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

Monday 28 February 2022

Jonstown Jottings #56: Jallupel Goodwind

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


What is it?
Jallupel Goodwind presents an encounter with a ‘monster’ for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is a fourteen page, full colour, 1.94 MB PDF.

The layout is clean and tidy, and its illustrations and cartography are decent. It does need a slight edit in places.

Where is it set?
Jallupel Goodwind is set in the Valley of the Blight near the village of Greenhaft on the lands of the Greenhaft Clan of the Cinsina Tribe.

Who do you play?
No specific character types are required to encounter Jallupel Goodwind, but Orlanthi and Lunar characters will find it interesting. A Lankhor Mhy may prove useful for his research skills.

What do you need?
Jallupel Goodwind requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, the Glorantha Bestiary, and The Red Book of Magic

What do you get?
The second volume of ‘Monster of the Month’ presents not monsters in the sense of creatures and spirits and gods that was the feature of the first volume. Instead, it focuses upon Rune Masters, those who have achieved affinity with their Runes and gained great magics, mastered skills, and accrued allies—corporeal and spiritual. They are powerful, influential, and potentially important in the Hero Wars to come that herald the end of the age and beginning of another. They can be allies, they can be enemies, and whether ally or enemy, some of them can still be monsters. However, Jallupel Goodwind differs from this pattern in presenting a mini-scenario rather than an NPC and his entourage.

The Player Characters are asked to investigate and kill an evil red whirlwind, known as the ‘Whirling Moon’, which has been stalking a nearby valley at night since Dragonrise. This is a simple enough set-up, but everything else is far from it. The monster appears to be tougher and weaker than at first seems and if the Player Characters can communicate with it or possibly conduct some research, they can learn that it might be connected to a local tribal hero who fought a battle and died in the valley long ago and the ‘Whirling Moon’ might not be one thing, but two. Finding the former out should not be too difficult, whilst finding out the latter will be only slightly more so, but the really challenging aspect of the scenario is actually deciding what to do about the ‘monster’...

Jallupel Goodwind presents the Player Characters with an interesting problem—how do you seperate two souls which have been entwined with each other for centuries? The primary method discussed is physical, that is combat, in part because this will be hampered by the cyclical nature of the ‘monster’ and in part because it is likely to be the obvious—or at least, the initial—solution for the Player Characters. However, alternative solutions to the problem are not explored in depth and ultimately it really is down to the players and their characters to come up with an idea of their own and see if it works. This may be an issue if neither the players of their Game Master have sufficient experience with either the roleplaying game or the setting.

If Jallupel Goodwind does not explore any solutions to any real degree, it at least provides plenty of support and storytelling potential around the situation, which is a clever personification of the relationship between the Orlanthi and the Lunars. This includes the event which created the ‘Whirling Moon’, the reaction of the locals to it at the time, and the reaction of the locals now. The latter includes the possibility of the Player Characters gaining a reputation for not doing a proper job if the situation goes awry...

Designed to be played in a single session, Jallupel Goodwind is also easy to relocate elsewhere and the authors include a number of options to that end. These include Prax as well as being asked by the City Ring of Jonstown to look into the problem, meaning that Jallupel Goodwind could be run in connection with the RuneQuest Starter Set (although the Game Master will still need access to the other supplements).

Is it worth your time?
YesJallupel Goodwind presents an intriguing challenge, nicely tied into the background for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha which can be set almost anywhere and be played in a single session.
NoJallupel Goodwind presents an intriguing challenge, but does not really help the Game Master with sufficient advice as to how to deal with it and this may leave both her and her players floundering.
MaybeJallupel Goodwind presents an intriguing challenge, but does leave the handling of any solutions to the challenge in the hands of the Game Master. If she is fine with that, then okay, but if not...

Sunday 27 February 2022

Strontium Dog III

In the year 2150, the Great Nuclear War wipes out 70% of Britain’s population and results in a huge increase of mutant births due to exposure to the nuclear fallout of strontium-90, the children typically afflicted with one or more physical deformities. As the number of mutant births grows, so does the adverse reaction to them until the prejudice against them is open and adverse, with politicians, in particular, Nelson Bunker Kreelman of New Britain and his anti-mutant police force known as the ‘Kreelers’, actively campaigning on an anti-mutant platform. The prejudice would grow to the point where the Mutants banded together and formed a Mutant Army that would lead a Mutant Uprising in 2167. Although the rebellion fails, Kreelman is forced to resign and the Kreelers disband and whilst they continue to face prejudice, there are no pogroms against them. Most either move into the segregated ghettos set up for them, such as the large settlement of Milton Keynes, or because their work and business opportunities are severely limited, leave Earth all together.

The surviving members of the Mutant Army are also forced to leave Earth. They are also given a pardon in return for their joining the Search/Destroy Agency as galactic bounty hunters, tasked with hunting down criminals and threats deemed too dangerous to be handled by ‘norms’. The combination of their mutations being the result of strontium-90 radiation and the distinctive ‘S/D’ (for ‘Search/Destroy’) badges they wear, means that they are nicknamed Strontium Dogs, and their orbital base the Doghouse. This is set-up for the Strontium Dog comic strip from the pages of 2000 AD, which tells the tales of one of the most famous S/D bounty hunters, Johnny Alpha, a former leader of the 2167 Mutant Uprising, including going back in time to collect a bounty on one Adolf Schicklegruber! The comic strip, which originally appeared in the pages of Starlord in 1978 before transferring to 2000 AD in 1980 ran until 2018 with the death of its artist, Carlos Ezquerra. It is also the basis for Strontium Dog, a roleplaying supplement for Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD.

Strontium Dog, published by En Publishing, is not the first roleplaying treatment for Strontium Dog. Mongoose Publishing released a version using the Traveller mechanics, and before that, there was a version from Games Workshop based on Judge Dredd: The Role-Playing Game, but which was never published. In Strontium Dog for Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD the players take the role of Mutant Search/Destroy Agents, collecting bounties on the scum of the universe, travelling in the cargo hold from system to system, and suffering prejudice against Mutants along way—and not just from Norms, but from other Muties too. This can be because the Muties are criminals or simply because they hate the idea of Muties acting against other Muties. And although Strontium Dog is all about bringing in the scum of universe—dead or alive—and sometimes of the scum of other dimensions and other time periods, it is also possible for the players to take the roles of the scum of the universe and play criminals rather than bounty hunters! This would use the rules for creating criminals from Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD, which can also be used for potential Strontium Dog/Judge Dredd crossovers—just like the comic—as they share the same universe.

Strontium Dog leaps straight into creating a character for the setting, beginning with options for Species. These include Humans and Mutants as well as Gronks, the intrepidly cowardly aliens known for their timidity and medical skills, whilst the Mutants, there are tables for physical, cosmetic, and metabolic/metaphysical mutations. Thus it is possible to play a mutant with boils or warts, tentacles, a rubberised body, acidic blood, an ice-cold metabolism, shimmering skin, a rash of fake eyes, a face full of teeth, and more. All of these individualise a mutant and should suggest a possible nickname, not necessarily a serious one, in addition to their skills and exploits. An option is included for the selecting the cruel and identical Strix as a species, and there is a guide to including robots in the setting too (although they do not appear in the comic strip as bounty hunters). Outlaw and Civilian careers includes everything from the Animal Rights Activist, Anti-Mutant Enforcer, and Bandit to the Theme Park Staffer, Vis Presenter, and Xenodiplomat, whilst specific Mutant Careers include Mutant Cultist, Mutant Stalker, and Sideshow Freak. Many of these could be used in the Judge Dredd and other settings for Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD. Less easily adapted are the S/D Careers, which cover both recruitment and actual careers with the agency. The former include Born to It, mentored by an Older Dog, and Score to Settle, whilst the path for every S/D Agent is the same from Rookie S/D Agent to Veteran S/D Agent, with a choice of Agent in Time, Dimensional Agent, and S/D Agent in between. These are accompanied by a choice of Exploits such as ‘Nux for All’, which causes extra damage when using Electronux, ‘Making a Name for Yourself’ which grants a bonus to REP (reputation) checks because the rookie is trying to make a name for himself, and ‘I’ve SEEN Things’ (in other dimensions) enables an S/S Agent to initially ignore the Afraid condition!

The life of an S/D Agent means collecting bounties and making, hopefully big, money, but it also means paying out too. A Mutant gets nothing for free, and that includes his equipment. Strontium Dog includes a lengthy list of guns, grenades, and gadgets. These start off with the ubiquitous Westinghouse Variable-Cartridge Blaster and the dreaded ‘Der Happy Sick’ Warhammer wielded by Johnny Alpha’s friend, Wulf Sternhammer, and go from there… Some of the devices and bombs are extremely powerful, such as Dimension Warp which opens up a rift to another dimension, the Pocket Nuke (Throwing) capable of levelling a city, the Time Drogue for rewinding time on a victim or target, interrogating them, and then letting them die a second time, and the Time Shrinker, which speeds up time for the target to the point of death and beyond. It is suggested that the Player Characters only have access to these as plot devices rather than being readily available, but in general, they will have access to a lot of the gear and guns presented—if they have the credits, but then so are the criminals!

For the Game Master, there is a lot of support in the pages of Strontium Dog. This begins with advice about setting the tone, which is very much that of a Sci-Fi Spaghetti Western with blasters, mutant powers, and heavy prejudice. The latter runs throughout the setting and the players will need to have a thick skin when playing a campaign set in this twenty-second century. That said, their characters are armed—often heavily armed—and they have a lot of agency. Similarly, this future is not one in which there is a lot of trust, not even with the Player Characters’ fellow Muties, especially if they are rival bounty hunters. The notes on describing the world of Strontium Dog are pleasingly evocative, and this is backed up with descriptions of typical locations and then the various locations visited by Johnny Alpha in the pages of the comic strip. Both are really quite detailed and give the Game Master plenty to work with when taking her Player Characters there. Plus, there is a timeline for Johnny Alpha and the comic strip running from 793 AD to the 37th Century.

Almost a fifth of Strontium Dog is devoted to a series of Bounty Contracts. There are six of these, which can either run standalone, but they really work as a full campaign—the ‘En System’ Campaign. The campaign begins on Weaver’s Rock with a bounty of the Wispa gang, who have gone from robbing cargo trucks to murder! The first bounty is fairly simple and once completed, there are plenty of hooks if the Game Master wants to expand the Player Characters’ time in the backwaters of Weaver’s World. The second bounty takes the Player Characters to the planet’s big settlement, Paradise City, where they can continue tracking down the remaining members of the Wispa gang. Besides the main bounty, the Game Master is given another list of bounties available in the city, but once on the main trail, they become involved in a big chase across the city skyline. The third takes a darker turn when on the trail of an assassin, the Player Characters are inadvertently diverted—or are they?—to another planet and probably the best pun in what is a campaign packed with puns as they have to assault the ‘Merlock of Firestop Mountain’! The final encounter turns up the gonzo and the Merlock theme for an underwater, shark-infested big fight. In the fourth part it quickly becomes clear that the authors are really big fans of Doctor Who as the names and references fly thick and fast when the Player Characters are tasked with tracking down the creator of a gas which quickly grows anyone who breathes it into a zombie! They accidentally get dumped into an alternate dimension in the fifth part after they have to deal with a Mutie who has been terrorising Gronks—there is a bonus if no Gronks die during the apprehension of this bounty, so good luck with that!—and then fight their way out of it in readiness for the final showdown in the last part of the campaign. As the Player Characters have bounced from one bounty to the next, it has become clear that someone has been monitoring their actions and there they learn that it has been much more than that—the real villain has been broadcasting them across the galaxy! Cue lots of television jokes and shenanigans which bring the campaign to an entertaining close.

The ‘En System’ Campaign is not just a lot of fun, but it is clear that the authors had a lot of fun writing it. The jokes are as silly and as groanworthy as you would expect and they should be, and both Game Master and her players will appreciate the campaign even more if they get them. The Strontium Dog supplement is rounded with a lengthy section of Allies and Enemies, including Johnny Alpha, Wulf Sternhammer, the Gronk, Durham Red, Middenface McNulty, and a whole cast of criminals. This is the only section where the black and white artwork from the comic strip’s early days is seen, which is a pity. However, it is the ‘En System’ Campaign which pulls everything together and gives a playing group something to get started with.

Physically, Strontium Dog is a bright and breezy affair, which lots colour artwork drawn from the comic strip. It needs a slight edit in places, but is an easy read otherwise.

Strontium Dog is an impressive supplement for Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD that with the addition of the ‘En System’ Campaign the Strontium Dog feels complete and succinct. It gives the Game Master and her players everything necessary to play an entertainingly gonzo, over the top game of hunting bounty on the scum of the universe and more!

Saturday 26 February 2022

Rogue Reports

Rogue Trooper: Tour of Nu-Earth 1
is a supplement for Rogue Trooper. Which itself is a supplement for Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD. Published by En Publishing, Rogue Trooper is based on the 2000 AD comic strip of the same name, set in the far future. Two great empires, the Greater Nordland Republic and the Southern Cross Confederacy constantly clash, in particular on Nu Earth. In the past fifty years, this has become a world war, the planet divided between the two factions, known as the Norts and the Southers, and turned into a nuclear, biological, and chemical ravaged wasteland. In order to break the stalemate, Milli-Com of the Southern Cross Confederacy develops elite clones known as G.I.s or Genetic Infantry. When they are deployed in the year ’86, most of the G.I.s are killed in the Quartz Zone Massacre. There would be only one survivor, Rogue, who accompanied by his former squad mates, Bagman, Gunnar, and Helm, downloaded onto biochips and slotted into his gear, would ultimately unmask the traitor responsible for the massacre. With obvious parallels between with the American Civil War, but also drawing on other modern conflicts, especially the First World War and the Vietnam War, Rogue Trooper has been running as an ongoing if irregular series since 1981 and has been developed into a board game from Games Workshop and a computer game. Like many series that appear in the pages of 2000 AD, there is an element of satire to many of the stories, though not as strong as that found within the Judge Dredd stories, and the humour in the stories veers towards the gallows. Rogue Trooper from En Publishing is the first roleplaying treatment of it and enables the players to take the roles of Genetic Infantry or ordinary conscripts and get shipped down to Nu Earth as part of the war effort. The blue-skinned G.I.s are designed to survive in the toxic landscape of Nu Earth. Anyone else will need to wear a chemsuit…

Rogue Trooper: Tour of Nu-Earth 1 is sadly, the only supplement for Rogue Trooper. Like Judge Dredd: Case File Compendium 1 it is an anthology of scenarios. The seven scenarios or ‘Mission Reports’ within its pages are all set on Nu-Earth, the toxic hellhole and battleground which is the main setting for the Rogue Trooper series. Each scenario comes with a full explanation of its plot, clues, NPC stats, details of its aftermath, and a discussion of possible extra plots and developments which can be added or might come about because of the actions of the Player Characters. Many include suggestions on how to use the scenarios with the Judge Dredd setting for Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD or the other roleplaying setting, Strontium Dog.

The anthology opens with ‘Horror At Camp Vlad’, the first of three Mission Reports by John White. The Player Characters are a team of Nort military investigators working for the Office of Public Truth sent to Camp Vlad to find out why so many Prisoners of War have been shot making escape attempts. Other options are discussed, including making Camp Vlad a mutant detention camp in Judge Dredd or Strontium Dog. Camp Vlad is located in a stifling jungle far from the frontlines and apart from the escape attempts, everyone is bored stiff and none too happy to see the Player Characters. This is a solid piece of investigation involving an interesting mystery and a fun scenario which gives the Game Master some good NPCs to portray and plays up a few clichés. Plus the players get to roleplay Nort investigators which means they have latitude in how they conduct themselves, which can be fun to roleplay.

It is followed by ‘Killer in the Night’, also by John White. The Game Master has a few NPCs to portray in this Mission Report when the Player Characters, a Southern combat team is an obvious routine mission—guard a group of Nort Prisoners of War being moved from the frontlines to internment elsewhere. The scenario is intentionally linear, since the Player Characters have to travel along a set route, but along the way, something begins to strike at the prisoners—and if not the prisoners, then the guards. Rumours fly around the convoy about ‘Baba Yaga’ stalking both prisoners and guards and so fear mounts. Backed up with random events, this is a creepy game of ‘Ten Little Indians’ on the move across hostile territory (well, almost everywhere is hostile on Nu-Earth).

Benjamin Rogers’ first Mission Report in Rogue Trooper: Tour of Nu-Earth 1 is not so much a ‘Mission Report’ as a campaign concept, but it does include a short scenario. ‘Unlucky 7s’ provides an alternative to the standard campaign set-up in Rogue Trooper which has the Player Characters as ground pounders, or infantry types. Instead of infantry, the Player Characters are the crew of a Hopper, a VTOL vehicle used for a variety of purposes. This discusses the various roles aboard the Hopper, including Commander, Medic, Engineer, EWS/SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) officer, Gunner, Navigator, Pilot, and Sysop, and suggests the skills for each of them. Equipment and several variants are listed too, as well as a table of vehicle traits and the description of the 29th Assault Hopper Squadron, 7th Souther Air Cav, which as the Unlucky 7s, has an ‘unlucky’ reputation. The sample encounter, ‘Relieving Squad Costa’ is a evacuate under fire mission which would get an air cavalry style campaign off to a good start.

‘Deep Trouble’ is John Rogers’ third and final Mission Report in Rogue Trooper: Tour of Nu-Earth 1 and it is designed for use with the previous Mission Report, ‘Unlucky 7s’. When a Souther flier vanishes near Klumpflot Lake in a remote part of the Hell Hunt Jungle with an important intelligence officer aboard, Milli-Comm assigns the recovery mission to the Unlucky 7s and the Player Characters’ vehicle. This mission ups the ante by inverting the environment and making the Player Characters explore the depths of a lake in order to find the wreck of the crashed VTOL. Since this is a lake on Nu-Earth, this is not a pleasant experience and is made all the more challenging by the local flora and fauna and the danger of Nort patrols and possible intervention. ‘Deep Trouble’ is an enjoyably inventive scenario and its inclusion suggests that a campaign revolving around air cavalry and air support could be a lot of fun.

Ben Rogers’ third and final Mission Report in Rogue Trooper: Tour of Nu-Earth 1 is ‘Black Market Shenanigans’ and it continues to support the author’s ‘Unlucky 7s’ campaign set-up. When a fellow soldier is beaten up, the Player Characters go to his aid and in doing so, bring them to the attention of the base’s black-market dealer, ‘Big Moxie’. It turns out the soldier they helped is in debt to the dealer and effectively, so are the Player Characters. Do the Player Characters help him out, and if so how? How do they deal with ‘Big Moxie’—do they pay her off, get into debt themselves, or even end up working for her? This is an entirely base set scenario. Its one weakness is whether or not the Player Characters decide to get involved—and if not, the scenario has ‘Big Moxie’ come after them until they are forced to act. Alternatively, the victim of the thugs sent by ‘Big Moxie’ could have been set up as an NPC earlier in the campaign, perhaps even be one of those rescued in the earlier ‘Relieving Squad Costa’. Apart from this, ‘Black Market Shenanigans’ makes for a nice change of pace, primarily involving social interaction skills and when combat does occur, brawling.

The final Mission Report in Rogue Trooper: Tour of Nu-Earth 1 is ‘Assault on Nu-Everest’ by Adrian Smith. This is another ‘Unlucky 7s’ scenario, more Where Eagle’s Dare than anything else as the Player Characters are assigned a covert extraction mission which turns into an assault and rescue up a mountain whilst being hunted by monsters! The Player Characters can be as loud or as quiet as they want and it should all climax in a chase back down the mountain in order to escape back to their VTOL. If the Player Characters are successful, they have the chance to redeem the reputation of their regiment. This is an entertaining scenario let down by the fact that its plot is explained in the reading rather than at the start, so the Game Master is not forewarned.

Rogue Trooper: Tour of Nu-Earth 1 is in general well written with decent maps as needed and illustrations taken from the comic. It does need an edit in places.

Rogue Trooper: Tour of Nu-Earth 1 is a solid selection of scenarios for Rogue Trooper. One issue is that the majority of the Mission Reports are for the ‘Unlucky 7s’ campaign set-up, so they are difficult to use in a general campaign set on Nu-Earth. If perhaps all of the Mission Reports in the anthology had been written for the ‘Unlucky 7s’ campaign framework, the supplement could have had more focus and some of the scenarios would have been easier to set up. In fact, the other two scenarios could have been moved elsewhere and made way for more scenarios and more development for the ‘Unlucky 7s’ campaign framework. Ultimately, Rogue Trooper: Tour of Nu-Earth 1 is one third one thing, a scenario anthology, and two third another, a campaign. Consequently, it does not as if it is one whole thing. Nevertheless, Rogue Trooper: Tour of Nu-Earth 1 does contain some entertaining and inventive scenarios, and it does come with a decent campaign starter and if a Game Master for Rogue Trooper does not have this supplement, she should definitely buy it as quickly as she can.

[Fanzine Focus XXVII] Beyond the Borderlands Issue #2

On the tail of the 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 & Dragons, RuneQuest, 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 be 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 Beyond the Borderlands trilogy of fanzines is different. Beginning with Beyond the Borderlands Issue #1, this is a systems neutral regional hexcrawl inspired by B2 Keep on the Borderlands, most recently implemented by Goodman Games’ Original Adventures Reincarnated #1: Into the BorderlandsThe setting for the Beyond the Borderlands, like B2 Keep on the Borderlands before it, is the edge—or just beyond it—of the civilised lands, the frontier outside of which lies untrammeled wilderness, barbaric tribes, and Chaos run rampant. Here a solid fortress has been established as the last outpost of civilisation, to provide a degree of protection to travellers making the journey beyond and against the possibility of an incursion from the ghastly Goblins, horrible Hobgoblins, obnoxious Orcs, grim Gnolls, and more, which lurk just out of sight, ready to strike…

Published by Swordfish Islands LLC (but also available in PDF from the author), best known for publishing Swordfish Islands: Hexcrawl Adventures on Hot Springs Island, the first part of a trilogy detailed the last bastion of a civilisation on the frontier, Stronglaw Keep, and the surrounding Wicked Palovalley. What was particularly noticeable about Beyond the Borderlands Issue #1 was that all of its maps were presented in isometric format, which when combined with their bright, vibrant colours, make them leap off the page. This feature is continued in Beyond the Borderlands Issue #2, which when combined with spare nature of the text makes the descriptions and details given nicely accessible and easy to run from the page.

Beyond the Borderlands Issue #2 takes both Dungeon Master and her players into that den of evil which so threatens the Keep, the Caves of Chaos! Or rather, it does not. For in Beyond the Borderlands Issue #2, the Caves of Chaos become The Bloody Ravine, a sharp valley whose walls are pockmarked by cave entrances, beyond which many different tribes of Humanoids find their home. Traditionally the Caves of Chaos have always been presented from right to left with the head of the valley to the left. Here, it is turned ninety degrees, so that when the Player Characters enter the valley, it is more obvious that they are ascending its dangers. The Game Master is given simple rules for handling the Alert Level from one cave to the next, starting at ‘Off Guard’ to ‘Can’t be Surprised’ and comes with a trio of Adventure Hooks, two out of the three potentially leading to the doom of Stronglaw Keep!

One big difference between the Caves of Chaos and the Bloody Ravine is that there are only six caves instead of ten. These consist of the Kobold Lair, the Bugboar Quarters, the Goblin Labs, the Hynoll Chambers, and the Owlbear Den. Notably missing from the range are the Orcs and the Minotaurs, though Hobgoblins can be found in the Goblin Labs. Two of the caves—Rockfall Range and the Empty Cave—are left undetailed and unmapped, currently under construction. If the Player Characters explore these, they will lead to random locations. The other caves are each given a two-page spread, with an Encounter Table, behaviour notes, and a list of potential loot on the left, and individual room descriptions on the right. Most rooms are given no more than a couple of sentences’ worth of description. That does not sound very much, but it should be enough for the Dungeon Master and her players to get a feel for each location. Each of the six cave networks is sufficiently different from their inspiration. For example, the Goblins of the Goblin Caves are under the thumb of both Hobgoblins and a Troll—who normally lives in what would be the Ogre’s Cave—and often plays marbles with the Goblins! The Goblins farm Mushrooms, who do try to run away, and then mash and distil them in a potent spirit. Another difference is the length of the Encounter Table for each cave, which adds flavour and detail and suggests that there is a lot going on in each cave. Despite all that though, the map of each cave feels exactly like its inspiration, but brought to live in three dimensions and little details.

At the head of the Bloody Ravine is the infamous Chaos Temple. This is noticeably different in that it is not as such an active Chaos temple. Rather, it has the feel of an abandoned temple that has been taken over by another Chaos faction. It has a weird, creepy feel and a tense atmosphere, all succinctly captured in just a two-page spread and all very much different to previous iterations of B2 Keep on the Borderlands. Also very different is the addition of the Elven Catacombs below the  Bloody Ravine, which is full of skeletons and other undead threats, but there is plenty of treasure to be found. However, the map is not as easy to navigate or read, and its design is drier than that of the other caves in the Bloody Ravine.

Rounding out Beyond the Borderlands Issue #2 are write-ups for forty-eight of the NPCs and monsters encountered in both Beyond the Borderlands Issue #1 and Beyond the Borderlands Issue #2. The stats have been stripped back to a minimum and are actually written for use with Dungeon Reavers, a Micro Retroclone designed to handle Dungeons & Dragons-style play, which is also included in the issue. What this points to is that the Beyond the Borderlands Issue #2—and thus Beyond the Borderlands Issue #1 before it—can not just be played with the included Dungeon Reavers, but other Micro retroclones too. The language and terminology of Dungeon Reavers is still that of Dungeons & Dragons, so a gaming group can still play through this fanzine trilogy with the retroclone of its choice. Every entry is accompanied by a thumbnail illustration which matches the style of the maps. They include monsters and inhabitants of Stronglaw Keep, as well as possible NPC Hirelings and even potentially, replacement Player Characters. The illustrations are fiercely cute!  

All of the maps in Beyond the Borderlands Issue #2 are presented in isometric format, which when combined with their bright, vibrant colours, make them leap off the page. The writing needs an edit in places, but everything is well organised and packs a lot of information into relatively limited amounts of space. The format of the two-page spread used for each location and mini-region makes the contents of Beyond the Borderlands Issue #2 very easy to run from the page. If there is an issue with Beyond the Borderlands Issue #2 as a physical object, it is that like Beyond the Borderlands Issue #1, the issue lacks a sturdy card cover.

The Beyond the Borderlands series is intended to be a trilogy, but together Beyond the Borderlands Issue #1 and Beyond the Borderlands Issue #2 provide everything that the Dungeon Master and her gaming group needs to explore the Wicked Palovalley and climb the slopes of the Bloody Ravine to descend into the various caves along its walls. That does not mean that Beyond the Borderlands is totally complete, for there are dungeons yet to be detailed, but the contents of Beyond the Borderlands Issue #1 and Beyond the Borderlands Issue #2 are sufficient to play through a solid campaign inspired by B2 Keep on the Borderlands. The third issue will be worth waiting for though and not just for the as yet undetailed dungeons. Beyond the Borderlands Issue #3 will be taking a leaf out of Original Adventures Reincarnated #1: Into the Borderlands and include the author’s version of B1 In Search of the Unknown. That will be worth the wait, but in the meantime, Beyond the Borderlands Issue #2 caps a charming and engaging take upon the classic B2 Keep on the Borderlands.

Friday 25 February 2022

A Collection of Crimes

Judge Dredd: Case File Compendium 1 is an anthology of investigations, scenarios, and adventures for Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD, the fourth roleplaying to be based on the famous character from the long running weekly comic, 2000 AD. Published by En Publishing, it compiles the five previously available titles in the Judge Dredd Case File series—named after the compilations of the comic strips—and adds two new ones for a total of seven. Some come ready to play, some need a bit of preparation, some are full scenarios, other vignettes, but all are relatively easy to slot into a campaign. All can be run as scenarios for the other options in Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD that have the Player Characters as either Civilians or Perps in Mega-City One, but primarily, the contents of Judge Dredd: Case File Compendium 1 are intended to be played using Judges, typically of Grade 5 and above.

The analogy opens with Judge Dredd Case File #1: Monkey Business by Russ Morrissey. This is a fairly uncomplicated affair, intended to be run as a one-shot or convention scenario, preferably with the pregenerated Player Characters from the core rulebook. That said, it is easy to run with Judges of the players’ own creation, or even with Civilians dealing with the problem because the Judges are busy or with a gang of Perps looking to take down their rivals. Bronson & Sons, a small and not very modern department store, has been taken over by a gang of apes. One is atop the roof, armed with a bazooka and causing mayhem, whilst the rest are inside awaiting the rival of the Judges (or their rivals). This includes a Gorilla ready and waiting in full football gear to bat up, and the rest of the gang all in Prohibition-era suits and fedoras. There is a wrinkle or two, and the Game Master will have fun hamming it up with the Ape gang, but otherwise, this is easy to run and drop into an ongoing campaign.

Judge Dredd Case File #2: Nobody Expects the SJS! by Benjamin Rogers is intended as an interlude. The totalitarian nature of the regime governing Mega-City One comes to the fore when the Judges are pulled from an investigation, whether in the middle or at the end of a shift and told to report to another station house. The Judges are stripped of their equipment and interviewed and interrogated by Judge Mordant of the Special Judge Squad to determine if they are guilty of misconduct. Several methods of interrogations are provided for Judge Mordant, up to and including ‘The Random Physical Coercion Test’ or Corporal Punishment. Consequently the scenario includes warnings about the content and rightfully so. The scenario is highly adversarial, involving harsh interrogation and psychological and physical abuse, with essentially the Game Master acting directly against the players’ Judges, who depending upon if they are guilty of misconduct, may end up sentenced to Titan and thus out of the campaign. Other outcomes are also discussed and both these and the situation itself, are interesting to roleplay if the group is not too uncomfortable with it. Lastly, ‘Judge Dredd Case File #2: Nobody Expects the SJS!’ does feel too early to run in campaign.

Judge Dredd Case File #3: Night of the Living Dredd by Richard August has a lovely pun for a title and takes the Judges (or other character types) below Mega-City One and onto the banks of the Big Smelly. Occasionally, the Justice Department sends Judges down below of a sweep of the underground area and the player Judges might be on such a sweep or another case, when they are best by a horde of zombies and forced to take refuge in the dilapidated remains of a suburban house. This is the end of Night of the Living Dead played out with daysticks and Lawgivers in which the Judges have to survive a terrible night in hope of rescue, all the while wondering what was the cause of the corpse cortege.

Judge Dredd Case File #4: Obstructing the Law by Benjamin Rogers presents a big challenge for the Judges when a Citi-Block is thrown into disarray when the local eating champion gets stuck on the way out of his apartment in Gordon Ramsay Block on the way to a local eating competition. This is fantastic situation which requires careful intervention by the Judges, not just in freeing the Fattie from where his stuck, but in dealing with the consequences if they fail. This includes dealing with citizens from the rival Jamie Oliver Block, the chances of the situation escalating into a Block War, Gordon Ramsay Block residents rioting, and more. This is a fun roleplaying situation which makes inventive use of the Judge Dredd setting.

Judge Dredd Case File #5: Red Dredd Redemption by Richard August is more of a set-up than an actual adventure or investigation. It is, however, a classic set-up. A Perp whom the Judges previous put away has been released from the Iso-Cubes and wants to revenge. To do this, the Perp conducts a reign of terror against the Judge (or his family if he has one), which should culminate in the kidnapping of an ally or a family member, perhaps a particularly reliable informant. For the Judges, the scenario should start with them coming to the rescue of the victim and the apprehension of the Perp. There are some nice suggestions as where this should take place, but it should be isolated and it will require some development upon the part of the Game Master. Like the earlier ‘Judge Dredd Case File #2: Nobody Expects the SJS!’, the set-up for ‘Judge Dredd Case File #5: Red Dredd Redemption’ means that it is better suited for Judges with more than a few cases and arrests on their record.

‘Judge Dredd Case File #6: All Boxed Up’ by Shaun Cook is a longer scenario in which the philanthropist Quququey, an alien trader, wants to redevelop one of Mega-City One’s shanty towns, Cardboard City, as part of a trade deal. The Judges are tasked with assisting him and keeping him safe, which means checking the area prior to his visit. There are lots of opportunities for investigation into minor crime, dealing with members of the Anti-Alien League who object to Quququey’s presence, and interacting with the citizens of Cardboard City. The Game Master will certainly have a lot of fun portraying the ordinary citizenry and oddballs that the Judges run into. There is scope also for Perp Player Characters in particular, their objectives being at odds with those of the Judges, of course. This will require a little adjustment upon the part of the Game Master. This is another solid slice of Judges working the streets and will probably take a session or two to play. If there is an issue with the scenario, it is that it could have done with better organising to make the various plots and motivations clearer.

‘Judge Dredd Case File #7: The Future of Law Enforcement’ by Marc Langworthy is the last scenario in the anthology. Where many a Judge Dredd campaign begins with the Player Characters as Cadet Judges on their Hot Dog Run or Eagle Day, here the Judges are summoned by Judge Dredd himself and assigned to oversee the latest batch of Cadets on their Hot Dog Run, a test run of their capabilities and training into the Cursed Earth. In particular, this Hot Dog Run is targeting a band of mutant raiders, ‘Cherpo’s Crusaders’, which has been active recently in the Alabama Morass. The Judges, accompanied by the Cadets, will need to search the area around Sausage Tree Farm, which is where most of the convoys that ‘Cherpo’s Crusaders’ has targeted, has come from. Along the way there are random encounters and the Cadets to keep an eye on. They take a supporting role mechanically and there is a random chance that they will mess up in one encounter. Each Player Character Judge is expected to take charge of one Cadet and it is suggested that each player also roleplay one of the other Cadets. The scenario includes rules and guidelines for this. This is solid, meaty little scenario which will culminate in the Judges giving assessments of their charges.

Physically, Judge Dredd: Case File Compendium 1 is nicely presented and well written. The scenarios do vary in quality and some of them do require development upon the part of the Game Master. Some though really are good and will be fun to both run and play as part of your Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD campaign.

[Fanzine Focus XXVII] Ninja City

On the tail of the 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 be 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. Another choice is the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.

Ninja City is different type of fanzine for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. Published by Get Haunted Industries as part of ZineQuest 3, adapts the roleplaying game from Goodman Games to run adventures inspired by the Ninja movies and craze of the eighties, cheap straight to VHS tales of crime and retribution, and just a little bit, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In Ninja City, the streets of the Player Characters’ hometown have been taken over by Bad Guyz—drug lords, street gangs, crooked cops, and worse—and nobody is doing a damned thing about it! Fortunately for the town and the Player Characters, they have rediscovered the Lost Secrets of the Ninja, found a sensei, set up a Clan in a secret hideout, and at the end of the day, when their day jobs are over, sneak out to strike at the Bad Guyz! Disrupt their operations, destroy their product, free the cheap labour they employ, rescue victims held hostage, defeat the Big Boss and unmask him, ultimately, free the town for good folk everywhere!

A Ninja in Ninja City uses the SWORDZ Attribute System—Stealth, Wisdom, Offence, Respect, Discipline, and Z-Force—instead of the standard set of attributes found in Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. Of these six, Wisdom covers knowledge and technology use, Respect includes Leadership, Connections, and Trust; Discipline a Ninja’s use of Kuji-in; and Z-Force both his Luck as per Dungeon Crawl Classics and Super Moves. A Ninja has the same Hit Points as every other Ninja, and a Melee Weapon and a Ranged Weapon which defines him. He also has a day job, anything from a Sponsored Skateboarder, Bartender, or Aerobics Instructor to Street Performer – Portrait Artist, Street Performer – Musician, or Telephone Psychic. To create a Ninja, a player rolls four six-sided dice and keeps the best three for each attribute, selects his two weapons, and rolls for his Day Job on the lengthy table of options.

Jeanette Somers
Level 1 Ninja
Day Job: Mechanic
Armour Class: 12 Hit Points: 10
Stealth 14 (+1) Wisdom 12 (+0) Offence 15 (+1) Respect 13 (+1) Discipline 16 (+2) Z-Force 16 (+2)
Weapons: Bo Staff, Shuriken
Unarmed Strike: +1/1d4+1 Damage 

Mechanically, Ninja City uses the rules from the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, but with a tweak or two designed to make it cinematic. First, a Ninja can use Force of Tiger, Force of Monkey, and Force of Butterfly to do amazing things, each of which costs a point of Z-Force. Force of Tiger grants access to the Fighter Class’ Mighty Deed of Arms; Force of Monkey enables a Ninja to climb sheer surfaces and leap over obstacles; and Force of Butterfly lets him descend falls in freefall. A Ninja can inflict greater damage in unarmed combat, even a single point of damage if he misses in combat!

Kuji-In are powerful Hand Seals which require hand signals and concentration which also require Z-Force points to use. Ten Kuji-In Hand Seals are listed, each the equivalent of a spell—Cleric or Wizard—from the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. For example, Rin or Strength is the equivalent of the Blessing spell and Retsu or Control of Time and Space has the same effect of the Sleep spell. Once expended, Z-Force can be recovered after a full day’s meditation. Ninja are also notoriously hard to kill. In fact, they cannot truly die and if a Ninja’s Hit Points are reduced to zero, another Ninja can share his Hit Points, binding the two together, meaning they share damage taken; ‘Embrace the Darkness’ and recover, but remain in danger of turning to the dark side and attacking his fellow Ninja; and even have his energy transferred into an item or be dispersed into the universe. The first option means that the player can continue playing his Ninja as a possessed item or weapon, whilst the second allows him to play his Ninja as a ghost!

Tables also enable the players to roll for their Sensei—including a Sewer Dwelling Mutant, and Hideout, such as a Movie Rental Shop or a Fireworks Shop. For the Game Master there are stats descriptions given for a variety of Bad Dudez, such as Rival Ninja, Karate Fighters, Renegades, and more, as well as suggestions for the contraband they might be dealing in. Put the entries on these two tables together and the Game Master has a ready set of mission hooks. Advice for the Game Master takes the form of a basic framework, very much based on the Ninja movies which inspire Ninja City. This all comes together in ‘Rise of the Cyborgs’, which takes up a third of the fanzine. The Ninjas’ hometown is beset by a rash of crime carried out by the Aviators mercenary crime gang, backed up with Cyborgs. Where are the Cyborgs coming from and who are the Aviators working for? ‘Rise of the Cyborgs’ includes a large map of the antagonists’ base of operations and is a decent adventure which can be played in a single session, so perhaps could be run as a convention scenario, but should take no more than two sessions to play through.

Physically, Ninja City is decently written and illustrated with a mix of artwork, some of it cartoonish, some of it quite decent. If Ninja City is missing anything, it is a bibliography of inspiration for the fanzine. In fact, the map from the ‘Rise of the Cyborgs’ could easily have been shrunk to a single page and the space used for such a bibliography.

As written, Ninja City deserves some expansion. In addition to the bibliography, it would have been nice for Ninja City to have included the description of a town in the thrall of multiple gangs and criminal organisations, a sort of ‘crime sandbox’ for the Ninja to investigate and take down crook by crook. Essentially, an actual ‘Ninja City’ for the Player Characters to make their own. That could have easily been included without breaking the limits or page count of the fanzine format.

Ninja City is a fun little option for an alternate campaign for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. As presented, it will provide a gaming group with a session or two of cheesy chop-socky action, but the Game Master will need to develop a lot more if the group wants to keep on playing.

Monday 21 February 2022

Miskatonic Monday #98: The Curse of Black Teeth Keetes

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

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

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Perry Grosshans

Setting: An island off Kingsport, New England (Lovecraft Country) for Pulp Cthulhu: Two-fisted Action and Adventure Against the Mythos in the Desperate Decade of the nineteen thirties.

Product: Scenario
What You Get: Twenty-Eight page, 2.27 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Pirates of the Caribbean meets The Goonies off Lovecraft Country.
Plot Hook: A friend has gone missing on a mysterious island off the New England coast.
Plot Support: Detailed plot, staging advice for the Keeper, seven handouts, three maps, two NPCs, one Mythos entity, Zombie Pirates, and thirty Dimensional Shamblers.
Production Values: Decent.

# Pirates and/or zombies on a ghost island!
# Can be run with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, but better suited to Pulp Cthulhu: Two-fisted Action and Adventure Against the Mythos
# Easy to adjust Cthulhu by Gaslight or the here and now
# Easy to set off other coasts
# Solid, straightforward plot
# Very useful staging advice
# Excellent illustrations
# Good one-shot or convention scenario

# Needs an edit in places
# Potential for too much combat
# Finale needs careful stanging
# Minor Mythos details may not always match

# Detailed Pulp one-shot with potential Zombie Squad Action
# Pirates Zombies on a ghost island! (Is that not enough for you?)

Jonstown Jottings #55: Creatures of Glorantha

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


What is it?

Creatures of Glorantha is a bestiary for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is an eight page, full colour, 1.45 MB PDF.

The layout is clean and tidy, but could have been better organised and it needs an edit. The artwork is decent.

Where is it set?

Creatures of Glorantha does not involve a specific setting, but most of its entries can be found anywhere.

Who do you play?
Player Characters of all types can encounter the entries detailed in this supplement. Storm Bull worshippers will want to destroy most of them and Orlanth and Yinkin worshippers will hate one of the entries in particular.

What do you need?
Creatures of Glorantha requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary.

What do you get?
Creatures of Glorantha describes seven new creatures of a vile nature, all complete with stat blocks and illustrations. They include the undead, Chaos creatures, and simple monsters, some more useful others, some which lurk around settlements and some which do not. The seven are the Pale Masks, Limbscutters, Corrupted Shadows, Tuskapes, Lamias, Goat Suckers, and Chimeric Hydras.

The septet opens with the Pale Mask, an arachnoid Chaos thing, the result of several creatures, mutilated by the God of Entropy, Kajabor, fusing together. These things stalk Chaos tainted lands in search of victims to share its pain with and instill fear in before impaling them with its bladed pedipalps. This is not an interesting start to the selection, more a beast to be killed by Chaos hunters than anything else, but fortunately the second entry, the Limbcutter, is better, if only slightly. This though is the insatiable hunger of the Uz given form in the deepest recesses of their caves, driven to eat again and again, everything it consumes being lost in the void that is its stomach. Sometimes though, it escapes to the surface where it lurks around settlements hit by famine or the slave labour camps of the Lunar Empire.

Potentially more interesting is the Corrupted Shadow. This is a Shadow Cat, captured by Lunar forces and subjected to Chaotic magic and dark Nysalorean rituals, and thus transformed into a twisted version of their former self. With a bite attack more dangerous to anyone with a high Air Rune, the Corrupted Shadow and its creation process will be seen as abominable by Orlanth and Yinkin worshippers, and so lend itself to stories involving the capture of Alynxs by Lunar forces, their rescue, taking of revenge upon the Lunar priests carrying out the vile ritual. However, it is followed by the Tuskape, the result of fusing black gorillas and trolls via a thunderous intercourse between Kyger Litor and Daka Fal, which is rarely seen and prefers solitude in its deserted lairs, and so does not readily lend itself to story potential.

The Lamia is a Gloranthan version of the child-eating monster of Greek myth. Again, this feels more developed and useable than other entries in the supplement, a negative manifestation of the parenting instinct which kidnaps, scares, and hurts children. It raises them in cruel fashion to create further Lamia. The Goat Sucker is the result of Broo breaking their taboo against eating other Chaos creatures and consequently transforming into a quadruped with a thirst for the blood of other Broo. It is still a Chaos beast and Broo related, so it is difficult to separate the two, at least in terms of storytelling. Lastly, the Chimeric Hydra is a Lesser Hydra which has been transformed by exposure to extreme Chaos, and again, it is just a monster to be killed rather than anything else.

The monsters in Creatures of Glorantha do vary in terms of their story potential and how interesting they are. All of the artwork is in the Public Domain and it is hard not to wonder which came first, the pictures or the ideas, and how inspired by the pictures the author was. Despite the varying quality of the monsters, this is arguably the best thing that the author has written for the Jonstown Compendium, but equally it is debatable as to whether RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha needs more monsters.

Is it worth your time?
YesCreatures of Glorantha contains some interesting monsters with story potential.
NoCreatures of Glorantha only contains a few monsters which are interesting and possess story potential, and given how many there are in the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary, does the Game Master really need more?
MaybeCreatures of Glorantha contains some potentially interesting monsters, but again, it is a case of ‘Your Glorantha May Vary’ and there may already be too many monsters in the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary.

Sunday 20 February 2022

It's Doom O'Clock!

Shiver – Role-playing Tales in the Strange & the Unknown is a fast-playing, dramatic, and generic horror roleplaying game. Want to play a scenario of teenagers camping out at Lake Blood being stalked by a masked slasher? Inhabitants of a small town caught up in a zombie outbreak? A race through Transylvania being harried by vampires? Villagers oppressed by a demonic cult operating out of the nearby castle in medieval Italy? A rescue team dropping onto a colony in the far future and discovering it to be infested by strange aliens? Townsfolk stalked by werewolves and a witchfinder in seventeenth century England? Investigators making enquiries in a New England seaside resort rumoured to be home to a fish cult? Published by Parable Games, Shiver can do all of these and more. The roleplaying game combines simple, thematic mechanics built around archetypal characters and a simple propriety dice mechanic, combined with a Doom Clock which escalates the tension and a wide selection of classic, nasty monsters that really know how to hit back.

A Player Character in Shiver is defined by an Archetype, six Core Skills, one or more Abilities, and a Fear. There are seven Archetypes—the Warrior, the Maverick, the Scholar, the Socialite, the Fool, the Weird, and the Survivor—and each emphasises one of the six Core Skills and provides three Paths, each of which provides ten Tiers of Abilities as the character gains experience and goes up a Character Level. For example, the Maverick’s Paths are the Thief, the Assassin, and the Ranger. The Tier One Ability for all Mavericks is Dodge, but the Tier Two Ability for the Thief is Sneaky, for the Assassin, Sneak Attack, and for the Ranger, Covering Fire. An option is given that when a Player Character reaches Tier Five, he can either carry on in his own Archetype or switch to another one altogether and become a Hybrid, though this also means that he has a Fatal Flaw as a troubled character.

The six Core Skills—effectively both skills and attributes—are Grit, Wit, Smarts, Heart, Luck, and Strange. Grit represents a character’s physical capabilities; Wit covers physical dexterity; Smarts is his intellect and capability with investigation and technology; Heart is his charisma and charm; Luck is his good fortune and the random of the universe; and Strange is his capacity for using magic, psychic powers, and so on. Of the Archetypes, the Fool relies upon Luck rather than a specific Core Skill; the Weird is the strange individual who might follow the Eldritch, Spiritualist, Psionic, or Body Horror Path; and Survivor is a generalist who might follow the Chosen/Leader, Survivalist, or Cockroach Path, the desperate, cowardly type. In addition, a Player Character has a Luck Bank for storing Luck—one for all Archetypes, except for the Fool, who has space for three; a current Fear status—either Stable, Afraid, or Terrified; and a Lifeline—Weakened, Limping, Trauma, and Dead—which is the same for all Archetypes.

To create a character in Shiver, a player selects an Archetype, a Background which adds a unique Ability and a Flaw. He also adjusts one Core Skill in which his character is deficient. It really is as fast as that. The longest step is noting it all down. Of course, playing a character at a higher Tier will take a longer because the player needs to choose more Abilities, but not by much.

Henry Brinded
Archetype: Scholar
Path: Academic (Tier One)
Abilities: Medic!
Background: The Nerd
Ability: Run Away! Flaw: Weak
Fear: Ligyrophobia

Grit: 2 Wit: 3 Smarts: 5 (Talent: 1) Heart: 3 Luck: 3 Strange: 3

Mechanically, Shiver uses a dice pool system of six-sided dice, their faces marked with the symbols for the roleplaying game’s six Core Skills—Grit, Wit, Smarts, Heart, Luck, and Strange. To these are added Talent dice, eight-sided dice marked with Luck and Strange symbols. (The rules include a conversion guide for using standard six-sided and eight-sided dice, but if the group still wants to use the dice system, there is an online dice roller.) When he wants his Player Character to undertake an action, he assembles a dice pool based on the action and its associated Core Skill plus Talent dice if the Player Character has in that Core Skill. Further dice can be added or deducted depending on whether the Player Character has Advantage or Disadvantage, an Ability which applies, or the player wants to spend his character’s Luck, and on the character’s Fear status.

The aim is to roll a number of symbols or successes in the appropriate Core Skill, the Challenge Rating ranging from one and Easy to five and Near Impossible. If the player rolls enough, then his character succeed; if he rolls two Successes more than the Challenge Rating, it is a Critical Hit; and if a player rolls three or more dice and every symbol is a success, this is Full House. In combat, a Critical Hit doubles damage and a Full House triples it, but out of combat the Director—as the Game Master is known in Shiver—will need to suggest other outcomes for both. If Luck symbols are rolled, one can be saved in the Player Character’s Luck Bank for later use, but if two are rolled, they can be exchanged for a single success on the current skill roll, or they can be used to turn the Doom Clock back by one minute. A failed roll does not necessarily mean that the Player Character fails as he can use other means to succeed at the task if his rolls enough successes in another Core Skill for that task, though this requires some narrative explanation. However, a failed roll has consequences beyond simply not succeeding—each Strange symbol rolled pushes the Doom Clock up by a minute…
For example, the scholar Henry Brinded has found a tome written in Latin containing a spell which he thinks will dispel the monster stalking the halls of the college where he teaches. He can hear the thing getting closer and desperately intones the spell direct from the book. Henry’s player will roll the five dice for his Smarts plus its Talent die and the Director will sets Challenge rating at two. However, Henry is at a Disadvantage because he is intoning from the tome in a hurry and because he has not had the time to study either the tome or the spell. This would reduce the number of Smarts dice his player would roll to four, but Henry has one Luck in his Luck Bank and uses that to counter the Disadvantage. He rolls one Grit, one Smarts, and three Luck on the Core Skill dice and two Luck on the Talent die. This gives him one Smarts and would be a failure except for the five Luck. Henry’s player changes two of the Luck into a Smarts, guaranteeing his successful casting of the spell, adds a third Luck to Henry’s Luck Bank, and the last two he uses to move the Doom Clock back one minute…
Combat uses the same mechanic with monsters and enemies—and the Player Characters when they are attacked—using the same Challenge Rating as skill tests. It is Turn-based, with the Director deciding whether each Player Character is acting First, in the Middle, or Last, depending upon their situation and what they want to do. Players are encouraged to be organised and know what their characters are capable of, the surroundings for the battle, and so on, in order to get the best out of their characters. With every Player Character possessing the same Lifeline (the equivalent of sixteen Health Points), combat can be simply nasty or nasty and deadly, depending upon the mode. In Survivor Mode, a Player Character who loses all of his Health Points is at Death’s Door and his player rolls his Luck Pool to survive until he dies or help arrives. In Nightmare Mode, every four Health Points has a negative effective upon the Player Character, such a as reduction in his Core Skills at Weakened, his movement at Limping, and so on, all the way down to no Health Points and dead—no being at Death’s Door. Depending on the scenario, death though need not be end though. A Player Character could become a ghost and continue to provide help from the afterlife or even become an antagonist!

Fear in Shiver uses the same Challenge Rating system and mechanics. A Fear Check is made with a Player Character’s Strange Dice, and if the player fails the check, the character becomes Afraid, and if Afraid, becomes Terrified. If Afraid, a Player Character loses one die from all Core Skills, and two if Terrified. This temporary, and a Player Character can get rid of the effects of Fear be escaping or vanquishing the threat, steadying himself (this requires another Fear Check), or another Player Character uses an Ability to help him.

Narratively, Shiver is played out against a Doom Clock. This at eleven o’clock at night and counts up minute by minute to Midnight and the Player Characters’ inevitable Doooommm! However, at ‘Quarter Past’, ‘Half Past’, ‘Quarter To’, and ‘Midnight’ certain events will happen, these being defined in the scenario or written in by the Director. So if camping at Lake Blood, a storm might break out at ‘Quarter Past’, then the strange old man who actually knows more than he is letting on might be abducted at ‘Half Past’, a tree fall on the Player Characters’ van at ‘Quarter To’, and then ‘Midnight’, the Serial Killer switch to chasing the Player Characters rather than stalking them. In general the Doom Clock will tick up due to the actions of the Player Characters, whether that is because of a failed skill check with Strange symbols, a failed Fear Check, abilities for the Weird Archetype, Background Flaws, or simply interacting with the wrong things in game. What this means is that dice rolls become even more uncertain, their outcome having more of negative effect potentially than just failures, but this is all in keeping with the genre. However, just as the Doom Clock can tick up to ‘Midnight’ through the Player Characters’ actions. It can also be turned back due to their actions. Rolling two Luck on skill checks, reaching Story Milestones, finding clues and important items, and certain Abilities can all turn the Doom Clock back.

Just as the Doom Clock racks up the tension and triggers bad events, it can also trigger positive events. Some Archetypes have Abilities which can only be used ‘Once Per Doom Quarter’ (others can only be used ‘Once Per Doom Cycle’), whilst the Weird Archetype in particular has Abilities which require the Doom Clock to tick up and trigger. This does make the Weird Archetype a little more complex than the other Archetypes to play and the Abilities are not always going to be helpful to the other Player Characters.

For the Director, there is good advice on her role, setting up a game and setting its tone, building and structuring a story, getting the Player Characters involved, adjudicating the rules, handling the Doom Clock and designing events around it, handling Player Character deaths, and rewarding the Player Characters. The latter ranges from handing out Advantage dice and turning the Doom Clock back to their finding weapons and equipment and being given Levels Up. The latter is based on narrative events and each gives an Archetype access to new Abilities and/or Core Skill increases. In a campaign, it might be as often as at the end of a chapter, but in a one-shot it might be as fast as once a Quarter on the Doom Clock! In addition, the Director is given a huge list of equipment from baseball bats and books of banishment to stake rifles and zweihanders, from acid flasks and bear traps to the Helsing crossbow and Excalibur, and from berserker’s bear and bomb disposal suit to jet packs and symbiotic entities, there is just everything she needs to equip her Player Characters, NPCs, and seed a scenario across an array of genres and time periods.

Similarly, the Director has a big list of monsters and enemies to choose from. They categorised under Slashers, Shapeshifters, Dark Magic, Demonic, Cosmic Horrors, Eldritch Entities, Spirits, Aliens, Vampyrs, and Zombies. All are fully detailed and reflect a wide range of threats and stories that they lend themselves to, and further support the different subgenres of horror that Shiver is designed to cover. In addition to their own Abilities, these monsters and enemies can use Reaction Tables which the Director rolls on whenever a Player Character strikes them in combat. This requires a roll of a single Skill die, and might see a Bruiser type retaliating a slashing attack that does one Blunt damage if the Grit symbol is rolled or Dracula turning into a Cloud of Bats and flitting away on the roll of a Wit symbol. Apart from the Reaction table for Dracula, the Reaction tables are all generic and include a no effect result for rolling the Luck symbol—except for Dracula in which case, he gets hit ‘Right in the Kisser’ and prevents him from making an infect attacks on the next round due to the blow on his fangs! There is advice too for creating Reaction tables for other monsters. Lastly, there is a scenario, ‘Corporate Risers’, which casts the Player Characters as lowly employees at a corporate research centre when there is an outbreak of the zombies. It is a decent scenario which gives a chance for the Director and her players to experience Shiver in a one-shot. It includes notes on character types to create for it, or the player could use those from the SHIVER RPG Quick-start Guide.

Physically, Shiver – Role-playing Tales in the Strange & the Unknown is a good-looking book. The artwork is excellent, done in a style similar to that of Mike Mignola and his Hellboy comic, and very much showcases the type of horror stories that Shiver was designed to handle. The writing is clear, but in places, the roleplaying game could have been slightly better organised to make things easier to find.

If there is an issue with Shiver, it lies its generic nature and sometimes in the limited choices offered by the Archetypes. The generic nature means it has to work harder at some subgenres than others and not all of the Abilities offered by the Paths for the Archetypes necessarily fit. This is all due to Shiver having to cover a wide variety of horror types and elements and so some nuances may be lost. However, there are nuances to be found in the mechanics, especially in the Archetype and Ability design as they interact with the Doom Clock. Another issue is that as written, it does feel primarily written for one-shots, so it would be interesting to see what a campaign for Shiver looks like.

Shiver – Role-playing Tales in the Strange & the Unknown is great for one-shots and convention games too. Its simple, fast-paced mechanics hide some nice little nuances—especially in the design of Archetypes and the way that they and the dice rolls interact with the Doom Clock, which means that the players are not just going to be kept on their toes by the monsters, but also by their own dice rolls, as the tension racks up and the clock ticks down... If a group is looking for a generic horror roleplaying game that veers a little towards the Pulp and which can do a range of horror subgenres, especially film-inspired ones, then Shiver – Role-playing Tales in the Strange & the Unknown is a perfect choice.