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

Sunday 30 June 2019

Tales from your Teenage years that never were

By the 1980s, Sweden had become a world leading centre of science and technology, centred on Mälaröarna, the islands of Lake Mälaren, east of Stockholm which are the site of the Facility for Research in High Energy Physics—or ‘The Loop’—the world’s largest particle accelerator, constructed and run by the government agency, Riksenergi. The Japanese Iwasaka corporation had perfected self-balancing machines, followed by Soviet advances in Artificial Intelligence in the late eighties, leading to the deployment of robots in the military, security, industrial, and civilian sectors and these robots were employed throughout the Loop and its surrounds. Meanwhile, the skies were filled with ‘magnetrine vessels’, freighters and slow liners whose engines repel against the Earth’s magnetic field, an effect only possible in northern latitudes. These robots, the Loop, and the Mysteries associated with it are sources of endless fascination for the young inhabitants of Mälaröarna, just as the robots, the Loop, and Mysteries of its sister facility operated by the Department of Advanced Research into Technology in the USA are for the young inhabitants of Boulder City in the Mojave Desert in Nevada, near the Hoover Dam. All of this is the set-up for Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the '80s That Never Was, the Swedish roleplaying game based on Simon Stålenhag’s artwork, and published by Free League and distributed in English by Modiphius Entertainment, which would win the ENnie award for Best Game, Best Setting, Best Writing, Best Internal Art, and Product of the Year in 2017!

All that changed in the nineties. In 1994, the northern part of Färingsö—known as the Black Lake Lands—in the Mälaröarna, hot, brown liquid bubbled up out of the ground, forcing an evacuation that would last for years. This ‘Mälarö Leak’ also flooded the Loop, endangering years of research, the resulting scandal leading to the Swedish government to shut down Riksenergi and sell the Loop to the private Krafta Corp. It would be followed a year later by a collapse of the Hoover Dam in the USA and the flooding of the Nevada Loop. Robots at both Loops are then beset by a strange organic cancer and by the time a cause is determined, self-balancing robot production has plummeted and many manufacturers have gone out of business. This was followed by the establishment of Polnaya Solidarnost, an independent nation of robots in the Urals in Russia, subsequently destroyed in a Moscow-directed nuclear strike and anti-AI pogroms. All of which would spur an economic crisis in the West. Meanwhile the inhabitants of Mälaröarna—many of them former employees of the Loop—suffer from depression, personality changes, divorces, gambling disorders, and more… 

Taking place in the mid to late nineties, this is the set-up for Things from the Flood, the sequel to Tales from the Loop, the roleplaying game in which players take the roles of Kids between ten and fifteen years of age who looked out on the landscape of Mälaröarna as a source of fascination, wonderment, and strangeness. For the Teenagers of Things from the Flood, watching The X-Files and MTV, listening to Nirvana and the Wu-Tang Clan, playing the dark roleplaying game Kult, and dialling up for their first foray onto the Internet, that landscape is still filled with fascination, wonderment, and strangeness. Yet not only has that strangeness come home and possibly affected members of their families, the fascination, wonderment, and strangeness is blighted by the horror of what might have happened in the Loop. 

In moving on from Tales from the Loop to Things from the Flood, the new roleplaying game adheres to a set of six principles, the first of which is that as the events of the new decade progress, ‘Everything changes, everything falls apart’. The player characters are Teenagers, so ‘neither kids nor adults’, aged between fourteen and nineteen years old, and their ‘Everyday life is full of demands, boredom, and conflict’. All three elements of the latter principle will manifest in play as part of the Teenagers’ lives at school, at home, and in their exploration of the Loop’s Mysteries. Another principle is that ‘The Mysteries are exciting but dangerous, and only you [the Teenagers] can stop them’. The last two principles relate to game play in that ‘The game is played scene by scene’ and ‘The world is described collaboratively’.

Although Things from the Flood is a sequel to Tales from the Loop, it is not a direct sequel in that a player could take his Kid straight from the eighties of Tales from the Loop and have him become a Teenager of Things from the Flood. He could though,  redesign him as an older Teenager, based on the Kid he played in Tales from the Loop. With either new Teenagers or adapted Kids, both Game Master and players alike will find two things different about Things from the Flood. First, unlike in Tales from the Loop, Teenagers can die in Things from the Flood. They will suffer from a series of Scars—physical, emotional, and mental—first, but investigating the Mysteries of the Loop and the Evacuation Area is dangerous and potentially fatal. Second, the area of the Loop, whether the one under Mälaröarna or the other under Boulder City, can be played out as a Mystery Landscape.

The Mystery Landscape is what the Old School Renaissance would call a ‘Sandbox’. Instead of it being populated by encounters and monsters and villages and so on a la Dungeons & Dragons, in Things from the Flood, the Mystery Landscape is filled with interesting, even intriguing locations and associated hooks which relate to various Mysteries, each of which has the capacity to pull the Teenagers into one of these Mysteries. Once a Mystery is resolved, the Game Master can add more, so extending the life of a campaign. The Mystery Landscape is a more organic device, less constrained than a simple one-shot or mini-campaign. There is scope here for collaborative play—in addition to players requesting the type of personal scenes they want their Teenagers to have with their friends and family, typically at the beginning or end of a scenario—with each player becoming the Game Master for particular locations and running scenes there involving the other Teenagers rather than the Game Master. Of course, a  Mystery Landscape could just be in place as the Teenagers follow a longer deeper plot, with the other Mysteries serving almost as ‘side quests’.

As with the Kids in Tales from the Loop, the Teenagers from Things from the Flood are archetypes or Types—Hacker, Jock, Lone Wolf, Motorhead, Party Animal, Raver, Rocker, Seeker, Snob, or Street Kid—who have two lives. In one they go to school, do homework, spend—not always happy—time with their family, their friends, and so on. In the other, they explore the landscape and its ‘Mysteries’ around them with their friends. As thrilling and as fraught with danger as these Mysteries are, the adults will never believe the Teenagers—until it is too late, of course and either they have solved it or one of their number has been killed (or both). If the Game Master is running a Mystery Landscape, then the Teenager will also have one or two hooks which help pull the Teenager (and his friends) into a Mystery or two.

Each archetype provides a Kid with three key skills, plus options in terms of iconic items, problems, drives, shame, relationships to the other Teenagers and NPCs, Hooks and an anchor. For example, the key skills for the Snob Type are Charm, Contact, and Comprehend. An Iconic Item might be a set of lock-picks or a Frisbee, the problem that my sibling accused one of my parents of terrible things, the drive to collect ideas for a book or movie script, and the shame that you vomit after eating to feel better. A relationship with another Teenager might be that he thinks another is hot or he is tired of being questioned by him, whilst a relationship with an NPC might be that a shady dude is doing something illegal with her dad or the most popular guy in school wants me to deal drugs. Lastly, an Anchor, the person to whom a Teenager will go to for emotional reassurance or support, might be a shrink or an older hacker.

To create a Teenager, a player first chooses a Type and then decides on his age, between fourteen and nineteen years of age—the latter the age when the Teenager becomes an adult and essentially retires from investigating Mysteries. Fourteen points are distributed between the four stats—Body, Tech, Heart, and Mind, with another ten points assigned to skills. The maximum is three for the Type’s key skills and one for other skills. The player then chooses the Teeenager’s Iconic Item, Problem, Drive, Shame, Relationships, and Anchor from those listed for the archetype, or makes them up himself. 

Archetype: Motorhead
Iconic Item: Modified Moped
Problem: People at school have found out what happened to me and my sister when we were kids.
Drive: I’m an adrenaline junkie.
Shame: I’m the dumbest in the class
Relationships: He thinks she so much better than the rest of us; Johan goes to my school and has shown me a new way to tune mopeds.
Anchor: Retired rally car driver

Age: 15
Body 3 (Sneak 1, Force 0, Move 0)
Tech 4 (Tinker 3, Program 0, Calculate 2)
Heart 3 (Contact 0, Charm 3, Lead 0)
Mind 2 (Investigate 1, Comprehend 0, Empathise 0)

Mechanically, Things from the Flood uses the same rules as Tales from the Loop. This is a simplified version of the mechanics to be found in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days also published by Free League, to handle what it calls Trouble.  To undertake an action, whether in Trouble or not, for example, slipping out of the grasp of a bully or working out what a machine does, a player adds the values of the relevant attribute and skills together and rolls that number of six-sided dice. Use of an appropriate Iconic Item will add two dice to the pool. Each six rolled counts as a success. In the main, a player only needs to roll one six to succeed. Tasks needing two or three successes are rare and represent almost impossible situations, though some situations, such as overcoming the final situation or bad guy, might require every Teenager to get involved and roll successes. Excess successes can be used to purchase effects, which the player can decide upon with the Game Master.

Failing a task can lead to a Teenager suffering a Condition—Upset, Scared, Exhausted, Injured, or Broken. For example, a Teenager might be Upset if he fails to avoid his stepmother and her taunts, or Scared when hiding from a robot that is acting strangely. If a roll is failed, a player can push a Roll and reroll any dice that did not result in sixes. Doing so will also inflict a Condition on a Teenager. Recovering from Conditions requires spending time with a Teenager’s Anchor. 

For example, Stina is out late at night racing her moped through the back lanes of the islands when something tall and thin leaps into the road and begins to chase her. This is definitely Trouble! To escape whatever it is that is chasing her—actually a Soviet pursuit robot—the Game Master rules that Stina’s player will need to roll her Tech attribute and Tinker skill, and because she is riding her Iconic Item, her souped up scooter, Stina’s player can roll two more dice. This is a total of nine dice. Unfortunately, The Game Master also rules that this is an Extreme Situation and so two successes are required for Stina to get away. Unfortunately, Stina’s player only rolls one six, but still needs two. So he decides to push the roll and attempt to get that needed other six. The Game Master tells Stina’s player that as a consequence, Stina will be suffering from a Condition, which in this case will be Scared. Each Condition inflicts a penalty of having one less die to roll. So instead of eight, Stina’s player has seven. This time Stina’s player rolls two sixes, which together with the first, gives her three. So not only does she succeed, but the extra six means that her player can buy an Effect. In this case, her player selects not needing to roll again should Stina face the same situation again.

As has already been mentioned, one major way in which Things from the Flood differs from Tales from the Loop is that Teenagers can die. It occurs when a Teenager suffers one or more Scars, each a trauma, either physical, emotional, or mental, that has the potential to either kill the character, force him to disappear, move to another town, be taken into foster care, and so on. Whatever it is, it is enough to remove the Teenager from play. A Scar is gained each time a Teenager is Broken, that is, is suffering from all four of the mild Conditions—Upset, Scared, Exhausted, and Injured—and then suffers the fifth Condition, Broken. The player gets to describe the nature of the Scar suffered. A Scar is not necessarily permanent. It can be healed by a character committing a heroic, self-sacrificing action. In general, the acquisition of Scars should not be all that common, and actual death rarer still, but it can happen. 

Given that Things from the Flood shares the same light, unobtrusive mechanics as Tales from the Loop, it should be no surprise that the advice for Game Master instead focuses on creating and running Mysteries. These are constructed just as in Tales from the Loop and divided into five phases—‘Introducing the Teenagers’, ‘Introducing the Mystery’, ‘Solving the Mystery’, ‘Showdown’, ‘Aftermath’, and ‘Change’. There is no limit to the scenes which can be run during each of these phases, but the first and fifth, ‘Introducing the Teenagers’ and ‘Aftermath’ are always grounded in the mundane reality of the Teenagers’ lives at home, counterpointing the reality of the Mystery and the secrets of the landscape around them. A sixth phase, ‘Change’, follows the end of any scenario or Mystery, giving both players and their Teenagers the chance to reflect on the Mystery and their actions in solving it, as well as to spend any Experience Points earned. Again, the advice for the Game Master running Mysteries is excellent, covering mood, nostalgia, and getting the players involved in setting up scenes for their Teenagers as well as the Game Master.

Almost half of Things from the Flood is devoted to a Mystery Landscape and a mini-campaign, ‘The Prophets of Pandora’. The former provides Hooks to various locations and Mysteries across the landscape of the Loop, including a new theme park, a pirate radio ship, and the filming of a new soap opera, that the Teenagers can investigate. There is no order in which these can be looked into, so the Teenagers can look into one Mystery, then perhaps look at another before returning to the first. The danger in doing so is that each countdown of escalating events which will play out as soon as the Teenagers begin investigating them.

‘The Prophets of Pandora’ is a four-part campaign consisting of three two to three session scenarios, capped by a longer, three to four session scenario. Initially, each of the first three mysteries—involving robot reproduction, a virus unleashed upon the teens inside the Loop, and then reality disruptions—do not seem to be connected, but clues soon suggest otherwise, leading to the fourth and last Mystery. The four vary slightly in quality and some are more linear than others, but together they form a solid campaign that showcases the weirdness and the Science Fiction horror to be found within the confines of the Loop and the aftermath of its near abandonment. Together, both ‘The Prophets of Pandora’ and the Mystery Landscape—whether set in Sweden or the USA—should provide a playing group with several months’ worth of play. 

Physically, again just like Tales from the Loop, this is a sturdy hardback, written in a light and engaging style, which benefits from and features the excellent artwork of Simon Stålenhag. Where the artwork in Tales from the Loop highlighted how the technology of the Loop had imposed itself on the landscape, the artwork in Things from the Flood highlights how both that technology and its abandonment has changed, even blighted the landscape.

If Tales from the Loop was any number of Spielberg-style movies from the 1980s, but also any number of films from the Children’s Film Foundation, then Things from the Flood moves it on several years, into a darker, bleaker time, into a decade of mistrust in big government and corporations, mass media growth, conspiracy theories, and within the confines of the Loop, of economic instability and mental uncertainty. The Mysteries presented match the mood and tone, being bleaker, darker, even deadlier, and verging on the horror genre. Yet just like in Tales from the Loop, this is still balanced against the mundane nature of the Teenagers’ lives—and of the scenes capping the beginning and the end of every Mystery. Even those scenes are fraught, though usually with emotional rather than physical peril. Similarly, there is a nostalgia here too—of the eighties for Tales from the Loop and of the nineties for Things from the Flood. 

Ultimately, as much as Things from the Flood is a standalone roleplaying, it is always going to be compared with Tales from the Loop. Both are still very much ‘Indie’ roleplaying games, storytelling games with simpler mechanics and exploration of emotional nostalgia. Both have simple mechanics, collaborative play, and themes—exploration of emotional and scientific investigative horror—in both the mundane and the Mysterious, and so both have the capacity to deliver emotional impact. What makes Things from the Flood stand out are its more mature updating of the setting and its Mysteries, which presents increased physical horror and danger as well as the emotional trauma (which is only heightened because the player characters are Teenagers, after all) you would expect from a game set within the Loop.

Saturday 29 June 2019

Leagues of Revenge

Most of the supplements and scenarios for Triple Ace Games’ Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration  and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age! and its expansion, Leagues of Gothic Horror (and its expansion, Leagues of Cthulhu) are written by the game’s designer, Paul ‘Wiggy’ Wade-Williams, so it is a pleasing change to see that the latest scenario for the line is penned by a different author. Published by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Ghost Writer is written by Walt Ciechanowski, the author of Le Mousquetaire Déshonoré, the campaign for All For One: Régime Diabolique. This is, as the title suggests, a ghost story, and being a ghost story for Leagues of Gothic Horror is a florid, melodramatic affair, a tale of revenge from beyond the grave.

The scenario has few if any requirements beyond access to Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age! and Leagues of Gothic Horror. The Game Master may find that having access to Leagues of Gothic Horror: Guide to Apparitions be useful, but it is not necessary in order to run Ghost Writer as full details of the apparition and how to run it are included in its pages. Similarly, Globetrotters’ Guide to London may also be useful, but is not required to run the scenario. Although the globetrotters will have to defend themselves at various times throughout the scenario, Ghost Writer is not a combat-focused affair, instead emphasising investigation and horror and the social attitudes of ‘Mauve Decade’ in late Victorian London. The scenario works best if the globetrotters have a Mentalist or Mystic amongst their number, especially one who has the Second Sight Exotic Talent as that will give them an edge in facing the antagonist at the heart of the scenario.

Ghost Writer is set in London in the middle of 1891. It begins with an invitation, the player characters receiving tickets for the premiere of a new opera, Boudicea, at Richard D’Oyly Carte’s newly opened Royal English Opera House. (Other hooks are included, from a mentalist having a premonition to the globetrotters actually being members of the cast or back stage crew, but the default is the invitation.) The Royal English Opera House’s first opera, Ivanhoe, produced by Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, has been a big success and it is hoped that Boudicea, proudly proclaimed to be based on a lost play by William Shakespeare will be equally as successful. The premiere—a formal, top hat and tails affair—goes off with nary a hitch and the reception prior to the performance is the perfect opportunity for the Globetrotters to meet any interesting or important personage of note that the Game Master wishes. Several of them are already in attendance of course, but there is plenty of room for more. 

Unfortunately as the evening comes to a close, a strange fog seems to settle in over the streets of the city and by morning there will come the news that the opera’s composer has been pulled from the Thames dead. There is the possibility that the globetrotters will have been nearby when it happened, but if not, they will learn of it the next day. They will also be contacted by Sir Reginald Jellicoe, the producer of Boudica, in the morning to look into the matter for him—initially to locate the missing composer if neither the globetrotters or Sir Reginald are yet aware of his death or to ensure that it does not reflect poorly upon the production when they are.

Once engaged, the globetrotters will find themselves faced by a number of problems. Not just the matter of the increasing desperate ghost who seems to enshroud its victims in a seaborne fog of an unnatural origins, but also a worried, verging on neurotic, Sir Reginald, and an investigating police inspector who is the epitome of ‘Mister Plod’. Inspector Martin Chumley (!) is a by-the-book, the most obvious solution is the correct solution, ‘open and shut’ case type of officer whose brusque approach to each murder will all too soon frustrate the globetrotters. The Game Master though, will probably have a huge amount of fun in portraying Inspector Chumley as pompously as she possibly can. In general though, the investigation, which in the main takes in London’s theatre district, some of its less salubrious areas, and just a few of its more genteel sitting rooms, manages to be reasonably detailed and relatively complex without being too convoluted.

Ghost Writer should not prove too difficult a scenario for the Game Master to run. In fact, it would be relatively easy for the Game Master to adapt its plot to the system of her choice (if not the setting). It is not quite perfect though. The main issue is that it is not quite as obvious as it should be which scenes are optional and which are not. Some are obvious, some not. Another issue, is that in some scenes the players are expected to make tests that do not necessarily add to the play of the scenario. Nor is it helped that the book does not always present the information in the way it claims it does. That though, is primarily a problem with the editing and the organisation, both of which could be better. A last issue is that perhaps to an English eye, the author does not quite get mores of the period quite right, but really that is a very minor issue and few players are likely to spot them anyway.

Physically, Ghost Writer is generally well presented and written. Though some of the artwork is disappointing, much of it is pleasing ghoulishly melodramatic. Thus, these illustrations set the tone for what is a dramaturgic ghost mystery. Ghost Writer delivers what it promises—murder, mystery, a curse, death from beyond the grave, forbidden love, and a plummy, melodramtic gothic tale. It just needs a Game Master to ham it up!

Friday 28 June 2019

Free RPG Day 2019: We Be Heroes?

Now in its twelfth year, Saturday, June 15th was Free RPG Day and with it came an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Over the years, Paizo Inc. has supported Free RPG Day with numerous modules, the most notable of which—We Be Goblins!, We Be Goblins Too!, We Be Goblins Free!, We B4 Goblins!, and We Be 5uper Goblins!—all feature the publisher’s signature race, Goblins, for its highly popular Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Free RPG Day 2019 is no different in that Paizo Inc. is supporting it with a scenario for First Level player characters, a scenario which involves Goblins, and a scenario designed to be played by four players, plus the Game Master. It is though, a very different module to those previous five scenarios.

First and foremost, We Be Heroes? is ‘A Pathfinder Playtest Adventure for Level 1’ and so is designed to showcase the new rules in Pathfinder Playtest, the version of the rules being tested in preparation for the forthcoming Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Second Edition, to be released at GenCon 2019 and which are designed to be easier to learn and faster to play. To play We Be Heroes?, the Game Master will access to both the Pathfinder Playtest and the Pathfinder Playtest Bestiary, the latter as the creatures encountered in the module are all drawn from that book.

Second, the pre-generated player characters are not the Goblins of the previous five modules for Free RPG Day. Goblins in Pathfinder Roleplaying Game are raucous, rambunctious, and rapacious, green bundles of teeth and anarchy. No so in We Be Heroes? As the title suggests, the module makes its Goblins would-be heroes and thus very different in that whilst the player characters are Goblins, they are community minded, they think of others rather than just themselves, and some of them have begun to read!

Set in the Southern Fangwood forest in Nirmathas, recent events have seen the Whispering Tyrant unleash an undead army on the region, forcing both the local inhabitants and the local animals to flee in terror. This includes the goblins of the Crookedtoes tribe, survivors of the Goblinblood Wars who have retreated as far from other Goblins as possible and under the radical leadership of Velkik, they have taken up hunting rather than raiding, let their young loose instead of caging them, let their tribe members actually learn to read and write, and taken up worship of the Sun! With the local animals having fled in terror, the tribe’s members suddenly find their bellies rumbling with hunger and worse, the tribe’s best scout has gone missing. So Chief Velkik has tasked the Crookedtoes’ four brightest members to go out and search for him.

This mission is quickly fulfilled with an encounter designed to test the Pathfinder Playtest’s combat mechanics, the player characters returning after to inform Chief Velkik of both the scout’s death and the proximity of the undead army. He has another task for them, one for which any other group of Goblins would be all but impossible, but for members of the reformed Crookedtoes might just be possible. This is to locate “... [A] group of longshanks in shiny armour trapped in the valley on the other side of this hill.” By ‘longshanks, the Chief Velkik means Humans and by shiny armour, he means knights and he thinks that by working together, both the shiny armoured longshanks and the Goblins of the Crookedtoes tribe might just survive. Unfortunately, the only way to get to the valley is via set of tunnels through the hill which has not been used in years.

The main part of the adventure is thus a short dungeon crawl. Consisting of just eight locations, the encounters here are designed to be challenging rather than deadly, a mix of small combat encounters, unstable environments, and opportunities to roleplay. The tunnel complex actually packs in a lot of game play for just eight locations, and with good gameplay, the Goblins should come away with a little treasure and possibly even an ally.

We Be Heroes? saves its best encounter for last and it is a roleplaying encounter! By now the player characters will have made their way through the tunnel and into the adjacent valley where the shiny armoured longshanks are camped out. Not only do the Goblins have to work out how to get into the shiny armoured longshanks’ camp, they also have to persuade them that although they are Goblins, they are not the nasty, evil destructive Goblins that everyone knows of and hates, but good Goblins, trying to do better—trying to be heroes! This is a really fun challenge, one that any roleplayer would be keen to get his teeth into, and the module includes plenty of advice as to handle this situation and the shiny armoured longshanks’ response to the weirdly mannered Goblins.

As befitting the heroic nature of the scenario, the four pre-generated player characters are all of heroic intent, but of a Goblin nature. To anyone but a member of the Crookedtoes tribe—and even then—they are a weird lot. They include a Ranger with a heavy crossbow and penchant for tinkering, a Barbarian in a rabbit fur costume, a tuxedo-wearing Bard hated for his exceptionally fine, but non-Goblin voice, but loved for his penny-whistle, and a Druid whose animal companion is a classic French poodle, complete with ribbons! All four come with a great illustration and their own song, each of which sums up each Goblin rather smartly.

Physically, We Be Heroes? is a Paizo Inc. book. So the production values are high, the sixteen pages of the booklet being done in full colour with high quality illustrations. The writing is also good and covers most eventualities.

We Be Heroes? is a short adventure, suitable for a single four hour session. Alongside all of the action, there is plenty of opportunity for solid roleplaying within its sixteen pages and the opportunity to play Goblins is always fun. Especially if they are reformed Goblins looking to prove themselves heroes. Hopefully we will get to see the further adventures of Crimsi, Girenek, Pizaazz, and Siathorn—with her pet ‘wolf’, Mitzi—in future releases for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Second Edition.


We Be Heroes? will be available to download from the Paizo Inc. website from Monday, July 1st, 2019.

Monday 24 June 2019

Miskatonic Monday #17: Spark of Life

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

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Depository, 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 Depository.


Name: Spark of Life: An Isolated Investigator Adventure

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Jon Hook

Setting: Jazz Age (Contemporary), Lovecraft Country, Miskatonic University
Product: Scenario
What You Get: 10.33 MB, 24-page full colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: Fraternal interest gets the scenario’s ‘featured’ student into more trouble than they expected in an electrifying one-on-one mystery.

Plot Hook: Curious students and a curious student
Plot Development: A novel research hook, a toga party, lightning strikes more than twice, and your best friend
Plot Support: Solid, well done plot, three sample pre-generated investigators, several NPC descriptions, house plans, a new tome, a new Mythos entity, and seven handouts.
Production Values: Decent beyond the need for a slight edit.

# Straightforward, but engaging plot
# Good sense of a mystery
# Easy to run with little preparation
# Potential investigator introduction to the Mythos
# Well written
# Suitable for beginning player and investigator
# Playable in one session
# Adaptable to the 1890s or 2010s
# Scope for development
# Good introduction to Miskatonic University
# Male or female investigators provided
# Miskatonic University sourcebook optional, but useful

# Overdone final Sanity losses and rewards
# Best friend should have been of either gender
# Anachronistic language in places

# Solid one-on-one adventure
# Intriguing mystery
# Perfect when short of players

Sunday 23 June 2019

Brutalising the Fantasy Heartbreaker

Not every Old School Renaissance-style roleplaying game is a Retroclone, a roleplaying game based on Dungeons & Dragons, Basic Dungeons & Dragons, or Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Yet some roleplaying games do take their cue from the brutal, unforgiving nature of how those games were played in the nineteen-seventies, and then emphasise this nature. Best Left Buried: Cryptdigger’s Guide to Survival exemplifies that. Published by Soul Muppet Publishing and inspired by Questing Beast’s Maze Rats, Best Left Buried is a fantasy horror roleplaying game in which characters venture into the crypts and caves below the earth in search of secrets and treasures and there face unnamable monsters, weird environments, eldritch magic, and more… Whilst deep underground, they will be under constant stress, face fears hitherto unknown, and the likelihood is that they will return from the depths physically and mentally scarred, the strangeness they have seen and the wounds they have suffered separating them from those not so foolish as to descend into the dark.

The setting for Best Left Buried is implied to be the early modern period, which may include the use of firearms should the Doomsayer—as the Game Master is known in the roleplaying game—allow it. It is a low magic world, or rather the Cryptdiggers—as player characters are known in Best Left Buried—have access to few spells and indeed few are described within the game’s pages. Both players and Doomsayer are warned though, that using spells is akin to bring a hand grenade to a knife fight and that there may be consequences…

A character in Best Left Buried is defined by three stats—Brawn, Wit, and Will, two derived factors—Vigour and Grip, and Advancements. Brawn is both athletic prowess and endurance, Wit is both mental and physical agility, and Will is both mental acuity and resistance. Vigour is represents a character’s ability to take damage, whilst Grip is both a character’s ability to take mental damage and power spells. Advancements are special abilities or stat improvement, such as Extra Brawn, Wit, or Will, or Spirits of the Beyond which enables a character to reanimate a corpse to fight for him for a single combat, or Eyes of the Hawk to gain an advantage or ‘The Upper Hand’, for sight-based observation checks. 

A character also has an Archetype, a cross between a Class from other Old School Renaissance retroclones and a background. Ten are given, each with their own Advancements and Affliction—an Affliction being the opposite of an Advancement. For example, the Cut-throat has Silver Tongue which gives him the Upper Hand when making a Wit check to deceive an NPC; Tricks of the Trade which once a day enables his player to re-roll a Wit check when the Cut-throat is engaging in illegal or illicit activities; and Honour Amongst Thieves which prevents him from conducting a Heroic Rescue of another player character or NPC unless they are also a Cut-Throat. The ten Archetypes are Believer, Cabalist, Cut-throat, Dastard, Everyman, Freeblade, Outcast, Protagonist, Scholar, and Veteran. Of the ten, Protagonist and Scholar feel closest in design to the Fighter and Magic-user of standard Old School Renaissance retroclones.

To create a character, a player assigns +2, +1, and 0 to his character’s Brawn, Wit, and Will and derives Vigour and Grip from them. He then selects an Archetype, plus another Advancement from the standard options provided (further Advancements can be selected by surviving the Crypt and gaining Experience Points). He also gets to choose some extra equipment beyond the basics that each character starts the game with. Then—and this is the first hint at the brutality of the game—he is expected to create at least two more. Characters also get two weapons and several pieces of equipment.

Gunther Nerius
Brawn 0 Wit +1 Will +2
Vigour 6 Grip 8
Advancements: Been There Done That, I’ve Seen Things, Spirits of the Beyond
Affliction: Already Slightly Gone
Equipment: Axe, crossbow and ten bolts, three doses of medicines, chisel and hammer
Background: Gunther Nerius is a doctor whose experiments into resurrection saw him accused of necromancy and grave robbing, then hounded out of town and after town. His research lead him to the Cult of Blossoming Heart, dedicated to life from beyond the grave. He wanted its secrets, not its philosophy and time and time again plunged into the Crypt on its and his own behalf, finally learning how to restore a corpse to life—at least temporarily. Although the Cult of Blossoming Heart has been broken up by the authorities, Doctor Neruius convinced them that he was never a member. Some of the remaining cult members believe he was responsible for its break-up and have sworn their revenge.

Mechanically, Best Left Buried requires no more than four six-sided dice. When a character wants to undertake an action, his player rolls two dice, adds the appropriate stat and attempts to beat a target of nine or more. If the character has ‘The Upper Hand’, then his player rolls three six-sided dice and discards the lowest, whereas what the character is attempting is ‘Against the Odds’, his player rolls three six-sided dice and discards the highest. Although it possible to get multiple instances of ‘The Upper Hand’ and ‘Against the Odds’, but they do not grant more dice, but instead cancel each other out. However, three or more instances of ‘The Upper Hand’ and the situation is trivial and no longer needs a roll, whereas three or more instances of ‘Against the Odds’ and the situation is impossible and cannot be attempted. Should a character fail, then he can Exert himself. By spending a point of Grip, he can reroll a die and use the new result instead.

Observation checks work in a similar fashion, but are harder given that no stat is applied. Combat works slightly differently though. The target is eight or more, which can be modified by shields, armour, or a creature’s monstrous armour, but instead of rolling two six-sided dice, a player rolls three six-sided dice. He selects any two of the three dice which together with the addition of an appropriate stat ensue that he beats the target. The third die becomes the damage die, modified by the weapon or Advancement used for the attack. If the character has ‘The Upper Hand’, then his player rolls four six-sided dice and discards the lowest, whereas what the character is attempting is ‘Against the Odds’, his player rolls four six-sided dice and discards the highest. Damage is deducted from a target’s Vigour, whilst any attack which inflicts six damage is a critical hit and inflicts an injury.

For example, whilst descending into the Crypt to explore a Cult of the Blossoming Heart outpost, Doctor Nerius encounters a cultist who recognises who he is and runs off to alert his fellow cultists. The nefarious Doctor has a crossbow with a bolt ready and fires at the fleeing cultist. The Doomsayer rules that Doctor Nerius has ‘The Upper Hand’. His player rolls 3, 4, 5, and 6. Dropping the lowest die gives him 4, 5, and 6. The 4 and 5 together are enough to ensure a hit and the 6 becomes the damage die. With a yelp, the cultist is hit and staggers to the floor, clutching at his back… The damage of 6 is counted as a critical hit, which means that the cultist also suffers an injury.

The nature of mechanics mean that success is not guaranteed—in fact, it is difficult to achieve and the players should be looking for the characters to be getting one or more instances of ‘The Upper Hand’. Combat is pleasingly simple, handling both attack and damage in one roll, a player needing to ensure that his character can successfully attack even if that means giving up the best die that would have inflicted the most damage. Combat is designed to be deadly, but whilst a monster or NPC is killed when their Vigour is reduced to zero, a character is not necessarily so. Whether or not he dies is up to a flip of a coin. A tails result and he is dead, but on a heads result he is rendered unconscious. This lasts several hours and leaves the character vulnerable to a killing blow by a monster or an NPC. So a character rendered unconscious had better hope that his allies survive any battle long enough to defeat the enemy, prevent him from being finished off, or pull him from the fight. The misery continues once the character wakes up though as the last blow will have also inflicted an Injury upon him, like losing a hand or a point of Wit. 

Where Vigour has a singular use in Best Left Buried—measuring the amount of damage a character can withstand—and is easier to recover, Grip has multiple uses and is not easy to recover. One use is to fuel Exertion attempts, another is to power certain Advancements, such as Fire and Lightning Strange or The Holy Song of War. It is also a means to measure both Sanity and the loss of Sanity when a character is exposed to the terrifying, mind twisting events, monsters, or environments of the Crypt. This requires a check against a character’s Will. If failed, the character loses a point of Grip, but if successful, the character actually gains an Experience Point. So a character can learn from traumatic and terrifying events, but for the most part, the character will be losing it from his experiences in the Crypt, representing the spiritual decay and physical ruination are likely to suffer by delving into the depths.

In the ‘nice’ version of the roleplaying game, Grip simply regenerates after a night of full rest, but as designed, Grip in Best Left Buried is a finite resource and when it is depleted, a character either dies from the shock, loses the will to live, or runs off and becomes a Crypt denizen, a monster to encountered like any other… As a character’s Grip dwindles, his player does have the option of the character suffering a Consequence. These can be Injuries, from a wound or attack, which harm the character physically, or Afflictions, which affect a character mentally or socially, and can be flaws or insanities. If a character is rendered unconscious as the result of an attack and survives, then he will suffer an Injury, but a character can also voluntarily suffer an Injury whilst in combat or an Affliction when not in combat. So a character might lose a point of Will or roll on the next stat check ‘Against the Odds’ as an Injury, or suffer a Debilitating Dread of something found in the Crypt as a Growing Affliction or suffer from Hoardlust as a Character Flaw. They can also suffer from Corruption, but sadly, this is only described in Best Left Buried: The Deluxe Edition. All add colour and character to the now suffering Cryptdigger, but by choosing one, a character’s Grip is reset. Essentially, their trauma has manifest as a symptoms obvious—sooner or later—to their fellow Cryptdiggers and to society at large when they return to the surface. Of course, they are fun roleplaying aspects too.

Lastly, Best Left Buried presents monsters, or rather it presents the means to create them. Instead of giving a list of monsters, it provides monster adaptations, like Blinking or Flesh-Gorging with which the Doomsayer is expected to design and inflict upon her players’ Cryptdiggers. Further, the Doomsayer is not expected to name any monster she creates, but describe to her players and have them name it, and so make their experience more individual, more particular to them and their Cryptdiggers rather than them have just some standardised experience.

Physically, Best Left Buried: Cryptdigger’s Guide to Survival is well presented. The artwork is variable in quality, the cover and the frontispieces to each chapter are far better than individual illustrations, depicting the grim and perilous nature of the Crypt. The book could have been better organised though, perhaps presenting the core mechanics before character generation.

The main problem with Best Left Buried: Cryptdigger’s Guide to Survival is what is not included in its pages. There are elements like Corruption, which have been saved for Best Left Buried: The Deluxe Edition, but the main problem with is one of the world itself. Best Left Buried: Cryptdigger’s Guide to Survival implies the nature and danger of the Crypt and it certainly showcases the consequences for any Cryptdiggers delving into its depths, but it leaves the nature of the Crypt as well as the world and society above unexplored. There is no advice for the Doomsayer on creating the weirdness and wonder of the Crypt below, nor specifically on running the game, and nor is there an examination of what the Cryptdiggers are delving for or an example monster nor crypt to help the Doomsayer get started or serve as inspiration. As the designers intended, Best Left Buried is playable as is from the pages of Best Left Buried: Cryptdigger’s Guide to Survival, but leaves the Doomsayer with a lot of work to do in terms of setting up and running the game from this book as presented.

Now Best Left Buried: Cryptdigger’s Guide to Survival is actually designed as the player’s book as much as it is for the Doomsayer and a further supplement, the Doomsayer’s Guide To Horror, is specifically written for the Doomsayer and addresses these issues with advice on designing dungeons, running games, and telling stories, as well as rules on treasure, experience, and magic items. Essentially the problem is that Best Left Buried: Cryptdigger’s Guide to Survival is not as explicit as it should be about the fact that it is for the players first and foremost, and that should the Doomsayer require more, then she needs to refer to another book, whether that is the Best Left Buried: The Deluxe Edition or the Doomsayer’s Guide To Horror. It does advise as such in the foreword, but it could have been more clearly stated both there and on the book’s cover. So any prospective Doomsayer does need to be forewarned before deciding which of the books for Best Left Buried she needs to purchase.

As presented, Best Left Buried: Cryptdigger’s Guide to Survival gives the Doomsayer and her players everything necessary to play the game in solid little book. Grim, perilous, and designed to be debilitating in play, Best Left Buried: Cryptdigger’s Guide to Survival is the basis for a decent little heart bruiser of a roleplaying game, but the Doomsayer may find it wanting.

Saturday 22 June 2019

Mapping Your Sci-Fi Game

Given the origins of the roleplaying hobby—in wargaming and in the drawing of dungeons that the first player characters, and a great many since, explored and plundered—it should be no surprise just how important maps are to the hobby. They serve as a means to show a tactical situation when using miniatures or tokens and to track the progress of the player characters through the dungeon—by both the players and the Dungeon Master. And since the publication of Dungeon Geomorphs, Set One: Basic Dungeon by TSR, Inc. in 1976, the hobby has found different ways in which to provide us with maps. Games Workshop published several Dungeon Floor Sets in the 1980s, culminating in Dungeon Planner Set 1: Caverns of the Dead and Dungeon Planner Set 2: Nightmare in Blackmarsh; Dwarven Forge has supplied dungeon enthusiasts with highly detailed, three-dimensional modular terrain since 1996; and any number of publishers have sold maps as PDFs via Drivethrurpg.com . Loke Battle Mats does something a little different with its maps. It publishes them as books.

A Loke Battle Mats book comes as a spiral-bound book. Every page is a map and every page actually light card with a plastic covering. The fact that it is spiral-bound means that the book lies completely flat and because there is a map on every page, every map can be used on its own or combined with the map on the opposite page to work as one big, double-page spread map. The fact that the book is spiral bound means that it can be folded back on itself and thus just one map used with ease or the book unfolded to reveal the other half of the map as necessary. The fact that every page has a plastic covering means that every page can be drawn on using a write-on/wipe-off pen. It is a brilliantly simple concept which has already garnered the publisher the UK Games Expo 2019 People’s Choice Awards for Best Accessory for the Big Book of Battlemats and both the UK Games Expo 2019 Best Accessory and UK Games Expo 2019 People’s Choice Awards Best Accessory for Giant Book of Battle Mats.

The newest release from Loke Battle Mats is The Big Book of Sci-Fi Battle Mats, which presents “60 Pages of Battle Mats for Tabletop RPGs”, marked in either one-inch squares or one-inch hexes. The first few maps are plain surfaces—metal sheeting, the cratered surface of a moon or asteroid, a desert and an ice surface, all ready to be marked up with the details of the Gamer Master’s choosing. More featured maps follow—an alien facility of some kind, a forest maze, a blasted surface of some kind, a landing pad and a crater, and so on. Progressing through the book and the maps move inside showing a strange aquarium, a museum or facility of some kind, corridors and rooms, and so on. Many of these are quite generic, making them easy to fit whatever purpose the Game Master wants—the inside of space ships or space stations, bases, museums, and more. Others, such as the subway or mass transit station platform and the desert cantina are more obvious in what they are and what their inspiration is. This does not mean that the Game Master cannot re-purpose them or adapt them as needed, of course. 

Towards the rear of The Big Book of Sci-Fi Battle Mats the maps change from having a square grid to having a hex grid. These together depict the surface of a space station—complete with trenches—and open space, space in orbit above two worlds—one Earth-like, one Mars-like, the swirling surface of a gas giant, deep space in both blue and black, and an asteroid field. The hex maps most obviously lend themselves to space battles, the asteroid field being particularly eye-catching.

Physically, The Big Book of Sci-Fi Battle Mats is very nicely produced. The maps are clear, easy to use, fully painted, and vibrant with colour. One issue may well be with binding and the user might want to be a little careful folding the pages back and forth lest the pages crease or break around the spiral comb of the binding.

There is no denying the usefulness of maps when it comes to the tabletop gaming hobby. They help players and Game Masters alike visualise an area, they help track movement and position, and so on. If a gaming group does not regularly use miniatures in their Science Fiction games, The Big Book of Sci-Fi Battle Mats might not be useful, but it will still help them visualise an area, and it may even encourage them to use them. If they already use miniatures, whether Science Fiction roleplaying or wargaming, then the maps in The Big Book of Sci-Fi Battle Mats will be undeniably useful. And there are so many Science Fiction roleplaying games which The Big Book of Sci-Fi Battle Mats will work with, from White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying and Ashen Stars to Star Trek Adventures: The Roleplaying Game and Traveller—and that is just the tip of the asteroid field…

The Big Book of Sci-Fi Battle Mats is full of attractive, ready-to-use maps that the Game Master can bring to the table for the Science Fiction roleplaying game of her choice. Both practical and pretty, The Big Book of Sci-Fi Battle Mats is an undeniably useful accessory for Science Fiction gaming in general. 

Friday 21 June 2019

Free RPG Day 2019: Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold

Now in its twelfth year, Saturday, June 15th was Free RPG Day and with it came an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. The release for Free RPG Day 2019 from Green Ronin Publishing is Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold. As its title suggests, this is a quick-start for Modern AGE, a roleplaying game which updates the AGE System first seen in Dragon Age – Dark Fantasy Roleplaying Set 1: For Characters Level 1 to 5 to do gritty action, high adventure, urban fantasy, or dystopian future. Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold presents a slightly simplified version of the Modern AGE rules, a lengthy three part scenario which introduces a new setting for the Modern AGE rules, and five pre-generated characters, all of which comes in a forty page, full-colour booklet.

At the core of each character in Modern AGE are eight abilities—Accuracy, Communication, Constitution, Dexterity, Fighting, Intelligence, Perception, Strength, and Willpower. Each attribute is rated between -2 and 4, with 1 being the average. They will have ability focuses, areas of expertise such as Accuracy (Assault Rifles), Communication (Gambling), Intelligence (Occultism), Perception (Searching), and so on that add a +2 bonus to appropriate rolls. Characters can also know Weapon Groups, Talents, and Specialisations and these are worked into and explained in the five pre-generated characters, although they are not explained in Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold. This is intentional, since it is not designed to cover character creation, but rather showcase the mechanics and the new setting in play.

Mechanically, Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold uses the same basic mechanics as Modern AGE and Fantasy AGE as well as Dragon Age – Dark Fantasy Roleplaying before it. Known as the AGE System or Adventure Gaming Engine (AGE) System, this requires the use of just six-sided dice, both to handle actions as well as effect—such as damage, time taken, or to generate Stunt Points. To undertake an action, a player rolls three six-sided dice to beat a target, the average being eleven. To the roll a player also adds the appropriate Ability and if one applies, a +2 bonus for any Focus. For example, Trace needs to find the location of a gate to their next destination and believes that it can be found in the library of Cardinal House, home to the Sodality’s governing body on the Otherworld of Akavastu. The Game Master sets the target to eleven. Trace has an Intelligence of 3 and a Focus of Research, which gives him a bonus of +2, thus enabling to add five to the roll. Trace’s player rolls the dice and gets a result of 4, 4, and 2, for a total of 10—just not quite enough for Trace to succeed and find details of the location he is sure is noted in the records. Fortunately, with the addition of the appropriate Ability and Focus—Intelligence and Intelligence (Research)—the total is actually 14 and so Trace finds the information he needs.

Now of the three six-sided dice, one is a different colour to the other two. This is called the Stunt Die. Typically, it acts as an effect die, measuring how well a character does or how quickly an action takes, but in the basic rules, particularly in combat, the Stunt Die does much, much more. Whenever a player rolls doubles on two of the three six-sided dice and succeeds, he gets a number of points equal to the result of the Stunt Die to spend on Stunts, which come in four types—Combat, Exploration, Social, and Power. Thus, Knock Prone or Vicious Blow are Combat Stunts for use in melee or missile combat, Powerful Manifestation or Fast Use are Power Stunts when casting magic, Speed Demon or With a Flourish are Exploration Stunts for general actions, and Impress or Class Clown! are Social Stunts.

To continue the example, Trace’s player rolled 4, 4, and 2 on the successful research attempt. Since he rolled doubles, the Stunt Die is activated and as this was 2 result, Trace’s player has just two Stunt Points to spend. Looking at the Exploration Stunts, the most obvious option is ‘Speed Demon’ which cuts the time it takes to complete the test in half. The Game Master decides that as a consequence, Trace and his fellow team members will get to the gate before the main enemy operations team does, though they may be chased by a small band of scouts.

Overall, whatever the iteration of the AGE System, the mechanics are easy to grasp and easy to play, providing an enjoyably cinematic play experience via the rich choice of Stunts and Talents. Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold explains the mechanics in just ten pages, including the use of magic, serving either as a quick refresher for anyone familiar with the AGE System or as a solid introduction to the basics of the mechanics.

In addition, Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold also introduces a new setting for Modern AGE—The Metacosm of Threefold. The Earth is but one world in the Metacosm, all connected by a series of gates. The Earth is a tech-world, although its highest technology—experiments into time travel and the manipulation of parallel worlds—are controlled by a conspiracy of inhuman intelligences known as the Peridixion. Otherworlds vary widely, from worlds where islands float on endless seas to worlds ruled by Optimates, the demigod children of gods. Collectively they rule a Divine Empire, whilst another power, the Vitane, promotes peace and the dissemination of knowledge. The Sodality is an independent organisation of explorers, diplomats, and warriors. Beyond this, there is a third power, the Netherworlds, places of nightmares ruled by archdemons whose subjects are damned souls. Earth is the first layer in the Metacosm, the Otherworlds are the second, the Netherworlds the third, whilst the Divine Empire, the Vitane, and the Netherworlds are first, second, and third powers. Thus three layers, three powers, and a tripartite secret behind it all—hence Threefold.

Thus what you have in Threefold is a cross-parallel, planet-hopping setting which mixes genres. So technology and magic mix to varying degrees from parallel to parallel as do the genres, including fantasy, science fiction, conspiracy, cyberpunk, and more. Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold primarily showcases elements of these in the five pre-generated characters. So the five includes a bruiser with the ability to locate gates between worlds, an ex-combat medic, a broker and dealer also with the ability to locate gates between worlds, an investigator able to identify things not of the Earth who has been augmented with cybernetics for different skill foci, and an Arcanist who cast magic to access electronic devices, track people and objects, and if necessary blast them! All of them are decently done, though the ex-combat medic may feel somewhat mundane in comparison to the others. All though, begin the scenario with knowledge of the Macrocosm and the fact that there are more worlds than just the Earth. None of the characters have their age, appearance, or agenda predetermined and theirs are free to set these as they want.

The scenario in Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold is ‘Burning Brighter’. The player characters begin in New York City at the Blake Clinic, a free medical clinic that is also a front for Aethon, the Peridexion’s paramilitary and espionage arm. When a man suffering from strange symptoms is brought into reception and the clinic is attacked by offworld, hi-tech agents, then the player characters know that something is amiss. This is confirmed when they are recruited into a joint Peridexion-Vitane task force and informed that an agent has gone rogue and may well be spreading the disease that the man was suffering from. The player characters are tasked with tracking down and dealing with the damage that this agent has done—someone else will go after the agent.

Divided into three acts—plus prologue—‘Burning Brighter’ will take the player characters across multiple Otherworlds and along the way will encounter a mythical beast, an Optimate with a mythic backstory and a van, members of a warrior band, the Nighthost, invaders from the Netherworlds, and more, showcasing various parts of the setting, how its factions interact with each other, and how some technology might not work on every world. Along the way, the players  should get a chance to show off their characters’ talents and abilities, get used to the Modern AGE mechanics, and perhaps uncover a secret or two. The scenario does end with almost everything resolved, but there is room for the Game Master to develop further adventures once she has a copy of Modern AGE and the Threefold setting supplement.

Physically, Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold is very nicely presented with a bright, clean layout, full-colour painted artwork throughout, and decent writing. If there is an issue with physicality the quick-start it is that the cover is underwhelming and if there is an issue with Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold as a whole, it is that hilst the rules are easy to learn and impart, the same cannot be said of the background which conversely is potentially overwhelming for the players  should the Game Master attempt to impart it to them, Especially for a one-shot. That said, it might be helpful for the Game Master to put together a cheat-sheet for the background as well as the mechanics when preparing to run ‘Burning Brighter’.

Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold is easy to read, the rules are easy to learn, and the scenario, ‘Burning Brighter’—which feels like a  more fantastical version of the television series, Sliders—should provide two session’s worth of decent play. Overall, Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold is solid introduction to both Modern AGE and the Threefold setting.


Modern AGE Quickstart: Threefold will be available to download from the Green Ronin Publishing website from Monday, July 1st, 2019.