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

Sunday 27 May 2018

Your First Miniatures Wargame II

Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City has proved to be both successful and popular, having sold many, many copies and worn awards, including an Ennie Award and the UK Games Expo award in 2016. The skirmish fantasy wargame from Osprey Publishing presented clearly written and presented rules with depth, but not complexity, an easy to understand  and develop set-up, and a relatively low level of investment by the hobby’s standards—just ten figures per warband plus the terrain and scenery. The end result was to make Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City a very accessible game, suitable as an introduction to the hobby as much as it is a lighter alternative to more formal and heavier battles.

Although a number of supplements have been published for Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City, now Osprey Games sets sail very far away from the frozen city to a tropical paradise of constantly shifting jungle covered islands, hidden ruins, strange reptilian races and sorcerous snake-men, monsters out of time, and exotic mysteries. This is the Ghost Archipelago, a vast island chain, covered in the ruins of ancient civilizations, which disappears for centuries only to appear again in the far reaches of the southern ocean. When the Ghost Archipelago appears, pirates, adventurers, wizards, and legendary heroes all sail to its many shores in search of lost treasures and powerful artefacts. The Ghost Archipelago has reappeared and some of the descendants of those legendary heroes are drawn to the islands by their very blood! Their forebears drank from the fabled Crystal Pool that lies at the heart of the Ghost Archipelago and so gained abilities far beyond those of normal men. Their descendants possess only the weakest versions of these powers, but perhaps if they find the Crystal Pool and drink of its waters, they can become equal to their legendary ancestors!

This is the setting and set-up for Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles, a separate campaign and expansion to the world of Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City. It is designed for use with 28 mm miniatures, ten per player, a twenty-sided die or two, and lots of jungle style terrain. As with Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City, Northstar Miniatures manufactures figures specifically designed for use with Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles.

Just as in Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City, players in Ghost Archipelago control bands, but here they are not lead by Wizards, but by Heritors. Their ancestors were the legendary heroes who drank from the Crystal Pool and each Heritor is capable of amazing feats of strength and agility and other powers by drawing upon the power of their blood. For example, Burning Eyes freezes a target preventing them from acting, Ironskin reduces damage taken, and Trickshot, which negates modifiers for cover and terrain. A Heritor begins play with five Heritor abilities and each has a utilisation number which is rolled over to use the ability. A Heritor is not limited in the number of times he can use his abilities in a turn, except that each time after the first, it gets progressively more difficult to use an ability and he suffers Blood Burn, losing Hit Points of damage each time an ability is used. So Heritors can be really powerful, but at some cost, and a player should be careful when choosing to push his Heritor’s abilities with Blood Burn.

In general, a Heritor gets better at using his abilities as learning new ones takes time. There is a greater sense of physicality to Heritor abilities rather than the arcane spellcasting powers of Wizards in Frostgrave. This is not to say that magic does not play a role in Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago as each Heritor is accompanied by a Warden who will help the Heritor navigate through the islands. Dismissed as hedge-wizards and animists by the Wizards of Frostgrave, these spellcasters specialise in elemental and primal forces—they are Beast Wardens, Earth wardens, Storm Wardens, Vine Wardens, and Wave Wardens. The rest of a band consists of standard crewmen and specialist crewmen. The former are simple soldiers, whilst the latter are specialists such as Archers, Pearl Divers, Tomb Robbers, Savages, and so on. Many of these are nicely thematic and support the exoticism of the setting.

Mechanically, Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago uses the same rules as Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City, the same stats, and the same play set-up. Anyone coming to Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago from Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City will certainly find much which is familiar. It uses the same twenty-sided die mechanic, with players needing to roll higher than a target number, adding the appropriate attribute and a successful roll also determining how damage is inflicted, for example. 

Just like in Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago, bands in Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago are primarily involved in exploration and scavenging. Where the terrain in the far off city of Felstead is frozen and littered with ruins of streets and squares, the terrain in the isles of the Ghost Archipelago consists of steamy jungles, liana covered ruins, and so on (the rules suggest using aquarium terrain, which is nice advice). Each band has a ship which allows it to reach the islands and which can be upgraded to provide in game benefits. These ships do not actually appear in the game, although the boats each band uses to reach the shores do and the rules allow for battling over them when they appear. For the most part, bands will be competing and confronting each other over treasure, but every band is really hunting Map Stones. Collect all ten of these and a Heritor will have the complete map to the Crystal Pool and essentially won the Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago campaign. Truly the Heritor will have inherited his ancester’s powers.

Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago comes with plenty of support in the form of treasure and strange artefacts, details of both Heritor abilities and Warden spells, eight scenarios, and a bestiary of animals, monsters, and strange races. The bestiary includes dinosaurs (Saurians) and sentient races like the Dricheans and Snake-men, and demons and aquatic species. Together, these both support the given scenarios and allow the creation of further scenarios. 

Physically, where Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City was swathed in blue and white reflecting its cold, cold setting, Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles is green and tan, representing the lush jungles and the sandstone blocks of the ruins. The book is clearly written, but does involve flipping back and forth a bit to create characters and playing the game. It is liberally illustrated with photographs of miniatures in action and full colour, painted illustrations. These are all really evocative, suggesting how the game is played and providing inspiration.

Beyond the confines of Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles there is scope for expansion aplenty. Perhaps guidelines for handling crossovers between Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City and Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles since the two take place in the same world, exploring what happens when the Heritors find the Crystal Pool, setting sail aboard ships for naval combat, and so on. Although the same mechanics and the same set-up are used in Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles as in Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City, this new set of rules and new setting feels very different. It is not as arcane or as chilly, drawing things such as Pirates of the Caribbean and the legend of the Fountain of Youth, to give a more verdant and exotic feel, with less of a sense of ruin, but much more of the unknown, and with the inclusion of Heritors, Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles has a more physical feel.

Fanzine Focus XII: Black Dogs Issue 1

On the tail of Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showed another DM and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970s—Dungeons & DragonsRuneQuest, and Traveller—but fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support.

Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry.

Black Dogs: Unofficial house-rules and material for Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a new fanzine, which as the title suggests provides support for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay. Published by Daimon GamesBlack Dogs Issue 1 was released in December, 2017 and introduces the publisher’s home setting, provides some house rules, a scenario, and some new monsters.

The issue begins by highlighting the differences between the setting for Black Dogs and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay. The setting is historically based, primarily in Europe, but in the late medieval period rather than the early modern period of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay and most of its adventures. So the late fifthteenth century rather than the early to mid seventeenth. There is less horror at the heart of the Black Dogs setting although it remains very much a dark fantasy world. Fights are meant to be uncommon and the player characters are ‘good guys’, members of the Black Dogs, an informal network of monster hunters, which was once a religious warrior order excommunicated and wiped out by the church. The church and the peasantry remain fearful of the Black Dogs, but sometimes respect what they do…

The world of the Black Dogs is divided between the urban and the rural. Knowledge, medicine, and science of an advanced nature are to be found in universities and monasteries, and the cities, but the rural areas are some thirty years behind in all three terms. The military is split between those who would wield sword and musket and those who wield lance and wear plate armour. The wild between the towns and cities remains fearful and untamed, perhaps waiting for the Black Dogs to make a difference.

The most notable fact about a Black Dogs campaign is that both the players and the Game Master create more than one character and play the campaign troupe style, switching characters as necessary, including the players taking control of those created by the Game Master. Black Dogs characters look like Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay characters, but have three secondary attributes for each ability. These are Luck, Talent, and Save. The first is burned for re-rolls of the associated ability; Talent is burned to increase the related ability or Save by a point; and Save replaces Saving Throws in the game, being rolled on a single six-sided die. All three are rated between one and six, and once points of Luck and Talent are burned, they are permanently lost. Rolls can be made directly against abilities for various actions and the Game Master is encouraged to opt for a ‘yes, but’ outcome for failed rolls. Other changes at this stage—there will be more in future issues—include basing starting monies off Charisma and rolling two dice for any action or save to handle Advantage or Disadvantage. Overall, the changes are a move away from the lethality of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay and towards the more player facing mechanics of The Black Hack, catering to both contemporary and Old School Renaissance.

The centerpiece for Black Dogs Issue 1 is ‘Flussburg’, both a location and a scenario. It is a small village of farmers and fishermen on the banks of a river crossed by a ramshackle imperial bridge. The village is highly conservative, the informal council of head farmer, chief fisherman, and village priest resisting all attempts at change, but a family of skilled blacksmiths is fomenting for change—repairs to the bridge, greater taxation, more people and trade, and increased prosperity—and sooner or later the village will come to blows. Besides this, there are threats just lurking beyond the limits of the village, out in the Wild, including mercenaries, trolls, and strange flora and the fruit they bear… Accompanied by a nice map and a decent description, ‘Flussburg’ builds on its set-up with a series of timed events for each of the various factions which starting on day one serve to pull the player characters into what is going on in the fractious village. Supporting ‘Flussburg’ are write-ups of the various NPCs and monsters involved in ‘Trees and Trolls’. ‘Flussburg’ is a pleasing small if ambitious scenario with a good mix of combative, investigative, and roleplaying opportunities.


Physically, Black Dogs Issue 1 is clean, tidy, and well laid out. The writing is good and is an enjoyable read. The fanzine is lightly illustrated, but the artwork is decent enough. The contents of Black Dogs Issue 1 can really be divided into three—setting, rules, and scenario. The least interesting of the three are the rules, but really they are only a start to new rules and mechanics which will be developed in future issues. The setting gives the background to the scenario and lays the groundwork for the scenario and possible campaign which extends out from it. The scenario though, ‘Flussburg’, is a fresh take upon the traditional ‘village in danger’ set-up—and that without a hint of a dungeon—and does a good job of balancing threats internal and external. ‘Flussburg’ is also easily adapted to the Retroclone or rules system of your choice. Black Dogs Issue 1 is an impressive first issue and hopefully future issues will maintain the same standard.

Fanzine Focus XI: The Black Pudding No. 3

On the tail of Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showcased how another DM and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970s—Dungeons & DragonsRuneQuest, and Traveller—but fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support.

Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry.


Black Pudding is a fanzine that is nominally written for use with Labyrinth Lord and so is compatible with other Retroclones. Yet what sets it apart is its consistently singular look, tone, and feel. Set firmly within the Swords & Sorcery genre, its look is cartoonish, its tone is slightly tongue in cheek, and its feel is gonzo. So, this is not the straight-laced fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons, but something a bit lighter, but still full of adventure and heroism. Drawn from the author’s ‘Doomslakers!’ house rules and published by Random Order Creations via Square Hex, Black Pudding No. 3 follows on from the well regarded first and second issues with the same mix of new character Classes, spells, magic items, monsters, NPCs, and adventures. Specifically, five new Classes, eight new monsters, eight NPCs ready to hire, and a wilderness on the road encounter as well as a pair of tables, and the usual character sheets designed to be used with the issue’s various Classes, one for spellcasters and one for non-spellcasters.

The first of the issue’s new Classes is the Luchador, the Mexican style of wrestler. This is a Fighter who wears no armour, but a Sacred Mask he dare not lose and who uses Special Moves such as Ankle Lock, Piledriver, and Flying Clothesline, Level by Level. This sets the gonzo style for the fanzine and if the Class does not fit a campaign, then the Sacred Mask might become a belt or an armband and the Luchador a Martial Artist. The second Class is another Fighter, but this time the Shield Maiden who gains greater protection from her shield and who can perform amazing stunts with it. This is another take on the Amazon-style warrior women and whilst it does come with a selection of magical shields for her to wield, perhaps an idea or two as what stunts might be possible would have been useful too. Another female Class is the Medusa who has all of the accoutrements of the classic monster from Greek Myth with a paralysing gaze, snakes for hair, and the ability to summon snakes and other reptiles. Treated as a Cleric, the Medusa can cast both Cleric and Magic-User, and as powerful as the Class’ abilities there are limits to them. In particular, a Medusa can become a monster and NPC if she uses her Gaze Attack too often and makes her snakes inject venom when they attack. Of course, a Medusa should never stare into a mirror…

Another Magic-User type Class is the Star Wizard, who believes the stars to be alive and enters into pacts with them. This is to ask questions of the stars, to use ESP and Astral Projection, and eventually build a tower in the sky. The downside is that contacting stars can drive the Star Wizard insane, whilst for the Dungeon Master there are rules for creating stars and their personalities as well as a sample Star and its minions. The last Class is much darker and again a Magic-User type. The Raven Heart is a ‘Wizard of the Night’ who can cast Darkness daily and see in the dark, summon a Shadow, and with Gloom, suck the life from the room, inflicting ennui in the process. This works as penalties to attack and Saving Throw rolls and causing Bless and Faith spells to fail. The Raven Heart’s Charisma Curse means that her poor Charisma bonus works as penalty to other saving Throws against her spells; as an Undead Lover she befriends the undead; and her Sad Pose of Drama can make others fall sorrowfully in love with her. Backed by spells such as Raven Claws and Ennui, there is a certain tongue-in cheek quality to this Class, reeking as it does of teenage angst…

The monsters start with the Ork Worgtrainer—both Ork and Worg, whilst the Hag’s Husband is the undead and unhappy companion of a Hag, a sort of undead golem whose unhappiness turns to hate… The Orgthool is a demonic beast which craves blood and can cast a single Fifth Level spell three times a day from its single eye—as can the eye’s owner should he take it, whilst the Szeznin, or Chaos Serpent, with its paralysing gaze and great length, is one of the great dangers to sailors at sea. Meanwhile, the Mangu can answer any question you like, but half the time will not be telling the truth. The chance that it might be telling the truth can be increased through the sacrifice of blood (or Hit Points). The issue’s other two monsters—the Gozog and the Crypt Golem—are not all that interesting.

The issue’s scenario is ‘Into the Nest of the Dopplegangers’ by Matt Hildebrand. This is a low-level encounter on the road at a toll bridge over a fast-flowing river. Dopplegangers have replaced the guards at the toll bridge and plan to rob and kill the player characters. Yet there is something a little odd about the ‘guards’, something that the creatures have not quite got right. Spotting those oddities of behaviour is half the fun for the players and their characters, the other half being for the Game Master who has to roleplay them. This has the potential to be a nice and creepy one-session encounter on the road.

One of the best features in Black Pudding is ‘Meatshields of the Bleeding Ox’, a collection of NPCs ready for hire by the player characters. As with previous issues, these showcase the new Classes in the current issue alongside the standard Classes—Fighters, Magic-users, Thieves, and more. Each comes complete with a hiring cost, likes and dislikes—which affect attempts to haggle with them, a line of background, and more as well as the traditional attribute scores and Hit Points. So Kerra Valteen is a Second Level Shield Maiden who likes mead and righteous quests, hates murder hobo crews, and carries the Shield of the Sky +1, whilst Ghak is a Second Level Fighter who likes gravy, hates loud sounds, and has never thought about much other than hitting things. The selection really should have showcased more of the new Classes as it would have been nice to see them in action, but again, this is both a good and useful mix of NPCs, hirelings, and even replacement player characters. 

Physically, Black Pudding No. 3 adheres to the same standards set by the previous issues. Now that means a lot of decent if cartoonish artwork to give it a singular, consistent look and lots of quite short articles, that are perhaps underwritten in places. The obvious issue with Black Pudding No. 3—as with the previous issues—it is that its tone may not be compatible with the style of Dungeons & Dragons that a Game Master is running. The tone of Black Pudding No. 3 is lighter, weirder, and in places just sillier than the baseline Dungeons & Dragons game, so the Game Master should take this into account when using the content of the fanzine. This though, should not be held against the fanzine or its authors. Perhaps some kind of setting material to put the new Classes, spells, magic items, NPCs, and monsters into context might help ground the fanzine and give the reader somewhere to play with its contents.

Black Pudding No. 3 maintains the high standard as set by the previous issues. There is a good mix of Classes and NPCs, as well as a decent roadside encounter. For the Game Master running a weirder campaign, Black Pudding No. 3 provides further content with which to work.

—oOo—


The Black Pudding fanzine will be available from Squarehex at UK Games Expo which will take place between June 1st and June 3rd, 2018 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.


Fanzine Focus XII: Wormskin No. 5

On the tail of Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showed another DM and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970s—Dungeons & DragonsRuneQuest, and Traveller—but fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support.

Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry.

The Wormskin fanzine, published by Necrotic Gnome Productions is written for use with Labyrinth Lord and issue by issue, details an area known as Dolmenwood, a mythical wood, an ancient place of tall trees and thick soil, rich in fungi and festooned with moss and brambles and rife with dark whimsy. Wormskin No. 1 was published in December, 2015, and was followed by Wormskin No. 2 in March, 2016. Both issues introduced the setting with a set of articles rich in flavour and atmosphere, but lacking a certain focus in that the region itself, Dolmenwood, was not detailed. Fortunately, in March, 2017, Necrotic Gnome Productions released Welcome to Dolmenwood, a free introduction to the setting. Further, Wormskin No. 3 and Wormskin No. 4, published in July, 2016 and Winter 2016 respectively, improved hugely upon the first and second issues, together providing a better introduction to Dolmenwood, giving some excellent answers to some very good questions about the setting before delving into what is the biggest secret of Dolmenwood.

Published in the winter of 2017, Wormskin No. 5, continues the series’ exploration of the setting, this time providing a detailed examination of one of the major factions in Dolmenwood, a guide to gaming across the wooded region, and descriptions of a particular area. The faction is the Drune, detailed in ‘The Watchers of the Wood’, a sinister cabal of hooded sorcerers whose mantra is “Seek, Know, Keep” and code is secrecy. In turn, their lifestyle, beliefs, occult powers, relationships with the other powers in and around Dolemenwood, schemes and goals, and rumours about them are all given a page or so’s coverage. It has felt as if the Drune have been lurking just behind the next tree, adjusting each dolmen and manipulating the ley lines which run through the region, ever since the opening pages of Wormskin No. 1. So that this information very much puts another piece into the giant jigsaw puzzle that is Dolmenwood and really helps a Labyrinth Lord create encounters and scenarios involving them. 

This is followed by ‘Hex-Crawling in Dolmenwood’, a guide to running procedural adventures in Dolmenwood, handling party activities as part of its exploration of the region or movement through it. This covers actions such as travel, exploration, interaction, camping, foraging, and so on, as well as weather, random events, mishaps, and visibility. It is quick and it is to the point, and again, it it feels as if this could and should have appeared in an earlier issue. It is promised that it will be expanded upon, but this is more than workable.

The bulk of the issue is devoted to the strangeness of six hexes—‘Hag’s Addle’—and their major inhabitants, ‘The Hag of the Marsh’. The former details the point where the river Hameth trickles into the Lake Longmere and its marsh covered banks with their twisting paths. It is the one place where the Longmere Squid can be fished for, but is also known to be infested by Boggins, amphibious things covered in pondweed with batrachian arms, which gibber in a loon-like fashion and like to feast on warm-blooded sentients. The northern bank is said to be haunted by a witch who ensorcells men with the dirges she plays on a fiddle—though what this is more fully explained in Wormskin No. 4—whilst a strange stone, untended by the Drune, stands beyond the bank, and ancient monuments can found elsewhere. At the heart of the region is another boggy region, this home to the Hag’s Hut, said to contain a door to the fairy realm. It is, of course, home to the Hag, a women of great age and fairy descent who never appears the same twice and is charged with guarding the hut. Said to be a stealer of children, the Hag can be haggled with and her favour gained, although this takes some effort. As well as describing her Hut, the article details her magical items and the rumours associated with her. Rounding out the article is a set of adventure hooks for the Labyrinth Lord to develop. There is plenty of detail and weirdness and playable content in both articles, and as much as the Hag is a monster, this is definitely one that can be bargained with. Roleplaying that should be fun for both Labyrinth Lord and players alike.

Rounding out the issue is ‘Monsters of the Wood’, which provides the stats and descriptions of many of the creatures described earlier in the issue. This includes both Boggins and Drune, although the write-up of the latter seems slightly underwhelming given the richness of detail in the earlier ‘The Watchers of the Wood’. Other creatures include the Brambling, essentially a humanoid thicket in service to the Drune, and the Flammbraggyrd, sort of flamming soldier sprits bound to the hearth. None of these are just some monsters. They do appear earlier in the fanzine and are written into the setting.

Physically, Wormskin No. 5 is a well-presented book. The writing is clear, the layout clean, the illustrations good, and the use of colour is just enough to set it apart from other fanzines in terms of production values. Despite a couple of the articles feeling as if they should have been written earlier, the only problem with the issue is surprisingly subjective. The fanzine is essentially a ‘partwork’, its articles all part of a whole, but not necessarily presented in the order they would appear if they were in an actual sourcebook. With five issues—and more—released to date, there is the sense that you should be able to take them apart and put them together in some semblance of logical order. 


Of course, every issue of Wormskin adds further detail to the setting of Dolmenwood, but with Wormskin No. 5, two of the articles—‘The Watchers of the Wood’ and ‘Hex-Crawling in Dolmenwood’—fill in holes in the setting and answer questions which have lurking unanswered since the first issue. That in addition to being good articles both. The other articles in Wormskin No. 5 are rich in detail and flavour, and altogether, they further explore the brythonic weirdness that is Dolmenwood.

—oOo—


Necrotic Gnome Productions, together with Quality Beast, will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between June 1st and June 3rd, 2018 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.




Saturday 26 May 2018

Fanzine Focus XII: Vacant Ritual Assembly – Issue #6

On the tail of Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showed another DM and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970s—Dungeons & DragonsRuneQuest, and Traveller—but fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support.

Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry. Leading the way in their support for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have been the fanzines The Undercroft and Vacant Ritual Assembly.

Published in the Winter of 2016, Vacant Ritual Assembly – Issue #6 saw the return of the fanzine from Red Moon Medicine after a hiatus of a year. Devoted to both Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay and the campaign of the editor, Clint Krause, the issue marks a change in production values and format for the fanzine. Previous issues, such as Vacant Ritual Assembly #5 have been obviously fanzines in their stapled format. Vacant Ritual Assembly – Issue #6 is available in Print on Demand, so is more easily available and comes with double the content. It contains some eight entries, including three articles, a monster and an encounter, two scenarios, and an interview.

After the Clint Krause’s usual recommended listening and reading, the fanzine opens with his ‘Grigoro’s Wonders Untold: A Strange Travelling Show’, a description of a travelling freak show, its members, exhibits, and secrets. The exhibits include Growler and Howler, gentle conjoined giants—perhaps from Yoon-Suin - The Purple Land?, Baron Bicuspid, cruspucular gentleman demon, and Grembly, a legless Dwarf-sailor who can walk on water! Each of these individuals is fully stated and detailed as are the scams that Grigoro and his brethren run to extort the incredulous. This is a lovely set of NPCs and oddities for the player characters to encounter and likely lose monies to!

Krause also details ‘The Gallows on Heretic Hill: A Campaign Hub’ and ‘A Light in the Black: A New Heretical Faction’. The first in these paired articles is a counter to the lethality of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay and allow a character to retain knowledge after his death, a graveyard where those buried by the hangman Penitent Jack with a noose around their necks will awake in a new body hanging from the gallow. They are undead, but retain their identities and memories, but have the skills and abilities of their new bodies. Then they are cut down, but left with the noose around their necks so that when they die, they return to a ‘new’ body provided by Penitent Jack. This is such a fun idea and sets up the second article which is more particular to  the Synod, the dominant monotheist faith in Krause’s campaign world  as described in ‘Unholy Inversion of Hope’ in Vacant Ritual Assembly – Issue #5. This describes the Noosefriars, a secret order of heretics which is forced to serve the Synod as a penance over and over for their crimes against angels. This is a great set-up and provides some hooks for the Referee as well as a base and some obligations for the player characters.

The monster is ‘The Grimsly Hill Cherubs: Some Murderous Children’, also by Krause. It describes some bloody knife-wielding kids to be found in The Driftwood Verses and is okay. This is followed by the encounter, ‘Papa Lathmos’ Sugar Cane Crop: A Hyperglycemic Nightmare’ by Anxy P. It presents four strange things which might be found in sugar cane fields, the occupants and field workers all old, black-skinned, dehydrated, and sweet smelling with rot. These are weird, strange encounters, probably difficult to use due to their location and the imagery they suggest. 

Kathryn Jenkins provides the first of two scenarios in the issue, ‘From Dunnholt It Rises’. Described as a’A Grim Island’, this describes the miserable island of Dunholt which lies off the coast of Scotland and has become a quarantine site following an outbreak of the plague on the mainland. The adventurers are in Duncladach, the nearest port to the island when a ship crashes out of the fog and into the harbour, spilling it pus filled, tumour-ridden crew onto the dock… The clues point to Dunnholt, but if the island is meant to be safe, what has happened and does this mean that nowhere is safe? This is a horrid pustulant affair, fairly straightforward, but riddled with the plague and plague-references. 

The other scenario is not so much a dungeon bash, but a house bash. ‘Death Planted the Esther Tree: A grim, mansion-crawl adventure’ by Kreg Mosier is set in the same world as Clint Krause’s The Driftwood Verses and begins with the player characters being hired by Beauregard Relecroix to discover what is going on at his mansion home. The wealthy merchant returned home to be greeted by a deluge of acidic rain and his being forcefully ejected from the house by something unseen. This is a sort of haunted mansion adventure, its anonymous homunculus servants adding a certain certain creepy atmosphere and the detail nicely contrasting with the ruin which has befallen the house.

Rounding out the issue is ‘Emmy Allen: Of Wolves and Winter – An Interview’. This interview, with the designer of Wolf Packs and Winter Snow’ is as informative and as interesting as the previous interviews in Vacant Ritual Assembly.

Physically, Vacant Ritual Assembly – Issue #6 is well presented, decently written, and comes with some reasonable artwork. The cartography is also good. Where previous issues of the fanzine felt a bit cramped, here the extra space has been put to good use and it is clear that this issue is full to the brim and no more. The content does vary in quality, the monster and encounter not as interesting as the two articles about the Noosefriars, which are also clever and full of potential. This does not mean that any of the content is bad, but these two articles do stand out from the eight in the issue. Vacant Ritual Assembly – Issue #6 continues the fanzine’s record of providing a good selection of material for the Referee to pick and choose from and indicates that the hiatus has had no impact on the quality of that content.

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Friday Filler: Orc Stabr

Everything about Orc Stabr is distressing. It is distressingly simple. It is distressingly silly. It is distressingly short—taking one side of a single piece of paper. Which distressingly begs the question, what is on the other side? It is actually distressingly, physically distressed. It is also distressingly charming.

So what exactly is Orc Stabr? Well, Orc Stabr: One Page RPG for Orc Stabbers to Tell Legends of Stabbin’ is a roleplaying game in which an Orc Legend Teller creates an adventure of blood and stabbin’ and then the Orcs take up their favourite weapons, bring their favourite bitey pets, and go stab things. All an Orc needs is a handful of dice—mostly six-sided dice, but also other types—and the urge to take themselves and their pets out stabbin’!

An Orc is defined by four stats—how stabby an Orc is, how much an Orc can get stabbed, how fast an Orc is, and how loud an Orc is. A player distributes ten points between the four attributes or Things with none being higher than five, selects a weapon for his Orc that no other Orc has, and chooses a pet. (Note that this pet rule is a pet rule included in my review copy and will not be found in Orc Stabr otherwise.) The pet also needs a name and the weapon also needs a FEARSOME name. 

Duluk
Stabbin’ 3
Wif Standin’ 3
Chasin’ 2
Snarlin’ 2

Weapon: Spikeball Swingin’
Pet: Sneaks on Seven Legs

The mechanics to Orc Stabr is very simple. If an Orc wants to do something, he rolls a number of six-sided dice equal to the Thing he wants to do. So to do some Stabbin’, an Orc rolls a number of dice equal to his Stabbin’ Thing. Every result of three or more counts as a Hit. One or two Hits means that an Orc has succeeded, but that something else has gone wrong—essentially, ‘Yes, but…’; three Hits means that an Orc has succeeded; and four Hits means that an Orc has succeeded with Honour! If a Orc rolls no Hits, then not only has he failed, he has failed spectacularly and DIES!!!!! (Time to roll up a new Orc.)

If an Orc is successfully stabby in combat, damage is rolled—the number of dice rolled for the weapon depending upon its size. Monsters get dice equal to their size—as Big as Orc, Bigger than Orc, or Bigger than Orc Party. So an Elf, a Troll, or a Dragon, or 1d10, 2d12, or 3d20. Orc Stabr is not actually clear on how Stabbin’ damage is inflicted on monsters, but the Legend Teller should be able to make something up with rules this light.

At the end of a session, the Orcs in a party decide which Orc was the greatest Orc in the adventure and that Orc gets a single point to assign one of his four Things. He also gets a new weapon. Then they all go on another adventure. Should an Orc ever have a rating of ten in any one Thing, he retires from adventuring and becomes an Orc of great legend.

And that is about it for Orc Stabr.

Except the other side of the sheet (see below).



Orc Stabr is really simple and silly and Stabbin’ fun if the Legend Teller is up for running a light game on the hoof (the Orcs will have eaten the rest of whatever the hoof was attached to). You get the feeling that the designer—Limm—might get Stabbin’ if you ask too many questions (such as, ‘Could the combat rules be slightly clearer?’) and fail to get a Stabbin’ in there first. For all of its idiocy and simplicity, Orc Stabr is not an utterly terrible game for $2. It even comes properly handled and ripped and taped and drawn on and personalised by Limm—distressingly and charmingly so.


—oOo—

Orc Stabr is currently being funded via Kickstarter.


A Captive Apocalypse

Published by TSR, Inc. in 1976, Metamorphosis Alpha: Fantastic Role-Playing Game of Science Fiction Adventures on a Lost Starship has the distinction of being the first Science Fiction roleplaying game to be published, the first Post Apocalypse set roleplaying game to be published, and the first roleplaying game to bear that description. It is a super science, science fantasy setting which takes place 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. Now some three centuries later, their descendants must set out to explore their mysterious, if limited world, and discover the truth of their situation. Inspired by the Brian Aldiss novel, Non-Stop, Metamorphosis Alpha would be revisited in another three editions, but more famously, it would go on to influence the roleplaying game, Gamma World and its numerous editions as well as the post apocalypse genre in roleplaying games.

Player characters aboard the Starship Warden—Humans, Mutated Humans, Mutated Animals, and Mutated Plants—begin play as barbarians, knowing nothing of their captive universe, some fifty miles long, twelve miles wide, and eight-and-a-half miles high. They live in villages on broad plains or thick forests and have reasons to explore beyond their limited horizons. Perhaps they are undertaking a coming age of age ceremony, their village is running out of resources, or is under attack by mysterious forces. Either way, just beyond the horizon, the player characters will find mysteries aplenty. Strange structures, spaces between, odd threats and monsters, devices capable of great aid or great danger lie out there, waiting to be discovered, to have their functions worked out, and to be named… Ultimately, the player characters may arm and equip themselves with devices and knowledge enough to work out the truth of their situation and perhaps put their future back on course as their ancestors intended…

Characters in Metamorphosis Alpha are defined by five attributes—Radiation Resistance, Mental Resistance, Dexterity, Constitution, and Strength. The last three are obvious in what they do, but Radiation Resistance represents a character’s ability to withstand the varying levels of radiation which permeate the Starship Warden, whilst Mental Resistance is his capacity to withstand mental attacks. Humans have a sixth attribute, Leadership Potential. This represents the chance that mutated humans and other mutants will follow a non-mutated Human—they do not trust each other, but they might follow an actual Human! The other advantage that Humans have is that they can use the lost technology aboard the Starship Warden, whereas Mutants cannot because their genes have been altered too far from that recognised by the electronics aboard the generation spaceship. Again, Leadership Potential is used for this. Mutants, whether humanoids, animals, or plants, have between one and four physical and one and four mental mutations, as well as at least one defect. The number of mutations is rolled for, but the player chooses the ones he wants for his character. He is free to select those which enable his character to still look human and ordinary, but the powers are not as potent as those possessed by those who are obvious physically mutated. Hit Points are determined by rolling a number of six-sided dice equal to a character’s Constitution.

Lastly, there is one point which sets Metamorphosis Alpha apart from any other roleplaying game—of its time, or since. Metamorphosis Alpha is not a Class and Level roleplaying game. Metamorphosis Alpha is not a roleplaying game with Experience Points. Metamorphosis Alpha is not a roleplaying game with a mechanical means of character improvement in the traditional sense. In Metamorphosis Alpha, player characters get better by acquiring equipment and learning how to use them, by learning more about the world around them, and by making a better, safer world.

Douglas IX
Human
Radiation Resistance 14 Mental Resistance 13
Dexterity 11 Strength 06 (-1 Damage)
Constitution 11 Leadership Potential 15
Hit Points 42
Equipment: Spear (WC2), Dagger (WC3), Light Shield & Skins (AC6)

Jams
Mutant
Radiation Resistance 10 Mental Resistance 11
Dexterity 10 Strength 11 (-0 Damage)
Constitution 09
Hit Points 44
Equipment: Spear (WC2), Light Shield & Skins (AC6)
Physical Mutations: Wings, Sonic abilities
Mental Mutations: Force Field Generation, Telepathy
Defect: Double effect of Physical Forces

Mechanically, Metamorphosis Alpha uses a number of slightly different subsystems. So combat is handled by comparing the Weapon Class of an attacker’s weapon versus the defender’s Armour Class, the resulting number being rolled against on a twenty-sided die as per Dungeons & Dragons. A similar table provides the target number for Mental Resistance versus Mental Resistance checks, but this must rolled over on three six-sided dice. The Radiation Resistance table simply determines how long a character can withstand any particular Radiation Intensity Levels. Too high and eventually a character will either die or possibly suffer mutations. Now given the vintage of Metamorphosis Alpha, it should be no surprise that there is no skill system and no mechanical means of reflecting what a character can really do or knows.

It should also be pointed out how deadly the game is intended to be. Common melee weapons do exactly the same damage as they do in Dungeons & Dragons, so that they are really not all that powerful. The technology aboard the Starship Warden is deadly by comparison, for example, the settings on a Laser Pistol doing five, ten, or fifteen six-sided dice’s worth of damage. This has the potential to seriously injure or kill a character with an average Constitution score and thus average Hit Points. A Mutant’s powers can also be very powerful, for example, the Death Field Generation reducing the Hit Points of anyone within a certain radius to just one! On the downside, as powerful as many mutant abilities are, they take a lot of effort upon the part of their users and so they have to rest or wait until the power is recharged, in the case of Death Field Generation, the Mutant having to rest from between two and twenty combat turns.

To support the Judge, the Starship Warden is described, mapped, and its contents detailed. Each of the ship’s seventeen decks is a given a fairly broad map, whilst Deck 11, a forested series of hills and mountains, and Deck 14, The City, are given more detailed maps. The equipment carried aboard the giant ship, including spacesuits and robots, laser pistols and paralysis rods, medical hand analyser and healers and infrared goggles, and of course, the colour bands, keyed to doors and sections throughout the vessel, which allow access to certain parts of the ship. The animals carried aboard the Starship Warden are listed, but the monsters and creatures that now infest the ship are given stats and full write-ups. Besides all this, there is advice and playing suggestions scattered throughout the book.

Now physically, there is little in the way of art to the layout of Metamorphosis Alpha. It is cramped and tight, and not an easy read given just how much information is packed into its thirty-two pages. It could have been better organised too, but at just thirty-two pages, this is less of an issue. The few illustrations are simply just okay.

There is the innate mystery at the heart of the situation aboard the Starship Warden in which the barbarian player characters find themselves and then everything, from Deck 1 to Deck 17 is both a puzzle and a roleplaying challenge. None of the players and none of their characters know what anything is aboard the Starship Warden and they have to work it out. Even if they have some idea as players, their characters do not and so the players have to roleplay working out what any one thing is… Conversely, the Judge knows what everything is, but has to describe each thing in oblique terms without giving anything away too obviously.

Of course, the other challenge to Metamorphosis Alpha is simply surviving. The player characters are fragile and always will be. They will need to be careful and need to find the right equipment to ensure their survival, but this is not a forgiving roleplaying game and it would be wise for a player to have at least one character to hand should he lose his current one. 

The truth of the matter is that although the book itself might look dated and the mechanics themselves are dated, Metamorphosis Alpha packs a lot of gaming potential into its thirty-two pages. Metamorphosis Alpha might be a captive universe, but there is a big campaign to be had inside.

—oOo—

Except this is not some nostalgia review and this is not where the review of Metamorphosis Alpha ends. For in 2016, following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Goodman Games brought the classic Science Fiction roleplaying game back. Not in a new edition, but in a reprint of the First Edition which takes up less than a third of the Metamorphosis Alpha Collector’s Edition and its second chapter. The other two thirds consists of content old and new—interviews, extra rules, designer notes, and a review and a history—the old coming from the first twenty or so issues of Dragon magazine, but the new from an array of authors also old and new.

So the editor Tim Kask provides an introduction; Jon Peterson, author of Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures, from Chess to Role-Playing Games and a roleplaying historian provides a history of Metamorphosis Alpha; and Michael Curtis, the author of Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls and The Dungeon Alphabet contributes ‘Futures Past: Playing Metamorphosis Alpha in a Traditional Manner, essentially a guide to playing the game for devotees of the Old School Renaissance. In between, there is a lengthy interview with the game’s designer, James Ward, and then lots and lots of rules expansions and ideas. Some are new, but most come from early issues of Dragon magazine. There are new set-ups, including a sequence where the characters awake from hibernation unaware of what has happened to the Starship Warden; new monsters and new mutations; rules for backgrounds and skills; and more. There is even errata and ‘Guidelines for Mixing Campaigns: Androids, Wizards, Several Mutants, Liberal Doses of Imagination, Well Blended’, how to mix Metamorphosis Alpha with different genres. It is a great selection of articles which otherwise would have been almost impossible to track down given their origins.

Physically, the Metamorphosis Alpha Collector’s Edition is a different beast to Metamorphosis Alpha. The layout is clean and simple with lots of entertaining artwork, but perhaps the best piece is the centrepiece, which depicts the length of the Starship Warden’s hull, but with the hull cutaway to reveal the internal decks. It is a terrific piece which captures the rich life and dangers aboard the generation ship.

Being an Old School game, Metamorphosis Alpha is, by modern standards, not an easy game to run, but the content of the Metamorphosis Alpha Collector’s Edition certainly makes it easier to do so. Still difficult because the Judge has to take the new content and work it into a fairly awkward to use rulebook, but still easier because the ideas and help the extra articles and supplementary content provides. There is a great deal to enjoy here, especially if you are a fan of the Old School Renaissance or the roleplaying hobby’s golden age. Packed with gaming history as well as gaming potential, Metamorphosis Alpha Collector’s Edition is the treasury edition that the game deserves.

Monday 21 May 2018

FAITH Upgraded

When it was published in 2016, FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG caused quite a stir. The Spanish Science Fiction Roleplaying Game from Burning Games presented an intriguing far future setting in which Humanity plays a relatively   minor role and which mixes themes of rampant capitalism and individualism, the greater good of the community, strength and honour, and faith in gods, which when strong enough in their believers can grant them gifts strong enough to change the universe. This came packaged in a big fat box which contained superb artwork, a solid set of card-driven mechanics, and an attractive set of components. More recently, the A Garden in Hell - RPG Starter Set  provided a full scenario to play through as well as the means to see the mechanics in action and get a taste of what the setting of FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG was like. Even with these two products available, what the roleplaying game was missing, was the broader picture, a history, and a sense of what was going on. With the release of FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 there can be no doubt that these issues have been addressed.

Published following a successful Kickstarter campaign, FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 is a heavy weight, full colour, four-hundred-and-forty-page rulebook, of which less than a third—some one-hundred-and-thirty-one pages—is devoted to the game’s mechanical aspects. The remaining seventy percent is pure background, detailing the setting’s two major races, two minor races, their natures and behaviours, anatomies and physiologies, communication and language, societies, education systems, economies, cultures, spirituality, politics, law and crime, technology, weaponry, relationships with other species and the universe as a whole, and history and evolution, and lastly, the one threat they all face and which has brought them together. If the hints given in both FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG box and A Garden in Hell - RPG Starter Set were at least intriguing and raised more than a few questions, then FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 certainly answers them.

FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG takes place in the far future, but Humanity’s involvement only begins some three hundred years in the past of that future. The Corvo, an insectoid-like species, discovered the Earth and Humanity, reduced to wasteland and tribalism following a series of global wars fought for control of resources. The Corvo established a base and offered Humanity a chance to return to advanced civilisation and respite from their much-diminished circumstances. Valued for their adaptability, some Humans accepted contracts with the Corvo and returned with them to Tiantang, the near-Dyson Sphere which was home to the technological, capitalist, and expansionist species. The price was enforced sterility—lest Humanity come to form an interstellar polity of their own and to help the Corvo keep Earth’s location a secret—and in return, these Humans would serve as mercenaries in the ongoing cold war between the Corvo and their traditional enemy, the aquatic mammalian species known as the Iz’kal. Where Corvo society is highly technological and capitalist, the Iz’kal are communal and progressive, placing value on society and the greater good. Where necessary, the Iz’kal employ the Raag as mercenaries. They are aggressive, but honourable clansmen who come from an ice world and use spaceships of ice to raid, search, and trade for goods and supplies to return to their home world. The Iz’kal feel a kinship with the Raag, since both were once the slaves of a lost race known as the Korian.

The cold war between the Corvo and the Iz’kal was put on hold some three decades ago when first the Corvo world of Izuan Tai was attacked and destroyed, and then the Corvo co-operated with the Iz-kal to drive off a similar attack on their colony world of Parsaius. The attackers became known as the Ravagers and the likelihood of further attacks forced the two species—one corporate dominated, one state dominated—to work together along with increased numbers of Human and Raag mercenaries in an independent military force known as the Coalition. It might be the four species’ only hope in driving off and finding a solution to the Ravager menace, but the Coalition has become all but a polity in its own right...

The setting of FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG is hi-tech. Both biological and technological upgrades and implants are available and many devices can be accessed and even hacked using a Cortex Connector—every Corvo has one of these and anyone residing in Corvospace typically has one also. The stars are reached not by Faster Than Light starships, but by accessing a network of wormholes called the Labyrinth, whose extent remains unknown. Beyond this though—and this is where FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG is different—faith and a belief in the gods play a fundamental role in everyday life and beyond. Five are described. Ergon, the God of Community, favours selflessness and happiness; Kavliva, the God of Survival, values strength and ambition; Vexal, the God of Freedom, favours liberty and respect for individuality; Hexia, the God of Progress, values the pursuit of knowledge for the common good; and Ledger, the God of Chaos, favours individualism above and the chaos it can reap. Of the five only Ledger does not have cults organised around his worship, although such cults are more organisations through which their members can demonstrate their faith rather bodies sanctioned by the otherwise intangible gods whom their adherents worship. Each of the four species tends to favour one god over the other four, so most Iz’kal are either Ergonauts or Hexians, most Corvo are Kalivans with its cult of celebrities, whilst Vexales are found everywhere and Ledgers only in secret...

Proof of the existence of the five gods lies not just in the faith that their worshippers have in them, but also in the favours they grant—especially to their Soulbenders. Anyone who follows and embodies the commandments of one of the gods may be granted gifts or Divine Upgrades and become a Soulbender, able to warp reality. Thus, an Ergonaut who faithfully follows Ergon’s Commandments (‘All are Equal’, ‘Bend Your Will to the Needs of the Many’, ‘Do Not hinder Your People’, and ‘Help Others Be Their Greatest Selves’) may be granted powers which enable him to create bridges between people and places, communicate telepathically or empathically, to impose thought on others in the face of their selfishness, form solid or energy shields, and to heal or repair objects and people. Of course, most player characters are potential Soulbenders.

A player character is defined by his Species, an Affinity, a God, six attributes and twelve skills, and one or more Upgrades. Each of the four Species available—Corvo, Iz’kal, Raag, and Human—provides one or more traits as well as a Background trait. Of the five races available, the Corvo start the game cortex connector Tech Upgrade and can connect it to a device via their tails. The Corvo also have an innate Affinity for Space. The Iz’kal are amphibious and via a biological Hyperlink can connect together to form hive minds—actually preferring this over using their gene-added vocal cords, although some lose this ability through trauma. Humans are resourceful and so hold more cards from their Player Decks in their hand and are always at an advantage when taking athletic actions.

Each character also has an Affinity. This is for one of the four suits in each Player Deck—Nature, Urban, Space, and OS (Operating System)—used as part of the game mechanics in FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG and representing where the character grew up, was trained, and so on. A player character’s choice of God provides a core ability for worshipping that deity and options as to how he may develop in terms of his Soulbending abilities. The six attributes are Agility, Constitution, Dexterity, Link, Mind, and Faith. Of these, ‘Link’ represents a character’s ability to understand and interact with technology as well as limiting the number of Tech Upgrades he can have, whilst ‘Faith’ defines his ability to connect or communicate with the Gods, his conviction in those Gods, and limits the number of Divine upgrades he can have. The roleplaying game’s twelve skills—Ballistic, Close Quarters Combat, Hacking, Piloting, Cunning, Survival, Initiative, Athletic, Medical, Technical, Extravehicular Activity, and Profession—are fairly broad, so Cunning covers all deception and stealth-related actions; Hacking covers breaking into electronic devices and computers as well as protecting them against such attempts; and Profession covers everything related to a character’s job, from knowledge to pay, but not an actual skill. So, a character with the Piloting and Medical skills might take Emergency Medical Technician as his Profession or Mercenary if he had the Ballistic, Close Quarters Combat, and Athletic skills.

Characters can also have upgrades. These can be Tech Upgrades, Bio Upgrades, or Divine Upgrades. Bio Upgrades include Echolocation, Improved Build, Powered Reflexes, Tissue Regeneration, and so on. Tech Upgrades range from Atomic Balance and Bionic Arm to Optical Disruptor and Shielded Skull. Basically, Bio Upgrades are bioware and Tech Upgrades are cyberware, both familiar from fiction and other RPGs, but Divine Upgrades are granted by one the five gods in FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG. They include Extended Awareness and Phantom from Kaliva; Gravity Shift and Planeswalker from Vexal; Altered Reality and Future Sight from Hexia; and so on. There are a total five Divine Upgrades for each of the five gods. Characters can begin play with Divine Upgrades, a player spending some of his beginning Experience Points to purchase them, but they do require roleplaying adhering to the commandments of their chosen god in order to keep them. Ultimately, each Divine Upgrade can be raised to Prophet Level, but that is a significantly long-term aim for any one character.

To create a character, a player selects a Species and Background Traits, as well as an Affinity and a God. He sets his character’s Skills—one at 5, one at 4, two at 3, two at 2, three at 1, and the last three at 0 and spend Experience Points to further enhance the character. As well as Upgrades, this last step also includes the attributes which all start at one and have to be improved at this stage. (In previous iterations of the rules, a set poll of points where distributed among the attributes leading to more powerful starting characters.) Talents can also be purchased for skills rated at five or above, but may not be an option during character creation given the cost of raising attribute levels.

Our sample character is Yīnying, a Corvo resident of Tiantang. He is a freelance Hacker who believes in freeing information and aims to be a Hacker freedom hero.

Yīnying
Species: Corvo
Concept: Hacker
Affinity: Space, OS
God: Vexal

Agility 01 Constitution 01 Dexterity 02
Link 02 Mind 02 Faith 01

Physical Health: 2
Neural Health: 4

Ballistic 0, Close Quarters Combat 2, Hacking 5, Piloting 1, Cunning 3, Survival 0, Initiative 1, Athletic 2, Medical 0, Technical 4, Extravehicular Activity 1, Profession 3 (Hacker)

Traits:
Technological, Tail Reflex, Spaceborn

Talents:
Merchant’s Soul (Hacking)

Bio Upgrades:
Tech Upgrades: Cortex Connector 2.o (Data Storage)
Divine Upgrades: 

The mechanics in FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG are built around the playing of cards from a Poker-style deck and player choice. Ideally, each player, as well as the Game Master, has a Player Deck, a fifty-four-card deck divided into the four suits—Urban, Wilderness, Spaces, and OS—plus two Jokers. Note that each Player Deck is similar to a standard deck of playing cards and if a player does not have one to hand, he can use a standard deck instead of a Player Deck specific to FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG. A player will draw from his Player Deck so that he has seven cards in his hand at the start of a session and then at the start of each scene. He will play cards from this hand whenever there is Confrontation and his character’s action is opposed or the character is faced with a Time Sensitive Event. Starting with an Action Value equal to the total of the appropriate Skill, for example Piloting to manoeuvre a shuttle into a field of debris, a player can play cards from his hand to increase the total of the Action Value. The maximum number of cards he can play being limited by the Attribute. If a character’s Action Value exceeds the opposing value by five, he achieves a decisive success and a critical success if the Action Value exceeds the value by ten.

FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 includes some changes to the mechanics seen in the previous versions of the roleplaying game. Players now get to keep Jokers from their decks rather than handing them to Game Master and used to alter a character’s level of success or lower an opponent’s level of success after a confrontation is played through. Instead of confrontations with the Game Master, a player can attempt to have his character attempt to overcome a Time Sensitive Event (or TSE), the number of cards played by the Game Master representing the challenge involved. The Advantage and Disadvantage statuses now simply apply flat bonus or penalties to an Action value.

Ambience and Affinity add a pair of interesting wrinkles to a player’s management of his hand. Play a card whose suit matches the environment and a player can immediately draw a new card, but if he plays a card whose suit matches both the environment and his designated Affinity, he gets to draw two cards and keep one. Proficiency, that is, playing a card equal to or less than the skill a character is using in a Confrontation, he is being proficient and the effort has not yet exhausted himself, so again, he can draw a card.
For example, Yīnying has been contacted by An-Bai, a member of the Hwang Zhul Tong in Tiantang. The Tong member has data packet he wants decrypting. Now An-Bai will not divulge where it is from—and Yīnying will not ask, but after agreeing to a good price for the task (one benefit of having the Merchant’s Soul (Hacking) Talent), he agrees to do it and sets up a Sniffing attack to extract and decode the data. Unfortunately, a trio of a trio of Zhul Tong, from whom An-Bai stole the data packet, is on An-Bai’s trail and will attempt to retrieve the stolen item. The question is, not if Yīnying will extract the data, but when, so the Game Master will run this as a Time Sensitive Event. If Yīnying fails the Time Sensitive Event, the Zhul Tong members turn up to claim their property before he decrypts the data; if he succeeds, he decrypts the data before they turn up; and if he succeeds with a decisive success, Yīnying succeeds and gets paid!

Yīnying has a starting Action Value of 5, equal to his Hacking, and his player can play a total of two cards, equal to Yīnying’s Link. Like much of Tiantang, the environment where this taking place is in zero gravity and the action itself involves computers, which match both of Yīnying’s Affinities—Space and OS. The Game Master determines that the challenge for the TSE will be three, so she can draw three cards.
The aim of these card driven mechanics is not to negate the presence of luck or chance in the game, but to favour a player in handling his character’s luck from scene to scene. A player will always start a scene with seven cards in his hand and they become the resources he must manage for that scene. Of course, chance is involved in drawing cards when refreshing his hand from scene to scene, but under the right circumstances this can be offset by Ambience, Affinity, and Proficiency that will enable him to keep drawing cards as he plays them. Further, since a player knows what is in his Player Deck, he at least knows what he has used and is thus still available as the game progresses until the Player Deck is emptied and the discard pile reshuffled.

These mechanics are get a little more complex once Ambience, Affinity, and Proficiency become involved, these having been derived from Upgrades and Technology. Fortunately, they are supported and explained in a fully worked out and fully illustrated example of play, necessary because the mechanics to FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 are different. Not just from other roleplaying games, but also from previous iterations of the game. In addition to these rules for playing the roleplaying game, there are rules for playing with miniatures and advice for the Game Master on running the game. As well as solid sections on technology, equipment, and spaceships, FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG is rounded out with a short scenario. ‘A Relic in the Streets’ is set on Tiantang, and casts the player characters as freelancers working a criminal gang which has been intimidated into handing over a piece of alien tech. Their task will be to get it back. ‘A Relic in the Streets’ is quite short, offering no more than a session or two’s worth of play, but does a reasonable job of showcasing the rules and it shows that there are other possibilities in the setting other than facing the Ravager threat—the focus of the previous releases for FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG. The scenario comes with four pre-generated characters. This is addition to the many NPCs, secrets, and hooks presented throughout the background.

As many of the issues as FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 addresses—a fuller presentation of setting’s history and background, a better exploration of the importance of faith and the gods, expanded character generation rules, and so on, it is not perfect. In terms of production values, a map of the known galaxy would have been as useful as it would have depicted where the various worlds and governments are in relation to each other. Some suggestions as to naming conventions for all four species would been useful too, although it should be pointed out that the Corvo all have Chinese names. This is intentional as the nearest equivalent names found when Corvo translation software interfaced with what remained of Human software, were Chinese. This occurred again with the Iz’kal and the Raag. What this suggests is that the setting of FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 is not quite neutral, but rather written from a Human perspective.

Physically, FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 is an impressive book, but then the production values on the first two releases were also high. The artwork, is excellent, imparting much of the feel and grandeur of the setting. That said the flavour text on the NPCs, weaponry, gear, and vehicles is too small and too faint to really read. In places, the book needs another edit, as there are some odd turns of phrase, but in the main, the localisation from Spanish to English has been well handled, and whilst a great deal of effort has gone into the rules explanation, it could have been better. The various chapters supporting characters and character generation could have been much better organised.
With the FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0, the setting of the Faith: the Sci-Fi RPG finally gets the treatment it deserved and brings it to life with a detailed exploration of its religion, its four (five) alien species, and its mechanics. FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 is the treatment the game has been waiting for since the release of FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG box set in 2015 and the Upgrade has been worth the wait.


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Burning Games will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between June 1st and June 3rd, 2018 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.