School Renaissance retroclone, and its Cyberpunk counterpart, CY_BORG. As with previous issues of the magazine, this does a very nice job of showcasing his artwork, although it is not necessarily a style that would be seen in board game design.

‘Unboxed’, Senet’s reviews section actually includes a review of Apothecaria: Solo Potion Making RPG, so continuing the issue’s flirtation with roleplaying games, although solo journalling games are typically the magazine’s only flirtation with roleplaying games. Otherwise, a wide range of games is reviewed, from family titles such as Dodo and its egg-rolling down a mountain mechanic to big, brutal storytelling designs such as Oathsworn: Into the Deepwood. The latter is the issue’s game of choice, but there are a surprising number of disappointments reviewed too, like Rear Window and Cellulose: A Plant Cell Biology Game. In between, there is a good mix of interesting games reviewed that should drove the reader to go and find out more.

Rounding out Senet Issue 9 are the regular end columns, ‘How to Play’ and ‘Shelf of Shame’. For ‘How to Play’, Mx Tiffany Leigh addresses the issue of ‘Playing with Alphas’, and how the over abundance of advice from an Alpha Player can negate player agency, involvement, and fun, before giving straightforward advice. In fact, the advice might be called too straightforward, even obvious, but this does not make it bad advice. Tom Brewster of Shut Up & Shutdown takes Pax Pamir, a wargame of nineteenth century politics in Afghanistan, off his and ‘Shelf of Shame’ and explains why it is not getting to his table to play more often. Unlike a lot of entries in this series, it is not because it got forgotten or bypassed in favour of other titles, but because it is actually not a game that others want to play because of its complexity and capacity. This highlights an issue with a lot of board games, that of finding the right audience.

Physically, Senet Issue 9 is very professionally presented. It looks and feels as good as previous issues of the magazine.

It has almost become a cliché to state that as with previous issues, Senet Issue 9 offers a good mix of articles, interviews, and reviews, but it does. Yet where the interviews both look great and are very accessible, the articles on the issue’s theme and mechanic are not. This is not to say that they are unreadable, as they are, but they are no longer highlighting particular games appropriate to either theme or mechanic, so unlike in previous issues with these articles, there are no examples to stand out effectively and catch the reader’s attention. The issue also has an odd feel to it because of its emphasis on roleplaying in its two big articles, but this change is refreshing, widening the scope of the magazine, if only a little. It also highlights how a magazine of similar quality devoted to roleplaying could be just as good. Overall, Senet Issue 9 is still good, but just a little bit different—and that is not a bad thing.