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

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.

Physically, 
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.

Overall, 
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, 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.

Monday, 19 September 2022

Miskatonic Monday #130: A Small Tremor in the Mountains

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.

—oOo—

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Laurie Hedge

Setting: Modern Day Iceland
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Twenty-two page, 1.18 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: What scares the scary down below?
Plot Hook: Earthquake opens a new cave network. What thrills and treasures does it hide?
Plot Support: Staging advice, cave plans, three NPCs, two Mythos monsters, some vermin, and a Chase diagram. 
Production Values: Decent.

Pros
# Linear, physically-orientated one-shot
# Claustrophobia
# Speluncaphobia
# Good use of the Chase mechanics
# Dramatic finale
# Finally, an Investigator gets to use the Climb and Jump skills!

Cons
# Primary NPC actions poorly handled
# Needs a slight edit and localisation
# Little scope for Adventurer/Mythos interaction or finding out what is going on in the scenario
# Main Mythos threat not really a threat, not even to the Minor Mythos threat—until dislodged.
# Finale kicks in with little time for interaction

Conclusion
# One-shot with strong physical element puts the adventurers on the path to confrontation with—and desperate escape from—the Mythos, ending in a good use the Chase mechanic.
# Backstory remains hidden and the main Mythos threat is not a threat until dislodged.

Miskatonic Monday #129: Radio Killed Verna Starr

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.

—oOo—

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Michael Schaal

Setting: Jazz Age Pennsylvania
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Thirteen page, 2.83 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Radio control in rural Pennsylvania
Plot Hook: Strange deaths in small town Pennsylvania reveal the dangers of new technology
Plot Support: Staging advice, three handouts, six NPCs, one Mythos monster, and one Mythos entity. 
Production Values: Decent.

Pros
# Weird first encounter 
# Works as a single Investigator scenario
# Keeper can prepare period recordings as handouts and atmosphere
# Switch to the 1950s for televisiophobia?
# Radiophobia
# Pun title
# Finally, an Investigator gets to use the Electrical Repair skill!

Cons
# Underwhelming hook for the Investigators
# Needs a strong edit
# First encounter should be the hook
# NPCs with similar names
# Pun title

Conclusion
# Weird first encounter signals an entertaining period side-trek Call of Cthulhu investigation highlighting our fears of technology and the new.
# Pun title does give the plot away, but solidly plotted, easy to run twist upon the zombie horror genre (and back again).

Sunday, 18 September 2022

Cyberpunk IV

Cyberpunk
 is back. Or rather it returned in 2019. The original roleplaying game which drew from Cyberpunk literary subgenre—of which William Gibson’s Neuromancer was a leading example—was first published by R. Talsorian Games Inc. in 1988 as Cyberpunk (now known as Cyberpunk 2013) before being given a second edition with Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. in 1990. Putting aside the less than well-received Cyberpunk V3.0 of 2005, what is in effect the fourth edition of the roleplaying game—Cyberpunk RED: The Roleplaying Game of the Dark Future—came out ahead of the highly anticipated computer roleplaying game, Cyberpunk 2077, but was not only designed as a standalone roleplaying game in its own right, being set in the year 2045, it also serves as a bridge between the period of Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. and the computer game. Thus there is much that will be familiar to the Game Master and the player of Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. There are the same ten character Roles, many of the MegaCorporations are still present, the same Interlock mechanics are used, as is the ‘Friday Night Firefight’ combat system. However, Cyberpunk RED has almost post-Post Apocalypse feel to it, taking place in and around a city which is recovering and suffering from environmental and radiation damage, the influence of the MegaCorporations has been reduced, and mechanically, the Interlock system has been streamlined for ease of play.

Cyberpunk Red: The Roleplaying Game of the Dark Future takes place in the Time of the Red. The Golden Age of Cyberpunk, of freewheeling embrace of technology, acceptance of cyberware as a way of life, of easy access to the NET where Netrunning console cowboys and cowgirls jockeyed for prestige as raided corporate networks, of the massive growth of corporations as extraterritorial entities, all radically dividing the future into one of extreme haves and havenots... That ended on August 20th, 2023, when a ‘pocket nuke’ was detonated in the Arasaka headquarters in the west coast metroplex of Night City. It ended the Fourth Corporate War between Arasaka and Militech, devastated Night City, and brought economic and environmental devastation to the world, causing a depression which continues two decades on... It ended corporate domination, reducing corporations to being local and international; turned much of the USA into a new Wild West where safe travel could often only be promised by the Nomad tribes. For years after the nuclear detonation, the sky was red and still is at dawn dusk, leading the new age to be known as the Time of the Red.

Night City is a frontier town, an independent city state rebuilding after the effects of the bomb. Services, supplies, and law enforcement are what you pay for. The reduced corporations still supply and provide almost everything, from power to food to medical services to media, with goods often brought in by Nomad tribes that run transport in the new North America, independents do grow real food though, and whilst the corporations have their own security, freelancers and bodyguards are available for hire, though the city maintains a Maximum Force Tactical Division or ‘Psycho Squad’ or ‘MAX–TAC’ which handles cybernetic criminals or anyone suffering from Cyberpsychosis. As inhabitants of Night City, you get your information from city wide freestanding dataterms and news from screamsheets downloaded to a personal agent helps you with your daily life from phone calls to shopping; you wear clothing able to emit sounds and video, even monitor your condition; you do your shopping at self-contained, armed and armoured Vendits; you eat kibble or good prepack food if you can; and you go armed. Either a Polymer One-shot easily bought or printed, or something bigger purchased from a Fixer after it has been scavenged from the Fourth Corporate War or smuggled into the city and purchased at a secret Night Market. The same goes for Cyberware...

The world of Cyberpunk RED is violent, neon cast, and dominated by technology to the point where it has been subsumed into the body. Cyberware enables humanity to be faster, stronger, have better senses, and more. Some have reacted to this mechanical invasion of the body with technoshock, but other have embraced it, living on the edge, taking advantage of their enhancements to be able to rip doors off with their cyberarms, drive their car or aerodyne with inhuman reflexes via interface plugs, tune into the infrared with cybereyes, or even cast their consciousness into local NET architectures at the speed of data. All to survive, make money, and build their rep. They are known as Edgerunners.

In terms of what you can play, Cyberpunk RED offers ten Roles or Edgerunner types—Execs, Fixers, Lawmen, Medias, Medtechs, Netrunners, Nomads, Rockerboys, Solos, and Techs. Execs represent the MegaCorporations, protecting their interests and reputations; Fixers are dealmakers smugglers, organisers, and information brokers; Lawmen enforce what law they can on the streets and the highways; Medias are journalists, media stars, and influencers who bright stories to light and make names for themselves; MedTechs are street doctors, capable of patching up wounds and damage to flesh and metal alike; Netrunners are the cybernetic master hackers of the post-NET world and brain burning secret stealers; Nomads are transportation experts and the ultimate road warriors; Rockerboys are rock and roll rebels who use performance and rhetoric to fight authority; Solos are assassins bodyguards, killers, and soldiers for hire in a lawless new world; and Techs are renegade mechanics and inventors who build devices and keep others running.

An Edgerunner has ten stats—Body, Cool, Dexterity, Empathy, Intelligence, Luck, Move, Reflexes, Technique, and Willpower—typically ranging between one and eight, but can be higher. Of these, Empathy is important because it helps withstand the potential effects of Cyberpsychosis, and is primarily lost due to the implantation of cyberware. The Luck stat is used as a pool of points to apply to skill rolls if needed. It refreshes at the start of each session. In addition, an Edgerunner will have numerous skills, again rated on a one to ten scale, as well as various items of cyberware and equipment. Each Role has its own Role Ability, also on the same scale. The Exec builds on ‘Teamwork’, gaining all the corporate benefits of being employed—housing, health insurance, and more—as well as loyal team members to do his bidding, such as a bodyguard, driver, netrunner, or spy. The Fixer has ‘Operator’ which represents his contacts and reach as well as his skill at haggling. The Lawman has , indicating the number of law enforcement officers he can call into help. The Media has ‘Credibility’ and can get rumours, gain access and sources for stories, and build both an audience and his believability. The Medtech has ‘Medicine’ which enables him to perform surgery, operate medical technology, and use pharmaceuticals. The Netrunner has ‘Combat Awareness’ which enables him to run the Net and do various actions within the Net. The Nomad has ‘Moto’ which represents their familiarity with vehicles and the various types of vehicles he has access to in the family motorpool and can upgrade. The Rockerboys has ‘Charismatic Impact’ which determines the size of clubs he can play and his ability to affect his fans, from one to a single group. The Solo has ‘Combat Awareness’, which lets his player determine his combat effectiveness from round to round, such as Damage Deflection, Precision Attack, and Threat Detection. The Tech has ‘Maker’ which enables him to specialise in various types of expertise, such as Field Expertise, Upgrade Expertise, Fabrication Expertise, and Invention Expertise, and so repair, invent, and improve technology.

Not all of the Role Abilities are necessarily that easy to use or bring into play or even that interesting. The ‘Combat Awareness’ of the Solo will always be useful in a fight whereas the 
‘Backup’ Ability of the Lawman has a limited use—after all, how many times can he call for backup? Most of the Role Abilities of the other Roles have specific uses, and whilst in general easy to use, those of Rockerboy and the Tech—especially the Tech—require closer reading to fully understand.

In terms of Edgerunner creation, a player is provided with three options—‘Streetrats’, ‘Edgerunners’, and ‘Complete Packages’. ‘Streetrats’ uses templates to create an Edgerunner; ‘Edgerunners’ starts with templates, but lets a player customise them; and ‘Complete Packages’ allows a player to create his Edgerunner using pools of points. Beginning with the player selecting his Edgerunner’s Role, ‘Streetrats’ is the simplest and fastest, with the other two increasing in both complexity and time to complete. Each one sets both the level of the game and its relative complexity. All three use a Lifepath set of tables to determine the Edgerunner’s cultural origins, personality, dress and personal style, motivations and relationships, background and more, all the way up to life goals. These can be customised as necessary, and a player can roll or select as is his wont. Each Role has its own subset of Lifepath tables. Altogether, they add to the detail and background of an Edgerunner without providing any mechanical benefit. The process is quite fun too.

Melina Elvira
Role: Tech
Role Ability: 
Body 7 Cool 4 Dexterity 7 Empathy 6 (4) Intelligence 6
Luck 5 Move 5 Reflexes 7 Technique 8 Willpower 4
Hit Points: 50
Humanity: 60 (48)
Athletics 2 Basic Tech 6 Brawling 2 Concentration 2 Conversation 2 Cybertech 6 Education 6 Electronics/Security Tech (x2) 6 Evasion 6 First Aid 6 Human perception 2 Land Vehicle Tech 6 Language (Spanish) 6 Language (Streetslang) 2 Local Expert (Your Home) 2, Perception 2 Persuasion 2 Science (Chemistry) 1 Shoulder Arms 6 Stealth 2 Weaponstech 6

Equipment: Shotgun, Basic Shotgun Shell Ammunition ×100, Flashbang Grenade, Light Armorjack, Body Armor (SP11), Light Armorjack Head Armor (SP11)
Agent, Anti-Smog Breathing Mask, Disposable Cell Phone, Duct Tape ×5, Flashlight, Road Flare ×6, Tech Bag, Generic Chic: Bottoms ×8, Tops ×10, Leisurewear: Footwear ×2
Cyberware: Cybereye, MicroOptics, Skinwatch, Tool Hand

Cultural Origins: South/Central American
Language: Spanish
Personality: Moody, rash, and headstrong
Clothing Style: Bag Lady Chic (Homeless, Ragged, Vagrant)
Hairstyle: Mohawk
Affectation You Are Never Without: Tattoos
What Do You Value Most?: Honesty
How Do You Feel About Most People?: Every person is a valuable individual.
Things You Value the Most?: A public figure
Most Valued Possession You Own?: A piece of clothing
Family Original Background: Nomad Pack (You had a mix of rugged trailers, vehicles, and huge road kombis for your home. You learned to drive and fight at an early age, but the family was always there to care for you. Food was actually fresh and abundant. Mostly home schooled.)
Childhood Environment: In a decaying, once upscale neighbourhood, now holding off the boosters to survive.
Family Crisis: Your family vanished. You are the only remaining member.
Friend’s Relationship to You: Someone with a common interest or goal.
Enemy: Person you work for. You just don't like each other. Connected to a powerful gang lord or small Corporation.
Revenge Against the Enemy: Backstab them indirectly.
Tragic Love Affair: Your lover is imprisoned or exiled.
Life Goals: Hunt down those responsible for your miserable life and make them pay.
Tech Type: Weaponsmith
Workspace: Everything is colour coded, but it’s still a nightmare.
Workspace Partner: Possible romantic partner as well
Main Clients: Local Fixers who send you clients.
Source of Supplies: Corporate Execs supply you with stuff in exchange for your services.
Who’s Gunning For You?: Larger manufacturer trying to bring you down because your mods are a threat.

Mechanically, Cyberpunk RED is relatively straightforward. To have his Edgerunner undertake an action, a player rolls a ten-sided die and adds the Edgerunner’s Stat and Skill to beat a Difficulty Value. This Difficulty Value ranges from nine for Simple to twenty-nine for Legendary with thirteen for Everyday and fifteen for Difficult. A Critical Success is a roll of ten and another roll of a ten-sided die is added to the result of the first roll. A Critical Failure is a roll of one and another roll of ten-sided die, plus the Edgerunner’s Stat and Skill, is added to the result of the first roll. Combat or ‘Friday Night Firefight’ uses the same core mechanic, for example when shooting at an opponent, the player rolls a ten-sided die and adds the Edgerunner’s Reflexes and Weapon Skill to beat a Difficulty Value, that either can be the Range to Target or the Defender’s Dexterity plus Evasion Skill plus a roll of a ten-sided die (the latter because a Defender with a Reflexes of eight or more can attempt to dodge a ranged attack). Melee attacks take into account the various forms and special moves for various martial arts, whilst ranged attacks cover the use of crossbows and bows as well as autofire. ‘Friday Night Firefight’ stresses the use of cover and armour—including the use of a human shield if grappling—as it can be deadly. One or two rounds can be enough to kill an unarmoured target and if two or more of the dice rolled for damage are six, a critical hit is inflicted. A critical hit has nasty effects. The ‘Trauma Team’ rules, named for the subscription ambulance service, cover damage of all kinds, including Cyberpsychosis. ‘Friday Night Firefight’ also takes in vehicle combat, but it adds another form of combat too—Reputation. An Edgerunner builds this through his actions and the things he has done, and it can be good or bad. As well as being used to determine if an NPC has heard of the Edgerunner, it is used as a modifier when a facedown occurs and there is a battle, not so much of wills, but to see which person is more Cool.

One of the potentially more complex aspects of Cyberpunk and Cyberpunk RED is Netrunning. A signature aspect of both roleplaying game and genre, in the past this involved the Netrunner jacking into the vast datasphere of the NET, rendering him unconscious whilst his fellow Cyberpunks were actually on the mission. Mechanically, it was also complex and time-consuming, a sub-game within the roleplaying game, but for one player only and only taking up seconds of in-game time in comparison to real time. As a result of the Fourth Corporate War, by the Time of the Red in Cyberpunk RED, the NET has been shutdown and whilst the Netrunner still has to jack in, he does it on scene and wearing Virtual Goggles. Which means he is present with the other Edgerunners and he can switch back and forth between the real world or ‘meatspace’ and the virtual space of the local NET. Netrunning is modelled as riding in an elevator going up floor by floor, opening the doors at each floor where the Netrunner might face a Program, Black ICE, another Netrunner, File, Control Node, and so on. This NET Architecture can also branch.

Netrunning runs at the same scale as ‘Friday Night Firefight’. The Netrunner is limited to a Move Action in Meatspace and another Meatspace Action or a number of actions—between two and five—in the NET determined by his Interface Role Ability value. A Netrunner can use these actions to Cloak his presence in the local NET Architecture, use a Control Node to direct connected cameras, drones, turrets, laser grids, and so on, examine files with an Eye-Dee program, implant a Virus, attack or defend against another program, and more. The Netrunning rules include descriptions of various programs and Cyberdeck hardware, advice for the Game Master on building NET Architecture, and notes for the Edgerunner who wants to install his own NET Architecture as home security. The rules are focused, streamlined, and within a game, keeps the Netrunner on scene, as well as keeping him at the same time scale as combat. However, they do still feel that when doing a Netrun, the player and the Game Master are doing a mini-game, one that is comparatively more complex than the rest of the game. Fortunately, the rules are not as complex or as time consuming as those of Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. or Cyberpunk 2013.

In terms of background, Cyberpunk RED provides details of numerous pieces of gear and equipment—weapons, cyberware, food, fashion, and more. There is flavour too in the inclusion of in-game adverts and three short stories. ‘Never Fade Away’, the first, is set in 2013 and retells the reasons behind the Rockerboy icon Johnny Silverhand’s hatred of the megacorporation, Arasaka, which will lead to the final confrontation in Night City which triggered the end of the Fourth Corporate War as detailed in the second story, ‘The Fall of the Towers’. The third short story, ‘Black Dog’ brings the history up to date with events in 2045.

There is a lengthy timeline, which runs from the nineteen nineties up to the twenty forties, and descriptions of what the world and Night City is like in the Time of the Red. This includes the major corporations of the period, a mix of the old and the new, and for Night City, the various districts, gangs, and influential persons. Quick overviews are provided of the nations beyond the borders of the USA, but these only set the scene rather than provide any actual detail. The default setting is still Night City though, and here it gets down into the personal, everyday life, explaining how a personal Agent works, the legalities of weapons and how to get them, travel, what you eat, your entertainment, where you shop, and a lot more. There is a lot of flavour and detail here, all of which can be used by the Game Master to bring the future of 2045 to life for her players and their Edgerunners.

For the Game Master, there is plenty of advice on running Cyberpunk RED. This includes genre advice such as using the urban environment, trust no one, set the mood, know the world, and so on—there is similar advice for the player at the front of the book—and campaign types, typically built around specific team types like a band or gangs or Trauma Team unit, and character and player types. It suggests using a ‘Beat Chart’ to script plots and stories and goes into the various types of beat that the Game Master can use. It has a pleasing modularity and comes with examples which the Game Master can use or adapt. Besides various NPCs and encounter charts, there are two Screamsheets, essentially newspaper headlines around which is presented a scenario. Both are quite short and should provide a session or two’s worth of play. The rules for Edgerunner improvement are placed here too, which feels a little odd. They are interesting though, Cyberpunk RED offering an optional ‘Playstyle-Based Improvement’ system which rewards players and their characters depending upon what they favour and whether their playstyle is that of a Warrior, Socialiser, Explorer, or Roleplayer. Determining this requires each player to take a small quiz after Edgerunner creation, which is why it feels so odd being placed almost at the end of the book.

Physically, Cyberpunk RED is an imposing volume, containing a lot of information. For the most part it is well written, with excellent artwork and cartography. There is some repetition between some of the tables and sections in the Edgerunner creation rules and the sections where equipment and cyberware is explained in more detail. This, though, is really designed to help speed up Edgerunner creation, and speeding this and other processes is clearly the layout designers’ intent. There are pointers to other sections of the book if a player wants to know more about particular aspects of the setting or rules (numbered pages for the print book, hypertext links in the PDF), flowcharts pull the player through the Edgerunner creation process. Despite the wealth of information contained in the book, there is every effort here made to ensure that it is accessible.

Yet, for all of the degree of detail and flavour, especially at the level of living and working the streets of Night City, where Cyberpunk RED does not quite succeed and feels as if it could have used more of, is in-game branding. A lot of the equipment, the weapons, the cyberware, and the Netrunning gear are generic, and although there are a few weapon names and the like, finding this is not easy and it definitely needed more to help enforce the verisimilitude of the Time of the Red. This though is a minor complaint and if the Game Master has access to supplements for Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. then she can cannibalise all of the branding and names from the Golden Age of the Cyberpunk and put them on sale at a Night City Night Market.

Cyberpunk RED: The Roleplaying Game of the Dark Future is a streamlined and accessible update of the classic Cyberpunk roleplaying game. It brings the Time of the Red to life with a wealth of detail and engaging flavour and supports it with familiar mechanics and solid advice—for both the player and the Game Master.

Saturday, 17 September 2022

Lost & Found: Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1

Three decades after the release of the last supplement for MegaTraveller in 1992, a lost book comes to print, and it is fitting that it should come from Digest Group Publications. Published in 1987, it was in effect the second edition of Traveller, updating Games Designers Workshop’s classic Science Fiction roleplaying game with both a streamlined cohesive set of mechanics and an updated background. This updated background would begin with the assassination of Emperor Strephon and over the course numerous supplements see open rebellion and civil war break out across the Third Imperium, which would ultimately lead to a long decline in terms of trade and technology known as the Hard Times. Worse was to follow. Digest Group Publications designed 
MegaTraveller, but Games Designers Workshop published it, a relationship which would continue for five years. When Digest Group Publications closed its doors in 1993, it left behind it a legacy of some highly regarded and subsequently, much in demand, supplements and sourcebooks that have not since been reprinted. It also left behind a number of books which never print and are so regarded as having been lost. Notable amongst them would have been Digest Group Publications own roleplaying game, A.I. However, there were supplements for MegaTraveller too, and Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 is one of these. 

Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 was originally projected for publication in 1990, but is now available for the first time, more than three decades on, thanks to some digital archaeology which was able to rescue the original files. It is an adventure module set in the years 1119 and 1120 prior to the Hard Times which concerns the adventures of the crew of the Robin Ascendant, a Type J Class Seeker. The crew is seeking the location of the Victory Belt, a legendary asteroid belt said to contain enough Onnesium-118—a highly efficient metaconductor—to give a man enough wealth to last not one lifetime, but several. This quest will begin on Trin, the capital of Trin’s Veil Subsector in the Spinward Marches and take them trailing through the Corridor Sector and into the Restored Ziru Sirka. Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 consists of two adventures—‘Cometfall’ and ‘Fharnas’—which take place at the beginning and end of the journey outlined in the supplement. In between there is plenty of scope and distance (over one hundred parsecs) for the Game Master to insert her own adventures and encounters and the supplement includes several detailed ideas for ‘transitional’ adventures which can be worked into the journey.

In ‘Cometfall’, the crew of the Robin Ascendant track down an elderly Vargr scientist who is conducting research into comets from a highly advanced base built into the rock of a comet! The crew hopes that the scientist knows of the location of the Victory Belt, and although he is welcoming, he seems to be prevaricating when it comes to actually telling the crewmembers what they want to know. Eventually, he will tell them what he does know, but not before they join him on an exploration of the comet’s surface—an incredibly dangerous environment, the base being attacked by pirates, and their managing a desperate escape. This information consists primarily of a destination, a Scout Service base on the world of Fharnas in the Kasear Subsector of the Vland Sector, the location for the second scenario, ‘Fharnas’. Here on and in another hostile environment—hostile because the world has ammonia oceans and an ammonia-tainted atmosphere and hostile because the Restored Ziru Sirka does not welcome speakers of Galanglic, the language of the Third Imperium and the Solomani, as opposed to the Vilani of the Ziru Sirka—the crewmembers find themselves conducting a ‘raid’ on an Imperial Interstellar Scout Service to obtain some information in return for the information that they want. With this information, they are ready for travel further trailward to the world of Antares in the Julian Protectorate. The adventures were to be the subject of the next supplement, Antares Down: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 2 and then concluded with Beyond the Seventh Moon: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 3.

Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 is designed to be played with the four pre-generated Player Characters, crewmembers of the Robin Ascendant. These consist of Fencil Tufo, a driven Belter and owner of the Robin Ascendant; Shalya Lyric, an ex-Navy engineer who simply wants to travel and see the universe; David Janier, a religious ex-Merchant; and ‘Mak’, a translation robot who owned by Janier. In this it follows the same format as seen in the campaign which ran through the pages of the Traveller’s Digest magazine—also published by Digest Group Publications. Suggestions are given on how to use the scenarios with different Player Characters and a different starship, but the default is the Robin Ascendant and its crew (or at least another vessel with Jump capability of Jump-2). As well as the stats and background of the crew, which also come with illustrations, the supplement includes deck plans for the Robin Ascendant and a passenger submersible, floor plans for both the comet base and the Scout Service archives (the latter having a weird maze-like layout designed to confuse), and the stats and details of various other vehicles. These are of course designed for use with 
MegaTraveller, but an appendix provides conversions for both Mongoose Publishing’s Traveller and Game Designers’ Workshop’s own Traveller 5.

In terms of background, 
Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 includes information on Onnesium and the Victory Belt, as well as details of Trin’s Veil Subsector and Trin itself and Fharnas and the Kasear Subsector. This background is well written and presented for what would have been the first time back in 1990, which includes a detailed description of the Kur’Apaa. These are the ammonia ocean dwelling sophonts native to Fharnas, a lobster-like species which was the first to be encountered by the Vilani when they began their first steps into space. Again, this was the first they were presented as Traveller canon. Some of this, of course, has been superseded by later supplements—as outlined in the supplement’s fourth appendix, ‘Wonderful Things’—and some of that later information has been incorporated into the setting background for Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1.

Rounding out 
Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 is a quartet of appendices. These detail the Player Characters and their ship, the latter complete with deck plans, provide conversions for the most recent rules used for Traveller, and in ‘Wonderful Things’ provides some historical background to the relationship between Digest Group Publications and Game Designers’ Workshop, the origins and intent of Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1, and how it was finally brought to availability and print. This provides it with some welcome context and is a particularly good read.

In terms of story structure, 
Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 is a quest and involves a long journey of more than a year across the remnants of the Third Imperium. This does mean that it is linear in nature and ‘Visual Nugget’ format of presenting the plot and various scenes does contribute towards this. However, the format neatly organises the plot and its various scenes for the Referee, as potential alternative scenes as well. The Referee will also need to do more than just prepare the two scenarios at either end of the journey if she wants to run Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 as a fuller campaign. One suggestion given is have the pirates which appear in ‘Cometfall’ chase the Robin Ascendant and its crew across the Third Imperium, and that is a good idea, since it adds an element of continuity between the two scenarios, which could be strengthened by the pirates’ patron also chasing the Player Characters as well.

The obvious issue with 
Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 is that it takes place in a timeline which is not currently supported. Suggested sourcebooks such as the Rebellion Sourcebook from Game Designers’ Workshop and The MegaTraveller Alien: Vilani and Vargr from Digest Group Publishing are long out of print, although the Rebellion Sourcebook is available as a PDF. So, anyone not steeped in the lore of Traveller is going to have a harder time preparing this supplement than those who are.

Physically, 
Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 is cleanly laid in the style of a Traveller book of thirty years ago. Entirely done in black and white, the artwork is straightforward and has an understandably technical feel to much of it. The deck plans are all excellent, but the writing is dry in places.

Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 is a piece of history, but not an unwelcome one. Its two scenarios are still playable, with some development upon the part of the Game Master, the space and time between them can be used to begin an entertaining space quest. Fans of Traveller will very much appreciate having Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 available at last—especially if they are fans of MegaTraveller—whilst anyone new to it will appreciate it as a snapshot of Science Fiction roleplaying from another future.