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

Friday 30 September 2022

Profitable Packets

Cyberpunk RED Data Pack
is a supplement for Cyberpunk RED, the fourth edition of the classic Cyberpunk roleplaying game. It provides a number of tools that the Game Master can use to support her Cyberpunk RED game, including scenarios, lists, maps and character sheets. These are useful in a number of different ways, the least of which is probably the pad of character sheets. The character sheets are done in landscape rather than in portrait and in a mix of red and black. They are clear and easy to use. The twelve maps are full colour, double-sided, and marked in one-inch squares. The majority of them are road sections and connect link up easily. There are plain desert sections too, as well as a helicopter or aerodyne landing pad atop a building and an underground carpark—the latter which Game Masters and players alike will probably recognise from playing through Cyberpunk 2077. However, there are no internal locations mapped, which restricts their use. Perhaps Cyberpunk RED Data Pack 2.0 will address that? Fortunately, they are compatible with the Cyberpunk RED Battle Maps from Loke Battlemats and that range does include some internal buildings.

The meat of Cyberpunk RED Data Pack consists of a thirty-six-page booklet, which can be divided into two sections. The first consists of six Screamsheets, the single-sheet newspapers which can be purchased from kiosks on the streets of Night City and contain the most up to date news, printed at the moment of purchase. In game terms, they consist of a one-sheet which contains several news stories that can be handed to the players to provide them with information about what is going on in Night City, some of which form the background to the scenario which is effectively on the back of the Screamsheet. So effectively, one side for the players and their Edgerunners, and one side for the Game Master. For example, the first Screamsheet has stories about Night City PD reporting a rise in missing persons cases, a Militech executive being sacked for ethics violations, Night City hiring labourers for the city’s continued reconstruction, a rise in gang activity, and a hit on the Forlorn Hope, the signature Solo bar, by the Bozos, the clown gang. On the other side is ‘Hilaria 2045’. This is a scenario outline, in which the Edgerunners are hired to protect a block from an annual and very violent celebration held by the Bozos, Night City’s ultraviolent clown gang. This is in effect a big sprawling combat as the Bozo gang members ride into the neighbourhood in ice cream vans and will definitely be easier to run and manage with maps and counters.

The other Screamsheet scenarios continue with ‘The Digital Divas Burn It Down’ and its sequel, ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’. In the former, the Edgerunners investigate a rash of arson attacks linked to an up-and-coming local band, whilst in the latter, they follow up a death that occurred at one of the concerts for the band. ‘Cargo Race’ sends the Edgerunners into the Badlands in search of a downed Delta and the cargo it was smuggling. It leads to a standoff between several interested parties. ‘Snuff’ is another investigation, this time into someone selling bad Braindances and giving other ‘legitimate’ sellers a bad name… The sixth scenario is the longest in the Cyberpunk RED Data Pack. ‘ThrillKill’ drops the Edgerunners into the middle of a new craze, a competition for territory between gangs in which points are scored for killing particular types of individuals. The Edgerunners are hired to shut the competition down and this requires them to identify the next victims and prevent them from being killed, which means tracking the gangs involved. This is this the most mobile of the half dozen scenarios and the Edgerunners will definitely need the Drive skill. Of course, there are other stories on the front of the Screamsheets which are not given the scenario treatment and so there is potential there for the Game Master to develop them into something playable for her campaign.

Rounding out Cyberpunk RED Data Pack is ‘20 Things in Night City’. This consists of five separate lists: ‘20 Freelancers of Night City’, ‘20 Night Spots in Night City’, ‘20 People in the Night City Subway’, ‘20 Safehouses in Night City’, and ‘20 Vendors at Mister K’s Market’. These are an excellent set of tables of thumbnail descriptions for each of the categories and they can either be rolled on or an entry be selected by the Game Master to provide an element which she can add to her campaign. This can be done as their broader subject comes up in play, or the Game Master could consult the tables ahead of time, possibly even for inspiration. Overall, these tables are ready to add detail and flavour to a Game Master’s Night City.

Physically, Cyberpunk RED Data Pack is decently done. The booklet is sturdy, the maps colourful if not necessarily as varied as they could be, and the character sheets serviceable.

Cyberpunk RED Data Pack provides solid support for Cyberpunk RED. Whilst the maps and the character sheets are serviceable, the Screamsheets and the quintet of ‘20 Things in Night City’ tables really help support a Game Master’s campaign. The ‘20 Things in Night City’ quintet is rife with inspiration and ideas and flavour, and the Screamsheets are a varied selection of scenarios and set-ups. They can easily be dropped into a Night City-set campaign or run as the occasional scenario. Hopefully, Cyberpunk RED Data Pack will provide as equally good support for Cyberpunk RED.

Friday Fantasy: Relic of the Lost Kingdom

Relic of the Lost Kingdom
is an adventure for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Published by Fumble Folks, it is designed as a ‘Starter Adventure for New Game Masters’ as well as four to five new Player Characters of First and Second Level. The set-up is simple, the plot direct, and the background manages to be detailed enough to support the plot, but sufficiently generic that the Dungeon Master could easily drop it into or adapt it to her own campaign world. The setting is an alpine valley, once part of a great realm—the Lost Kingdom of the title, now dotted by farms, small villages, and the occasional town, but still important as a trade route through to neighbouring kingdoms. At the foot of the mountains stands a monastery dedicated to the Goddess of Grain. For the past few weeks, the undead have poured out of nearby crypts where the dead from the battles between the barbarians and the Lost Kingdom were buried centuries ago, and on successive nights, attacked the monastery in an attempt to break in. The Player Characters are hired to travel to the crypt, there to replace a stolen artefact, and so help to repel the undead, if not put them to rest.

Relic of the Lost Kingdom begins in the town with the Player Characters either seeing the notice for the job or hearing it announced by town crier—a nice touch given that not every Player Character is literate—and then being interviewed by the Elven priest, Rhys, at the monastery. He is direct in what he asks the Player Characters, including telling them not to trick him by running off with the artefact or dumping it in the river. If they decide to trick him, it is outside the scope of the adventure, but otherwise, this pushes the players and their characters to follow the scenario’s plot. In any other scenario this might be seen as the designers pushing the players and their characters down a railroad, but the point of Relic of the Lost Kingdom is to introduce the Dungeon Master to running Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition and to do so in a direct and uncomplicated fashion. Another nice touch is that the adventure introduces the idea of there being other adventurers in the world, as they were the ones responsible for having opened the crypt and removed the artefact in the first place—although Rhys does not blame them for that. Rhys can also have Lilith Mosswater, a Halfling Cleric, to accompany them, and she will be the main NPC who the Dungeon Master will portray in the adventure. She is there if the Player Characters do not have a Cleric or Paladin amongst their number.

After an encounter in the Veridian Woods, the Player Characters arrive at the crypt. The crypt itself is linear and involves a mix of exploration and combat. There are two combat encounters which will be quite challenging for the Player Characters, the final one in particular. Both can be avoided though—one by not following a particular route through the crypt and the other through interaction. However, that interaction relies upon a Player Character being able to speak a particular language, otherwise, a fight ensues. Perhaps an alternative here would have been to give Lilith Mosswater that language just in case the Player Characters do not have it.

Physically, Relic of the Lost Kingdom is in general, well presented and well written. It is lightly illustrated in mostly silhouettes and the cartography is simple and clear. It does need an edit in places, for example, the adventure cannot decide whether it is an abbey, monastery, or temple, which is being assaulted by the undead, or indeed a tomb or crypt where the undead can be found.

Relic of the Lost Kingdom can be run in a four-hour session and so at a convention as well. It is easy to use, it is easy to adapt to a campaign world, and it is easy for the experienced Dungeon Master to develop as necessary. Unfortunately, Relic of the Lost Kingdom is not quite as helpful as it could be for the new Dungeon Master. For example, it lacks the stats for Lilith Mosswater. Not only could she be a replacement Player Character, but she could also be a useful source of information for the Player Characters. Now she is in places in the adventure, but arguably not enough. The advice for the Dungeon Master in terms of staging each encounter or room and reacting to the players and their characters could also have been a bit stronger in places too. Of course, an experienced Dungeon Master will be able to run Relic of the Lost Kingdom with a minimum of preparation and effort.

Relic of the Lost Kingdom is a simple, direct adventure. It is suitable to be run by the neophyte Dungeon Master as intended. However, it does need a little more development in places and consequently requires a little more preparation time for the new Dungeon Master than it necessarily should have done.

Monday 26 September 2022

Miskatonic Monday #132: Fork in the Road

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: Riley Kruger

Setting: Jazz Age USA
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Fourteen page, 6.91 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Devil at the Crossroads meets the Mythos
Plot Hook: Jobbing musicians forced to make a choice
Plot Support: One NPC, one Mythos monsters, and five pre-generated Investigators
Production Values: Plain.

# Short thematic scenario
# Excellent artwork

# Short thematic scenario
# Linear scenario
# Tortuous imposition of the Mythos
# Needs a slight edit
# Underwhelming ‘Investigator’ agency
# Tortuously difficult to envision and portray the scenario’s central gamut

# Short thematic scenario imposes the Mythos on the ‘Investigators’ in a linear, difficul to grasp, gamut.
# Tortuous affair terrorises the ‘Investigators’ and leaves them with little agency.

Miskatonic Monday #131: Contact

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.


Name: Contact
Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Cameron Tressler

Setting: Modern Day Texas
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Nine page, 1.42 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Modern Myth & Mythos collide
Plot Hook: Missing persons case reveals a terrible truth behind a belief.
Plot Support: Three NPCs and a Mythos monster
Production Values: Plain.

# Straightforward, modern day investigation. 
# Easy to adapt to other locations
# Potential modern day campaign starter
# Suitable for convention play
# Has the feel of a television series episode
# Dramatic finale
# Potential X-Files-style (Delta Green) investigation

# Underwhelming scenario hook
# Has the feel of a television series episode
# Familiar plot for experienced Investigators/players
# Needs a slight edit

# Straightforward, modern day investigation which will be too obvious for experienced Investigators and their players.
# Solid, introductory X-Files-style one-shot which would work as a convention scenario or even a campaign starter.

Sunday 25 September 2022

1999: Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game

1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, released the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.


Pokémon is one of those huge intellectual properties and franchises that has never had a roleplaying game. Arguably it is too big to have something as small as a roleplaying game and arguably a roleplaying game is too small a vehicle to really push the brand or really expand its reach. Yet, whilst Pokémon has never had a roleplaying devoted to its world of Pokémon Trainers catching and training Pokémon to battle other Pokémon for sport, it has had a storytelling game designed to be played by children aged between six and eight and run by their parents. Published in 1999, the Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game was designed by Wizards of the Coast with the publisher planning to release twelve titles in the series. Unfortunately, despite it be a big seller for the publisher, only the first entry in the series, Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game #1: Pokémon Emergency was released.

Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game #1: Pokémon Emergency is designed to be played by a Parent and one to six players aged between six and eight. It employs simple, easy-to-understand mechanics, makes every player a Pokémon Trainer and gives them a checklist of Pokémon to capture and train, and has them participate in a lengthy story which will take them from Professor Oak’s laboratory to choose their first Pokémon to going out into the wild to find more to facing Team Rocket and a whole lot more. Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game #1: Pokémon Emergency comes in a tiny box which contains twenty-six Pokémon ‘Power Cards’, six ‘Pokémon Trainer Checklists’, two ‘Pokécoins’, 48 ‘Hit Tokens’, a sixty-page ‘Rule & Story Book’, and a single six-sided die. 

For the players or Trainers, the twenty-six Pokémon ‘Power Cards’ are the heart of the game. Bar a double or two, each one represents a different Pokémon and designed to be look like a data entry on a Pokédex. Each is double-sided. On each side there is a picture of the relevant Pokémon, an ability and how much damage it does to another Pokémon, its Hit Points, an extra effect when the ‘Pokécoin’ is successfully flipped (though not all Pokémon have this), and a little information. For example, Pikachu is depicted on his happy side as having nine Hit Points, a Thunder Wave attack that hits on a roll of five and six, inflicts more damage if the Pokécoin’ is successfully flipped, and a note from Professor Oak telling the owner that Pikachu does not being inside Poké Balls. On his unhappy side, his Growl Roll attack hits on a three, four, five, or six, and inflicts a point of damage, allows an extra attack if the Pokécoin’ is successfully flipped, and Professor Oak telling the owner that Pikachu can be moody and shy. 

For the Parent, as the Narrator, there is the sixty-page ‘Rule & Story Book’. This is not as intimidating as it sounds as the rules run a few pages and the bulk of the book is devoted to some sixteen stories or episodes which would enable the Narrator to run a mini-campaign. The ‘Rule & Story Book’ even opens with with ‘A Note to Parents’ explaining what the game is, and that is a game in which they and their children tell a story together, the children exercising their imagination and their minds, with the game emphasising reading, mathematics, and creativity. It advises the parent to encourage questions and interaction, to praise everyone’s efforts because there are no wrong answers in the game, and above all to ensure that they all have fun. Its last point is that the parent should have fun too, especially as it is time with their children and to use voices and to get into character. So it is pitched very much as a collaborative storytelling game in which everyone has fun, but not as a roleplaying game. In fact, roleplaying is never mentioned in Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game #1: Pokémon Emergency, and so the spectre of Dungeons & Dragons is avoided…

Play starts with each Trainer selecting their Pokémon from the basic six— one Charmander, one Squirtle, and two each of Bulbasaur and Pikachu. Each child ticks the box for their Pokémon on their ‘Pokémon Trainer Checklists’. The Narrator selects a story from the ‘Rule & Story Book’ and play begins. There are sections for the Narrator to read aloud and sections with staging advice, both of which are clearly marked, with prompts in the narration where the Narrator asks the Trainers what they want to do or say. For example, in ‘Episode 2: Gotta Catch ’Em!’, the Trainers go outside to the edge of Pallet Town to catch their first Pokémon in the wild. When they have done so, the Trainers are attacked by a Spearow flock and must work together to defeat it. Afterwards, Police Officer Jenny arrives on her motorcycle and thanks the Trainers for helping her out. At that point, the Narrator says to the Trainers, “What do you say to her?” It is designed to be simple and direct and to encourage a response.

Although play starts with the Narrator and her narration, from there it proceeds around the table, starting with the player on the Narrator’s left. This avoids any one player dominating the story and gives everyone their turn, and in addition, using the prompts, allows the players to build the world around their Trainers. Primarily, this will be drawn from their having watched the Pokémon cartoon series, but it also allows space for the players to go beyond this and bring their imagination into play.

The rules of Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game #1: Pokémon Emergency focus on Pokémon duels as you would expect. Each Trainer selects his Pokémon and chooses which side of the card he will use—this can be switched at the beginning of the round. Pokémon duels are simultaneous, both Trainers or the Narrator and the Trainer rolling to successfully activate and hit the other Pokémon with their Pokémon’s ability, inflicting hits and reducing their opponent’s Hit Points in the process. Some Pokémon have an extra ability when the ‘Pokécoin’ is successfully flipped, such an extra attack, inflicting more hits, healing Hit Points, or even doing damage to the attacking Pokémon. When a Pokémon’s Hit Points are reduced to zero, it faints rather than dies, and if a Pokémon Hit Points get too low and the Trainer has other Pokémon in his Pokédex, he can bring one of them into play instead.

The ‘Rule & Story Book’ is sixty pages long, but it is a small rulebook and the rules—such as they are—take up less than a quarter of the book. The rules for sixty-page Pokémon duels are clearly explained and are supported by a good example of how they work. The remainder of the ‘Rule & Story Book’ consists of stories, ranging length from one to four pages. Depending upon the number of players the playing time for can be as short as five minutes or as long as thirty. Essentially, none of these should challenge the attention span of the players too much and the chance to explore the world of Pokémon and capture more Pokémon to add to their collection should keep them interested (this essentially also being the equivalent of Experience Points in the game).

Physically, Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game #1: Pokémon Emergency is bright and cheerful. The various Pokémon ‘Power Cards’ are nice and sturdy, as are the game’s various counters. The rulebook uses lots of illustrations from the cartoon and is well written, its language direct and simple for the then-Parent with no previous experience with the storytelling type of game to grasp the rules, understand how the game is played, and run it for her children and their friends. Then in a few years, an older child could easily read through the rules and run Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game #1: Pokémon Emergency for his friends. An obvious issue with Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game #1: Pokémon Emergency is that there are only twenty-six Pokémon ‘Power Cards’. Enough to play through the stories in the ‘Rule & Story Book’, but not beyond. Had there been more entries in the Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game series, then that would have solved that issue, but it was not to be.

Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game #1: Pokémon Emergency is a bright, cheerful, and simple game. It uses the basic elements of the Pokémon cartoon to draw the players into the world and get them imagining themselves doing all of the things that they see Ash and his friends doing on screen. It obviously then uses these to inspire both the Parent and the children interact and work together to tell a story and develop a world as they play the game. In the process, it gets everyone roleplaying very quietly and without even mentioning the word. Two decades on in 2020s, there are more than a few roleplaying games designed to introduce younger players to the concept, but what got there first was Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game #1: Pokémon Emergency—and with little in the way of fanfare. It might have very different had the Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game series not been cancelled. It might have been a case of Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game #1: Pokémon Emergency having been many players’ first adventure game, first storytelling game, and first roleplaying game.

Monarchy & Magic

There has always been a connection between the Crown and the country, a connection that has run through king after king, from King Arthur to now. Through this connection, the bloodline and the Crown have always been the living embodiment of the people and the country. If there was sickness was in the Crown it would be reflected in the nation and vice versa. This connection, this Anima Gentum, ensured that the Crown looked to both the spiritual needs and the physical needs of the country. Until now. There is division between the King and Parliament. There is division between King and country. There is division in faith between the Popery of the King, let alone his Catholic wife, and the Anglicanism, even Puritanism, of the common folk of the country. There is division between the Protestantism of the country and the Catholicism of Rome, a division which divides the country from Europe just as it divides Europe and drives the Thirty Years War. There is division between anyone practicing or believing in Pagan practices, who believe the fae and the spirit world to be real—let alone make contact with either, or practice any kind of magic, and the Protestants and Puritans who would liken it to witchcraft or consorting with demons. In country rent with outbreaks of the Plague, decades of religious and dynastic strife—including the war between the Houses of York and Tudor, international rancour, and more, this will not. King and Parliament will make war on each other culminating in the breaking of the Anima Gentum when King Charles is beheaded. Yet even before then, the Veil has been weakened by this division, giving access to the beyond, the Shadowlands, and the Demonic Realms, and so allowing mankind to entreat with things beyond our understanding. The Anima Gentum will be broken, England will be upturned, and the land will have no king.

This is the setting for The End of Kings: Core Rules for 17th Century Adventure, a roleplaying game from MontiDots Creations, best known for publishing horror scenarios such as The Fenworthy Inheritance and scenarios for the Old School Renaissance such as Limbus Infernum. The End of Kings though is the publisher’s first roleplaying game which extends from his interest in recreating the English Civil War. Thus, it is set during the turbulent years of the reign of Charles I and beyond. It is a roleplaying game in which weaselly Vagabonds, stout Commoners and Yeomanry, and gracious members of the Nobility, as Cunning Folk or Woodkernes, Clubmen or Soldiers, Priests or Witch Hunters, Warlocks or Outlaws seek adventure and perhaps work to protect the realm from creatures from beyond the Veil and machinations of those men and women who would take advantage of the weakening of the Veil.

A Player Character in The End of Kings has six attributes—Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Power, and Charisma, which vary in value between three and eighteen. Social Status, including Vagabond, Commoner, Yeoman, and Nobility, determines the character Classes a player can choose from. These are Clubman, Cunning Folk, Outlaw, Pagan Priest, Priest, Soldier, Warlock, Witch Hunter, and Woodkerne. Of these, the Clubman is a commoner who has been mustered or press-ganged into fighting and often wields an improvised weapon; the Pagan Priest is like a druid; and the Woodkerne are bandits or light skirmishers who can perform some magic. To create a character, the player rolls three six-sided dice for each attribute, then derives a number of secondary factors from them, rolls for Social Class and selects a character Class, and assigns skills points to skills, the number of points derived from the primary attributes for each Class. A player can also roll on the Family History table to get a little background, such as an ‘Heirloom’, ‘Poverty in the family’, ‘Believed noble blood’, and so on. The table is skewed in favour of the Noble Social Class, but that would make sense, as they are more likely to be better connected, possess wealth and land, and have a longer family history. The process is not difficult, but is not helped by the often-busy layout and organisation of the rulebook. There notes two on creating period accurate female Player Characters, the both players and Game Master are advised to treat these rules as entirely optional.

The sample Player Character is a servant to her richer cousins who are landed gentry in north Cornwall. Although uneducated and illiterate, she is intelligent and if given the opportunity would be willing to learn. She has been taught some knowledge of the ways of the cunning folk by her aunt, mostly spells that aid the injured and the sick.

Name: Isabel Pennix
Social Class: Commoner
Character Class: Cunning Folk
Faith: Catholic
Literate: No
Age: 16

Family History: Property (Fortified country house with outbuildings, four hides of non-arable land, one hide of arable land, six rural dwellings), Catholic Faith/Bloodline, Wealth in the Family

Strength 09 [–] Constitution 16 [+8%] Dexterity 13 [+02%]
Intelligence 18 [+12%] Power 13 [+02%] Charisma 13 [+02%]

Size: 13 Hit Points: 15
Stability Points: 65
Perception: 80%
Spell Casting Speed: 80%
Spell Resistance: 39%
Balance: 65%
Reaction Speed: 65%
Influence: 65%
Damage Modifier: – Armour Modifier: –

Agriculture 62%, Brew Potion 17%, Craft: Magic Item 15%, Divination 15%, Healing 67%, Improvised Weapon 52%, Language Faerie 32%, Local Knowledge 42%, Lore: Animal 62%, Lore: Arcane 22%, Lore: Faerie 52%, Lore: Plant 62%, Merchant/Barter 32%, Pummel 22%, Religion 47%, Short Blade 42%, Spell Casting 17%, Spot Hidden 62%, Tracking 67%

Potion Recipes Known: Cleanse the Heart
Spells Known: Cure Disease, Draw Poison, Heal Wounds

Mechanically, The End of Kings: Core Rules for 17th Century Adventure employs the GORE Generic Old-School Role-playing Engine published by Goblinoid Games. This is a percentile system which means that anyone familiar with a Basic Roleplay mechanics will have no difficulty adapting to The End of Kings. Attribute checks are rolled against the attribute multiplied by the difficulty factor, from one for almost impossible to six for very easy. For skill rolls, any result which is within five percentile points of skill chance is a critical success—for example, a roll of between eleven and fifteen percent would be critical success for Isabel’s Divination skill, whilst a critical failure is ninety-five percent and above. The various skills are described in some detail and each has a Level of Mastery, again a percentile factor, which measures skill rank. Ranging from Novice to Master, skill rank can indicate how many Power Points a spellcasting character might have, how skilled an NPC he would have to find to gain training in a skill, what he is capable of doing in that skill, such as the type of house for the Architecture skill or the Influence modifier gained when making a Dance check, or it can simply indicate professional recognition. In addition, a Player Character has factors such as Influence, which reflects his persuasiveness and replaces most social interaction skills bar ‘Perform: Oratory’.

Combat uses the same base mechanics. The rules cover surprise, order of action—done by Reaction Speed or Spellcasting Speed, movement, movement and actions, and more, just as you would expect. Optional rules cover bludgeoning, blocking, parrying, pummelling, and wrestling. Sneak attacks include quick knockouts and shots from afar, whilst blackpowder weapons and their use are also detailed. Blackpowder weapons are noisy, one-shot affairs, and beyond opening shots, most combats will become physical. Armour is available, but is bulky and does not provide a great deal of protection, especially against firearms whose damage rolls explode. In other words, if maximum damage is rolled, the dice are rolled again and added. Most melee weapon damage is rolled on a four, six, or eight-sided die, whilst blackpowder weapons are rolled on an eight, ten, twelve-sided die. A critical success on an attack always means that maximum damage is rolled and in general, armour is ignored. Thus, a critical success with a firearm is likely to be fatal! The weapons include cannon and the roleplaying game goes into some detail about these and the numerous types of weapons available in the seventeenth century. All useful information for the uninitiated.

Fear and reaction to the horrifying is handled through Stability, with Power representing a Player Character’s ability to cope with shocks and Stability Points his state of mind. The Fear Rating, from ‘Type 1: Mild’ to ‘Type 6: Terrifying’ modifies the Power attribute roll to be made and suggests number of Stability Points to be lost, whether or not the roll is successful. For example, witnessing the violent death of a friend or ally, an angry spirit, phantom hound, or ghost of a dead ancestor, or a coven of witches in flight has a Fear Rating of ‘Type 3: Strong’. The Fear check in this case would be the Player Character’s Power multiplied by three and if successful, the Player Character would lose two Stability Points, but as many as nine if failed. As the Player Character’s Stability Points fall below fifty percent, he becomes first Nervous, then Unstable, and finally Insane. This increases the Fear Rating of any shocking encounter and the likelihood of losing more Stability Points, which is a brutal spiral into insanity. Conversely, Stability Points of above sixty decrease the Fear Rating, and some Classes have immunity to certain sources of fear, such as battlefield trauma for Clubmen and Soldiers, common faerie for Cunning folk, Pagan Priests, and WoodKerne, and so on. Overcoming horrific encounters and routing out their source will restore a Player Character’s Stability Points.

Numerous Classes in The End of Kings have access to magic and can cast spells as well as work other magical effects. Cunning Folk use recipes, brew potions, and can contact both faeries and spirits; Pagan Priests have dealings with faeries and spirits and work with nature; Priests specialise in wards and healing spells; Warlocks explore the physical and spiritual world through science and the esoteric arts learned from ancient texts; Witch Hunters specialise in detection and protection spells; and Woodkerne have knowledge of the faerie and can create charms of various kinds. Spellcasting involves a player rolling against the skill of the same name. The rules cover rituals and incantations and the gaining of a familiar and the gifts that such a companion will provide, as well as a lengthy list of spells. Some are quite detailed, such as the Divination spell. It is also possible to delve into the world of alchemy and the creation of magical items, and numerous example potions and devices are described, including crosses, Cupid’s Kiss, charms and wards, books holy and unholy, and fairy rings—the latter important locations should the Player Characters want access the Glimmering Lands and to communicate with the local sylvan folk. It is possible to create magical blades and bullets, but their inclusion does seem to lessen the effects and influence of magic upon the world if access to them is too easy.

In terms of background, The End of Kings details money and equipment, transport and travel—including by foot, horse, carriage, and ship, as well as the possibilities of flight, though that is reserved for those who have the magical knowledge necessary. Architecture of the period is described, as is the cosmology, primarily exploring beyond the Veil which separates the mundane world from the magical world. Details of numerous creatures are also included, from the mundane to the magical, especially the fairie and their magics. These are decently described, and they all have their own Fear Checks. The same goes for the various visitors from the Veil, including spirits, apparitions, spectres, and vampires, and the demons and devils from Below… The range of creatures and things around which the Game Master can create mysteries and plots is fairly comprehensive. The general background of the period is also covered, ranging from household inventories, the law, and thieves’ cant to superstitions, the Plague, and witch trials. A timeline runs from the late fifteenth century to the late seventeenth century.

The alternative background to The End of Kings links the turbulent history of England to the relationship between the crown and the Anima Gentum. In particular, the Occuli Albionis—also known as the Star Chamber for room where its members met—plays a similarly fluctuating role in this, its wizards, warlocks, alchemists, and priests from the Church and Court College of Alchemy undertaking various tasks depending upon the whim of the monarch and his advisors. Originally assigned protect the country from magic at home and abroad, at times they were disbanded in complete distrust, at others tasked with viciously rooting out Catholics and other heretics and magical practitioners who were a threat to the country, and then shutdown and its members forced to flee or subject to persecution at other times. Extending to take in a history of the Vatican and the numerous Popes, all of whom had a very different attitude to magic, as well as doing the same for the Ottoman Empire, this history does sprawl. There is so much history in the book that it is almost difficult to quite know when the default setting is for The End of Kings.

Rounding out The End of Kings is a full scenario, ‘Five Lords A’leaping’. Set a hundred miles or so north of London in and around the village of Foxton Weir, it sees the Player Characters become involved in the local politics of the area and machinations of the local Catholic lord when one of their number, one of the Cunning Folk, receives a cry for help in a dream. The sender beseeches the Player Character to help protect the village and find out what is going on there, pointing to her croft where help and secrets are to be found. Ultimately, the Player Characters will face bandits, discover that the local lord is up to no good, and hopefully rescue the sender of the dream. It is a short, straightforward enough scenario which should provide a couple of sessions’ worth of play. It does require that one of the Player Characters be a Cunning Folk and another a Priest. Otherwise, it is a decent introduction to The End of Kings.

Physically, The End of Kings is hit and miss. It uses a lot of period artwork as well as many of the author’s own, and even photographs from period re-enactments. However, the cartography is plain at best, uninspiring at worst, and the author never really gets to illustrate anyone of the period. It needs an edit here and there too, but the main issue with The End of Kings is that it is disorganised, with parts not arranged in alphabetical order hen in other sections they are, and that it often overwhelms the reader with its wealth of detail.

The End of Kings: Core Rules for 17th Century Adventure is rough and not quite ready. It provides the Game Master with a wealth of detail, but not a focus or an explanation of quite what it is that the Player Characters are supposed to be doing in the setting. Let alone the fact that it is not quite clear when the default is. That wealth of detail also sprawls across the book, making it difficult to extract information or decide what to do with The End of Kings. There are no campaign frameworks or ideas, and advice for the Game Master is light.

The End of Kings: Core Rules for 17th Century Adventure is clearly a labour of love for the designer and publisher. Far from unplayable, bringing it to the table should prove to be, if not a daunting challenge for any Game Master, then one requiring a bit more effort then it should, 
but perhaps with further development and editing, The End of Kings: Core Rules for 17th Century Adventure may prove to be otherwise.

Saturday 24 September 2022

Sullen Structure

The continent of Zyl-Kaduun—also known as Kaduun or ‘the Sullenlands’ after its once-beloved king, Redgold Sullen is broken not once, but twice! Zyl-Kaduun is broken because King Redgold, who unified the lands of Zyl-Kaduun, is dead and his heir, a daughter, is missing, and the only king is King Ravianwhurst, whose rule from the City of Eldercliff in the far southwest of the continent barely reaches the borders of his own province. Thus, much of Zyl-Kaduun remain broken and ungoverned. Zyl-Kaduun is broken because a once in seven generations conjunction of the thirteen moons has occurred and the God Mist has descended upon the land. No longer can the gods see their worshippers, no longer can worshippers reach out to their gods for guidance and succour. No longer can priests and wizards cast their magics with any degree of predictability or safety—if they ever could. Even heathens who do worship the gods or have the wherewithal to practise magic may be beset by the unpredictability of the God Mist. Worse, with the separation of the gods from Zyl-Kaduun, the Dark Chorus—Kreathorne the Boiler of Souls, Vlox of Between Things, and the carrion crow goddess Malotoch—all seek to take advantage of the situation, grow their followers, and gain in power and influence such that they can become more than mere minor gods! This is the situation across the continent of Zyl-Kaduun, although few if any, realise quite why of Zyl-Kaduun is broken, and on which the Player Characters will explore and discover in The Sullenlands Adventure Omnibus & Guide.

The Sullenlands Adventure Omnibus & Guide is a mini-campaign and guide for use with the Dungeon Crawl Classics RolePlaying Game from Goodman Games. Published by Purple Sorcerer Games, it collates three scenarios by the same author, provides background details of the Sullenlands, the setting for all three scenarios, as well as adding a fourth, new, mini-scenario. The three scenarios, ‘Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry’, ‘The Frost Fang Expedition’, and ‘The Crypt in Cadaver Canyon’, take the Player Characters from Zero Level to Second Level in a campaign which will take them across the Sullenlands and reveal a little of the setting’s secrets. These are only the key scenarios though, for the map given in 
The Sullenlands Adventure Omnibus & Guide has plenty of bank spots where the Judge can insert adventures of her own design or prewritten. If she plans to continue her Sullenlands campaign beyond the three core scenarios, this is something she will need to do.

After a foreword explaining both the author’s introduction and reintroduction to roleplaying games, 
The Sullenlands Adventure Omnibus & Guide opens with ‘Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry’. Set in the village of Bitterweed Barrow, this is a Character Funnel, in which initially, a player is expected to roll up three or four Level Zero characters and have them play through a generally nasty, deadly adventure, which surviving will prove a challenge. Those that do survive receive enough Experience Points to advance to First Level and gain all of the advantages of their Class. In the scenario, a local, well-to-do halfling, known for his excellent hat, has not been seen for a few days and so the villagers—the Player Character—assemble to investigate his house. When they do, they discover a tunnel leading deep into the ground. Amounting to just twelve locations, the scenario and dungeon complex are fairly linear, with just the occasional side passage or room. This perfectly suits a Character Funnel, which designed to have Zero Level Player Characters dropped in at one end, and a mix of corpses and First Level Player Characters squirted out at the other.

The various rooms and locations are nicely detailed and not all of them involve deadly encounters, but the mix of monsters will whittle down the would-be adventurers until they face the first of two confrontations in the dungeon. There is one which solves the mystery that triggers the adventure and one that solves the mystery that becomes apparent as the dungeon is explored. Along the way, the Player Characters will find some interesting equipment and magical items that will help them, as well as the ability to cast a spell or two. The survivors will have found Nebin Pendlebrook, learned a secret or two about the complex beneath the village of Bitterweed Barrow, and hints about the greater situation in the Sullenlands. It is designed to be played in a number of different ways. It could of course be played by a standard party of First Level characters, but the Judge might want to add a monster or two to each encounter because as written they do not represent too much of a challenge. Alternatively, it can be run as a ‘Character Funnel’ in one of two ways. The first is as an ‘Instant Action Adventure’, one that can be run in a single four-hour session, including character creation, making it suitable for play at a convention or a demonstration game in a hobby store. The second is as standard scenario, allowing the players to take a bit of time creating their characters and establishing themselves in the Bitterweed Barrow and their relationships with each other, checking for rumours, buying equipment, and so on. Then it is off into the depths of the missing Halfling’s pantry… There is good staging advice for the Judge to round the adventure off.

The Frost Fang Expedition’ is the second adventure and is designed for four to eight First Level adventurers. It takes the Player Characters to Village of Neverthawes in the shadow of the Frost Fang Mountains. The village is famous for the enormous chunk of earth hovering above it, upon which stands the castle of the wizard, Dagon the Doleful. In recent days, the castle’s lights have grown dark, and chunks of earth have reined down upon the village, and it is feared that the island and its castle will crash down upon Neverthawes and crush everyone in the village. As villager after villager prepares themselves to flee, the local priest and the last Dwarven descendant of the head of the now abandoned Ardokk mines are preparing to lead an expedition up the mountain and across the bridge to Dagon the Doleful’s castle.

Unfortunately, neither of the expedition’s leaders can agree upon their eventual aim once they get to the castle, the Dwarf believing that the only good wizard is a dead wizard… Either way, the expedition’s aim is to determine if the old wizard inside the castle is still alive, and if anything can be done to keep the castle afloat.

Like ‘Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry’ before it, ‘The Frost Fang Expedition’ is a linear adventure. The expedition and the Player Characters climb up Frost Fang Mountain, following the steep path which winds it way around and through the mountain. The path does split, so the Player Characters do have a choice, both routes offering entertaining encounters—either a cow-medusa hybrid thing called a Moodusa or a talking goat looking to extort passers-by… These are not the only weird encounters to be had up the mountain, two of them involving ambulatory buildings! There are plenty of smaller encounters two before the Player Characters have to scramble across the rope to the castle not unlike Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There is even a table to roll on if they fall or are shot off the bridge by the strange humanoids who live up the mountain.

As the Player Characters travel up the mountain, the two expedition leaders will be bickering with other and there is scope for the Judge to play the two off against each other and the Player Characters. In addition, the Player Characters will suffer visions that give hints as to the situation on Frost Fang Mountain. As to what is going on in the castle, it is fairly complex, and the Judge will need to read through the background and possible outcomes with care as there is no easy solution to the situation. Appendices detail the expedition leaders, provide simplified rules for spell duelling, the situation, a possible patron for the Player Characters, and a guide to linking the scenario to ‘Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry’. It is a surprisingly big adventure and whilst like ‘Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry’, it is designed to be used as an ‘Instant Action Adventure’, a great deal has to be excised from the content for it be run within a four-hour session at a convention. Otherwise, ‘The Frost Fang Expedition’ is an entertaining affair and should actually provide several sessions’ worth of play.

The Crypt in Cadaver Canyon’ is the third scenario and shifts the action far to the south of the Sullenlands in the Bleaklands Desert. This does mean that there is a bit of a physical distance between its location and that of the previous two scenarios. Here there is plenty of space for the Judge to insert content of her own and potentially, the Judge may also want to bump up the Level requirements for the scenario, which is designed for four to six Second Level Player Characters, if she adds content in-between. The scenario begins in the partially hidden City in the Cliffs, built into the side of the Crimson Canyon on the Deep Scratch River. The city has a ritual it must enact every thirteen years. This is that a birth-marked chosen one must be sacrificed to a desert god known as Bulda­katak the Burning Warthog, so that he will not destroy the city along with its two-thousand inhabitants. Unfortunately, the last known birth-marked candidate was acciden­tally executed as a thief by the city’s ruling Council of Thirteen and her body uncer­emoniously sent floating down the Deep Scratch River to the Crypt in Cadaver Canyon. The Council intends to resurrect the thief long enough to sacrifice her to Buldakatak and save the city, but first, the body must be retrieved. Which is where the Player Characters come in.

The scenario can either start with the Player Characters arriving in the city and exploring it, earning more about what is going on, or it can leap straight into the action on a boat travelling down the Deep Scratch River. Again, ‘The Crypt in Cadaver Canyon’ is a linear adventure, this one down a river rather than up a mountain. There are fewer deviations, and the scenario makes a great deal of its desert setting, giving it something of Swords & Sorcery feel as the Player Character sail down the river to lands of the dead in the nearby cavern. There is course, a twist or two at the end, which make the scenario not as straightforward as it first seems, and the scenario is supported with several appendices detailing various desert encounters and giving solid staging advice for the Judge. If there is an issue here it is that although the notes do suggest links to get to ‘The Crypt in Cadaver Canyon’ from the previous two scenarios, there are none on what to do in-between. There is advice too on how to make the scenario a four-hour or convention game, but ‘The Crypt in Cadaver Canyon’ really needs more than the single session to play through.

Roughly a third of 
The Sullenlands Adventure Omnibus & Guide is devoted to the setting’s background. This includes a map with empty spots and name tags for the Judge to add her own content, a history of the region and description of its current situation, a discussion of its themes, a gazetteer—paying particular attention to the Sullenlands capital of Eldercliff and adding more detail to the City in the Cliff, and more. Bar the inclusion of the gods who play a role in the scenarios and the Dwarven gods, the Judge and her players are left to decide what other gods are worshipped, but there are tables for how the God Mist affects spellcasters and non-spellcasters. The Dwarven Cleric is added as a new Class to accompany the description of the Dwarven gods, and for the Judge, there is a toolbox of extra details including festivals, thieves’ guilds, herbs, treasures (such as a Holy Hornet’s Nest and a fire-resistant Weeping Cloak), and a list of random place names for when the players decide their characters go exploring. There is also a ‘Character Death Table’ which give a Player Character one last hurrah, a short bestiary complete with encounter suggestions for each entry, various encounter tables, and even a set of tables entitled ‘The Judge’s Retort!’ to make misses in combat a bit more interesting. Here at last is ‘Tips on Tying the Adventures Together’, a useful section which could have been placed much earlier in the book and made more obvious given how there are notes earlier on linking the scenarios, if only loosely, together.

Rounding out 
The Sullenlands Adventure Omnibus & Guide is the fourth adventure in the supplement. ‘The Bellows of Bromforge’ is a mini-adventure designed for four to eight Second Level Player Characters which takes in place in the great dwarven fortress of Bromforge, where something has affected the great furnaces in the city of Glimmervault. It is again short and linear, and has more the feel of a traditional dungeon adventure than the other adventures in the supplement. It is decent little adventure, nicely illustrated, which brings the Player Characters into contact with a new interpretation of a traditional Dungeons & Dragons foe.

The Sullenlands Adventure Omnibus & Guide is solid, digest-sized hardback. Although it needs a slight edit in places, the cartography and artwork are decent. The main problem though, is the organisation. Having the background information and advice on running the three scenarios in the supplement at the back of the book is unhelpful and counterintuitive, making the content not as easy to prepare or even run as it should be.

The Sullenlands Adventure Omnibus & Guide has the makings of a good mini-campaign for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, but needs no little effort upon the part of the Judge. The individual scenarios are relatively easy to prepare and run, but linking the four scenarios in the supplement and then running them will take extra effort. All down to the poor organisation and the extra content which such a campaign would need to flesh it out. This fleshing out is necessary because the scenarios never get as far as fully exploring the background to the Sullenlands and further linking scenarios would help with that—as would further scenarios designed for Player Characters of higher Levels. Hopefully, there will be an anthology of further scenarios to help flesh out the campaign.

The Sullenlands Adventure Omnibus & Guide is full of entertaining, playable content, but it just lacks the organisation and development to really help the Judge to prepare it and bring it to the table for her players.

Friday 23 September 2022

Solitaire: Caltrop Kaiju

Imagine if a giant monster, a Kaiju, attacked the city where you lived? Stormed ashore and began stomping across one neighbourhood to the next, one district to the next? Crushing cars underfoot, smashing buildings, driving thousands upon thousands out of the city to flee to safety? Do you have friends and family in the city, and can you ensure their safety, let alone your own? As you move back and forth across the city, you will see the Kaiju again and again, and perhaps discern its weakness. Armed with that knowledge there are those who bring it to bear—the military, whose forces can drive the Kaiju from the city and back into the sea! It sounds like a film starring Godzilla, or Gojira, but is in fact the set-up and play for Caltrop Kaiju: A Monstrously fun and fast-paced TTRPG published by Button Kin Games. This is a small game which can be played in two ways, both of which are in solo mode. The first is as a mini-board game, whilst the second is as a solo roleplaying game in which the player keeps a diary of both his character’s actions and those of the Kaiju, much like other solo journaling game such as Thousand-Year-Old Vampire.

Caltrop Kaiju: A Monstrously fun and fast-paced TTRPG is designed to be played by one player aged ten and up. It requires a seven-by-seven grid to represent the city, marked with locations such as the nuclear power plant, city hall, and telecommunications tower, a two four-sided dice (the ‘Caltrop’ of the game’s title comes from the use of this die type), and a token to represent the player and a token to represent the Kaiju. The Kaiju comes ashore at the harbour and the game starts from there, whilst the player begins play in his mountain home. The player moves first, then the Kaiju. The player can only move one space, but the Kaiju moves three spaces in a randomly determined direction. As the Kaiju travels, it does damage to each square or each neighbourhood it passes through. If it passes through a neighbourhood three times, it is completely destroyed and becomes impassable for the player. The player can pass through partially destroyed locations, but whether due to the falling wreckage, flailing power lines, explosions, or collapsing buildings, there is a chance that he will be wounded. This means that the player rolls at a disadvantage on all die rolls. If the Kaiju does damage to the various locations, there are extra effects. For example, destroy the nuclear power plant and all of the surrounding squares are also destroyed!

In the short term, the aim of Caltrop Kaiju is for the player to trail the Kaiju and gain sightings of the gargantuan beast—hopefully whilst avoiding being stomped on and so wounded. If the Kaiju passes through the same square as the player, there is the chance that it will wound or even kill him in a dramatic fashion. However, from the same square as the Kaiju or an adjacent square—where there is no chance of the player being stomped—the player can attempt to gain a sighting of the leviathan. With each sighting, there is a chance that the player will learn the Kaiju’s weakness (if unsuccessful, the player automatically learns this weakness on the fifth attempt). Armed with that knowledge, the player can search for the secret military base, which necessitates a die roll, and if successful, pass on the knowledge to the military whose forces will attack the Kaiju and force back into the sea. However, the Kaiju now has the player’s scent and will be actively hunting him. Although the Kaiju is slowed as it hunts, the game becomes a race to find the base and pass the knowledge of the monster’s weakness before the player is stomped on or zapped or burned to a crisp. If that happens, the player, of course, loses the game.

Caltrop Kaiju is a simple mix of puzzle and programmed movement with the player playing against the game and the Kaiju. It can be enhanced and become something else if the player records a journal of his travails across the city in the wake of the massive monster, what he sees, and what he discovers about the Kaiju. To set this up, Caltrop Kaiju suggests the player answer a few questions, such as who his character is, how he is the best person to determine the Kaiju’s weakness, what family he has in the city, and more. The player is also free to determine what sort of Kaiju the attacking beast is and what its weakness is. In this mode, the player records a journal of his character’s success or a journal of his character’s failure that will be found on his dead body in the rubble of the city long after the Kaiju has wandered back into the sea…

In comparison to other journaling games, Caltrop Kaiju is lacking in terms of tables and thus prompts. Other journaling games have numerous tables that the player can roll on or draw cards for, and use the indicated prompt to drive the narrative being recorded in the journal. Caltrop Kaiju lacks these. There are no tables for the type of Kaiju, its powers, or its weakness, or who and where the character’s loved ones are. There is a table for describing otherwise empty neighbourhoods, which though useful, seems an odd inclusion given the lack of other tables. With that lack of other tables, there is not perhaps the replayability of other journaling games because there is not the obvious variability.

Physically, Caltrop Kaiju is cleanly and tidily presented. Despite being a British game, it is written in American English which might be confusing for a younger audience. 

Caltrop Kaiju: A Monstrously fun and fast-paced TTRPG is a small game about a big event and facing a big behemoth. On one level, it is a simple puzzle, but on the other, it has the scope to tell a classic tale of man versus a colossal Kaiju tale in a modern city, done as an exercise in creative writing. However, if the player wants to return to the city and once again, face the Caltrop Kaiju, he may well want to create some random tables of his own to add a wider degree of variability.

Cable Cars & Souvenirs

The very latest entry in the Ticket to Ride franchise is Ticket to Ride: San Francisco. Like those other Ticket to Ride games, it is another card-drawing, route-claiming board game based around transport links and like those other Ticket to Ride games, it uses the same mechanics. Thus the players will draw Transportation cards and then use them to claim Routes and by claiming Routes, link the two locations marked on Destination Tickets, the aim being to gain as many points as possible by claiming Routes and completing Destination Tickets, whilst avoiding losing by failing to complete Destination Tickets. Yet rather than being another big box game like the original Ticket to RideTicket to Ride: Europe, or Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, it takes its cue from Ticket to Ride: New YorkTicket to Ride: London, and Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam. Part of the cities series for Ticket to Ride, it is thus a smaller game designed for fewer players with a shorter playing time, a game based around a city rather than a country or a continent. It is also notably different in terms of theme and period.

Published by Days of Wonder and designed for play by two to four players, aged eight and up, Ticket to Ride: San Francisco is easy to learn, can be played out of the box in five minutes, and played through in less than twenty minutes. As with the other entries in the Ticket to Ride ‘City’ series, Ticket to Ride: San Francisco sees the players race across the city attempting to connect its various tourist hotspots. Ticket to Ride: New York had the players racing across Manhattan in the nineteen fifties via taxis and Ticket to Ride: London had the players racing across London in the nineteen sixties aboard the classic double-decker buses, although Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam took the series back to the seventeenth century and had the players fulfilling Contracts by delivering goods across the Dutch port by horse and cart and claiming Merchandise Bonus if they take the right route. Ticket to Ride: San Francisco continues the lack of trains in the series by having the players travel around ‘The City by the Bay’ aboard its icon form of transportation—the cable car! In Ticket to Ride: San Francisco, the players can take the ferry from Pier 39 to Alcatraz, travel to the Golden Gate Bridge, and stop off at Sunset or Potrero Hill, and if they do, collect some souvenirs too!

Inside the small box can be found a small board which depicts the centre of San Francisco, from the Golden Gate Bridge in the northwest to Potrero Hill in the southeast and Sunset in the southwest to Alcatraz in the northeast. Notably, several of the destinations are marked in red, including Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge, Potrero Hill, Sunset, and The Embarcadero. This is where the Tourist Tokens—representing the souvenirs collected by the players when they connect to those destinations—are placed at the start of play. There are also the expected Cable Car pieces (as opposed to the trains of standard Ticket to Ride), the Transportation cards drawn and used to claim routes between destinations, and the Destination Tickets indicating which two Destinations need to be connected to be completed. The Cable Car pieces are nicely sculpted and can actually be seen through from one side to the other. Each player has twenty of these at the start of the game. The Transportation cards come in the standard colours for Ticket to Ride, but are illustrated with a different form of transport for each colour. So black is illustrated with a bus, blue with a tram, green with a car not unlike the Ford Mustang as driven by Steve McQueen in the film Bullitt (which of course is set in the city), purple with a Volkswagen Camper, and so on. This really makes the cards stand out and easier to view for anyone who suffers from colour blindness. Similarly, the Destination Tickets are bright, colourful, and easy to read. As expected, the rules leaflet is clearly written, easy to understand, and the opening pages show how to set up the game. It can be read through in mere minutes and play started all but immediately.

The board itself is also bright and colourful. The scoring track round the edge of the board is done as a series of cable car tickets in keeping with the form of transport used in Ticket to Ride: San Francisco. Most routes are one, two, or three spaces in length, and there is one five-space route. One difference with the previous titles in the series is that it includes ferries, the slightly more complex routes first seen in Ticket to Ride: Europe, though only three of them, two of which go to Alcatraz. There is a very knowing joke on the board. 

Play in Ticket to Ride: San Francisco is the same as standard Ticket to Ride. Each player starts the game with some Destination Tickets and some Transportation cards. On his turn, a player can take one of three actions. Either draw two Transportation cards; draw two Destination Tickets and either keep one or two, but must keep one; or claim a route between two connected Locations. To claim a route, a player must expend a number of cards equal to its length, either matching the colour of the route or a mix of matching colour cards and the multi-coloured cards, which essentially act as wild cards. Some routes are marked in grey and so can use any set of colours or multi-coloured cards. Three routes are ferry routes and require a Ferry or multicolour Transportation card and the indicated number of Transportation cards in the right colour to claim. 

When a player claims a route connected with one of the cities with the Tourist Tokens on it, he takes one Tourist Token. At the end of the game, each player will be awarded a number of points depending on how many Tourist Tokens he has collected. This is reminiscent of, is the Stock Share cards of the Pennsylvania map from Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 5: United Kingdom + Pennsylvania. In that expansion, every time a player claimed a route, he could in most cases, also claim a Stock Share card in a particular company. At the end of the game, a player would score bonus points depending upon the number of Stock Share cards he held in the various companies in the expansion. In that expansion though, all routes had a Stock Share reward, but in Ticket to Ride: San Francisco, they can only be gained from five Destinations on the outer edge of the map and two other locations. These other locations can be anywhere on the map and are chosen by the two players who go last in the turn order.

The number of Tourist Tokens each player has at the end of the game can tip the balance and potentially help a player win the game. However, their limited location limits access to them, as can the Destination Tickets each player draws and completes over the course of the game. Only half of the Destination Tickets in the game have Destinations with Tourist Tokens. This means that a player should take this into account when drawing and discarding Destination Tickets as it will alter his score at the end of the game. This can be offset by the placement of the Tourist Tokens by the last two players in the turn order during the set-up of the game, which adds an element of randomness. Connecting to Destinations with Tourist Tokens can counter one issue with Ticket to Ride: San Francisco and that is it is possible to draw Destination Tickets it is impossible to complete because a player can only draw two and must keep one. So a possible strategy might be to complete a fewer number of Destination Tickets and try to get more Tourist Tokens instead.

Physically, Ticket to Ride: San Francisco is very nicely produced. It is bright and breezy and has a very sunny disposition. Everything is produced to the high standard you would expect for a Ticket to Ride game.

Like Ticket to Ride: New York, Ticket to Ride: London, and Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam, what Ticket to Ride: San Francisco offers is all of the play of Ticket to Ride in a smaller, faster playing version, that is easy to learn and easy to transport. In comparison to those games, it is tighter with players needing to more carefully balance the number of Destination Tickets they attempt to complete versus the number of Tourist Tokens they can grab. Ticket to Ride: San Francisco is a great addition to the Ticket to Ride family, offering fast, competitive play, and tactical choice in an attractive, thematic box.