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Friday 30 June 2023

Friday Fantasy: Halls of the Blood King

Halls of the Blood King
is a scenario published by Necrotic Gnome. It is written for use with Old School Essentials, the Old School Renaissance retroclone based on the version of Basic Dungeons & Dragons designed by Tom Moldvay and published in 1980. It is designed to be played by a party of Third to Fifth Level Player Characters and is a standalone affair, but can be easily added to a campaign by the Referee. What it primarily needs is a world where vampires are known about, either as actual threats or legendary ones, and perhaps an old tale about a vampire hunter having gone missing a century ago. Since it involves the vampires and the undead, if the scenario is run using Old School Essentials Classic Fantasy, then a Cleric will be useful, and possibly a Paladin if it is being run using Old School Essentials: Advanced Fantasy. Unlike the earlier, official scenarios for Old School Essentials, such as The Hole in the Oak and The Incandescent Grottoes, it is not a suitable addition to the publisher’s own Dolmenwood setting. The scenario is also notable for winning the 2021 ENNIE Award for Best Adventure and the 2021 ENNIE Award for Best Cartography.

The Halls of the Blood King appears once a century, on night of a blood moon. It stays for that night and then is gone. It is home to the Blood King, the the first vampire, and on this night, as he does on nights like this on other worlds, he calls all of his children from across the lands to come pay him both homage and what they owe him—blood tax. The appearance of the Blood King and his mansion is a temporary stain upon the land where it appears, its baleful influence spreading fear and terror as every vampire in the land descends upon it and the lands and villages nearby... Several reasons are suggested why the Player Characters might want to break into the mansion. This includes rescuing any villagers who have been kidnapped from nearby, merely wanting to loot the place, or looking for a specific magical item known to be in the possession of the Blood King. Perhaps the most interesting are having the Player Characters seek revenge for a vampire said to have been lost in the halls of the Blood King—whether because one of their number is descended from the vampire hunter or they are hired by a descendant, or because they have been receiving the desperate dreams from a princess imprisoned by the Blood King, imploring them to rescue her. It is also possible to mix and match these hooks too.

The Halls of the Blood King follows the same format as the other scenarios for Old School Essentials. This includes an overview, which covers history, rumours, and a complete list of the adventure’s treasure by location. What sets it apart is two things. One is a time limit. The Blood King’s mansion is only present for one night. If the Player Characters stay too long, who knows what world or plane they will end up on? The other is a single page of vampire details, this included to save space from having to repeat their abilities in every monster entry, but it also makes it a handy reference for the Game Master—especially as it is reprinted on the inside back cover. Included at the end of the long list of their capabilities and unfortunately for the Player Characters, few vulnerabilities, are several alternatives to the Energy Drain ability, which leeches Levels, Experience Points, and Hit Points from an afflicted Player Character. Options include ability damage, permanent Hit Point loss, and a global penalty levied on all actions. Also included is a breakdown of the various factions and their relationships in The Halls of the Blood King, and it is here that the scenario begins to shine.

The factions in the Blood King’s begin with the Blood King himself, bored and disdainful, but under the right circumstances willing to see the Player Characters as more then a food source. Around him is his court and its guests, several of them quite alien, but all wanting something, and in many cases having something to hide. His daughter—who of course, is the one sending dreams to the Player Characters of an imprisoned princess
plots with a desperate vassal and other allies to supplant her father. His mother—or is she?—now a Banshee, lurks, seeking recognition by her son. Below the mansion, the Blood King’s pet, the Blood Spider Queen, grown big and fat on diet of blood, wants her court to be the equal of his. Elsewhere, the vampire hunter, thought lost a century ago, hides out behind a barricade of traps, waiting for an opportunity to strike at the Blood King... All of these factions want something and see the Player Characters as a means to strengthen their hands. Some will prove to be the allies the Player Characters need to survive The Halls of the Blood King, others not.

What this all means is that The Halls of the Blood King is not an adventure at which to go full tilt. Players and their characters wanting to rampage their way through the halls and room of the Blood King’s mansion, will first face guards with flesh-ripping blades and then the vampires themselves. The immunity from mundane weapons, the charming gaze, and the ability to drain Levels combined their numbers means that the vampires are too tough to face directly
—and that is for Fifth Level Player Characters, let alone Third Level. Instead, the Player Characters need to find a less direct way to deal with the Blood King and his vampires. The scenario provides several, including gathering information, finding certain important items, and of course, creating alliances. Whilst there are opportunities for combat in the scenario, what this means is that The Halls of the Blood King is much more of a social and roleplaying scenario than it looks at first sight. Whomever the Player Characters decide to ally with, they have a chance to really change the status quo at the Blood King’s court.

Physically, The Halls of the Blood King is as well presented and as organised as previous scenarios for Old School Essentials from Necrotic Gnome. The maps are excellent with excerpts used on every page where individual locations are described. The location descriptions use the same sparse, almost bullet-point style seen in the other other scenarios with key points in bold. There is plenty of rich detail in those descriptions though, such as Shadow Hounds that are as “Dark as night” and “Long and tall but very lean (as if stretched)” and dungeon stairs Made of rough hewn stone (looks like a stone beast’s gullet).” All of which makes the scenario very easy to use from the page. What really stands out is the artwork. Done in rich blues, purples, and reds with yellow highlights, it echoes the style of Philippe Druillet in his depiction of Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, making The Halls of the Blood King have more of a baroque look than a gothic one.

The Halls of the Blood King is not without precedent, all the way back to Palace of the Vampire Queen from 1976. Of course, it would be remiss not to compare The Halls of the Blood King with its more well known precedent, I6 Raveloft. The Halls of the Blood King is a far less grand affair, in every sense, lacking the Gothic romance backstory of I6 Ravenloft’s Count Strahd von Zarovich and the love of his life, his former sister-in-law, Tatyana, and the epic scale of his castle. The lower scale has advantages, the mansion having less room for the seemingly endless swathe of the undead to be found in Ravenloft, making both exploration and accessing the social aspects of The Halls of the Blood King that little bit easier. It also means that The Halls of the Blood King is no mere imitation, possessing an atmosphere and sense of horror that is its own.

More social minefield than gory bloodbath—though it has plenty of potential to end that wayThe Halls of the Blood King is a genuinely challenging adventure, presenting a highly detailed and atmospheric vampire lair in which the Player Characters will have to tread very lightly if they are to survive, let alone succeed.

Friday Filler: Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure

The Ark of the Covenant is danger of falling into the hands of the wrong people—Nazi hands! Can Indiana Jones, accompanied by Marion Ravenwood, Sallah el-Kahir, and even Marcus Brody, punch out the three villains—Colonel Dietrich, Major Toht, and lastly, René Belloq, before they escape with the fabled artefact? This is the aim of Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure, a board game based on the 1981 film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Designed by Prospero Hall, responsible for the excellent Horrified and brilliant Jaws, and published by Funko Games, it is a co-operative game designed for two to four players, aged eight and up. When set up on the table it stands out for two reasons. First is the fantastic theming, with terrific depictions of the characters and locations on the game’s cards, Adventure tiles, and rulebook. Even the rulebook is designed as ‘SANDS OF ADVENTURE: A FIELD GUIDE to the LOST CITY of TANIS and its ARTIFACTS’ as published by ‘MARSHALL COLLEGE PRESS, Bedford, Connecticut, 1936’. Second is the game’s Sand Timer. This looms over the game from start to finish. At top and bottom, this Sand Timer has two buckets. As the players explore the different locations, represented by Adventure Tiles, there is a chance that they will have to add gems to the bucket at the top. When too many gems are added to the Sand Timer, it will flip over and the sands of the timer will begin to run out… When it does, it triggers a desperate attempt to deliver as many blows as possible to the current villain. If they defeat him, then it is on to the next round and the next villain, but if they fail to defeat him, the next round will begin with gems already in the Sand Timer’s bucket, meaning the players have less time to prepare for the next fight!

The imposing Sand Timer stands roughly nine inches tall. It is sturdy and easy to put together and take apart. The four characters—Indiana Jones, Marion Ravenwood, Sallah el-Kahir, and Marcus Brody—each have a corresponding figure and card. On the front is an image of the character and an explanation of their special ability, whilst the back serves as a reference card for the game’s two phases. Indiana Jones’ speciality ability is that he can move to the same Adventure tile as the villain—no other character can do this, Marian Ravenwood begins each round with six cards instead of four, Sallah el-Kahir only rolls one Threat die on his turn, and Marcus Brody starts the game with a Power Token of his choice. The three villain cards each have a Health Track. Major Toht has more Health than Colonel Dietrich, and René Belloq has more Health than Major Toht. Each Villain also has a corresponding token to indicate which Adventure tile he is on. There are seven Adventure tiles. These all depict scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark. For example, ‘Peril in the Market’, where Indiana Jones shoots the swordsman, ‘The Map Room’ where the Ark of the Covenant’s location can be determined, and ‘The Ark on the Move’, when the Nazis attempt to drive the Ark of the Covenant to safety, chased by Indiana Jones. Each Adventure tile indicates the round in which it is played—either one, two, or three, the action carried out on the Adventure tile, and the number of Threat dice rolled at the end of a player’s turn. For example, ‘Peril in the Market’ is a Round 1 card, has the instruction ‘Draw any number of Upgrade cards. If you draw two with the same colour, bury all cards you draw this turn.’, and indicates that two Threat dice are rolled at the end of a player’s turn.

The game’s cards are divided into Standard cards and Upgrade cards. The Standard cards consist of three types. The Basic cards are divided into four colours—blue, green, red, and yellow, and four objects—book, emblem, hat, and shovel. Snake cards—“Why did it have to be snakes?”—impede the players’ progress. The Attack cards also depict a colour and a symbol as well as one of the game’s four characters. These are all kept in the Action deck. The Upgrade cards, kept in their own deck, each have two objects and two colours on them. To inflict damage, the players have to play cards in sequence, a card having to match the previously played card, in terms of either the colour or the object. The aim is set up opportunities to play the Attack cards. Since
Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure is co-operative game, this can be done with everyone’s cards face up on the table.

The game’s three Power tokens consist of ‘Ignore a Snake’, ‘Interrupt’, and ‘Play Any Card’. ‘Ignore a Snake’ enables a player to ignore a Snake card in the Timed Phase, ‘Interrupt’ lets a player play a card when it is not his turn, and ‘Play Any Card’ lets a player play a card of any colour or object and it does not have to match the colour or object of the card currently on top of the pile. The Threat dice have no blank faces and either indicate the size of the gem to be added to the Sand Timer or that the Villain token has to be moved from his current Adventure tile to the next one to the right.

Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure is quick to set up. The Sand Timer is placed on the table along with five Adventure tiles. Each player selects a character and draws cards from the Standard deck. The Excavation Leader is chosen. It is this player’s task to keep track of the Villain’s Health. The game itself is played in three rounds—one for each Villain, with each round consisting of two phases. In the Exploration Phase, the players take it in turn to move to another Adventure tile, follow its instruction, and then roll either one or two Threat dice, as indicated by the Adventure tile. When the Villain is activated, he always moves to the next tile to the right, occupying it and preventing every player apart from Indiana Jones, from using it. What is happening in the Exploration Phase is that the players are trying to build up the resources necessary to defeat the current villain. They cannot yet attack him, but all that changes in the Timed Phase, as does the tone of the game.

When the Sand Timer flips over, the Timed Phase is triggered. When it is a player’s turn in the Timed Phase, his aim to is play as many cards as he can in order to get Attack cards into play which can inflict blows on the current Villain and reduce his Health. He must also draw a card from the Action deck. If this is a Snake card, the player roll the red Torch die and keep rolling it until a Torch symbol is rolled. All of which is taking place against the clock as the sands in the Sand Timer are running it. The Timed Phase is fast, furious, and fraught, essentially the equivalent of scene at the end of an act in which the heroes face down the villain and attempt to punch him—a lot!

The Timed Phase ends when the Sand Timer runs out, the Action deck is exhausted, or the Villain is defeated. If this is the first or second rounds, the next round is then set up with the new Villain and a new Adventure Tile which replaces one of those from the previous round. If the Villain in the previous round was not defeated, one or more gems need to be added to the Sand Timer. On the final round, the players either defeat René Belloq and successfully prevent the Ark of the Covenant from falling into the hands of the Third Reich, and so win the game, or fail, and let him get away with the Ark, and so lose the game.

Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure is solidly presented game. The Sand Timer is sturdy, the rules reasonably well explained and do include examples, and the theme very nicely applied from start to finish. The game’s cards could have been a little more durable.

There is no denying that
Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure has table presence. The Sand Timer dominates the game, its upper bucket topmost in everybody’s mind as they wonder quite when it is going to be filled with gems and tip over. It makes game play grower tenser and tenser as play progresses through the Exploration Phase of a round. There is almost a sense of relief as the moment that they have been preparing for occurs, their hands now filled with cards from the Action and Upgrade decks, as suddenly everyone leaps into action in the Timed Phase. Thus, there is a sense of story being told, of scenes in a film as they develop through investigation and research, before switching over with the Sand Timer for a furious few minutes of a desperate brawl with the Villain.

Yet as decent a job as
Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure does of telling that story; it is the only story it is telling and the only story it can tell. In focusing on the one film, the players are always going to be facing the same Villains, in the same order, and in the same manner. It does mean that there is not a lot of variation in play with Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure and that will limit its audience. Younger players and more casual players will get more out of the game than a veteran game player will. With Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure, all three will get a solid, highly thematic, co-operative game which is easy to understand and play, and not too challenging to beat. That will be more than enough for some players. For the veteran game player, not quite enough.

Monday 26 June 2023

Miskatonic Monday #201: The Thing in Tunnel 12

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

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic 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: Alison Cybe

Setting: North of England
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Twenty-Three page, 1.41 KB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Sometimes locals really do have something to hide...
Plot Hook: A body in the mine means murder!
Plot Support: Five pre-generated Investigators, two NPCs, and one Mythos monster
Production Values: Plain.

# One session industrial horror
# Easy to adjust to the eighties or twenties
# Nice sense of locals with something to hide
# Claustrophobia
# Cleithrophobia
# Taphephobia
# Submechanophobia

# Needs an edit
# Not clear who the Investigators are meant to be
# Underdeveloped historical background
# No maps
# Underdeveloped pre-generated Investigators

# Underdeveloped historical and Investigator background
# Solid one session industrial horror easily adapted to other time periods

Miskatonic Monday #200: The Grindhouse: Ultimate Collection – Vol. 1-3

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

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


The Grindhouse: Ultimate Collection – Vol. 1-3 is an anthology of seven scenarios within the grindhouse genre of cinema—low-budget horror, splatter, and exploitation films for adults which had their heyday in the seventies. Each one is short, designed to be played in a single session, involves a locked room type of situation—sometimes literally, which keeps the action and the horror focused, and involves desperate, often bloody and brutal horror. Each scenario is presented in full colour, comes with its own set of pre-generated Investigators, and follows the same format. This consists of ‘Prelude’, ‘Objectives’, ‘Secrets’, ‘Cast’, ‘Signs’, ‘Threats’, and ‘Changes’. The ‘Prelude’ sets up and explains the scenario, the ‘Objectives’ the Player Characters’ involvement, ‘Secrets’ reveals what is really going on, ‘Cast’ lists minor NPCs, ‘Signs’ details clues which can be found, ‘Threats’ the dangers both Mythos and mundane, and ‘Changes’ the major events which occur during the scenario. The format does not always though, as in some places there is a lengthy description of the locations where the scenario takes place before the Keeper gets to the ‘Secrets’. In addition, there are Keeper Notes throughout and options, decent maps or floorplans of the location for each scenario, and indications of the type of horror each involves at the start of each scenario. Not all of the scenarios involve the Mythos, but their horror is all strong and bloody.

The Grindhouse: Ultimate Collection – Vol. 1-3 opens in underwhelming fashion with a non-Mythos scenario which involves a literal locked-room situation and little if any real investigation or agency. ‘The Crimson King’ is set in the early eighties and has the Player Characters invited to an exclusive Goth nightclub. Perhaps they want to attend, perhaps they are looking for a missing young woman? Unfortunately, there is very little for them to do or find out before the situation suddenly changes and they suddenly find themselves fighting for their lives and trying to escape. Which would be fine, but there is no other plot than this. The result is underplotted and one-note.

Fortunately, the next and subsequent scenarios are much better. ‘Isle of the Damned’ takes the Player Characters to a small island off the coast of Maine. It is 1974 and they have rented a small holiday home, intending to relax, fish, drink, and spend time away from the grind of modern life. Unfortunately, the island idyll is ruined by multiple somethings which a previous owner left behind after he had to flee following his name being linked to the disappearances of fresh corpses. That name is West, and since this is a Mythos scenario, that means reanimated bodies and body parts. The author has some fun with creating some freshly animated corpses and corpse cuts with which to scare the Player Characters, foreshadowing some of the bloody horror with bumps and knocks from below. Thus, the Player Characters find themselves trapped on an island surviving a zombie-style ‘uprising’ of a different kind.

‘The Dark Brood’ takes place in 1977 at a summer camp in the Appalachian mountains where the Player Characters are camp counsellors. Summer camp horror scenarios are a cliché unto themselves, invariably involving a madman who will stalk the counsellors and students, slashing them, and picking them off, one-by-one. Fortunately, ‘The Dark Brood’ eschews this cliché completely. When the children complain of upset stomachs and nausea, they are given something to settle their stomachs and set to bed early, but later, when the Player Characters suddenly awaken, the children have gone missing. Investigation reveals there is something very sour going on, something similar to that done in other scenarios for Call of Cthulhu, but made all the worse by being inflicted on children. Although they do not know it, the Player Characters are up against a time limit in what is one of the creepier scenarios in the anthology.

‘Jacknife’ is a classic road about to go very, very wrong. When the driver of an eighteen-wheeler picks up hitchhikers, he drives himself into a world of trouble. There is really only the one location for the scenario and that the truck and the flatbed of lumber it is hauling from Colorado to Texas. Anyone who has played the author’s The Highway of Blood will suffer flashbacks as the Player Characters are chased across New Mexico by snake cultists and dustbillies. On the downside, the Keeper will need to acquaint herself with the Chase Rules from the Keeper Rulebook, but on the plus side, a chase sets up plenty of tension and action, and setting the majority of the scenario aboard one moving vehicle adds a sense of claustrophobia to that too. The scenario could be run as part of The Highway of Blood or even a sequel of sorts, but gives too much away to run as a prequel. Otherwise, a great set-up for a horror scenario.

‘Hell Block Five’ casts the Player Characters as inmates of Irongate Penitentiary in Aylesbury, Massachusetts, incarcerated with some of the most infamous criminals in the United States. One night in 1978, the cell doors unlock and slide open in Cell Block Five, but without any alarms going off or sign of any guards. The blood and bodies of other inmates lie everywhere and the cell block seems infested with fungi and insects. The set-up and development has an intentionally nightmarish feel to it as the cell block fluctuates between its current state and something increasingly unreal. One issue is that the Player Characters do need to be driven to a bout of madness in order to discover an important clue and potentially push the story onwards. Another possible issue is that the Player Characters may encounter their worst fears, but none are listed for the pre-generated Player Characters. The players are, of course, free to create their own, but hints would have been useful. Overall, this is a solid prison-set horror scenario.

‘First Night’ takes another horror film cliché and does something interesting with it. It is 1980 and a group of college girls decides to spend the night in the mansion that was recently purchased by their sorority. So, we have a sorority house slumber party which takes a horrifying murderous turn after they find a witch board, which of course, they decide to play around with. Awaking later in the middle of the night to the sound of their bedroom doorknob being turned, something moving about the house, and the house being surrounded by a thick fog. The next few hours consist of the girls being chased round the house by nightmarish, incredibly stealthy monsters which can crawl across the ceilings and simply refuse to die. ‘First Night’ is a spiritual successor to ‘Hell Block Five’, but it apes its inspirations more closely by having the last girl standing receive a bonus to her Luck and a Bonus Die to all her actions. If it comes to this, then the players whose characters did not survive, should definitely control some of the monsters. Like ‘Hell Block Five’, there is the issue of the Player Characters possibly encountering their worst fears, but none being listed for them. The scenario also requires the Player Characters to participate in the use of the witch board, as it does not work without it happening. The players should be encouraged to have their characters do so in order to get this survival horror, monster chase scenario started.

Lastly, ‘The Hoodlums’ is a bonus scenario in The Grindhouse: Ultimate Collection – Vol. 1-3. Set in Worcester, Massachusetts, during the summer of 1983, it begins when a group of high school friends breaks into an abandoned train station to smoke some weed and one of their number suddenly disappears with cry for help! Following the cries leads into the sewers below and what seems to be a buried mansion decades old… The place feels old and macabre and plays out initially in exploratory fashion, which can turn into a deadly hunt depending upon how the young Player Characters interact with the inhabitants. The pre-generated Player Characters are nicely invidualised, they play Dungeons & Dragons, which lends itself to interesting roleplaying possibilities, and there is even a rule given for peer pressure.

Physically, The Grindhouse: Ultimate Collection – Vol. 1-3 is decently presented. Although it needs a slight edit in places, it is well written, and it decently illustrated throughout. In fact, some of the artwork is very good. The cartography is also good throughout.

The Grindhouse: Ultimate Collection – Vol. 1-3 would be an excellent anthology of Grindhouse-style horror one-shots. However, it is let down by the first scenario, ‘The Crimson King’, which is simply not of the same quality as the rest that follow. In fact, had ‘The Crimson King’ been left out or the bonus scenario ‘The Hoodlums’ simply replaced it, The Grindhouse: Ultimate Collection – Vol. 1-3 would be that excellent anthology. Consequently, The Grindhouse: Ultimate Collection – Vol. 1-3 is a good Grindhouse collection, providing the Keeper with a selection of easily prepared, brutal, often bloody, one-shots.

Sunday 25 June 2023

Everyday Endeavours

Everyday Heroes
is the spiritual successor to d20 Modern. What d20 Modern did for Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition in 2002, Everyday Heroes does for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition in 2202. It is designed to facilitate and handle roleplaying in the here and now, in the world we see outside our windows, on our television screens, and at the cinema. It can cover military or mercenary scenarios, police procedurals, urban fantasy and investigating the supernatural, visits to lost worlds, conspiracy thrillers, dinosaur rampages, face-offs against killer robots (whether from the future or not), run or defuse scams, and more. Although it does not delve into any one of these genres or scenarios in any depth, the core rulebook provides all of the rules and the mechanical tools the Game Master will need to run and her players to roleplay them. There are tweaks and adjustments throughout the rules to account for the modern genre, but the core rules remain faithful, and will be familiar, to anyone who has played Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. In keeping with the setting, all of the Player Characters are human, and in keeping with the scale and concept of ‘Everyday Heroes’, are limited to between Levels one and ten. Further, Everyday Heroes provides some twenty character Classes, divided into six Archetypes, modern skills, proficiencies, and feats, rules for modern gun combat, vehicles and chases, hacking, modern environments and hazards, and a bestiary. Essentially, all of the tools the Game Master needs to run a campaign today.

Everyday Heroes is published by Evil Genius Games, following a successful Kickstarter campaign and begins with the Player Character. Everyday Heroes is a Class and Level roleplaying game, so it begins there, along with the six abilities—Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. A Player Character also has a Background and a Profession, which each provide languages known, Proficiencies, Iconic Equipment, Ability increases, and a Special Feature; and an Archetype and Class. Backgrounds can be Activist, Book Worm, Caregiver, Misfit, Social Butterfly, and more, whilst the professions include Academia, Creative, Law, Trades, and so on. There are six Archetypes—Strong, Agile, Tough, Smart, Wise, and Charisma—corresponding to the six abilities—Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. These are divided into three or four Classes. So, the Brawler and Heavy Gunner fall into the Strong Archetype, the Scoundrel and the Sharpshooter into the Agile Archetype, the Commando and the Bodyguard into the Tough Archetype, the Engineer and the Hacker into the Smart Archetype, the Hunter and the Sleuth into the Wise Archetype, and the Duellist and the Leader into the Charming Archetype. Together, Archetype and Class provides a Player Character’s Hit Dice, Defence rating, Proficiency Bonus, Talents, and Feats. The latter, Feats, are intrinsic part of Player Character development in Everyday Heroes.

Creating a Player Character in Everyday Heroes is a matter of making choices. A player selects his character’s Background, Profession, Archetype, and Class, and decides on the options they provide. He has the choice of determining his abilities randomly (roll four six-sided dice, discarded the lowest), assigning points, or using an array. The process is relatively straightforward and enables a player a wide range of character types. A player can decide to specialise in his choice of Background, Profession, Archetype, and Class. For example, a hacker could have Gamer as a Background, Information Technology as a Profession, and then the Smart Hero Archetype and the Hacker Class. Or he could mix and match to reflect wider experience. For example, an Ordinary Background could lead to the Emergency Services Profession and then be a Smart Archetype and the Scientist Class or a Tough Archetype and the Bodyguard Class. Notably though, the twenty Classes are also divided by complexity. Thus, the Heavy Gunner is a Simple Class, the Hacker a Complex Class, and the Leader a Medium Class in terms of their relative complexities. This is a useful guide for the players and can influence their choices when it comes to creating characters. Lastly, a player decides on his character’s Motivation, Attachments, Beliefs, Virtues, Flaws, and Quirks. As a Player Character advances in Level, he will improve via new or better Talents, Feats—some general, some specific to the Class and Archetype, Hit Points, and Proficiency Rating, so on.

Name: Henry Brinded III
Archetype: Mastermind Level: 1
Background: Bookworm
Profession: Military
Motivation: Duty Attachment: Family Belief: Not so much a statement of belief as a methodology
Role: Intellectual Virtue: Thoughtful Flaw: Nosy Quirk: Claps when excited

Strength 11 Dexterity 15 (+2) Constitution 15 (+2)
Intelligence 19 (+4) Wisdom 15 (+2) Charisma 16 (+3)
Defence: 14
Hit Points: 8
Passive Perception: 14
Proficiency Bonus: +2
Skills: Athletics +2, Computers +6, Insight +4, Investigation +8, Perception +4, Persuasion +7, Social Sciences +6, Stealth +4
Mental Expertise: Insight, Persuasion
Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Computers, Insight, Investigation, Perception, Persuasion, Social Sciences, Stealth
Saving Throw Proficiencies: Intelligence, Wisdom
Equipment Proficiencies: Basic Equipment, Advanced Equipment, Military Equipment
Languages: English, Latin, Spanish
Talents: Plans, Genius, Know-It-All, You’re Doing It Wrong
Special Features: Have You Ever Read?, Servicemember

Everyday Heroes includes a lengthy equipment section. Starting equipment is handled via equipment packs, such as a Hacker Pack or a Weekend Warrior Pack, but the extensive list includes weapons of all types—from knives and 9 mm handguns to rocket launchers and tanks, vehicles from bicycles, golf carts, pickup trucks, and bulldozers to tanks, eighteen-wheeler trucks, wingsuits, and bullet trains. The vehicles and weapons are listed by type rather than name and model, but it is easy for the Game Master and player to assign these details if they want them in their game.

Mechanically, the core rules of Everyday Heroes are the same as those of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Throw a twenty-sided die and add Ability and Proficiency bonuses as appropriate, the aim being to roll equal to, or higher than, a Difficulty Class, which ranges from ten for Easy, fifteen for Challenging, twenty for Difficult, and so on. The rules for Advantage and Disadvantage also work as they do in Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Saving throws are based on the six abilities. Combat works the same too, but changes have been made to account for modern conflict. This includes firearms capable of suppressive fire and burst fire, as well as the use of explosive devices. Armour Class is replaced by a Defence value, which represents how hard a target is to hit, and can come from the cover a target is behind or the innate ability of a target to avoid being hit. Personal armour worn has an Armour Value. If the Penetration Value of an attack is higher than the Armour Value, the attack has penetrated the armour without reducing any of the damage, but if the Armour Value is higher than the Penetration Value, than an Armour Saving Throw can be made. A successful saving throw prevents all damage, but damages the armour, reducing its effectiveness, whilst a failed saving throw stops none of the damage.

The rules also cover environmental challenges such as dehydration and underwater combat, using companions—the Hunter Class has animal companions and the Engineer Class robot companions, laying and disabling traps, and of course, chases and vehicles. Vehicles have their own ratings for Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution, Armour Value, and in some cases, special abilities particular to the vehicle. Chases, whether on foot or by vehicle, are played out round by round, with the participants accumulating Chase Points. The aim is acquire more than the other participants before the end of the chase, by overcoming hazards or challenges like dodging around two men carrying a long rolled up carpet or leaping from one building to the next. Success grants a participant Chase Points, failure Chase Points to his opponent. The chase rules scale up to take account of vehicles and combat, including actions such as aiming at tires, ramming, and the like.

For the Game Master, there is advice on handling the rules, including chases—the latter with lots of complications to throw into the path of the Player Character in a wide variety of environments, different types of encounters, computer hacking and security, and more. The advice on hacking is to keep its use in check lest it become too powerful a feature of the game, but the rules handle it in a simple enough fashion, also avoiding it becoming too technical. They make a point that the Security and Deception skills are as equally important as the Computer skill. There is guidance too on common, but often difficult situations in modern set games, such as snipers, standoffs, and calling in the authorities, which is so obvious in its inclusion, but so very helpful. Optional rules cover sudden death, tracking ammunition, poison, injuries above beyond simple Hit Point loss, diseases, and recreational drugs. Advice for the Game Master begins with the basics and builds from there, including ‘Saying, “Yes, and…”’, giving time in the spotlight for each Player Character, and knowing the players and their play styles. It also examines adventure structure and creation and some of the key points of the genres that Everyday Heroes is designed to cover—action, adventure, comedy, drama, horror, mystery, and survival.

Almost a fifth of Everyday Heroes dedicated to opponents and allies, and it is here that Everyday Heroes goes further than suggesting the various genres and settings and types of scenarios which can be run using its rules. There are numerous ordinary NPCs from all walks of life, but these are joined by cultists, crazed maniacs, mad scientists, and slashers. Alongside these, there are robots and animals, including a swarm of piranha, before the selection delves into historic and prehistoric NPCs, Science Fiction aliens and bugs, futuristic robots, mutants, and supernatural creatures from demons and vampires to zombies and werewolves. Variants are included too, so for zombies, there are zombie bloaters, zombie dogs, zombie lickers, and elite zombie warriors. These are all ready for the Game Master to use and build as part of a scenario.

Physically, Everyday Heroes is very well presented. It is well written, easy to read, and comes with a good index. The artwork varies in quality a little, but is all decent enough. Also included is an appendix of the changes between Everyday Heroes and Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. This is useful, but would have been more useful if page references had been included.

There is one final addition to Everyday Heroes which is not included in the core rulebook. This is access to a number of source and scenario supplements all based upon a surprising range of films. In fact, a range of films which nobody expected to see turned into roleplaying material despite their popularity in the hobby. These consist of The Crow™ Cinematic Adventure, Escape From New York™ Cinematic Adventure, Highlander Cinematic Adventure, Kong: Skull Island Cinematic Adventure, Pacific Rim Cinematic Adventure, and Total Recall Cinematic Adventure. These showcase at least, what Everyday Heroes can do and are, equally, six good reasons to play Everyday Heroes. Beyond these of course, there is plenty of scope for supplements which could explore the genres suggested in the Everyday Heroes core rulebook, as well as other support and useable content.

Everyday Heroes takes the bones of the Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition rules and adjusts them with a surprising degree of comfort to fit the modern day. From that basis, the core rules fleshes out the here and now with a wide range of Player Character options and monsters and NPCs which together lend themselves to genres and settings both ordinary and outré. In between there is literally all of the rules, backed up with solid advice, needed to support a modern day set roleplaying campaign. With Everyday Heroes, Evil Genius Games has not so much created the spiritual successor to d20 Modern, as taken on its mantle.

Saturday 24 June 2023

Red Reports

Tales of the RED: Street Stories is an anthology of missions for Cyberpunk RED, the fourth edition of the classic Cyberpunk roleplaying game. It provides the Game Master with nine—technically eight because the last two in the book make up a two-part adventure—scenarios which take place in and around the Night City of 2045. The scenarios are all easy to add to an ongoing campaign, as well as to mix and match with missions of the Game Master’s own devising or Screamsheets from a supplement such as the Cyberpunk RED Data Pack. Published by R. Talsorian Games, Inc., the nine missions will find the Edgerunners chasing vampires, investigating a kidnapping, working a film set, diving off the coast of Night City, making a delivery run of the best threads in town, hunting down a deadly A.I. program gone rogue, fending off an attacker who is hunting Edgerunner teams, investigating murder on the virtual club floor, and ultimately tracking down the perpetrator of the murder! Whilst offering a wide variety of mission types, they all adhere to the same format as seen in the core rules for Cyberpunk RED. This is the Beat Chart system which breaks a Mission down into a ‘Background’—intended to read aloud to the players, ‘The Rest of Story’ which summarises the Mission for the Game Master, ‘The Opposition’ which describes the threats the Edgerunners will face, and ‘The Hook’, which is what will draws them into the Mission. The remainder is divided into Developments—non-action beats, and Cliffhangers—action beats, before coming to a close with the Mission’s ‘Climax’ and ‘Resolution’. These are all labels as much as beats and of course, the nature of each beat will vary from Mission to Mission.

From the start, there are a couple of issues with the anthology. One is that the Beat Chart system does read a little oddly in that ‘The Hook’, the beat which covers how the Edgerunners get involved in the Mission, comes after several beats. So, the Missions need to be read carefully and their format adjusted to in order for the Game Master to get used to the format. The other issue that a lot of the context and stats for the nine Missions are not placed with the individual Missions, but in a set of three appendices at the back of the book. ‘Mooks and Defences’ provides the stats for the generic threats that can be encountered in the various Missions; ‘Locations’ marks every place and location visited by the nine Missions; and ‘Biographies’ provides thumbnail backgrounds for all of the named NPCs in the nine Missions. This includes the maitre’d at a fancy restaurant in the second scenario! Thankfully each entry also tells the Game Master which of the Missions they appear in or are mentioned in. Not all of them have stat blocks, but they do, it is in the Missions where they appear. Having the biographies all in one place sort of works for easy reference, but separating them from their stats, not as much…

Tales of the RED: Street Stories opens with ‘A Night at the Opera – Darkness and Desire in Night City’. Night City’s University District has been beset by a rash of disappearances of young women over the past four weeks, but to date neither Campus Security nor Night City Police Department have made any progress. So the father of the latest victim hires the Edgerunners to investigate and find his daughter. Canvassing the campus—which involves some fun encounters with members of the student body—points to the involvement of a poser gang, the Philharmonic Vampyres, who embrace the whole vampire aesthetic—fangs, pale skin, Goth-style clothing, and pale skin. The best way to contact the Philharmonic Vampyres is to attend one of their parties. Unfortunately, when the Edgerunners do, the event erupts into a gang-on-gang gunfight! The Edgerunners do need to pay attention to the ordinary events going on around them to get the most out of the scenario, but this is a fairly, direct simple scenario underneath its gothic trappings.

If the first Mission in the anthology looked weird, then the second, ‘Agents Desire – The Case of the Missing Girlfriend’, actually is weird. A fixer—who may be just little too impatient for the Edgerunners, if not their players—puts the Edgerunners in touch with a high-ranking corporate whose partner was kidnapped from one of Night City’s top restaurants, La Lune Bleu, and he fears that he will only get her back if he gives up company secrets. The biggest problem for the Edgerunners is actually getting past the restaurant’s snooty maitre’d, and numerous options are suggested, including buying the right quality outfits and booking a table, hiring on as waiting staff, and so on. This presents a great social challenge for the Edgerunners and their players. Once inside, they can get further information and the story takes a turn for the strange, which foreshadows, but is not connected to, the events of Cyberpunk 2077.

The third Mission is different again. ‘A Bucket Full of Popcorn-Flavoured Kibble – Lights, Camera, Drama!’ gives the chance for the Edgerunners to hit the silver screen and be extras in the latest film by one of burgeoning Addis Ababa film studios. Not only do the Edgerunners get to make money from this job, there is opportunity aplenty for them to make money on the side. These include tracking down a supply of actual organic food for the film’s picky star, plant a listening device for a sleazy journalist, provide cybertech support, make a delivery for the film’s other star following his divorce, and so on. The Edgerunners are free to pick and choose which tasks they undertake, but the Mission has a picaresque quality to it, as the Edgerunners bounce from one small task to the next. There are some nice rewards too if the Edgerunners do play it—mostly—straight and promise of extra work too.

The change in the nature and style of the Missions continues with ‘Drummer and the Whale – Treasure Beneath the Sea’, in which the Edgerunners are hired for an easy job in—or under—Night City Bay. Their employer, whose hobby is looking for patterns in in the remnants of the global Net which got shattered during the Fourth Corporate War, has detected a pattern off the coast of Night City. With limited funds, he hires them to locate some washed up cargo container, which means searching the shore, part-shanty town, part-waste dump, all one environmental hazard. It seems that something is operating on the bed of the bay and shipping containers ashore on a regular basis. The question is, what is it, how dangerous is it, and how much will the right people pay for it? The aquatic nature of the Mission is challenging in itself and is in parts more technical than the earlier Missions, which should challenge the Edgerunners’ Tech and Netrunner. Overall, the Mission has a claustrophobic, dated feel to it as traditional rivalries straight out of Cyberpunk surface in Night City Bay and threaten a legal incident!

‘Haven’t Got a Stitch to Wear – A Suit Worth Dying For’ is more straightforward. High-end tailors Torrell and Chiang have proved popular with Night City’s rich and famous and demand for their suits and outfits has grown and grown in recent months. The demand is such that Torrell and Chiang have been forced to out-source minor alterations as their own staff are too busy working on new commissions, but that solution has gone awry when the couriers they normally use stop doing deliveries. With a growing number of impatient clients, the tailors hire the Edgerunners to find out why. The problem is that the couriers have competition. The Mission covers most eventualities, including the Edgerunners dealing with the problem, siding with the competition, or even setting themselves up as the competition. In whatever way the Mission is resolved, the Edgerunners do get to look at how Night City’s small business economy works and potentially make some contacts.

‘Reaping the Reaper – The Call is Coming From Inside Your Head!’ is a classic Cyberpunk scenario. A Night City urban legend tells of a rogue A.I. known as The Reaper, which body-hops Netrunner after Netrunner killing them one by one, only turns out that there is very much a basis of truth to the legend. This is a good scenario to run if the Edgerunners have played through ‘Digital Divas Burn It Down’ and ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ Missions from the Cyberpunk RED Data Pack, especially for Tech or Netrunner Edgerunners. However, it is potentially problematic in a number of ways. First, it is combat heavy in comparison to the other scenarios in Tales of the RED: Street Stories. Second, the Edgerunners are accompanied by a pair of NPCs, one a Solo, the other a Tech, which are there to cover the Edgerunners if they fail. Their presence definitely gives the Game Master more to keep track of, potentially undermines the efforts of the Edgerunners, and feels clumsy in terms of storytelling.

‘Staying Vigilant – Three Crews Dead, Will Yours Be Next?’ brings the action to the Edgerunners. It starts with them being invited to the Afterlife, the bar from the computer game, Cyberpunk 2077, as opposed to the Forlorn Hope, where they have been meeting previously. Trace Santiago, the Media and son of famed Nomad Santiago, wants help in investigating the recent deaths of three Edgerunner crews. With his media drone in tow, the Edgerunners need must battle their way past Night City’s Hot Zone to locate the ‘killer’. Like the previous Mission, this is combat orientated, but is more nuanced.

It seems like they are being plagued by vampires when another group of them seems to have committed murder at Delirium, a virtuality club, on the Edgerunners’ night out in ‘Bathed in Red – A Night of Fun or Night of Terror?’. With a body on the dance floor, their night is over and their reputation too when they are framed for the death. This is a murder mystery that builds into a conspiracy, with the vampire posers, who turn out to be homeless street children, holding some of the initial answers. There is a great contrast here as the story switches from a grubby virtual reality dance club where everyone wears visors to view the night as one of five different environments—Dark Cabaret, Deathpunk, Horrorpunk, Skatepunk, or Synthpunk—to the squalid home of the street children, and then again, as the mother of the murder victim, a rich corporate, gets involved. This is most complex of the Missions in the anthology and the most adult in tone, and that continues in the Mission’s sequel, the last Mission in the anthology. ‘One Red Night – The Final Curtain Falls’ picks up where ‘Bathed in Red – A Night of Fun or Night of Terror?’ left off, involves yet more of the murder victim’s family, and comes to a close in bloody, physical confrontation with the true perpetrator of the murders.

Physically, Tales of the RED: Street Stories is well presented with excellent artwork and cartography. It needs an edit here and there, but the Missions themselves are easy to read and digest.

What is so good about Tales of the RED: Street Stories is the diversity of Missions and stories in the anthology. Yes, there is a Mission involving a rogue killer A.I., which is classic cyberpunk and consequently a cliché, but the majority of the Missions will first surprise the Game Master and then her players with the situations their Edgerunners will find themselves in and having to resolve. Nor do they always focus on combat, though there is plenty of that as well as solutions to the Missions which involve means other than force. Although some are better than others, there is not a single bad Mission in the pages of Tales of the RED: Street Stories, the best including becoming couriers for a tailoring firm, working a film set, diving for salvage, and more. Tales of the RED: Street Stories is an inventive and challenging anthology of scenarios for the Cyberpunk RED which gives the Game Master a great range of choice to choose from. In fact, the choice is so good that she will probably end up running most of them!

Cutlery & Chaos

Have you ever wondered what would happen if the adventurers from your Monday night Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition game was put in charge of a café? Or the shadowrunners from your Shadowrun campaign decide to open a coffee shack in the Barrens of Seattle? Or the heroes, protectors of Freedom City, from Dave’s Mutants & Masterminds game inherit a bohemian restaurant? Or just for a change in Mel’s Call of Cthulhu game, one of the investigators inherits a tea shop from her uncle rather than a mystery about his disappearance? All of these are possible in the Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game. In fact, not only are these options possible, but they almost do also not matter, because what does matter, is how the Player Characters cope with the ever-changing nature of the day-to-day business of running a café. Published by Cobblepath Games—best known for Locus: A roleplaying game of personal horror (and guilt)—Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game is actually two things. First, it is a standalone storytelling game which can be set up and run without a Game Master, everyone working towards telling a story of a single day, or perhaps more… Second, it is a corollary storytelling game which can be used to explore some of the time that the Player Characters in an ongoing campaign might have in between longer, probably more dangerous activities. In whatever way a playing group decides to use the Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game, they will also need a standard deck of playing cards and a selection of cutlery.

No matter the genre or setting for the café, the first thing that the players decide is where their establishment sits on three scales. These are Fresh/Cosy, Small/Big, and Professional/Friendly. The score in each, which ranges between one and ten determines the number of items the players have in their Cutlery Pool, whether Teaspoons, Forks, or Knives. Each of the three items represents a different way of approaching and solving a situation in the café. Knives are used for a quick decisive approach, Forks for the resourceful, creative approach, and Teaspoons for the considered, well-thought-out approach. Each item of cutlery is also associated with a suit in the card deck—diamonds for Knives, clubs for Forks, and spades for Teaspoons. In addition, each player also creates a character who has two notable methods—and thus two associated items of Cutlery—of dealing with problems. One is his favoured approach, which he can always use even if he runs out of Cutlery, whilst the other he has learned to use through experience. A character begins play with an item of Cutlery associated with his learned approach and a Teaspoon. A Teaspoon can be discarded to allow the character to go on a break and whilst on the break, the character can gain Cutlery based on the learned way of dealing with issues.

If a character is brought into the Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game from another roleplaying game, the rules from that roleplaying game do not come with him. Instead, the Cutlery rules in the Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game are used, but when dealing with a difficult situation or problem, the character is still roleplayed and his stats, skills, abilities, spells, superpowers, cyberware, favourite gear, and so on, can be used to influence how the character resolves a problem at the café. In effect, it is a classic fish out of water situation and the character has do his very best the only way he knows how…

Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game is played in rounds. At the start of a game, a Hitch is drawn. This is a persistent problem that cannot be resolved at all and instead, must be worked around. It is a constant presence throughout the game. At the beginning of the round, the first player draws a single card from the deck. This the Catastrophe for the round and it is resolved immediately by a single player. It is followed by each player drawing a card which indicates the Snafus besetting the café that round. Tables are provided of Catastrophes, Snafus, and Hitches. For example, a Hitch could be a visiting Film Crew, the Catastrophe might be a Power Cut or a Scam Artist, whilst a Snafu could be involve Happy Hour, a Wardrobe Malfunction, a Bad Tipper, or Broken Glass.

To deal with a Snafu, a player wages an item of Cutlery. This can come from their own stock of Cutlery or the general pool of Cutlery. The item of Cutlery waged determines the defending suit. The outcome is determined by comparing the suites of the Cutlery used and a new card drawn. Knives or diamonds beat Spoons, Forks or clubs beat Knives, and Spoons or spaces beat Forks. Hearts beat everything and count as an automatic success. If the player wins, the Snafu is resolved and discarded. If the player loses, the wagered Cutlery is lost, the Snafu remains in play, and worse, an item of Cutlery already dedicated to a Catastrophe is also lost.

A Catastrophe requires Cutlery to be dedicated to it. As long as an item of Cutlery is dedicated to it, it remains resolved. However, if the Cutlery dedicated to it is lost because a player loses a Wager on a Snafu, the Catastrophe reoccurs and becomes a problem for every character until resolved.

A game of Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game begins with everyone possessing an item of Cutlery and there being Cutlery in the café’s pool. It will not be long before any Cutlery is in short supply as play progresses, primarily through failed Wagers on attempts to deal with Snafus and Cutlery having to be dedicated to catastrophes. Lost or discarded Cutlery can be recovered by a player going on a Break. This requires the expenditure of a Teaspoon and is done with another player. A cup of tea is also recommended as is taking the time to reflect and discuss the events of the day so far. This enables the players on the break to recover an item of Cutlery related to their learned means of resolving problems rather than the one they favour. In the meantime, the players still work will continue the round without them, attempting to deal with a new catastrophe and more Snafus as they are drawn. The players on a break are free to return at any time.

There is no set ending for a game of Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game, but perhaps a shift should end when everyone is out of Knives, Forks, and Spoons. It is a game of storytelling in the face of dwindling resources and mounting problems, most temporary, but all too quickly, too many permanent unless a solution—however temporary—is applied to them. Initially, successes will drive the storytelling, but that will change as failures to deal with both the Snafus and the Catastrophes mount. In some ways, this works better when the staff of the café are drawn from other roleplaying games, their inexperience at running a café quickly becoming evident as the failures mount and their methods, invariably useful in the other roleplaying game setting, not being as useful in the ordinary place of work.

Physically, Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game is well presented, coming as a folder containing two trifold pamphlets. They are bright, colourful, and easy to read.

Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game is playable as is, a storytelling game about running a café and coping with the problems that beset its staff and customers almost every day. Its lack of ending and objective, whether as a whole or for individual characters, does leave its purpose hanging, whereas if the Player Characters are drawn in from another game, Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game comes into its own. When that happens, the players get to explore their characters through a slice of life, doing something very ordinary, but often only having the most extraordinary means to do that ordinary thing. That exploration gives Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game its purpose and its comedy as the ordinary and extraordinary clash over coffee and cake.

Friday 23 June 2023

1982: Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One

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.


Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One is back! Originally designed by Sir Ian Livingstone and published by Games Workshop in 1982, it was the very first board game to be inspired by the Judge Dredd comic strip from the pages of 2000 AD. In the original game, the players control Judges patrolling the streets of Mega-City One, the vast twenty-second century metropolis on the Atlantic coast of North America, home to eight hundred million citizens and all of them potential lawbreakers. Every Judge is trained from the age of five to arrest criminals, pass sentence, and carry out the sentence—even if that means a death sentence!—all in the name of keeping the city and its inhabitants safe. Every turn a player sends his Judge to the scene of a reported crime, perhaps the Palais De Boing—the only place in the city where it is legal to go Boinging, Otto Sump’s Ugly Clinic for the very best in uglification surgery, or the Alien Zoo where wonders and weird creatures from across the universe can be seen— and attempts to arrest the perpetrator. Perhaps Joseph ‘Mad Tooth’ McKill for Tobacco Smoking, Ma Jong for Stookie Glanding, or Dobey Queeg for Robot Smashing. Notoriously, this is the board game where you could be arresting Judge Death for Littering, or Ma ‘Green Fingers’ Mahaffy for Murder. Unfortunately, only one Judge gets be top dog in Mega-City One, and that is Judge Dredd. Which means the player with greatest total strength of Crime and Perp cards in his score pile at the end of the game is the winner and thus next top dog.

Much like the later Block Mania, the good news is that Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One has returned to the fold of 2000 AD and is now published by Rebellion Unplugged. Like Block Mania, it has undergone a redesign and makeover, but not by very much, and the game play remains very much the same. What has been added are clearer rules for ending the game and a simple expansion to make play a little more interesting and worth revisiting. Everything else remains the same. Same game rules, same art style, same set of perps and crimes, and same take that style of play. So, although a classic, Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One is still a game from 1982. What that means is that the game is easy to learn and easy to play, has bags and bags of theme—even if that theme dates back between 1977 and 1982, a degree of players acting against each other, and a high degree of luck. Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One is by any definition, an ‘Ameritrash’ board game. That by no means is necessarily a bad thing as the game can also be funny and silly, and it is playable by anyone—not just those who played it first time around in 1982 and are noshing down on the nostalgia.

Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One is designed to be played by two to six players aged fourteen plus and has a playing time of between an hour and an hour-and-a-half. The board depicts twenty-eight locations in Mega-City One. Over the course of the game, each sector will be seeded with a reported Crime and Perp. The Judges will proceed to the Sectors where these Crimes and Perps have been reported, reveal them, and attempt to arrest the Perp. Failing that, they may be able to stop the Crime in progress. At the end of the game, the player who has scored the most points from Perps arrested and Crimes stopped, wins the game.

Set-up first requires the group to choose a game length—‘Hotdog Run’, ‘Day Shift’, or ‘Night Shift’—and decide whether or not to use the Specialist Judges expansion. Each player receives six Action cards, and the Crime, Perp, and Sector cards are shuffled. Sector cards are drawn and these indicate where reports of crimes have been made, Perp cards and Crime cards being drawn and placed face down in the indicated Sectors. Each round consists of three phases. In the Movement Phase, the Judges move two Sectors in a direction, taking accounting of bridges to cross the river, but primarily to the nearest Sector containing Perp and Crime cards. When a Judge moves into a Sector Perp and Crime cards, both are turned over and revealed. In the Arrest Phase, a Judge attempts to bring a Perp and his Crime to justice. To do this, his player rolls the game’s black Judge die and adds his Judge’s Strength. Another player roll’s the game red Perp die and adds the result to Perp’s Strength, a total of the value on the Perp card plus the value on the Crime card. Highest total wins. If the Judge’s result is higher, he arrests the Perp and his player takes both Perp and Crime cards and adds it to his score pile. If the Judge’s result is lower, the Judge has failed, is knocked out, and has to discard and refresh his hand of Action cards. If the result is a draw, the crime is stopped and the Crime is added to the player’s score pile, but the Perp runs away, ready to be arrested by another Judge! In the third Refill Phase, new Sector cards and Crime and Perp cards are drawn to bring the number in play back up to six, any Judges knocked out go to the Justice Department Hospital, and each player receives a new Action card, more if their Judge is in certain sectors.

Of course, it is not always possible for a Judge to beat a Perp and a Crime on a singe roll. For example, if Fink Angel And Ratty with a Strength of eight was Body Sharking, which has a value of five, the total Strength the player has to roll higher than is thirteen. Which is not possible with the addition of a Judge’s Strength of six plus a die roll. Fortunately, a Judge has access to Action cards. Most are Support cards, which add a bonus to the arresting Judge’s Strength. For example, ‘Judge Hershey is with you today’ adds three and ‘The Perp is Kill Crazy. You send in the Sonic Cannon.’ adds five. Others though, are Sabotage cards, and can be used by a player to make an arrest attempt by another player’s Judge even harder. For example, ‘Your breakfast of plasti-flakes and synthi-lix is giving you chronic indigestion. You are not in tip-top fighting condition’ levies a -2 penalty or ‘The Perp you are fighting is secretly an East-Meg spy. Add an Extra Die to their Strength’. The worst of these cards, of course, the Escape card, which reveals the Perp to be the notorious Edwin Parsey, notorious confessor of other people’s crimes, which forces all Support cards used in the arrest attempt to be discarded and the attempt be treated as a tie. Other Action cards allow extra movement, send the Judge to a particular Sector, grants on the spot healing, and so on.

Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One adds one expansion—Specialist Judges. There are six of these—or seven if the Judge Fish from ‘The Day the Law Died’ storyline promo is included—and each Judge has a different ability. They include Chief Judge, SJS Judge, Psi-Judge, Wally Squad, Cadet, and Mechanismo. For example, the Cadet Judge only has a Strength of four, but begins play with and can hold seven Action cards, and draws an extra card; the SJS Judge can look at another player’s Actions each turn and wins ties in combat; and the Wally Squad Judge can move through Sectors containing revealed Perps, but does not have to arrest them. All six are nicely thematic and give a player a good little edge in play. The mix means that the players can come back to the game, try another Specialist Judge and a slightly style of play.

Physically, Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One is well presented. The artwork on the board is in colour, whilst the cards is black and white, but also is sharply and crisply handled. The rulebook is clearly written, easy to read, and supported with examples of the rules. In addition, the rulebook includes all of the UMPTY CANDY CARDs from the Jack Caldwell’s Old-fashioned Umpty Candy packs. All three series—‘SECTORS of Mega-City One’, ‘CRIMES of Mega-City One’, and ‘PERPS of Mega-City One’ explain the three sets of cards in the game, giving background for each of them.

Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One is not a perfect game by modern standards. It is too luck driven, the game allows one player to directly hamper another with the Sabotage cards, and towards the end of play, players can congregate around the remaining Sectors that have not yet been drawn if they have been keeping an eye on the cards that have been drawn to date. That said, they were part of the game’s design in 1982 and they should be there also in 2022 because the new edition is intended as a nostalgia piece and to change the game’s design too radically would break from that. Another issue is that the game only draws from the first five or so years of the Judge Dredd strips in 2000 AD—1977 to 1982—so that means forty-year-old stories which may not be as familiar to younger players. Perhaps yet, there is room for further expansions involving the more recent stories and thus more Crimes and Perp cards?

Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One is a fun game, easy to play and all the more enjoyable if the players know the lore, know the crimes, and know the Perps. Rebellion Unplugged have done a fantastic job of updating the quality of the game whilst both retaining the same game play and adding an expansion for more varied play. Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One marks the welcome return of a beloved classic, British in both design and inspiration, in turns funny, frustrating, and evocative of our gaming youth and another age.