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

Friday, 27 May 2022

Arms & Armour

Metamorphosis Alpha: The Warden Armoury is a supplement designed for Metamorphosis Alpha: Fantastic Role-Playing Game of Science Fiction Adventures on a Lost Starship. The first Science Fiction roleplaying game and the first post-apocalypse roleplaying game, Metamorphosis Alpha is set aboard the Starship Warden, a generation spaceship which has suffered an unknown catastrophic event which killed the crew and most of the million or so colonists and left the ship irradiated and many of the survivors and the flora and fauna aboard mutated. Some three centuries later, as Humans, Mutated Humans, Mutated Animals, and Mutated Plants, the Player Characters, knowing nothing of their captive universe, would leave their village to explore strange realm around them, wielding fantastic mutant powers and discovering how to wield fantastic devices of the gods and the ancients that is technology, ultimately learn of their enclosed world. Originally published in 1976, it would go on to influence a whole genre of roleplaying games, starting with Gamma World, right down to Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic from Goodman Games. And it would be Goodman Games which brought the roleplaying game back with the stunning Metamorphosis Alpha Collector’s Edition in 2016, and support the forty-year old roleplaying game with a number of supplements, many which would be collected in the ‘Metamorphosis Alpha Treasure Chest’.

Metamorphosis Alpha: The Warden Armoury is written by James M. Ward, the designer of Metamorphosis Alpha and simply gives descriptions of over one hundred and fifty weapons and armour. It also reveals a minor secret—or three—about the Starship Warden and the way it was stocked prior to it leaving the Earth. It is well known that as well as stocking the vast generational ship with assorted supplies and devices to ensure that the crew and their passengers would survive the long interstellar journey, the Starship Warden had whole cargo holds filled with everything necessary to help the colonists set up their new home on the destination planet. The colonisation was entirely peaceful and civilian-led, but what is not known is that a pair of secret holds were filled with powerful military weapons by Earth’s military. The locations of these secret caches are known only to the military command back on Earth and to the military commanders assigned to the Starship Warden. Like other high-ranking members of the ship’s crew, they remain in hibernation, their cryrogenic pods also hidden. Yet despite the locations of these caches remaining hidden, this does not mean that they cannot be found, and what happens if others find either cache before the Player Characters? What if a rival band of mutants found them and start attacking the Player Characters and their allies in their powerful suits of armour, wielding deadly weapons they have never seen before? Or robotic dogs and serpents that rampage across a deck? Well, either the Player Characters have to stop them, find their source, or steal them all for themselves—if not all three!

Metamorphosis Alpha: The Warden Armoury details the content of both caches. 
In the Secret Military Armoury Cache can be found four types of weapons. These are Bio-Heavy guns, Gamma guns, Kinetic guns, and Plasma guns. They all include grenades, pistols, rifles, throwers, blasters, and artillery. The Bio-Heavy guns fire spheres of bio-material, which when it explodes paralyses and then kills anyone who breaths it in or is touched by it; Gamma guns fire spheres of radiation; Kinetic weapons fire pellets at high velocity; and the Plasma guns, balls of well, plasma. This is a somewhat underwhelming start to the supplement, the weapons being deadly if not all that inspiring and possessing a similar feel. How some of them are fired is slightly more interesting, such as the helmet which has to be worn to fire the Gamma Blaster. Similarly, the suits of mobile armour are not that interesting, although the inclusion of various types of drone provides more of a contemporary feel.

Fortunately, the contents of the Colonisation Weapons & Armour Cache is where Metamorphosis Alpha: The Warden Armoury gets interesting. Especially with the list of non-lethal weapons, because here the designer really has to get inventive. For example, the ‘Anti-Energy Sparkle Dust’ is thrown in the air and negates energy rays and blasts; ‘Battle Gloves’ let the wearer handle energy, radiation, and poison safely, and even provides a pressure-based force field for protection in space or the deepest of oceans; ‘Electric Bolos’ stun targets; ‘Slippery Marbles’ create uneven surfaces; the Blind Pistol’ fires pellets of manganese which explode blind targets; and ‘Tagging Pistols’ fire darts which can be tracked from a thousand miles away. There are lethal weapons, such as lasers and slug throwers, and even caltrops, but again not all that interesting. More fun perhaps will be had with the Player Characters attempting to figure out what the various types of grenades, from Slippery Grenades to Sticky Mist Grenades, and various types of claymore mines, from Freeze to Nano-Cutter versions, can be found in the cache. The Colonisation Weapons & Armour Cache also contains explosives and battle armour, as well as a selection of droids, such as the battering Droid, used for well, battering, and vehicles all the way up to a Force Sphere, which can transport forty troopers into space or the deep ocean whilst providing plenty of protection.  The Special Colonisation Equipment includes a very useful Emergency Hip Container, essentially a survival kit, and a bit with a robot dog.

All of the entries in Metamorphosis Alpha: The Warden Armoury include a short description and ratings for damage, Armour Class, and Weapon Class as necessary. They also include an ICR or Item Complexity Rating to indicate how difficult an item is to understand. The tables explaining these ratings are reprinted from Metamorphosis Alpha, whilst the tables at the back of the supplement combine their rating with an index. All nicely done in one.

Physically, Metamorphosis Alpha: The Warden Armoury is cleanly presented. The illustrations are decent, but the writing is sparse in places.

In a roleplaying game like Metamorphosis Alpha where there no Classes or Levels, and the only way in which the Player Characters get more powerful is through acquiring more mutant abilities or bigger and better weapons and armour, there is always going to be a call for a supplement such as Metamorphosis Alpha: The Warden Armoury. So there is no denying that the supplement is useful, although it does mean that the Player Characters may be capable of dealing out huge amounts of damage whilst wearing armour cable withstanding similar amounts, ultimately upping the scale at which combat takes place. So this may well be a supplement for later in a campaign when the Player Characters are ready to face bigger and deadlier threats.

—oOo—


Goodman Games will be at Gen Con 20220 which takes place from Thursday, August 4th to Sunday, August 7th, 2022.

Mapping Your Encounter

There have always been encounters in roleplaying because fundamentally, roleplaying is built on encounters, and the most fun has come from great encounters and their outcome and the roleplaying which comes from them. Yet coming up with interesting, involving, or even challenging encounters can hinder the most creative of Game Masters. So it is no surprise that the industry has fulfilled this need all the way back to books such as Dungeons & Dragons Monster & Treasure Assortment Set One: Levels One-Three, published by TSR, Inc. in 1977 and Traveller Supplement 6: 76 Patrons, published in in 1980 by GDW. This need has never gone away, with roleplaying genres such as fantasy, horror, and fantasy, along with specific roleplaying games and settings all being treated to their supplements of encounters, personalities, and places. In each book, each of their encounters can obviously be run as written, but each can also be adapted to fit the Game Master’s campaign, or even simply serve as inspiration. One of the latest entries to join this long list of supplements is Untold Encounters of the Random Kind.

Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is published by Loke BattleMats, a publisher best known for its maps for roleplaying games, such as The Towns & Taverns Books of Battle Mats, The Wilderness Books of Battle Mats, and The Dungeon Books of Battle MatsUntold Encounters of the Random Kind promises over a thousand random encounters, much like the ‘Books of Battle Mats’ series across towns, wildernesses, and dungeons, as well as adventure generators, random tables, and more. The latter includes six sample adventures.

Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is designed to be compatible with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. However, it is not actually a Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition supplement and there are no Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition stats or content in the supplement. Instead it uses Keywords across seven categories—Mechanics, Damage, Difficulty, Challenge, Enemy Types, Group Sizes, and NPC Types. So for example, Damage which can be inflicted by an attack, a trap, a spell, an environmental effect, and so on, is listed as Minor, Light, Major, and Lethal, whilst the Difficulty of a task is listed as Simple, Routine, Difficult, Very Difficult, or Near Impossible. All of these are easily adapted to the fantasy roleplaying game of the Game Master’s choice, whilst the ‘5E Mechanics’ section suggests how the supplement’s Keywords can be translated into Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. This is via Keywords, primarily the Keywords for Damage, Difficulty, and Challenge—the latter to Challenge Rating, and together it amounts to just two pages. In a supplement which is over three hundred pages long… The point is that Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is just as easy to use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition as it is with the retroclone of the Game Master’s choice, be it Old School Essentials, Swords & Wizardry, or Labyrinth Lord. In other words, Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is very much Old School Renaissance compatible.

Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is tidily organised into its three sections covering town, wilderness, and dungeon encounters. Each section begins with an overview of the nature of the location type, terrain, district, or encounter types (so cemeteries, docks, and noble quarters for towns, arctic, forests, and sea and shore for wildernesses, and dungeon doors, enemies, and intrigue for dungeons), advice on using the encounters, as well as information particular to the section. Thus for Town Encounters there notes on town dignitaries, wilderness and dungeon crossovers, townsfolk, types of town, and how to create non-human towns. For the different types of wilderness, there is guidance on the weather, visibility, geography, and travel and survival, whilst for dungeons there is advice on traps, denizens, building dungeons, crossovers, and more. None of these entries is accorded more than a few short paragraphs, and arguably, any one of them is likely worth an essay or two of their very own. As a starting point though, the advice in Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is solid throughout.

None of the advice in each section is more than three pages in length before Untold Encounters of the Random Kind delves into its encounters. There are more than fifty entries in each of these tables and each one is expanded upon with a full description. These are given alphabetically following all of the tables. There is a degree of repetition here, for example, the ‘Abandoned Cart’ encounter, found with signs of something heavy having been dragged from it, can be found in the Castle Ward, Guild Quarter, High Street, Lanes, and Noble Quarter, but for most part the encounters are confined to one area or district. For example, the ‘Jury’ is only found in the Noble Quarter and a ‘Hollow Tree’ is found in the Forest. Some entries add flavour and feel, such as ‘Fantastic Music’, the wind whistling through past them sounds so happy as they trek across the Arctic region that the spirits of the Player Characters are uplifted, whilst on the Sea & Shore, the heavy salt content in the water and the air matts hair giving the Player Characters odd hairdos. It also affects fur coats. Boons may also be found in be the wilderness and dungeons, such as a ‘Coin Stash’ or ‘Mechanical Oddity’ with an as yet unfathomable purpose, and a dungeon or ‘Ring of the Lost’ which provides protection and a strange effect on compasses and ‘Salvage Onshore’ of valuable trade goods, similarly both found, though in the wilderness. Wilderness boons consist of coins and valuables, survival and supply caches, and even ores and gems. Similarly, dungeon boons consist of coins and other valuables, but also can be clues and of course, magical items. In both cases of wilderness and dungeon boons there is advice on how to include them and their potential story ramifications.

In comparison to the earlier sections of town and wilderness encounters, the dungeon encounter section goes into a bit more detail. There are tables here for location and back story, plus sample monster suggestions and building particular encounters. Again whole essays or even supplements have been written about dungeon design, so the advice is solid, but not deep.

Included at the end of the three sections—town, wilderness, and dungeon—is a pair of scenarios. These are designed for either Second, Fourth, or Eighth Level Players and each consists of a two-page spread. These have been constructed using the tables and encounters in Untold Encounters of the Random Kind with differently formatted text used to refer to encounter types and also Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition monster types. This is by name only, so again no stats. The six include ‘Wanted’ in which a local watch captain wants a shady relative brought in before the con artist’s enemies catch up with him; ‘Parched’, which opens with the Player Characters shipwrecked on the shores of a desert and a five-day trek to the nearest oasis with little water between them; and in ‘The Cursed Folly’, the Player Characters have been paid well to clear out a folly by a somewhat dotty member of the owning noble family who wants to live in it. Each of the six comes with a decent map of the adventure location, but each will require the Game Master to provide the stats for the various monsters. All six are all decent adventures, each offering little more than a session’s worth of play, and potentially the publisher could take the format and do a whole supplement of full encounters like it.

Physically, Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is decently presented. It does need an edit in places, but the artwork is excellent. Overall, the supplement is a clean and attractive book.

Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is not necessarily a book that as a Game Master you need to own. However, as a book of prompts, ideas, and inspiration, Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is a useful tome to have on the shelf—whichever version of Dungeons & Dragons or retroclone that the Game Master prefers because this supplement will work with them all.


—oOo



Loke BattleMats will be at UK Games Expo which takes place from Friday, June 3rd to Sunday, June 5th, 2022.





Monday, 23 May 2022

Miskatonic Monday #121: Death is the Final Escape

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 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—
Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Bryan Rudolf

Setting: Jazz Age Boston
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Fifty Nine page, 8.58 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Can an escape artist escape his end?
Plot Hook: Murder-suicide lifts lid on vaudevillian villainy.
Plot Support: Staging advice, five pre-generated Investigators, eight 
handouts, one map and three sets of  floorplans, thirteen NPCs, three spells, two Mythos tomes, and Mythos creatures.
Production Values: Professional.

Pros
# Great cover and artwork
# Could be adapted to other time periods
# Detailed meaty investigative scenario
# Potential addition to a Lovecraft Country campaign
# Delightfully vile cult ceremony description
# Nuanced depiction of a cult that is more than just evil
# Clearly staged chase resolution
# Interesting, but serviceable way of getting (too) close to the villain

Cons
# Needs a slight edit
# Vaudevillian villain

Conclusion
# Classic investigative Call of Cthulhu scenario set in New England
# Well developed professional scenario in which the Investigators encounter a cult that is much more than just evil for the sake of it.

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Operative Orientation

Today you graduated from Meny. Today you graduated as a SLA Operative. A SLA Op. A Slop. Tomorrow you and your squad will take your first job, your first BPN or Blue Print New file, given to you by a BPN Officer at your nearest BPN Hall. You’re pretty sure it’ll be in Downtown, literally down town in the great metropolis of Mort City. It could be a Blue, and you could be exterminating a nest of rats or sewer pigs, doing a gang sweep, or breaking up some upstart soft company. It could be a White and you’ll find yourself monitoring strange activity in a neighbourhood or investigating a murder or even the activities of one of those serial killers that plague the reaches of Downtown. Or it could be Green and you’ll find yourself assigned to one of the bridgeheads out in Cannibal Sector 1, alongside the Shiver who enforce the law in Downtown, or even off planet, though being a greenhorn, that seems unlikely. Perhaps it will be Red, an emergency like a riot or a terrorist attack by DarkNight or Thresher and then you’ll get TV coverage and your chance to look good on camera, catch the eye of sponsor? Maybe. You got your BOSH SLA Blade. You got your FEN 603 Auto-Pistol. You got your ITB Mutilator Fist. You got your PP664.2 Body Blocker armour. It ain’t much, but it’s a start. You got your SLA Ops badge and Security Clearance 10. You paid your Bullet Tax. You’re ready. You’re an Operative for SLA Industries.

However, there are greater dangers which threaten Mort City, home to SLA Industries, the planet of Mort, and The World of Progress which encompasses the whole of the universe and the company’s industrial worlds, home worlds, resource worlds, labour worlds, war worlds, and more. The Grosh, the Krell, and the Momic—previously forgotten and thought lost Conflict Races from the dawn of SLA Industries’ founding, nine centuries ago—have returned from Conflict Space and begun to war against The World of Progress. SLA Industries faces a ‘Great Enemy’, said to be imprisoned on a world known as ‘White Earth’ from where twisted and bitter secret knowledge has leaked. Some of this was learned by an amateur scholar deep in Lower Downtown, the knowledge driving him to first make blood sacrifices to White Earth, and then found the Shi’An Cult dedicated to White Earth. In the decade since its founding, the Shi’An Cult is Downtown’s largest growing religion, its members dedicated to summoning horrifying monsters from White Earth, and whilst probably killing themselves in the process, sowing fear and terror amongst the downtrodden citizens of Mort. However some threats come within. In a company as large as SLA Industries, it is easy to hide corruption; the newly formed Moral Right Division sends out patrols to educate civilians on the virtues of morality, dignity, and civility, but mostly consist of bully boys out to have a good time and repress the populace; and then there is Mr. Slayer, the head of SLA Industries, an undeniably evil megacorporation and government. He has his own secrets. Who he is. Where he is from. What he knows and what he has done to ensure the growth and survival of his company. These secrets and knowing the Truth about The World of Progress? That is the ultimate danger as The World of Progress stands on the precipice of the World of Change.

This is the set-up for SLA Industries, a roleplaying game originally published in 1993 by Nightfall Games. Since its initial release, it has suffered a somewhat peripatetic existence, finding home with publisher after publisher, but receiving relatively light attention from each. However, the roleplaying game finally got attention it deserved in 2016 with the release of the excellent SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1, before releasing SLA Industries, Second Edition following a successful Kickstarter campaign. With the publication of the second edition, SLA Industries has been given a major overhaul. This includes an entirely new set of mechanics, the ‘S5S’ System; an updating of the setting from its original year of 901sd to 915sd; and a makeover. Like Cannibal Sector 1 before it, SLA Industries, Second Edition is generously illustrated with gloriously gorgeous and gory artwork. The artwork in the first edition was good, but here, in rich, full colour, we get to see The World of Progress and its splatterpunk, noir horror dystopia like never before.

In SLA Industries, players take the roles of Operatives for the company. A Player Character in SLA Industries, Second Edition is defined by his Species, stats, Ratings Points, skills, and traits. SLA Industries, Second Edition has nine Species. Three are Human-like. These are Humans; Frothers, drug-fuelled and tolerant who go berserk and fight with a power claymore; and Ebonites, who use the mystic power of the Ebb to alter the fabric of reality. They are divided between Ebon and Eban, who embody the positive and negative versions of the Ebb. SLA Industries also bioengineer SLA Operatives, the Stormer 313 ‘Malice’ and the Stormer 711 ‘Xeno’, designed for their speed, ferocity, and their presence in combat and thus on camera. Shaktar and Wraithen, are aliens, Shaktar being honourable warriors with fleshy dreadlocks and a prehensile tail, and Wraithen, feline and reptilian hunters known for their acute senses and response times. Advanced Carrien and Neophron are new additions to SLA Industries and thus as Operatives. Advanced Carrien or ADV Carrien are Carrien Pigs which have survived their litter and raised by SLA Industries to work as SLA Operatives because they are highly adapted to life on the polluted World of Progress. The Neophron are bird-like aliens, known for their grace, charm, and inquisitiveness, who prefer methods other than violence.

An Operative has six stats—Strength, Dexterity, Knowledge, Concentration, and Cool. The sixth is Luck, except for the Ebonite, who have the Flux stat instead. Stats are rated between zero and six, whilst the skills are rated between one and four. Ratings Points represent an Operative’s ratings in various areas, such as televised action, corporate sponsorship, or faith in his own abilities. They are expended to overcome obstacles, perform cinematic feats, or avoid certain death or defeat. They are divided between three categories—Body, Brains, and Bravado. To create an Operative, a player selects a Species, assigns twelve points to his stats, thirty points to skills, chooses traits—positive and negative, and purchases equipment beyond the standard assigned to all Operatives. Skill points also come from the Operative’s Species and choice of Training Package, which include Strike & Sweep, Close Assault, Heavy Support, Scout, Medic, Investigation & Interrogation, Technical, and Bureaucrat.

Tanktop – Stormer 313 ‘Malice’
Close Assault Operative, SCL 10
Strength 6 Dexterity 5 Knowledge 1 Concentration 1 Charisma 1 Cool 3 Luck 2
Hit Points: 28
Rating Points
Body 4 Brains 0 Bravado 2
Initiative Bonus: 6
Species Abilities: Regeneration (2), Physical Favourite
Traits: – 
Skills
Strength – Climbing 2, Melee Weapons 3, Throw 1, Unarmed Combat (Brawling) 3
Dexterity – Acrobatics 2, Athletics 2, Pistol 1, Rifle 2, Stealth 2
Knowledge –
Concentration – Detect 1
Charisma –
Cool – Intimidate 3, Survival 1
Luck –
Money: 100c, 100u
Equipment – Boopa CASDIS, Finance Chip, Headset Communicator, Klippo Lighter, Operative organiser & admin kit, Pack of Contraceptives, SLA Industries ID Card, SLL Badge, Two Sets of Cloths and Boots
Armour – PP664.2 Body Blocker armour
Weapons – Stormer Chucklerduster (2), FEN 603 Auto-Pistol (4 clips), SLA Blade, SLA 10-05 Bully Boy Shotgun (4 clips)

Mechanically, SLA Industries, Second Edition uses the ‘S5S’ System. This is a dice pool system which uses ten-sided dice. The dice pool consists of one ten-sided die, called the Success Die, and Skill Dice equal to the skill being used, plus one. The Success Die should be of a different colour from the Skill Dice. For example, if Tanktop needed to make a Stealth check, his player rolls a total of four dice—the Success Die plus two Skill Dice for Tanktop’s Stealth skill of two, plus one. The results of the dice roll are not added, but counted separately. Thus to each roll is added the value of the Skill being rolled, plus its associated stat. If the result on the Success Die is equal to or greater than the Target Number, ranging from seven and Challenging to sixteen and Insane, then the Operative has succeeded. If the results of the Skill Dice also equal or exceed the Target Number, this improves the quality of the successful skill attempt. However, if the roll on the Success Die does not equal or exceed the Target Number, the attempt fails, even if multiple rolls on the Success Dice do. Except that is where there are four or more results which equal or exceed the Target Number on the Success Dice. This is counted as a minimum success though.

Luck can also be spent to reroll dice. This is either a point to reroll the Success Die or any of the Skill Dice, but can also spend them on a one for one basis to improve the result of the Success Die.
For example, Tanktop has captured Angus Ablanko, a suspected Dark Night sympathiser. He has clammed up and refuses to talk. Tanktop looks him over, gives him the once over and promises to drag him down the street and into every single fight by rope with his hands tied… “Think of it like a fight on the telly, but really, really close up.” And then he grins. Tanktop has Intimidate of three, so his player rolls the Success Die and three Skill Dice plus one, for a total of five. He will be adding a total of six—three each for the Intimidate skill and the Cool stat—to each of the for dice. The Game Master has set the Target Number at Complex or ten, because Angus is showing a bit of bravado. However, Tanktop’s player rolls five on the Success Die, and then five, six, eight, and ten on the Skill Dice. This an unbelievable success, and Angus literally collapses blubbing and begging the Stormer not to drag him into any fights. Between sobs, he tells Tanktop’s squad—because he cannot even bring himself to look at the Stormer—who his contact is, where he hangs out, where he lives, and what he thinks he is planning.
Combat uses the same ‘S5S’ System and is in the main relatively simple and straightforward. It can, however, be nasty, brutal, and short. The standard Target Number for combat is ten or Complex and if the attack roll is successful, that is the result of the Success Die is sufficient, any successful results on the Skill Dice either add extra damage or a specific body area being hit. If an Operative’s player rolls four or more successful Skill Dice, the Operative both inflicts extra damage and hits the target’s head. If an Operative’s or target’s Hit Points are reduced to zero, they are dead. They are at critical condition if they have six or less Hit Points left and suffer a wound if they suffer damage which reduces their Hit Points by half.

Against incoming damage or attacks, an Operative has three options—defensive manoeuvres, cover, and armour. In melee, an Operative can assign one or more levels of his skill to defence to reduce his attacker’s roll or actively and solely dodge using Acrobatic Defence to do the same. Similarly, cover makes the target harder to hit, whilst armour reduces damage taken, but at the same time, can damage the armour itself. Different ammunition types inflict different amounts of damage, but SLA Industries impose a Bullet Tax on all ammunition. This is simply because close combat looks better on television and garners higher ratings.

Operatives can look good on camera through the use of Ratings Points, which lend themselves to a cinematic style of play. Ratings Points fall into three categories—Body, Brain, and Bravado, as do their associated Feats. For example, ‘How Did You Hit That?’ and ‘Tear Right Through Them’ are Body Feats, ‘I Just read About That Yesterday!’ and ‘Lucky Guess’ are Brain Feats, and ‘Charming Smile’ and ‘Pure Grit’ are Bravado Feats. They either cost one or two Ratings Points and add a bit more colour and dynamism to what an Operative can do.

Ebonites—and some threats faced by SLA Industries—have access to the mystic power of the Ebb to alter the fabric of reality. Not quite spells, not quite psionics, the study of the Ebb is divided between ten disciplines, ranging from Awareness, Blast, and Communicate to Senses, Telekinesis, and Thermal (Blue/Red). Like skills, each discipline has four ranks, but each rank grants access to a pair of abilities. For example, at Rank 2, the discipline Reality Fold grants ‘Jump Port 2’ and ‘Shared Port’, the ability itself being akin to teleportation. Points of Flux have to be expended to use disciplines, an Ebonite calculating the formulae for each discipline via their Deathsuits, which takes concentration.

The mediatisation of violence within The World of Progress is in part represented by a lengthy list of arms and armour, and other equipment. All of which is very nicely illustrated. This adds to elements of game play as not only do the stats of a weapon or suit of armour matter, but so does their name and look. After all, they are designed to look good on television and if an Operative can get good coverage on camera, then he might gain sponsorship from a manufacturer. The equipment list also includes a lengthy list of combat drugs, one reason the roleplaying game carries a mature warning.

Rounding outSLA Industries, Second Edition is ‘Threat Analysis’ and ‘Web of Lies’. The former presents a wide range of dangers that the Operative might face on the streets of Mort and beyond. These threats range from Carnivorous Pigs, Carrien, and things that seep in from White Earth to rival soft companies such as Dark Knight, Thresher, and Tek Trex, Dream Entities, serial killers, and the freelancer mercenaries and vigilantes known as Props. These are all decently detailed and superbly illustrated.

‘Web of Lies’ is a chapter of advice for the Game Master. It is ultimately where the problems with SLA Industries, Second Edition come to head. What it covers is advice on running the game, in particular, the Blueprint News file types, what they entail, their importance, and what the rewards they pay out to the Operatives. Added to this are Hunter Sheets, essentially bounties on particular targets or persons of interest, which are suggested as being suitable for single sessions or one-shots. The advice also covers handling the game’s mechanics, sponsorship deals for the Operatives, what they might do on their downtime, and more.

The issue with ‘Web of Lies’ is that it suggests something more than it covers, and that feeling pervades SLA Industries, Second Edition throughout. The focus in the roleplaying game is on beginning Player Characters and Operatives, and their taking on Blueprint News file mission after Blueprint News file mission, in order to increase their Security Clearance, climb the corporate ladder, gain sponsorship, and fame and fortune. It does a very good job of explaining what an Operative does in SLA Industries, Second Edition and The World of Progress. From the outset, a player and his Operative knows what he is expected to do… and yet. SLA Industries is roleplaying game and a setting which has secrets—deep secrets. These are hidden behind layers of bureaucracy and conspiracy within The World of Progress, and ultimately, playing the roleplaying game is about discovering or being exposed to them and the consequences of that happening. Yet despite the colour fiction in the pages of SLA Industries, Second Edition hinting at those secrets and conspiracies, none of them are actually explored in its pages or supported with advice on how to include them in play. Which is exactly what a chapter entitled ‘Web of Lies’ suggests it might do, but does not. For the player who has been a fan of SLA Industries since original publication, this is very much less of an issue, but for anyone new to the roleplaying game and its rich setting, they are going to be left mystified as to what the significance of the colour fiction is and likely wondering quite what SLA Industries is ultimately about. This is despite the fact that SLA Industries, Second Edition goes out of the way in places to make itself and The World of Progress accessible, especially with the guide to Operative life which clearly explains what an Operative does on a daily basis.

SLA Industries is a roleplaying game from the nineteen nineties and ultimately, it does something that is so typically nineteen nineties. It hides its meta-plot. Or rather, its backstory. As typified by the superhero roleplaying game, Brave New World, it keeps what is really going hidden from both players and Game Master, even though Brave New World revealed some of its secrets, SLA Industries, Second Edition does not even do that. However, this does not mean that as written, SLA Industries, Second Edition is unplayable, as it still provides the means to explore a very dark corporate dystopia. Perhaps though, a scenario or two would have helped.

Physically, SLA Industries, Second Edition is superbly presented. The layout is clean and tidy, and though it needs a slight edit in places, it is engagingly written with lots of colour fiction. The artwork though, is amazing, and really does a fantastic job of bringing The World of Progress and its rain sodden, polluted, and horror haunted streets (and beyond) to life like never before.

SLA Industries, Second Edition is a great update to the original nineties darkest of dark dystopian roleplaying games. The designers have revisited the setting of The World of Progress and clearly worked hard to update it, to make it more accessible, and represent it in gloriously gorgeous colour. For the most part, they have succeeded, yet so much of The World of Progress is only hinted at and left inaccessible and that can only hamper the Game Master in the long run.

The true nature and secrets of The World of Progress will have to wait for revelations in future supplements, but as an exploration of what Mr Slayer wants you to know, SLA Industries, Second Edition is the ultimate in dark dystopian splatter punk and corporate horror roleplaying. 

Saturday, 21 May 2022

Luna Larcency

Luna-1 is a supplement for Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD. Like The Robot Wars before it, it is as different a supplement as there has been for any of the four roleplaying games based on the Judge Dredd comic strip from the pages of 2000 AD, and that is all down to its focus. Traditionally, supplements for a Judge Dredd roleplaying game have concentrated on particular aspects of the setting—criminal organisations, crazes, psi-talents, block wars, and more—but Luna-1 focuses upon the one storyline, examining its episodes or Progs, and exploring their ramifications in detail. In Luna-1, this is the six months in which Judge Dredd is assigned to serve as Judge Marshall of Luna-1, a colony on Earth’s moon governed by judges from all three Mega-Cities. Told in Progs 42-59, this storyline thus takes Judge Dredd off Earth and onto the oxygen-short, crowded, and lawless and often wild frontier of the Moon. Here gangs and perps can escape the Mega-Cities to hide out and continue their criminal activities; corporations shorn of the scrutiny and regulations of Earth, build and hold more power and influence; resources are poor—especially oxygen, which needs to be paid for; even though they might hate each other, the Mega-Cities of North America and the Soviet East-Meg cities, will come together to participate in the Lunar Olympics; and criminal conspiracies work behind the scenes to take over the Moon! The supplement includes a Prog by Prog guide to the storyline with story hooks which the Game Master can develop as part of her campaign; descriptions of the Moon’s most notable locations and events, as well as what it like to both live and enforce the law there; new Exploits and Careers for Judges, Perps, and Civilians; an examination of a Moon-set campaign inspired by the ‘Luna-1’ storyline; stats and write ups for numerous NPCs; and more. 

LUNA-1 opens with a description of the Moon and a history of its settlement, including its important locations, such as the famous Armstrong Monument or Moonie’s Ranch, home to the reclusive corporate boss, C.W. Moonie, where he has ranchers raise genuine protein cake-fed, bio-engineered cattle on actual grass, their meat being highly prized by gourmets. The inhabitants of the Moon reside in domed settlements, ranging in size from urban sprawls to classic frontier towns. The maintenance of these domes is vital to everyone’s survival, as is a supply of oxygen, which of course, the inhabitants of the Moon have to pay for! The Oxygen Board has a monopoly on the supply. So it can be expensive! The Mega-Cities’ Justice Departments sometimes use Safe Houses on the Moon to keep witnesses safe. The Moon is also home to colonies from the other Mega-Cities beyond North America, including Shi-Shen Territories and Sov-Cities Territory, the closest they get to territories of the Mega-Cities. Locations important to the Moon, but back on Earth are detailed too, such as Moonray Tower and Temple of Lunar Light, a cult often described as being full of ‘loonies’. Events, like the Land Race—a race to grab new opened up territory, and the Lunar Olympiad are covered as well. They are all accompanied by adventure seeds.

In terms of mechanics, LUNA-1 provides numerous new options for Player Characters and NPCs of all types. New Judge Careers include Luna Judge, Zero Squad Judge (trained to work in zero gravity), Customs Judge, and more. STAR Judges or ‘Special Target Attack Retaliation’ Judges are drawn from all three North American Mega-Cities and their allies and assigned to police Earth’s off-world colonies, so the Player Characters could actually be a mixed group from various cities, not just Mega-City One. New Civilian Careers include Xenodiplomat, Corporate Executive, and Settler, whilst Perp ones include Luna Raider, Gunslinger, and Smuggler. They all include their own Exploits which can be gained by choosing them as Careers during character creation, and all provide interesting options for both Player Characters and NPCs. As expected, all of the characters from the ‘LUNA-1’ storyline are included in LUNA-1, from simple Badlands Gang Member and Futsie to Deputy Luna Marshal Tex, Judge Mex (complete with lasso for reigning in Perps), Elvis the Killer Car, and Judge Dredd himself. These can be used as is, if the Game Master wants to run the ‘LUNA-1’ storyline for her players and their characters, or simply used as inspiration for a campaign set on the Moon.

The campaign advice for the Game Master examines the how and the why of setting and running stories for Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD. This should not just be because the setting itself is cool, but rather because there are particular types of stories which can be set there, which in this case might involve the Lunar Olympics or the looser regulations applied to corporations. It also highlights the differences between Mega-City One and the Moon—as well as colony frontiers, and how that will change game play. Smaller communities means fewer places to hide and everyone knows everyone’s business, including that of Perps, plus colonies like the Moon rely much more on technology for everyone’s survival. Only light synopsises are given for the fourteen Progs which make up the ‘LUNA-1’ storyline, more attention being paid to the whole storyline as a roleplaying campaign with a beginning, middle, and end. There is advice here on how to use Dredd, for it might be that the Player Character Judges are actually seconded to the unrelenting lawkeeper as his deputies.

The full adventure in LUNA-1 is ‘Sundance Rising’, an unashamed space western. It is set further on the frontier of the Moon in the isolated toon of Grey Rock. Inspired by the film High Noon, the town’s Judge, William Kane, is gunned down by the Sundance Gang, led by the vicious Preacher Jackson and the Judges are sent into restore order. The scenario and setting of Grey Rock is nicely detailed and there are notes too to run with Civilians as inhabitants of the town taking the law into their own hands and fighting back and also as Perps attempting to impress Preacher Jackson enough to become members of the Sundance Gang. Either way, this is a good scenario with lots going on that should provide multiple sessions of play.

LUNA-1 does not just cover Judge Dredd’s six-month secondment to the Moon, although that is its primary focus. That is told in Progs 42-59, but there were stories which took place between this and the events of ‘The Robot Wars’—as detailed in the supplement of the same name, and these are detailed in LUNA-1, again Prog by Prog. Each includes a synopsis, settings and locations, villains and bystanders, how the story can be used ‘Outside the Law’ (that is, used with Perp and Civilian Player Characters rather than Judges), and suggested further adventures. Some of these can be used as part of a Moon-set campaign, some not, but either way, the Game Master is given another eleven story hooks! Lastly, an appendix takes the Game Master—and potentially, her player’s characters to Titan. This includes a complete description and history of the penal colony where corrupt Judges are sentenced and again hooks and for the Game Master’s campaign.

Unlike ‘The Robot Wars’ storyline there is perhaps less satire and less social commentary in LUNA-1. Obviously, there is the rampant commercialism, but the Moon-set storyline is more of a means to tell stories away from Mega-City One and on the frontier in the style of the Wild West than anything else. The writing style has settled down a bit and there is more of the comic strip’s humour coming through than there was in The Robot Wars.

Physically, LUNA-1 is a slim, but nicely presented book. It is an engaging read and it is liberally illustrated with artwork from the ‘LUNA-1’ story and the other Progs it details in its pages. This is all black and white artwork and it is drawn from the very early issues of 2000 AD so there is certain quaintness to it since it dates from before the character of Judge Dredd evolved into the way he looks today.

Luna-1 picks up where The Robot Wars left off, continuing its fantastic approach to turning episodic source material into gameable content. The humour is stronger, even if the satire is not, but this is thoroughly excellent sourcebook on ‘LUNA-1’ story, for the stories which can be told in and around it, and of course on the Moon (and other frontier settings) for Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD (or in fact, any roleplaying game based on Judge Dredd).

Micro RPG III: Blades & Spells

Lâminas & Feitiços
or Blades & Spells is a minimalist fantasy roleplaying game from South America. In fact, Blades & Spells is another Bronze Age, Swords & Sorcery minimalist fantasy roleplaying game done in pamphlet form from Brazil. In actuality, Blades & Spells is a series of pamphlets, building from the core rules pamphlet to add optional rules, character archetypes, spells, a setting and its gods, and more, giving it the feel of a ‘plug and play’ toolkit. The Storyteller and her players can play using just the core rules, but beyond that, they are free to choose the pamphlets they want to use and just game with those, ignoring the others. So what is Blades & Spells? It describes itself as “…[A] simple, objective and dynamic minimalist RPG game where the Storyteller challenges the Player and not the character sheet.” It is written to pay homage to the classic Sword & Sorcery literature, uses the Basic Universal System—or ‘B.U.S.’—a simple set of mechanics using two six-sided dice, and in play is intended to challenge the player and his decisions rather than have the player rely upon what is written upon his character sheet. Which, being a minimalist roleplaying game, is not much. So although it eschews what the designer describes as the ‘classic restrictions’ of Class, Race, and Level, and it is very much not a Retroclone, there is no denying that Blades & Spells leans into the Old School Renaissance sensibilities.

Blades & Spells: An agile, objective and dynamic minimalist RPG defines a Player Character in simple terms. He is Human and he has a Name, Focus, Background, and Equipment. His Focus is either Fighter, Mystic, Intellectual, Support, or Specialist, whilst his Background includes goals, skills, knowledge, adjectives, and at least one flaw. He also has ten Hit Points. Character creation is a five-minute job and everything can be recorded on an index card.

Ublaf the Unbelievable
Focus: Fighter
Background: Ublaf is a blond, blue-eyed warrior from the frigid north, who has come far south to make his fortune and prove himself to the girl he wants to marry, but who has so far spurned his advances. He is a good hunter, and capable with both axe and spear, but has no tongue for languages. So often others think him a fool—or ‘Unbelievable!’. He is often impulsive, but invariably tries to be helpful and friendly.
Hit Points: 10

Mechanically, the Basic Universal System of Blades & Spells uses two six-sided dice. To undertake an action for his character, a player rolls the dice attempting to equal or beat a difficulty number set by the Storyteller, ranging from Easy at three all the way up to Epic at twelve. Any roll less than this is a failure and also adds a new complication to the plot. If a Player Character can gain an Advantage from either his Background or Focus, the difficulty number is reduced by two, but increased by two if his Background or Focus would impose a Disadvantage (though this would not increase the difficulty number beyond twelve). Ideally, elements of a Player Character’s Background should work as both Advantage and Disadvantage, depending on the situation. For example, Ublaf’s Impulsiveness would be a Disadvantage if there was trap he could have spotted before he acted, but an Advantage in attempting a foil an assassination attempt on a merchant.

Combat in Blades & Spells is deadly, with attacks, whether by a weapon, magic, or a creature, being either light, strong, or fatal. A Player Character could be killed with a couple of strong blows or even one fatal blow as he only has ten Hit Points (monsters can have more), and once they are gone, that is it. Although monsters have a Challenge Rating equal to the standard difficulty numbers, Player Characters do not, so the default is probably Normal or six. However, shields and armour, in whatever form they take, reduces damage and the Storyteller can allow a Player Character to make a defensive or dodge manoeuvre.

Magic and spells are available to all Player Characters. No spells are described in the base rules for Blades & Spells, but instead, the player decides what the aim of the spell is. Is it to Attack, Defend, Create an advantage, or Overcome an obstacle? The Storyteller sets the difficulty number and the player rolls. If successful, the spell is cast and has the desired effect. Failure though means that the Player Character has suffered Arcane Corruption, which might be that the spell effects turn on the caster rather than the intended target or a second grotesque head grows from the caster’s shoulder, which stays for a few days before withering away, in the meantime annoying everyone with its different opinions and ideas.

So that really is it to Blades & Spells: An agile, objective and dynamic minimalist RPG. Or at least the core rules. It fits on two sides of a single sheet of paper. It is cleanly laid out, although it does need an edit in places to account for the translation from Portuguese to English. It has a decent piece of artwork on the front. It is also perfectly playable barring a couple of issues. One is that it does leave the Storyteller to wonder what sort of complications a failure of a dice roll might add to the plot and it does not state what the difficulty number is for hitting a Player Character in combat.

Blades & Spells is a simple, straightforward set of mechanics, but there are numerous optional pamphlets which expand upon its core rules and turn Blades & Spells into a fully rounded roleplaying game rather than just a core set of mechanics. Nevertheless, Blades & Spells: An agile, objective and dynamic minimalist RPG is a solid, serviceable, easy to learn and play, minimalist roleplaying game.

Friday, 20 May 2022

Dee’s Discernments

The Sight: A True & Faithful Relation of Acts of Supernatural Foresight, Uncanny Vision, divers Readings of Occult Tokens: shewing the Particulars of SOME SPIRITS is a supplement of magic for The Dee Sanction: Adventures in Covert Enochian Intelligence. Or rather The Sight is a supplement of alternative and deeper magic for The Dee Sanction. For in The Dee Sanction, all Agents of Dee have magic. For under the terms of the Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts, it permitted those with heretical knowledge to work off their sentence in service to, and in protection of, Her Majesty, Queen Elisabeth. This includes the one Favour, the very low key magical, Angelic means of influence that the Agent can bear upon the world, learnt through study of a corrupting tome or tutelage at the hands of a secret society. Theirs is a minor magic, but amongst their number, since after all, the authorities are on the constant lookout for any capable of even minor magics, there will be those capable of more—much more.

The Sight is a short supplement which introduces to four new talents—Aura Reading, Prophecy, Scrying, and Token Reading—to The Dee Sanction. It also provides guidance on visions, communing with spirits, possession, hypnosis, and the miraculous intervention of the Divine Chorus. Potentially, it increases the magical potency of the Player Characters or Agents, as well as adding a degree of uncertainty when using their magic. To determine if an Agent or indeed, an NPC, has the Sight, the supplement uses an expanded table over that given in The Dee Sanction. When a player uses the table, he either rolls larger dice types or draws from a full deck of playing cards to account for the increased number of entries. Standard rolls or number playing cards indicate that the Agent has a Favour, as in the core rules for The Dee Sanction, but here every entry has a list of three options, which the player can choose from or take all three, depending how much magic the Game Master wants her player to know.

Rolls of elven or twelve, or draws of either a Jack, Queen, or King, if using cards, determines whether has the Sight. Aura Reading enables an Agent to view and interpret someone’s supernatural aspects, Prophecy to see the future, Scrying to see things that are unseen, and Token reading to examine the lore and history bound up in objects. They are further divided into three, the die result or card determining which particular one an Agent has. For example, Prophecy includes Danger Sense, Things to Come, and Fortune Telling, whilst Scrying includes Visions, Divinations, and Summoned Advisor. There is some overlap to these, but there is every effort to make them different and feel different in play. Divination, for example, allows an Agent to experience the environment around a specific person, place, or event once a significant connection is established with them, which would require the blood or hair of the person, or an object from the location. Whereas Things to Come gives brief visions or warnings of threat, perhaps upon meeting someone, and is always involuntary.

Use of the Sight requires a player to succeed at a Supernatural Challenge. However, unlike the angelic nature of Favours, the Sight is supernatural in nature and therefore fickle. Which means that even in a player facing roleplaying such as The Dee Sanction, the Game Master gets to roll as well as the player. This elevates what would be a Supernatural Challenge in an Uncertain Challenge. The results of the use of the Sight range from Untruthful to Truthful depending upon whether the player and the Game Master both falter, one succeeds and one falters, and both succeed. The result, especially if the Agent is attempting to see the future, is only a possible future and it need not be easy to understand. In fact, it should be cryptic, and further, it should only told to the player of the Agent with the Sight, and done so in private. Further, the player should not write it down. This accentuates the uncertainty of the Sight. Inspiration for such foretellings is provided in a pair of tables.

The Sight also covers communing with spirits and talking with angels, the former answering a few questions, the latter even performing a miracle. There are rules here as well for possession and exorcism, and for both major and minor miracles. Both lend themselves to story possibilities, and of course, Enochian is the language of the angels, so it seems obvious to have talking with angels included here.

Physically, The Sight is cleanly and tidily laid out. It is lightly illustrated and consequently less obtrusive in comparison to the core rulebook.

The Sight is an excellent expansion to The Dee Sanction: Adventures in Covert Enochian Intelligence. Its rules are all entirely optional, and even if the Game Master decides not to add them to her campaign of The Dee Sanction or does not necessarily want her players’ Agents to possess them, they can remain the province of the NPCs or simply a source of ideas. However it is used, The Sight: A True & Faithful Relation of Acts of Supernatural Foresight, Uncanny Vision, divers Readings of Occult Tokens: shewing the Particulars of SOME SPIRITS still open up further story avenues and ideas as well as making the use of magic uncertain.