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

Monday 30 May 2022

Jonstown Jottings #61: Day’s Rest

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, th 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?
Day’s Rest is a supplement for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha which describes the first stop along the Caravan Alley, a trade route running from Sartar to the Eiritha Hills in eastern Prax, its inhabitants, and their daily lives.

It is a twenty-seven page, full colour 2.82 MB PDF.

The layout is tidy and the artwork excellent.

Notes are provided to enable the content to be used with QuestWorlds (HeroQuest).

Where is it set?
Day’s Rest is set at an oasis in Prax whose lake is sacred to Waha.

Who do you play?
As an oasis and trade stop, Day’s Rest is a location designed to be visited. So any character may do so, whether travelling from Sartar or from the nomadic Praxian tribes. The waters of the oasis are sacrosanct, so any tribe can visit, including the reviled Morokanths, to water their beasts. Waha worshippers will also visit the lake as its waters have received the blessing of Waha.

What do you need?
Day’s Rest requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha  and The Book of Red Magic.

What do you get?
Day’s Rest presents what is in effect a mini-sandbox (literally!) location, one of the many oasis along the trade route between from Sartar into Prax. It sits amidst the harsh chaparral of the plains, providing a respite where travellers can stop and rest, water their animals, and even trade. It was the first place that Waha stopped after he rescued the Protectresses of the Herds from the Devil and is one of the founding locations of Praxian culture, a small and pitiful remnant of the Garden that once covered the lands.

Notably it is also a possession, being under the control of one of the tribes of Prax, currently the Bison tribe since 1624. This extends to the oasis’ inhabitants, part the Oasis Folk of Prax, who farm the fields that the oasis irrigates and thus support their masters with the goods and foods that they cannot source elsewhere. No matter who holds Day’s Rest, the nomads look down on the Oasis Folk, considering them pitiful and insignificant, worthy only for exploitation by their betters—those that ride. The Oasis Folk have their culture which they practice quietly and in a subdued manner, including worship of Daka Fal. Where the nomad tribes do not accept outsiders amongst their numbers, the Oasis Folk do, accepting them and their children as slaves alongside themselves. This occurred in numbers during the recent uprisings against the Lunars in Sartar and Tarsh.

In addition to providing a decent description of the oasis, Day’s Rest details fourteen NPCs, including members of the Bison Tribe, loyally, but unhappily assigned to protect the oasis against raids from other tribes and to keep the peace, slaves of the Oasis Folk, and visitors, most of the latter being merchants. These are each given a full page of details and stats, and there is a sold cast of personalities given.

Rounding out Day’s Rest is a description of Oasis Folk and the means to create them as characters, whether Player Characters or NPCs. It notes that they do not make good Player Characters as they are limited in what they can and the lives they lead. The guidelines here are better as a means to create NPCs as occupants of oasis and trade stops in Prax.

As solid a description as Day’s Rest gives, there are two or three issues attached to. A minor issue is that the map of the oasis could have also been placed at the front of the supplement for ease of reference. A few story hooks would have not gone amiss either. There are a few written into the descriptions of the NPCs, but a few more to get the Player Characters more readily involved in the doings there would have been useful. The main problem with the supplement is that it does involve slavery. Now this is part of Glorantha as a setting and whilst the treatment of the Oasis Folk as slaves is not necessarily a poor one—in game or out, this does not mean that everyone is going to be comfortable with either its portrayal or even its inclusion in their game.

Is it worth your time?
YesDay’s Rest is a useful addition for any campaign set in or passing through Prax, or involves Praxians or worshippers of Waha. 
NoDay’s Rest is specific to Prax and a Game Master’s may not be set there or may not want to enter an area of Glorantha where slavery is obvious.
MaybeDay’s Rest is a useful addition for a campaign involving Prax or Waha worshippers, but it involves themes which not every player will be comfortable with.

Thra & Away

One of the most elegant pieces of roleplaying design in recent times is Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Adventure Game published by River Horse Press. Adapted from the 1982 Jim Henson film of the same name, this presented a way to explore a story similar to that of the film, with the Player Characters chasing the Goblin King through the labyrinth, visiting many of the locations in the film as well as others new, in random order, but always pushing forward. It presented what was in effect a roleplaying game and a roleplaying campaign in the one book, and because it included some one hundred locations, the randomness meant that it could be played more than once because the players and their characters were unlikely to visit the same location twice between play throughs. Further, the complete nature of the roleplaying game was cemented with a pair of six-sided dice which sat in a cut-out within the book’s pages. The result was simple, elegant, and clever, and the good news is that River Horse Press has gone and done it again with The Dark Crystal Adventure Game.

The Dark Crystal Adventure Game is based upon the 1982 film Dark Crystal and its more recent television series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, on Netflix. Instead of taking the Player Characters into a maze as in Labyrinth: The Adventure Game, what The Dark Crystal Adventure Game does is send a band of Gelflings on a grand quest across the strange and magical world of Thra to collect seven seeds from the seven great trees and return them to Mystic Valley within ninety-nine days, before the next conjunction. Together they will journey across Thra and back again, surviving dangers, helping each other, and hopefully returning stronger and wiser. Theirs is a great task and Gelflings are fragile in some ways, but strong in others.

A Gelfling can be from one of seven Clans. These include the aquatic, and direct in manner Drenchen; the nomadic and spiritual Dousan who prefer silence and stillness; the cave-dwelling Grottan, able to see in the dark; the Sifa who have a reputation for gregariousness and roguishness; the Spriton, clever crafters and traders; the Stonewood, dedicated warriors; and Vapra, renowned as crafters and artists and scholars. All female Gelflings, apart from those of the Drenchen clan can fly. Each Clan provides four traits and a Gelfling also begins with two skills selected from Agility, Animals, Brawn, Fighting, Lore, Scouting, and Social, as well as a Specialisation for these skills. Later on, a player can expend Experience Points to give his Gelfling new skills, buy new specialisations, and raise a specialisation to a mastery. A Gelfling also has a flaw and a reason why he was summoned to Mystic Valley.

Gender: Female
Clan: Stonewood
Traits: Stonewood, Living Weapons, Unparalleled Fighter, Fated Warrior
Skills: Agility (Reflexes), Fighting (Ferocity)
Flaw: Prideful
Summons: A Lost Wanderer
Equipment: Sharp Blade

Mechanically, The Dark Crystal Adventure Game is very simple. To undertake an action, a player’s Gelfling rolls his creature die, which is a six-sided die for a healthy Gelfling, and attempts to best a difficulty ranging between two and ten. This is typically a single die, but if the attempt is Improved, perhaps because the Gelfling has the right equipment or if there is an appropriate trait, the player rolls two dice and keeps the best result. If the Hindered, perhaps because the Gelfling does not have the right equipment or the Gelfling has an appropriate Flaw, the player rolls two dice and keeps the worst result. Either way, the player adds a bonus to the result if the Gelfling is trained in a skill, for an appropriate specialisation, an appropriate Mastery, and also if an Gelfling is helping out.

Fighting is as equally as simple. Instead of rolling against a Difficulty number, any attack is an opposed roll against the opponent’s Creature Die, which for some monsters can be as high as a ten- or twelve-sided die! When a creature or a Gelfling suffers damage, his Creature Die reduced one step and this is what the Game Master or player rolls until healing is received. In the case of a Gelfling, if his Creature Die is reduced below a four-sided die, he is Injured. This might result in his being knocked out, having his arm broken, her wings torn, and more. It might even result in the Gelfling’s death. This is final, but on the World of Thra and thus in The Dark Crystal Adventure Game, it triggers a special encounter as a funeral for the unfortunate Gelfling is held, everyone tells stories about him (earning them Experience Points), and the player creates a new character, which may or not be a Gelfling.

The campaign in The Dark Crystal Adventure Game consists of thirty scenes and over two thirds of the book. These can be divided into four types—Region, Location, Event, and Darkened Scenes, the latter representing the dark poison which flows across Thra and threatens to corrupt everything if the Gelflings do not fulfil their quest in time. Certain scenes or locations, such as the Plains of the Castle and the Caves of Grot already begin as being Darkened. When Darkened certain scenes cause nightmares, but the general effect is inflict damage when a Gelfling uses ‘Vliyaya’, the essence whose manipulation can lead to amazing magical effects. Play itself is player-led, they together deciding where their Gelflings go in search of the seven seeds, based upon the information they know and rumours they have. The Dark Crystal Adventure Game is thus a sandbox campaign, but one with a countdown, represented by a spiral calendar of Thra. As time passes and the Gelflings travel between scenes, the Game Master will mark off days around this calendar, which can trigger events such as the spreading of the Darkening.

Each scene typically details the particular locations to be found there, an encounter table, an appendix of further details, and the extra effects of what happens if the Darkening spreads there. Spread across a two-page spread, it is often quite not enough information, as the Game Master will need to refer elsewhere in the book—especially the ‘Creatures of Thra’ in the Toolkit chapter. Unlike Labyrinth: The Adventure Game, what this means is that The Dark Crystal Adventure Game cannot as easily be run on the go, there being a constant start and stop as the Game Master quickly refers to and gathers the stats and details she needs to run the Scene. Ideally the Game Master should prepare and read through the campaign pretty much as she would a standard roleplaying campaign. The other indication that the campaign in The Dark Crystal Adventure Game is more traditional is that with thirty scenes it does not offer the same replay value that Labyrinth: The Adventure Game does. The campaign itself is fairly dark as the corrupting effects of Darkening spread across the land and so more mature in nature than that in Labyrinth: The Adventure Game.

Elsewhere, there is good advice for both player and Game Master, and some background on the world of Thra and its history, as well as decent bestiary. The Dark Crystal Adventure Game is not a sourcebook though for The Dark Crystal, its focus being much on its campaign.

Physically, The Dark Crystal Adventure Game is nicely presented. The artwork is excellent throughout, including the fully painted illustrations in the bestiary and the photographs taken from the film. It does need an edit in places and an index in the book would have been useful. There is though an index on the inside of the dusk jacket which also doubles as a map. The cover of the book has been pleasingly etched with suitable symbols and it feels lovely in the hand.

The Dark Crystal Adventure Game is something that fans of The Dark Crystal will enjoy and likely will playing. Yet unlike Labyrinth: The Adventure Game it is too much of a traditional roleplaying game and campaign for the casual roleplayer to really run as is, because it just requires that little bit more preparation than a ‘pick up and play’ game warrants, whereas for the player this is very much less of an issue.

The Dark Crystal Adventure Game is definitely one for fans of The Dark Crystal as it gives them the chance to explore the world of Thra just this once in the face of a spreading doom. Although The Dark Crystal Adventure Game will require a Game Master with some experience, but is more than suitable for players new to the hobby.


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

Sunday 29 May 2022

The Lord of the Rings RPG IV (Part 2)

It was with no little disappointment that Cubicle Seven Entertainment announced in November, 2019 that it would no longer be publishing The One Ring: Adventures Over The Edge Of The Wild, the hobby’s fourth and most critically acclaimed attempt to create a roleplaying game based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Originally published in 2011, fans had been looking forward to the second edition of the game, which was being worked on at the time of the announcement. When in 2020, Swedish publisher, Free League Publishing—best known for Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the '80s That Never Was, Alien: The Roleplaying Game, and Symbaroum—announced that it had acquired the licence, there was some concern that its forthcoming edition would be based on its Year Zero mechanics. However, Free League Publishing made clear from the start that this was not the case, and so the 
good news is that following a successful Kickstarter campaignThe One Ring, Second Edition not only retains its original design and writing team, but also the same mechanics—with some updates, and it receives its very own introductory boxed set, The One Ring Starter Set.

With The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings the changes from The One Ring: Adventures Over The Edge Of The Wild are more thematic and setting than to the rules, but they can all be seen as an evolution rather than a radical shift. The two major changes are to the date when it is set and to its location. Both take place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, with The One Ring: Adventures Over The Edge Of The Wild opening in year 2946 of the Third Age, exactly five years after the Battle of the Five Armies and with the death of Smaug, there was a definite sense of hope to be found in many of the cultures across Middle-earth. Yet as the years passed, darkness crept back into the world and in the Twilight of the Third Age as the War of the Ring lies ahead, and rumours spread of strange and fell things moving abroad once again, and hope began to ebb once again. The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings begins in the period, in the year 2965—notably five years after the start of ‘The Conspiracy of the Red Book’ campaign found in The One Ring Starter Set. The shift in location is  from Rhovanion, the region to the East of the Misty Mountains which was the main focus for The One Ring: Adventures Over The Edge Of The Wild, to Eriador, the region to the West of the Misty Mountains. With supplements such as Rivendell, Bree, and Ruins of the North, parts of Eriador had been explored, but no further. Here though, the focus has been expanded to take in all of Eriador, from Rivendell in the east to the Lindon and the coast in the west, from the Ettin Moors in the north to Dunland in the south. At the heart of the region, astride the Great Eastern Road stand The Shire and Breeland, and these are likely starting point for any campaign of The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings.

The second edition of the roleplaying also introduces new Cultures and Callings, which are like Races and Classes. 
The Bardlings are Northmen of noble origins from across the Misty Mountains, journeying once again after the death of Smaug, whilst the Dwarves of Durin’s Folk, are also travelling with renewed purpose, their having reclaimed the Kingdom Under the Mountain.  Those native to Eriador include Elves of Lindon, members of the Firstborn who rarely leave the Grey Havens; Hobbits of the Shire, happy and conservative who would prefer that world around them—or at least The Shire—remain unchanged; Men of Bree, who accept many visitors to villages, but rarely leave; and the Rangers of the North, who patrol the North in secret to keep it safe from threats despite their low numbers. The seven Callings are the Captain, who commands and leads through trust; the Champion is a valiant warrior; the Messenger who carries news and missives between settlements despite the increasing difficulties in journeying across Middle-earth; the Scholar who loves learning and the past; the Treasure Hunter seeks out the heritage of Dwarven Kings and Elven Lords, often lost to hoards guarded by fell beasts and hordes of Orcs; and the Warden, who works to protect those who cannot against the dangers beyond civilisation.

A Player-hero in The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings is defined by three Attributes—Strength, Heart, and Wits. Each Attribute value, rated between two and seven, determines the Target Number for skill rolls with its six associated skills (meaning that there is a total of eighteen skills), these rated between one and six. He also has points in Wisdom and Valour, the former representing a Player-hero’s trust in himself and his abilities and good judgement, the latter, his courage. To create a Player-hero, a player chooses a Culture and a Calling, then spends extra Experience Points to customise him, assigns equipment, and lastly selects his rewards for his Wisdom and Valour. A Calling provides a Cultural Blessing, a Standard of Living, an array of Attribute values to chose or roll randomly, a set of base skills and combat proficiencies, Distinctive Features to choose from, and a choice of names. To this are added Favoured Skills, an additional Distinctive Feature, and a Shadow Path, the latter the fate the Calling can result in if a Player-hero fails to resist the Shadow’s influence. For example, a Champion might be beset by the Curse of Vengeance and the Messenger by Wandering-Madness.

Daisy Appledore is a Bree-lander whose family often worked in the Prancing Pony where as a girl she learned of news and things from here and there. This aroused her curiosity and she wanted to find out more about the world, beginning to read books when she could find them and asking questions of other when she could not. Her family would prefer it if she settled down and took up a trade, but does not want to become a cook or serving girl like her mother and sisters, even though she could. She knows she will have to travel and find books and scrolls if she is to satisfy her curiosity. 

Name: Daisy Appledore
Culture: Men of Bree Standard of Living: Common
Cultural Blessing: Bree-Blood (Add one to Fellowship rating)
Calling: Scholar Shadow Weakness: Lure of Secrets
Distinctive Features: Fair-Spoken, Inquisitive, Rhymes of Lore 

Strength: 4 (TN: 16)
Heart: 4 (TN: 16)
Wits: 6 (TN: 14)

Awe 0 Enhearten 2 Persuade 2
Athletics 1 Travel 1 Stealth 1
Awareness 1 Insight 2 Scan 2
Hunting 1 Healing 0 Explore 2
Song 1 Courtesy 3 Riddle 2
Craft 3 Battle 0 Lore

Spear 2, Bows 1 

Valour: 1 (Reward: Close Fitting Mail)
Wisdom: 1 (Virtue: Prowess – Strength) 

– GEAR –
Travelling gear, Bow & Arrows, Dagger, Spear, Shield, Mail Shirt (Armour 2d) & Helm (+1 Armour) 

Endurance 24 Hope 14 Parry 16

Mechanically, like its forebear, The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings uses dice pools formed of six-sided dice and the twelve-sided Feat die. The six-sided Success dice are marked with an Elven Rune for ‘1’ on the six face, whilst the Feat dice is marked one through ten, and one face with the ‘Eye of Sauron’ Icon and one face with the ‘Gandalf’ Rune. When rolled, these can all together give various results. A simple numerical total that beats a Target Number is a standard success, but if the roll beats a Target Number and one or more Elven Runes are rolled, they indicate a Great or even an Extraordinary success. If the ‘Eye of Sauron’ Icon is rolled, this is the worst result and does not contribute anything towards the roll. Conversely, if the ‘Gandalf’ Rune is rolled, this is the best result and the action automatically succeeds, even if the total does not beat the target number.

The Target Number itself is determined by a Player-hero’s Attributes, either Strength, Heart, or Wits, depending upon if the player is rolling for a skill, combat proficiency, Wisdom, or Valour. In addition, if a skill is Favoured or Ill-favoured, a player rolls two Feat dice, counting the higher result if Favoured, the lower if Ill-favoured. Extra Success dice can be purchased and rolled through the expenditure of Hope.

Combat uses the same mechanics, but uses a Player-hero’s Combat Proficiencies—either Axes, Bows, Swords, or Spears, which are rolled against the Target Number derived from his Strength. This is modified by the enemy’s Parry rating. Damage inflicted is deducted from a Player-hero’s Endurance, which can result in him being Weary if his Endurance is knocked below his Load (essentially what he is carrying), and knocked out if it is reduced to zero. However, adversaries cannot become Weary, but are knocked out or eliminated when their Endurance is reduced to zero. If one or more Elven ‘1’ Runes are rolled on the Success dice, they can spent to inflict Heavy Blows and more Endurance damage, Fend Off the next attack against you, Pierce armour and potentially do a Piercing Blow, which is definitely inflicted if a ten or a ‘Gandalf’ Rune is rolled. If a Piercing Blow is struck, the defendant’s player rolls to see if his Player-hero’s armour protects him. Wounded Player-heroes recover Endurance slowly and are knocked out if a second Wound is suffered. Adversaries are typically killed by Wounds. Stance, whether Forward, Open, Defensive, or Rearward 
also affects combat, 

The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings is played in two distinct phases—the Adventuring Phase and the Fellowship Phase, both undertaken by the Fellowship formed by the Plaeyr-heroes. The Adventuring Phase is when traditional roleplaying tasks take place, primarily built around the Combat, Council, and Journey activities. The Council and Journey activities very much model what happens in the fiction. The Council activity sees the Player-heroes entreaty with those who hold power, perhaps to gain information or aid. For example, the Fellowship might approach Círdan the Shipwright for information about some ruins said to be in the Dark Lands west of Minhiriach or approach a Dwarven overseer to enter a mine. Mechanically, this involves skill tests made against social skills such as Awe, Courtesy, Persuade, and Song, but best combined with good roleplaying.

The Journey mechanics model the long trips that the Fellowship will be making across the rough, inhospitable, and often hostile lands of Middle-earth. A travelling company requires four roles to be fulfilled, Guide, Hunter, Look-Out, and Scout, and in these roles, the Player-heroes to determine the nature of the encounters they might have and where they do along the journey. Depending on location, these can result in the members of the Fellowship suffering Wounds or gaining points of Shadow, or a chance-meeting or viewing a Joyful Sight. In addition, all members of the Fellowship are required to make a Travel skill test as they tire themselves and gain them fatigue. The rules provide some basic encounters, but the Loremaster will need to develop them before play and probably add more for later journeys.

The Fellowship Phase place between adventures, typically at the end of a Season. Mechanically, this an opportunity for the players to improve Player-heroes and have them recover from injury—both physical and spiritual. They can also select Undertakings, some of which can be done during any Fellowship Phase, but others only during the ‘Yule’ Fellowship Phase. The former, such as ‘Gather Rumours’, ‘Meet Patron’, ‘Ponder Storied and Figured Maps’, and ‘Write Song’, really affect the next season, whilst the latter, like ‘Heal Scars’, ‘Raise an Heir’, and ‘Recount a Story’ have longer term consequences, often having an effect which lasts years. For the most part, winters are spent recovering and reflecting upon previous adventures, and preparing for the next, so typically there will be three Adventuring Phases and three Fellowship Phases per year.

For the Loremaster there is advice on running The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings as well as tools for doing so. Most notably they include the Shadow, the fell, foul influence of the darkness personified by Sauron himself. A Player-hero can gain points of Shadow through dread, greed, misdeeds, and sorcery, potentially leading to madness and flaws, and pushing them down the path of his Shadow Weakness. Balancing a Player-hero’s Shadow Points are his points of Hope, but the effects of the Shadow can overcome his Hope should he gain too many. Again, this enforces the feel of Middle-earth and Tolkien’s fiction as well as giving evil a tangible effect. Later on in a campaign when the Player-heroes have made a name for themselves, the Loremaster can bring the Eye of Mordor into play and have them full under the effects of Sauron’s baleful glance.

The list of adversaries in of The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings is quite short—Evil Men, Orcs, Trolls, Undead, and Wolves of the Wild, but this is more than sufficient. In terms of setting, there is some unavoidable repetition between the description of The Shire in The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings and The One Ring Starter Set, but the core rulebook expands to cover the whole of Eriador, including Angmar, The Barrow-Downs, the Blue Mountains, Bree-Land, The Ettenmoors, The Great East Road, The Greenway, Lake Evendim, Lindon, Mount Gram, The North Downs, The South Downs, Tharbad, The Trollshaws, and The Weather Hills. It includes numerous NPCs, encounter tables, and location specific adversaries. There are some nice touches here too, such as the Summer Smoke Ring Festival, which the Player-heroes can participate in and the common practice of tossing a coin down the well in Bree’s Old Town Well for luck before leaving on a journey. Added to this are Patrons, such as Balin, son of Fundin, Círdan the Shipwright, and even Bilbo Baggins and Tom Bombadil and Lady Goldberry, who in adopting the Player-heroes will grant them Fellowship Bonuses and advantages, but at the same time, providing the Loremaster with ready NPCs to spur the Player-heroes onto further danger and adventure. Once such site of danger and adventure is described in ‘The Star of the Mist’, a landmark in the foothills of the southern Ered Luin. It is not a full adventure itself, but somewhere to be explored, full of dark secrets, more of an adventure site, much like that found in Forbidden Lands – Raiders & Rogues in a Cursed World. It should provide two or three session’s worth of play, but the Loremaster will need to create a reason for the Player-heroes to be in the area.

If there is one single issue with 
The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings, it is simply the lack of examples. There are hardly any examples of play, none of combat, and none of sample Player-heroes. For anyone with any roleplaying experience or experience having played The One Ring: Adventures Over The Edge Of The Wild, this should not be an issue. However, if new to the hobby or this roleplaying game, working out what is going on will be a whole lot more difficult.

Physically, The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings is very cleanly presented in a clear, open style, and the content itself is engaging to read. In particular, the maps are excellent, done in a style reminiscent of Tolkien and will satisfy any Tolkien fan. There are numerous quotes taken from his fiction throughout the book and these add to its feel and flavour. 
The artwork is also very good, a pen and ink style that captures the old-world rustic charm of the Shire and the region surrounding it. The style and look echoes that of the classic editions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy published by Allen & Unwin, and has a more scholarly feel as if Bilbo himself sat down to write it.

As an update, The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings has been mechanically streamlined and given a nip and tuck here and there. Thematically, the shift to Eriador is more open, windswept, and further away from the darkness which pervaded Rhovanion, east of the Misty Mountains. This not to say that the region is without its dangers or sense of foreboding, far from it, but there is more scope for both the Loremaster and the publisher to develop their own content and perhaps avoid running into an abundance of canon.

Fans of both Middle-earth and the previous version of the roleplaying game, The One Ring: Adventures Over The Edge Of The Wild, will enjoy this new edition just as much, opening up as it does a whole region to explore and moving it on a few decades to give new dangers to face and the Free Peoples of the West to help keep safe. Ultimately, The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings is a fantastic update of arguably what was the best roleplaying game to date to be set in Middle-earth. Which means it still is.


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

Saturday 28 May 2022

Woodland in a Time of War

The Woodland is a vast stretch of thick, deep forest, rich with resources and cut with paths which connect the clearings scattered across its far reaches. Here are found the town, cities, and villages where the denizens of the Woodland live on the edge of the dangerous wilds that stretch deep into the forest. In recent times, the Woodland has been controlled by the Eyrie Dynasties, consecutive conservative regimes led by the birds of the region, but their power was disrupted by the Grand Civil War. This left the Woodland in ruins, but freed many of its denizens from the control of their avian overlords as much as it left much work to do in terms of rebuilding. However, this period, known as the Interbellum, left the Woodlands ripe for invasion, and it was a noble from the Le Monde de cat, the Marquise de Cat, who took advantage of its fractured state. First the Marquise de Cat’s forces helped restore the Woodlands and then industrialise it, building sawmills, workshops, and irrigation. Then it became occupation with the imposition of taxes and stationing cat soldiery. In response some denizens fled to the recovering Eyrie Dynasties, which returned to stop the invaders, but others joined the Woodland Alliance. This arose as hostilities broke out between the Eyrie Dynasties and the Marquisate of the Marquise de Cat, wanting to be free of either occupation. Even as war swirls back and forth through the Woodlands, other denizens slip from clearing to clearing, taking on the odd, dangerous job that inhabitants of the clearings will not do, serving one faction or another, sometimes doing good, other times, causing trouble. They are miscreants, outcasts, rebels, mercenaries, vigilantes, and more. All though are known as Vagabonds, regarded as occasionally useful, but all too often a nuisance.

This is the setting for Root: The Roleplaying Game. Published by Magpie Games following a successful Kickstarter campaign,it is based on Root: A Game of Woodland Might And Right, the anthropomorphic asymmetrical boardgame from Leder Games, lauded for both its design and its game play as well as its fantastic artwork. In the board game, the Eyrie Dynasties, Marquise de Cat, and the Woodland Alliance are the primary factions, whilst the fourth, the Vagabond, either disrupted or aided the efforts of the others. In the board game, there was just the one Vagabond, but in the roleplaying game there are many, and they are the Player Characters in Root: The Roleplaying Game. They may be diplomatic Adventurers, stalwart Arbiters, slippery Harriers, Woodland-wise Rangers, wilful Ronin, dangerous but lucky Scoundrels, cunning Thieves, clever Tinkers, and charming Vagrants, but all are Vagabonds. They have bonded together in a band, but for how long?

Root: The Roleplaying Game is not a traditional roleplaying game, since it employs the Powered by the Apocalypse framework, first see in2010’s Apocalypse World, around which its Player Character or Vagabond types, called Playbooks, and the Moves—or actions—they can undertake. Both Player Character types and Moves enforce both the setting and genre of Root: The Roleplaying Game, and the narratives or stories which can be told. In terms of Vagabond types and thus Playbooks, this is primarily done via a Vagabond’s Nature and Drives. Fulfilling either of the Nature and Drives rewards the player and his character, pushing the player to roleplay in particular ways. For example, with the Dutiful Nature, the Arbiter will clear his Exhaustion Track when he takes on a dangerous or difficult task for someone else, whilst he will gain an Advancement (the chance to improve the character) with the Discovery Dive when he encounters a new wonder or ruin in the forest. In terms of Moves, when the Harrier uses the ‘Smuggler’s Path’ Move, he will always find a secret path or door if the location should have one, but depending upon the roll made, he will not only find the secret path, but he will also find something useful to him along the path or even find it being used by someone else. This develops and pushes the narrative along, because throughout, a player is rolling the dice to determine what happens, rather than if it does or does not happen.

There are eight Basic Moves available to all Vagabonds—‘Attempt Roguish Feat’, ‘Figure Someone Out’, ’Persuade an NPC’, ‘Read a Tense Situation’, ‘Trick an NPC’, ‘Trust Fate’, Wreck Something’, and ‘Help or Interfere’. There are other types of Moves, such as Weapon Moves for combat and Session Moves for end of play actions, but for the most part, the Vagabonds will be making the Basic Moves. These are in the main, self-explanatory, but two stand out as different to the others. ‘Attempt a Roguish Feat’ actually consists of eight separate Feats, Acrobatics, Blindside, Counterfeit, Disable Device, Hide, Pick Lock, Pickpocket, Sleight of Hand, and Sneak. Typically, a Vagabond will have two of them, but again they roguish nature of the Vagabonds and thus the genre of Root: The Roleplaying Game. The other is ‘Trust Fate’, which covers anything a Vagabond might do when all else fails or he has no other option or the situation is just too desperate. However, this always comes at accost or complication because it is always a last resort, and ideally the player should be making one of the Basic Moves or one of their Vagabond’s in order to avoid that definite complication.

Mechanically, Root: The Roleplaying Game is designed to be player facing. When a player has his Vagabond make a Move, he selects a Move and rolls two six-sided dice, adding the appropriate stat to the result. If the player rolls seven or more, it is a ‘Hit’ and the Vagabond gets the desired result, but with a complication. If he rolls ten or more, it is a ‘strong hit ‘and the Vagabond gets everything he wants and potentially an extra bonus. However, if he rolls six or less, it is a ‘Miss’ and the Game Master instead gets to decide what happens. Some Moves add one-off bonuses to a Vagabond’s stats, whilst others generate continuing effects. For example, the Ronin’s ‘Well-Mannered ‘Move which is made when the Ronin enters a social situation where manners and etiquette matter, and generates points which a player can hold. Called Hold, these can be used to cover up a social faux pas made by the Vagabond or an ally, to call out someone else’s social faux, to charm someone, and to demonstrate his value. If the result is a Miss, the rules of etiquette are so different that you commit a grave breach of manners! All of these come with mechanical effects too. Any Move though, requires a trigger, essentially the player roleplaying his Vagabond’s actions or response, after which it happens.

The mechanics of Root: The Roleplaying Game handle the effects of danger and damage through Harm. Harm is divided into several tracks—Depletion, Exhaustion, Injury, Morale, and Wear—which are filled up as a Vagabond suffers Harm, ultimately leading to an unfortunate outcome if any of them are all filled in. Depletion represents a Vagabond’s general funds and assorted goods and supplies, and its track is filled in as a Vagabond pulls piece of useful equipment from one of his many pouches and pockets, which can be done retrospectively rather the player noting everything down that his Vagabond has on the sheet. In other words, Root: The Roleplaying Game is not a roleplaying game about shopping. Exhaustion represents a Vagabond’s energy and inner strength, and its track is filled in when he gets tired or he suffers a social slight. Depletion, Exhaustion, and Injury are the primary tracks a player will fill in for his Vagabond. Wear is a track for the durability of a piece of equipment and the equipment belonging to an NPC, whilst Morale is the track for an NPC’s commitment to his drives and beliefs.

A Vagabond also has another set of tracks. These are Reputation tracks, representing how well he is known by each of the factions in the Woodland, either his Notoriety or his Prestige. It is easier to gain Notoriety than it is Prestige, which works up to a point. However, its implementation is not clearly handled as the track really only tracks the positive gain when a Vagabond has Prestige and the negative loss when he has Notoriety, and effectively not when he loses either. This is made that little bit more complex because the Woodland has more than the four factions in the core rulebook. These are detailed in the supplement, Travelers & Outsiders, and if they come into play, they exacerbate the complexity of what the player has to keep track of, because this system is not intuitive.

Character or Vagabond creation in Root: The Roleplaying Game a matter of choosing one of its nine Playbooks. These are highly defined, in terms of species, demeanour, details, Nature, Drives, Connections, Weapons kills, and Background Questions. Species, demeanour, and details do not have any mechanical benefit whereas Drives and Nature, of which the Vagabond has to choose two and one respectively. When a Vagabond fulfils the terms of his Nature, he can clear his Exhaustion track, and gains an Advancement when he fulfils terms of his Drive. A Vagabond has a connection to a partner and a friend, both of which are with fellow Vagabonds, and five stats—Charm, Cunning, Finesse, Luck, and Might. These range in value between -1 and +3, but initially between -1 and +2. A Playbook has six Moves of which a player initially selects three. Each Playbook contains notes further explaining how the Moves work.

From the outset, the process of creating a Vagabond is intended to be collaborative. The players can only have one of each Playbook in play, that is, a band of Vagabonds cannot consist of two Rangers. The collaborative nature continues and is enforced with the players choosing the Connections between their Vagabonds. It continues in play as well, first and foremost because everyone—including the Game Master—is playing to find out what happens, and to facilitate this, the Game Master is advised not codify ahead of play. Instead, she creates Clearings with interesting NPC denizens and general conflicts and issues rather than ready-to-play plots. Root: The Roleplaying Game includes a set of tables to help her design her first set of twelve Clearings, including their denizens, the paths between the Clearings (which themselves can often be difficult and dangerous to travel), and which faction controls each Clearing. Since this is done randomly, the resulting Woodland will differ from that created by another Game Master and had there been a pre-written set of twelve Clearings proscribed by the authors of Root: The Roleplaying Game, it would have differed from that too. This also explains the general nature of the background given to the Woodland in Root: The Roleplaying Game—this is the Game Master’s Woodland, not the publisher’s, but it does come with an example Clearing called ‘Gelilah’s Grove’. This showcases the concept of the Clearing in practice and consists of a description, its conflicts and issues, and a few NPCs. Notably, at the end of the description for each conflict or issue, it states what happens if the Vagabonds do not get involved. So either way, if the Vagabonds get involved or not, the situation in Gelilah’s Grove will change, leading to a sense of things and events developing and changing across the Woodland.

For the Game Master, there is a fair amount to learn in order to run Root: The Roleplaying Game. Primarily, this consists of really learning how the game’s many Moves work. The likelihood is that on initial play, the Game Master will find herself flipping and forth to remind herself how each Move works as it comes upon play. Once past that, the advice for the Game Master is decent and the bookies rife with detailed and useful examples and explanations.

One of the moments of brilliance in Root: The Roleplaying Game is not necessarily the rules or the setting—though there is no denying that they are good, but the introduction to roleplaying. This eschews the traditional method which often has barely moved on from describing roleplaying as being like playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians when you were a kid, to instead talk about what it calls ‘The Fundamentals’. This takes right back to basics in describing it as a conversation between the players and the players and the Game Master before building on this. So framing scenes and answering that age old question of “What do you do?” to handling the roleplaying game’s Moves and the uncertainty that involves, and beyond to Root: The Roleplaying Game being a shared experience and explaining what to expect and focus on in play. It ends by giving multiple answers to the question, “Why Play?”. There is such a core simplicity to the advice and guidance that it puts just every other roleplaying game to shame. This is one of the clearest, most elegant introductions to roleplaying in almost fifty years of the hobby and not only should the authors be commended for it, but the publisher should also make a generic version available to everyone. Otherwise, ‘The Fundamentals’ chapter is particularly helpful for players of Root: A Game of Woodland Might And Right wanting to make the shift to roleplaying and continue exploring the Woodland.

Physically, Root: The Roleplaying Game is a charming digest-sized book illustrated with the bright autumnal colours seen in Root: A Game of Woodland Might And Right. The book is well written and an engaging read. The art is of course fantastic, although there is arguably not enough of it.

Root: The Roleplaying Game is not a roleplaying game about heroes in a time of war, although it could be. If not heroes though, the Vagabonds are still protagonists, mercenaries, ne’er-do-wells, rogues, and more (until they decide to leave the band and retire, becoming an NPC) who in slipping from one Clearing to another and between one faction and another, perhaps taking advantage of the chaos and uncertainty, have the opportunity to influence and change the Woodland. Sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. This mood and sense of uncertainty, as well as the less than heroic nature of the Vagabonds, very much makes Root: The Roleplaying Game feel different to the traditional and often twee and quaint anthropomorphic depiction of woodland creatures.

Root: The Roleplaying Game is an engaging and attractive book whose rules encourage strong collaborative storytelling and roleplaying, and to not only explore the Woodland, its dangers and its issues, but also to change it and make it something shared between the players and the Game Master.


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

Friday 27 May 2022

Arms & Armour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Mapping Your Encounter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday 23 May 2022

Miskatonic Monday #121: Death is the Final Escape

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

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

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Bryan Rudolf

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

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

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

# Needs a slight edit
# Vaudevillian villain

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

Sunday 22 May 2022

Operative Orientation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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