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Saturday 30 September 2023

1983: Enterprise – Role Play Game in Star Trek

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.

—oOo—

It is often forgotten that Star Trek: The Role Playing Game, published by FASA in 1982 was not the first Star Trek roleplaying game. It is often forgotten that Call of Cthulhu, published by Chaosium, Inc. in 1981 was not the first licensed roleplaying game. The very first licensed roleplaying game and the very first roleplaying based on Star Trek was
Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier, published by Heritage Models, Inc. by in 1978. If the first roleplaying game based on Star Trek is all but forgotten now, there is a third roleplaying game based on Star Trek which remains almost unknown which in its own way is equally as important as Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier. For if Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier is notable as the first licensed roleplaying game, then Enterprise – Role Play Game in Star Trek is notable for being the first domestic roleplaying game to be published in Japan and the first licensed roleplaying game to be published in Japan. Enterprise – Role Play Game in Star Trek was published in 1983 as a boxed set by Tsukuda Hobby, which at that time was better known for its wargames and model kits. In 1983, Enterprise – Role Play Game in Star Trek came as an eye-catching box set that included a twenty-page Rulebook, thirteen-page Adventure Book, fifteen double-sided Character Cards, two twenty-sided ten-sided dice, and one six-sided die. What is being reviewed here is not a copy of the original roleplaying game, as that would be almost impossible to obtain, but rather a translation that has been collated into a slim, fifty-eight-page hardback. The rules though, remain the same, even if the format does not.

A Player Character in Enterprise is defined by his Race, several abilities or traits—Strength, Dexterity, Intellect, Charisma, and Luck, Alignment, and one or more Special Abilities. The roleplaying game’s ‘Alien List’ includes Andorians, Talosians, Romulans, Metrons, Eugenic Superhumans, Organians, Klingons, Medusans, Melkotians, Tellarites, Zetrians, Gorns, M113 Monsters, Horta, and Vuclans. It does not say, though, which of these are suitable for use as Player Characters. All have an Alignment, one or more Special Abilities, and possible ability modifications. All five abilities range on the three to eighteen scale. Strength is both the amount of damage a Player Character can withstand and the chance he has of defeating an opponent in hand-to-hand combat; Dexterity is used to determine Initiative in combat and with the Mechanical Repair Special Ability to disable traps; Intellect determines if the Player Character has the Medical Talent or the Science Talent and can help him gain allies; Charisma to help him gain allies, but from force of personality rather than intellect; and Luck is used to avoid traps. Alignment includes Logical Good, Logical Bad, Neutral, Emotional Good, and Emotional Bad. It is easy to map the characters from Star Trek: The Original Series onto this array. The four Special Abilities are Mechanical Repair, Medical Talent (Treatment), Science Talent, and PSY Talent (ESP). Some aliens automatically have the PSY Talent (ESP), but Humans only have 10% chance of doing so. A Player Character’s chance of having the other three Special Abilities is based on their associated abilities. It is possible to create a Player Character who has multiple Special Abilities or none, depending upon whether the player rolls well or badly.

To create a character, the player selects a Race, rolls four-six-sided dice for each ability and deducts the lowest, and then rolls for each Special Ability. The process is very quick and easy. Alternatively, the player could select a member of the crew of the Enterprise. The roleplaying game comes with a double-sided Character Card for each as well as several opposing characters. Each Character Card lists the various statistics, Special Abilities, and has space for tracking hits, making notes, and so on, whilst on the front is a photograph of the character. There are fifteen Character Cards, three of which are blank for the player’s use, whilst the rest consist of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, Chapel, Rand, Commander Kang the Klingon, Stonn the Vulcan, and Subcommander Tal the Romulan.

Name: Rosana Guimarães
Race: Human
Alignment: Emotional Good
Special Abilities: Mechanical Repair, Science Talent
Strength 10 Dexterity 13 Intellect 12
Charisma 15 Luck 16
Equipment: Science Tricorder, Type II Hand Phaser, Communicator, knife and three days water and food.

Mechanically, Enterprise – Role Play Game in Star Trek uses percentile dice, but that is about as standard as it gets, and not because the Game Master uses the six-sided die to determine if the Player Character senses something hidden—a door or a trap—and which Player Character an enemy targets in a fight. After that, everything else is a subsystem of its own, each straightforward in itself, but different enough to require referring to a table each time. So to find out if a Player Character discovers a trap or hidden door, the player needs to roll 30% or less, modified by his character’s Luck and to avoid a trap if triggered, is another percentile roll, the number determined by the character’s Luck after consult the ‘Avoid Trap’ table. The chance is equal to 50% if the Luck value is 13, then modified by 5% up or down depending upon the Luck value. However, consulting the ‘Bypass Lock or Trap’ table, the required number is based on Dexterity and the chance is equal to 50% if the Dexterity value is 10. Undertaking tasks such as analysing or repairing a piece of equipment or an artefact requires the Player Character to have the Mechanical Repair Special Ability and his player to roll under the device’s Repair Probability, for example, 20% for a Universal Translator. If a Player Character has the Science Special Ability, he can use a computer or tricorder without any problems. Enemy computers are assigned a percentage, which the Player Character must roll under to be able to use. There are no modifications from the abilities on any of these rolls, so effectively, a Player Character with higher stats has a higher chance of having a Special Ability, but not a better chance of using it.

Encounters with NPCs are either hostile or non-hostile. Hostile NPCs always attack. Encounters with non-hostile NPCs require an Alignment Check. The Game Master compares the Alignments of the Player Character and the NPC. This determines the attitude of the NPC, either Domination, Equality, or Deception, which is kept secret from the player. The player then guesses what the NPC’s attitude is and selects his character’s approach, either Domination, Equality, or Deception. If the player is correct in guessing the NPC’s attitude, he can make an Attitude Option roll, again, either Domination, Equality, or Deception. This is a base percentile roll modified by either the Player Character’s Charisma and Intellect, sometimes both. If successful, the NPC becomes an Ally under the player’s control, joining the party of Player Characters. If the Alignment Check fails, the NPC becomes hostile and attacks, although it is suggested to the Game Master that depending upon the scenario, if the roll is failed, an NPC can still appear to act in a friendly manner towards the Player Characters, only to betray them later or act hostile initially, only to become an Ally later.

The Alignment Check and interaction rules for NPCs are not developed enough to work effectively. There are no bonuses or penalties to determine the effect of the three approaches—Domination, Equality, and Deception—working against each other. Unless the player successfully guesses the NPC’s attitude, the results are binary—failure, if not open hostility and combat. Also, the rules state that, “Regardless of whether or not the Alignment Check is required, the GM should roll the 20‐sided dice. Otherwise, the player may be able to discern whether or not they were right or wrong about the attitude of the NPC.” At this point, it is not clear what the Game Master is rolling for. Only in the accompanying example, does it become clear that the Game Master makes the Attitude Option roll and not the player.

Once surprise and initiative has been sorted, combat begins with dividing the combatants into groups of three on each side and the Game Master the values of a six-sided die to help randomly determine who targets who. Ranged combat is based on range—determined by the weapon’s range bands and distance to the target—and the attacker’s Dexterity. The result is a percentile value that the player or Game Master must roll under. The Game Master also has the option of applying penalties if the target is dodging, lying prone, or behind cover, but there are no standard penalties given. Damage from energy weapons is deadly—a ten-sided die’s worth for a Hand Phaser’s Destruction setting and instant death for the Dematerialise setting. The Stun simply renders the target unconscious.

Hand-to-hand combat involves not so much out and out brawling as attempts by the combatants to knock each other out. The two combatants’ Strength Ability ratings are compared. If they are equal, they have a hand‐to‐hand combat value of 50%, this the chance of knocking each other out. A higher Strength than the opponent will increase the hand‐to‐hand combat value, whilst a lower Strength will decrease the hand‐to‐hand combat value. Being armed with a knife or a stone count towards the hand‐to‐hand combat value. Of the two combat systems, the ranged combat rules are better than the ones for hand-to-hand combat, which really fail to capture the knockabout nature of brawls seen on screen in Star Trek: The Original Series.

The Adventure Book contains a single scenario, ‘The Drifting Ring’. The Enterprise has been assigned to investigate an object called the ‘The Ring’. It is a ten-kilometre diameter toroidal spacecraft and it is currently heading for Klingon space. The origins of The Ring lie at the centre of the galaxy where a race realised that their worlds increasingly in danger from a series of supernovae that would destroy the systems around them. They built a huge generational spaceship, populated it with crew, passengers (mostly in cryogenic sleep), and samples from their worlds, and headed for a safer area in the galaxy. Which to be honest, sounds an awful lot like the plot or at least the set-up, of Larry Niven’s Ringworld. Aboard, the crew will find a society that has regressed due to isolation and lost knowledge, and then rebellion, resulting in the inside of the spaceship being perpetually in the dark. The location where the Player Characters beam aboard has the feel of an agrarian valley, complete with river, mountains, forest, and ruins. The area is home to three different factions which keep apart from each other, some of whom will not be hostile to the Player Characters, some will, and of course, if one of the players is roleplaying Kirk, there is a young girl who will follow unconditionally no matter what the result of the Alignment Check suggests. (That said, given that she is described as a “[B]eautiful 16 year old girl.”, the Game Master would probably want to add a year or two or three…) Much of the adventure is given over to detailing the various locations in the scenario, but the descriptions are lacking, even absent in many cases of describing what something or someone looks like.

‘The Drifting Ring’ does actually feel as if it would fit into a Star Trek setting, given that the series dealt with a number of regressed civilisations, such as in ‘The Omega Glory’ and ‘For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky’. Effectively, ‘The Ring’ is a sandcrawl, the Player Characters free to explore where they want to. It is also more scenario than mission, since there is no real mission attached to the adventure. The implied mission is that the Enterprise crew is trying to stop the flight of The Ring. How that is achieved is left up to the players and their characters to decide. Overall, ‘The Ring’ feels a bit too open, a bit too big to be contained within one episode of Star Trek: The Original Series and despite, lacking in easy to use detail.

The Adventure Book concludes with some Design Notes from the author, Tama Yutaka. Notable later as the co-editor of the Japanese version of Warlock – The Fighting Fantasy Magazine, here he states that, “I designed this STAR TREK game as a way to introduce the Role Playing Game ‐‐ currently at dizzying heights in the United States ‐‐ to Japan.” He emphasises the importance of the human, that character should be central, even given the prominence of machines in Science Fiction and Fantasy—especially Star Trek—and this is what differentiates a roleplaying game from a board game. There is tentativeness to the Design Notes, if not the roleplaying game as a whole.

So what is missing from Enterprise – Role Play Game in Star Trek? Fundamentally, two things. First, there is no background on Star Trek at all in the setting. None at all. It assumes that both Game Master and her players are familiar already with the television series to play. Second, the U.S.S. Enterprise. Or, indeed, any starships. They are completely ignored, so very much like the earlier Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier, published by Heritage Models, Inc., Enterprise – Role Play Game in Star Trek is all about the away missions and what happens on planet or aboard a space station rather than aboard ship. Similar to Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier, there is no means of character progression either, even though it is possible to create Player Characters. The combination of this lack of character progression with the limited options in terms of the Special Abilities to select from or roll for—Mechanical Repair, Medical Talent (Treatment), Science Talent, and PSY Talent (ESP)—means that characters themselves feel shallow. It does not help that with no ships involved in the roleplaying game, there are no Special Abilities related to their option, but there are no combat or interaction Special Abilities either. Perhaps a second edition might have addressed these issues and been less of a skirmish roleplaying game, something that not even FASA’s Star Trek: The Role Playing Game was able to wholly avoid.

Physically, Enterprise – Role Play Game in Star Trek was presented for 1983. Its combination of a box set containing the two books, the Character Cards, and dice would have looked attractive and caught the eye of any Star Trek fan. The translation is clear and simply presented, the Character Cards of the crew of the Enterprise and their foes and allies are decently done, and the maps are workable.

Enterprise – Role Play Game in Star Trek is very much the Star Trek: The Original Series roleplaying game, really suggesting that the players take the roles of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise rather than create their own crewmen. Like the earlier Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier, it wants to push away from the wargaming origins of the hobby and like Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier, it does not quite do so because it never really gets away from being a skirmish game played out on maps and floorplans. Yet it has some interesting ideas, such as the emotion-versus-logic Alignment system that is very Kirk-McCoy-Spock and the Alignment Check interaction mechanic, that suggests it does want to be more than this. These remain undeveloped though and with a focus on elements of play such as the need to check for traps and hidden doors, on movement, and the like, Enterprise – Role Play Game in Star Trek remains an unsophisticated design that all too often feels as if it has been written through the lens of Dungeons & Dragons and its play style as much as Star Trek. Ultimately, what makes Enterprise – Role Play Game in Star Trek an interesting roleplaying game is not that it is a Star Trek roleplaying game, but that it is the first Japanese roleplaying game.

Solitaire: Rock Hoppers

You made it and you survived. In answer to the signal sent from Tau Ceti almost a century ago, you were among those who made the three decade-long first journey by mankind through interstellar space. What humanity found were the arrays, installations ranging in size from a metre across to kilometres across and performing a variety of functions—habitants, defence systems, power stations, communications relays, and many more. What they all do remains yet to be determined, but if humanity is to survive, it needs resources—which can hopefully be found in Tau Ceti’s outer system. Prospectors, known as ‘Rock Hoppers’, have been sent out, one-part miners, one-part salvagers, one-part explorers, to search for the resources mankind’s first colony needs to survive. Hopping from rock to rock, from asteroid to asteroid, every rock hopper hopes to locate that lucky strike which will set them up for life—and if not that, enough to continue operations. That was what you thought when you detected the gravitational anomaly. It could only be xeno-tech, something that help understand the installations of the array which drew humanity to the system. Only for the gravitational anomaly to spike, soaring to nine times what you first detected, collapsing the entrance to the asteroid, trapping you inside. You cannot go back the way you came. The only way to survive is to find a path forward, hopefully a route out if not answers as to what happened…

This is the set-up for Rock Hoppers, a solo journalling game of desperate exploration in the near future in another star. It is a sequel to The Long Goodbye and both are set in the same Dyson Eclipse future. Where The Long Goodbye explored the journey from the Earth to the unknown of Tau Ceti and the fear of the journey and what might be found at Tau Ceti, Rock Hoppers explores what might be found there and what it takes to survive. Where The Long Goodbye was a two-player epistolary roleplaying game, Rock Hoppers is a solo affair, one which takes it desperate tone and urgency from The Wretched, though not its horror. 

Published by LunarShadow Designs and like The Wretched before it, Rock Hoppers is a game about exploration, isolation, fear, and perseverance and potentially, survival in the face of overwhelming odds. The game requires an ordinary deck of playing cards without the Jokers, a six-sided die, a Jenga or similar tower block game, and a set of tokens. In addition, the player will require a means of recording the results of the game. It is suggested that audio or video longs work best, but a traditional journal will also work too. Rock Hoppers is a played out as a series of days, the player, as the titular rock hopper, undertaking a series of tasks each day and responding to prompts before ending the day by recording its events and his thoughts in his personal log. As in The Wretched, the rock hopper is unlikely to survive the experience. The rock hopper’s personal mining rig might become trapped in the tunnels in the asteroid or the tunnels might collapse, crushing the rock hopper—which will happen if the tower block collapses. The only way for the rock hopper to survive is to reach the cause of the gravitation anomaly and hope that it has some answers…
 
The four suites correspond to different aspects of the rock hopper’s mining rig and the environment around him. Spades represent the rock hopper’s personal mining rig and the supplies it was carrying when he became trapped; Clubs detail the asteroid itself, previously mined by whomever it who built the arrays; Hearts are signals that the rock hopper will pick up from outside the asteroid; and Diamonds are the secrets to be found buried deep in the asteroid. Unlike in The Wretched, there is no sense of threat from without, no monster or alien lurking, ready to find its way into the asteroid… Instead, there is a sense of isolation and desperation, rather than of being stalked. In that isolation, there is also time for reflection for the situation that the rock hopper finds himself in and likely, if disaster strikes, on his life.

Rock Hoppers does have secrets. These are revealed only under certain circumstances. The likelihood is that the player will take several attempts to play through Rock Hoppers in order to get to them and begin to reveal the secrets of the asteroid and thus the very first secrets of the Dyson Eclipse future. 

Physically, Rock Hoppers is cleanly and tidily presented. It is not illustrated. 

Although Rock Hoppers uses the same mechanics as The Wretched, it is much more constrained and isolated in nature, primarily because there is no external force. It does take a while to play through, in the sense of multiple attempts, to reveal any secrets of the Dyson Eclipse setting, and a player may find himself going over old story prompts.

Friday 29 September 2023

SLA Species I

SLA Industries Species Guide 1: Shaktar – Wraithen is a supplement for SLA Industries, the roleplaying game set in a far future dystopia of corporate greed, commodification of ultraviolence, the mediatisation of murder, conspiracy, and urban horror, and serial killer sensationalism. S.L.A. Industries has its headquarters on Mort City, its rain sodden, polluted, and overly populated heart, located on the industrially stripped planet of Mort and surrounded by five Cannibal Sectors, and from here it governs the planet and the World of Progress beyond, encompassing all of known space. It is here the citizens come from far and wide to enlist in Meny to become SLA Operatives and part of the mediatised programme even as they protect SLA Industries and the World of Progress from innumerable threats from without—and some from within. Some of the most loyal of citizens who serve as Operatives are the Shaktar and the Wraithen and have been part of the Operative Programme since the start and it is both of these that the subject of the species guide for SLA Industries.

SLA Industries Species Guide 1: Shaktar – Wraithen is a slim volume that divides its content equally between the two very different species. These are the honourable warriors that are the Shaktar and the hyperactive hunters that are the Wraithen. In both cases it provides details of each species, their history and home world, culture and outlook, and connection to SLA Industries. This is supported with details of some of the species indigenous to their homeworlds, arms and armour particular to their species, and new additions to the rules. These include new skill packages and Traits for use with Player Character or NPC creation as well as Feats for cinematic action, and their outlook and attitude towards the other species who typically sign up as a SLA Operatives. Beyond this, there is extra content as such as details of the Shaktar faith and of ‘The Killbox’ in Mort City, an attraction in Little Polo—the Wraithen focused entertainment district—where a five-kilometre square area underground has been turned into a killzone watched by a live audience that only one team has so survived. Plus, there are two BPN—BluePrint News files—tasks tied to the Wraithen Liberation Front, a political movement dedicated to Wraithen life to what it once was on Polo before SLA Industries arrived, and a Hunter Sheet for ‘The Copycat Killer’, which directs the Operatives to track down a serial killer who is murdering the bird-like Nephrons in the style of a Wraithen presently arrested as the perpetrators of the crimes.

There is a sense of duality which rules throughout the supplement. Most obviously in the two very species presented in its pages. The Shaktar, stoic, valorous, honourable, and always at war with something—themselves, the pitiless nature of society, or an enemy of SLA Industries, versus the Wraithen, ultra-competitive, win-at-all-costs, casually sadistic, impulsive hunters with low attention spans. Yet even within the Shaktar, there is a duality, between the ideologies of those who follow the Shining Moons and those who follow the Shadow Moons. The Shining Moon Tribes have long been allied with SLA Industries, whereas the Shadow Moon Tribes worship the White Earth. The Shaktar embrace war and conflict, but feel the need to counter this violence by paying a debt to society, by doing good works, helping others and so on. They call this ‘The Sword and the Bowl’. When a Shaktar has no purpose, such as undertaking an ordeal, pursuing an injustice, going after the Ion Pirates—Shaktar who follow the Dark Moons, he is unbalanced and tip into its counterpart, Emptiness. This is the absence of joy, faith, and compassion and the Shaktar is in danger of slipping onto the path under the Dark Moons. Dualism plays out again and again with the Shaktar, adding depth and detail, but not so with the Wraithen. They are much more straightforward and direct, having no sense of reflection like the Shaktar do, regarding the need for faith and honour as a waste of time when one could instead be winning and being the best. The focus for them and on them is on the immediacy of what they want.

In the first half of SLA Industries Species Guide 1: Shaktar – Wraithen, the focus is on the Shaktar, reptilian humanoids of The Shining Moon Tribes and the balance in the Shaktar species. The descriptions are full of details that the Game Master can use to bring their culture to life. For example, the ‘sword’ aspect of ‘The Sword and the Bowl’ is easy to fulfil with combat and violent deeds, but the ‘bowl’ requires charitable, unselfish deeds, which need to be resolved and accepted by a Shaktarian Confessor or Priest. Here then is a roleplaying opportunity that can only be made the more interesting if the Shaktar’s squadmates have to get involved too. Ordeals—grand, self-appointed quests—drive a Shaktar’s actions too, so every Player Character Shaktar should be on one or thinking about one. The Game Master can flesh out the Player Character Shaktar’s relation with the Confessor or Priest using the accompanying description of Shaktar religion, whilst the Tribal Education packages are good for Shaktar who are native to the worlds of the Shaktar Nation, though all Shaktar trace their lineage back to the eight tribes or castes. The supplement adds Language: Shaktarian and Lore: Shaktarian, though only the Progressive dialect of the Shaktarian language can be spoken outsiders, the Dawn language bing incomprehensible and unpronounceable. New equipment includes the HonourBound armour, which can only be given as a gift to those Shaktar on an ordeal and must be worn until the ordeal is complete, Ion weapons that fire positively-charged ions, S’k’-r’n blades made from the bones of personally vanquished foes, and legendary weapons—weapons, armour, and artefacts that have lost since the Conflict Era and Green and Yellow BPNs are used to recover. Shaktar starting skill packages include Gallant, Stalwart, K’th Priest, and R’tha Champion—the latter from a religious sect of warriors dedicated to the destruction of anything connected to the White Earth. Feats include Battle Lust for Body to act before Initiative is rolled for and Shadow Blood for Bravado and a Shaktar who has family members who have fallen into Emptiness or aligned with the Shadow Moon Tribes. Can he be trusted? Rules are included for Shaktar honour codes, Lineage, Acclaim, and Blessings, enabling the Game Master to bring out more Shaktar culture in play.

By comparison, the Wraithen are shallow. What the highly competitive fast-moving apex predators are not—as the supplement makes clear is ‘comedy cat people’, ‘attractive to other species’ because they are too alien with their movement and big jaws full of teeth, or indeed, savages, honourable, stupid, or actually evil. It is a warning upfront to the Game Master and player alike on how to roleplay given how alien they are. There plenty of details also what does keep their attention span, such as the ‘Hlicks’ or ‘Hunting Flicks’ which show fast-moving prey animals hunting and culminate in a bloody kill (there is the suggestion of underground Hlicks where the target is a humanoid being hunted by skilled SLA Operatives), Wraithen focused adverts, and Little Polo, the district specifically designed to cater to Wraithen. There is some background on the Wraithen homeworld of Polo, extremely cold such that Wraiten need a bio-implant to encounter the effects of the heat on Mort, but in someways the means of getting off it and into SLA Operatives training at Meny is more interesting, SLA Industry having turned the application process for young Wraithen into a game! New skill packages include the Media Darling, the Big Game Hunter, the Saboteur, the Sneak Thief, and many more. Wraithen specific hardware includes the WWD ‘Heart Stopper’ Blade, originally designed as a filleting and flensing knife, but now used as a finesse weapon, WWD ‘Monofangs’, and FEN 313 ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ Tranq Rifle, which can fire a range of drug-delivering darts. Some tranquilise the target—with or without leaving an aftertaste, and some like Kickoff, causes uncontrollable and indiscriminate aggression, so can be used to make a hunt all the more challenging. There is the comment that bored Wraithen are known to fire a dose of this into their squadmates because they simply bored… Besides a wide range of arms and armour—WWD ‘Ishmael’ Harpoon Launcher from hunting Ice Whales on Polo anyone?—there are a lot of new Feats, such as ‘Nine Lives’ for Body, with which they avoid a killing blow, but are knocked prone and stunned and ‘Me?’ for Bravado which enables a Wraithen to feign innocence by blaming someone else. New Traits include Double Jointed, Perfect Balance, and (really, really) Short attention Span. 

Physically, SLA Industries Species Guide 1: Shaktar – Wraithen is very well-presented. The artwork is as good as to be expected for a SLA Industries supplement, the writing is decent, and it gets away with not needing an index with its relatively short page length.

SLA Industries Species Guide 1: Shaktar – Wraithen is a good resource for the player and Game Master of SLA Industries alike. The player has extra background about his character and plenty of new character options to help him bring them into play, whilst the Game Master has content she can use to showcase both the Shaktar and the Wraithen and their culture and outlook in her campaign and provide species specific content for Shaktar and Wraithen Player Characters, both on their homeworlds and off.

Friday Filler: The Rocketeer

With war looming – at least in Europe, the future of the world may depend upon who gets possession of a startling piece of equipment which could push the future of aviation technology—a rocket pack! Stolen to order from Howard Hughes by gangsters, they were forced to hide it in their getaway and both the one working model and the plans have ended up in possession of Cliff Secord, a stunt pilot. As he learns to fly the rocket pack, he comes to the attention of Eddie Valentine, the mobster hired to carry out the theft in the first place, and the man who hired Eddie, the matinee idol, Neville Sinclair, who also happens to be a secret Nazi! If Eddie Valentine cannot get the plans, then Sinclair’s henchman, the glowering Lothar certainly, if Lothar fails, Sinclair has a secret army of soldiers at his command. Cliff Secord must stop the plans from falling into Nazi hands—and if they do, get them back before Sinclair can travel to Germany. He has the help of his trusty mechanic, Peevy, and his girlfriend, both of whom can get places he cannot. Will Cliff keep hold of the rocket plans or will he fail and advance Nazi science in readiness for the coming conflict?

So this essentially, is the plot to the 1991 Disney film, The Rocketeer, which of course, was adapted from the brilliant comic book series by the late Dave Stevens. Both combined art deco stylings, pulp action, and a serving of modest cheesecake with the inclusion of the Betty Page-like Jenny with the inspiration of Republic Pictures serials of the early nineteen fifties, most notably Radar Men from the Moon and Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe. (If you have not seen the film, why not? It is genuinely good fun. Actually, go watch the film instead of reading this review. I honestly do not mind. Really. I promise you will not be disappointed. In fact, I am watching it right now as I type this, so what is your excuse?) This it also turns out is the set-up for The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future. Designed by the same team behind Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure and Jaws, The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future is a two-player, asymmetric boardgame which was published by Funko Games in 2021—the thirtieth anniversary of the film. Designed for ages twelve and up, each player in The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future controls a team of three characters who will race back and forth across Los Angeles, trade punches as much as pithy putdowns, all the while trying to ensure that by the time the zeppelin, the LZ Luxembourg, is in town, they have possession of the rocket pack plans. The game plays in forty-five minutes, but faster once you get to it is rules—though it is not that complex.

The first thing that can be said about The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future is that this is a great looking game. You know that the moment you open the box and the Rocketeer’s helmet stares at you from the back of the board. This is a lovely detail—as is the map of Los Angeles on the inside of the lid of the box. Neither add a single thing to the game except love for the source material. The game is full of such details, such as the Current Event cards being designed to look like newspaper front pages and the art deco style throughout. The artwork is excellent, fully painted rather than drawn from Dave Stevens’ own artwork or stills from the film. It is all inspired by the film and is all very, very good. If there is a downside to the components, it is the miniature figures for each of the six characters. It is easy to tell which one is which, but they are more representative than effectively depicting the characters. The other aspect of the game’s look is the lack of reference to, or iconography of, the Nazis. Although we know Sinclair to be one, that is enough to play the game and it need not be made obvious and so spoil the look of the game.

At the heart of The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future are the plans to the rocket pack. These are represented by three cards. One is the Rocket Blueprint, the other two are dummy plans. The Heroes start play with these hidden and face down. The Villains will Tussle with the Heroes to determine which of them has the Rocket Blueprints and having taken possession of them, will keep them hidden and face down. It is the Heroes turn to Tussle with the Villains Heroes to determine which of them has the Rocket Blueprints and having taken possession of them again, will keep them hidden and face down. Play will continue like this over the course of five or six rounds, the aim being not just to keep hold of the Rocket Blueprint, but acquire Finale cards. Finale cards can be earned from playing the Abilities on cards and from having the Plans at the end of each round. Finale cards reward points and the player with the most points at the end of the game—indicated by the arrival of the LZ Luxembourg in Los Angeles—wins the game.

The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future is played out a board depicting different locations from the film across Los Angeles. These include The Observatory, the setting for the film’s climax, the South Seas Club where Sinclair takes Jenny to dinner, Sinclair Mansion, 1935 Palm Terrace—home to Peevy and Cliff, Bulldog Café where Cliff takes Jenny to dinner, and Chapel Airfield, scene of much of the film’s action. These locations are marked with Icons indicating the benefits a player can gain from visiting, knocking out opponents, and being in control at the end of a round. Each Player controls the three heroes—Cliff, Jenny, and Peevy, or the three villains—Neville Sinclair, Eddie Valentine, and Lothar. As the Rocketeer, Cliff has the advantage of the rocket suit and has greater movement—which can be increased, whilst as a Nazi agent, Neville Sinclair can recruit and build a secret army of soldiers. When he ambushes any of the heroes, Eddie Valentine realises who Sinclair is working for and scarpers, but Sinclair has his army, nonetheless. It is best for the Villain player to recruit as many as he can before unleashing them. Sadly, unlike in the film, Eddy Valentine does not then fight on the Heroes’ side.

Control of each player’s three characters is done via a deck of cards. Every card has icons to indicate which character or characters the card applies to, an action or an ability that the player character choose between, and the cost of using the ability as well as a good illustration. For example, ‘Put It In Neutral’ can be used by either Cliff or Peevy. If used as an Action card, it grants a Move and a Tussle Icon and their associated actions. However, if used as an Ability, there is no cost, but the character can move to any Location and take the associated action there. The illustration shows Cliff as the Rocketeer in the back of Peevy’s pickup truck, using the power of the rocket pack to make a getaway. This illustrates one of the scenes from the film and all the cards are like this, depicting a scene from the film and so combining the film’s story and the rules in such a way that helps bring the game to life. It is really quite subtle, but if you know the film, it is just one more way in which the designers reward the players. Other rewards from the Ability options on the cards include gaining Grit or Clout, drawing a card, drawing a Finale card, revealing or hiding Plans. The Hero player can also increases Cliff’s skill and range with the rocket pack and the Villain player can recruit soldiers to his secret army and stage ambushes. Grit is possessed individually by each character and is used in Tussles and Clout is a shared resource used to activate the Abilities on many of the cards.

The game consists of several rounds. At the beginning of each round, a Current Event card will be draw, which adds a random event and determines how far the Luxembourg travels this round. Then, using a hand of seven cards, each player will take it in turn to active his three characters, have them move, Tussle with the enemy. A player can use as many cards as he wants or he can for each character. Once a character has been activated and moved, he cannot do so again that turn. At the end of the round, rewards are earned for having the Plans and from each location controlled. Tussles are simple. The Action part of a card has a Tussle icon on it. This represents the character’s strength in the Tussle and it can be increased by adding the character’s Grit tokens. The defending player can block the attack by discarding cards which have the Shield icon on them and card’s which have the defending character’s Icon on them. This also costs Grit. The character with the higher Tussle Strength will win the Tussle. Only the defending character can be knocked out in a Tussle, which if his side has the Plans, will also reveal if he has the Rocket Blueprint or the dummy plans. A Tussle can—and will often—end with a standoff, with blows exchanged, Grit expended, and no knockout. This though does make a defending character weak if the acting player still have characters to move. Once both players have moved all three of their characters, the round is over, rewards are awarded, and a new round is set-up. Once the Luxembourg arrives in Los Angeles, a final round is played and the game ends. Players total their points from the Finale cards—typically two or three points per card, though some have zero points and others have conditional rewards such as a bonus for Grit in play or controlling a location—and the player with highest total wins.

The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future does feel a little long in its game play and though designed to be asymmetrical, does favour the Heroes more than the Villains. The Heroes have more chances to gain Finale cards and their mechanics are simpler, whereas the Villains have the Secret Army, which is a bit fiddlier and a different sub-mechanic for the Villain player to have to contend with. Plus, when the Secret Army does come into play, it cannot possess the Rocket Blueprint, meaning that if in the Villains’ hands, either Neville Sinclair or Lothar has it, making it easier to track down and get back. The aspect of winning via the Finale cards means that neither player quite knows who is winning until the very end unless one player has managed to get many more than the other. So, it can be difficult to work out how you are progressing in the game.

The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future is a clever design which really takes advantage of its source material to turn it into a good game. The game play is fairly simple, tactical rather than strategic—a player needing to get the best out of his hand of cards in a round rather than long term planning, and thematic. In fact, highly thematic! If you are a fan of The Rocketeer, then The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future is definitely the game for you. The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future definitely looks the part—comic book or the film—and who wouldn’t want to sock Neville Sinclair where it counts?

Monday 25 September 2023

Miskatonic Monday #220: The Great American Dynasty

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.

—oOo—
Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Keller O’Leary

Setting: Modern day USA
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Thirty-eight page, 14.34 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Sacrifices have to be made to maintain control
Plot Hook: A clean-up task reveals an incredible conspiracy
Plot Support: Staging advice, four pre-generated Investigators,
four-hundred-and-fifty-seven NPCs, four handouts, two spells, one map, and two Mythos monsters.
Production Values: Decent

Pros
# Conspiracy on conspiracy action and investigation
# Combines Americana with the Mythos
# Miskatonic University connected ‘Society for the Exploration of the Unexplained’ as the Investigators’ Investigator Organisation?
# Could be used as a campaign starter
# Paranoia
# Melophobia
# Gerascophobia

Cons
# Feels like Delta Green and Need to Know
# Needs an edit
# Some elements will need developing by the Keeper
# Opportunity to interact with presidents and celebrities of the past undeveloped

Conclusion
# Great American conspiracy meets Call of Cthulhu
# Serviceable scenario which needs development to flesh out some of its encounters and details

Miskatonic Monday #219: Baba Dochia

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: Christopher Dimitrios

Setting: 1990s Romania
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Sixteen page, 4.57 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Suffer the little children... for the greater good
Plot Hook: Corruption and faith may be undoing of the ancient ways.
Plot Support: Staging advice, four pre-generated Investigators, four NPCs (plus more), two handouts, one map, and 
one Mythos monster.
Production Values: Decent

Pros
# Wraps local folklore in the Mythos, but the Mythos is not really needed
# Engaging piece of folkloric horror
# Strong sense of place
Frigophobia
Gerontophobia
Pedophobia

Cons
# NPC connections and what they know could be clearer
# Lines of investigation could be more clearly presented
# Wraps local folklore in the Mythos, but the Mythos is not really needed

Conclusion
# Creepy post-Communist folkloric horror one-shot
# Keeper needs to make line of investigation clearer to better run the scenario, but the scenario has everything she needs

Sunday 24 September 2023

Lizards & Birds & Pirates, Oh My!

The Ages of Man have long since passed and the Old Ones are no more. They bequeathed the world and their relics to the ones… Well, whether it was the ones they worshipped or the ones that served them, it does not matter. For the beliefs and attitudes of the ones they worshipped and the ones that served them—in the Monarchies of Mau and the Kingdom of Pugmire respectively—matter little when you are far out on the Acid Sea, with only the plastic hull of your to protect you from the corrosive waters and your shipmates to rely upon. As pirates, sailors, and treasure hunters you set out from the ‘safety’ of pirate havens such as Waterdog Port, whose ownership has long been disputed between the Monarchies of Mau and the Kingdom of Pugmire or Port Matthew, the trade port in Monarchies of Mau, ready to keep your ship from being eaten away, hoping you do not encounter Acid Sharks or one of the dread Kraken, or worse have one of your crew possessed by a Stormcaller, a demon of the weather, but hoping that you do discover new lands, buried treasure, or a ship to capture! On your hip you have strapped a sturdy cutlass, whilst stuffed in your belt is one of the new gunpowder flintlock pistols, intricately carved from butt to the end of the barrel, and when that is not enough, your crew’s Alkalist can throw bombs that explode or heal, and your crew’s Rimer will sing you a song or tell you tale that will keep your spirits up. Many a Dog from the Kingdom of Pugmire and Cat from the Monarchies of Mau has sailed the Acid Sea, but few truly answer its call. More ready to heed the call are the transient Species, itinerant travellers and traders. They are Lizards—Geckos, Serpents, and Turtles—and Birds—Parrots, Crows, and Sparrows—and together they are the
Pirates of Pugmire.

Pirates of Pugmire is not a standalone roleplaying game, but is rather described as a ‘Chronicle’ book that works with Monarchies of Mau and Pugmire—either separately or together. Published by Onyx Path Publishing following a successful Kickstarter campaign, it expands upon the world of Pugmire, best described as a combination of the anthropomorphic, the apocalyptic, and the fantastical genres, adding new Species and Callings to play, new Knacks, plus an entirely new environment—only hinted at in either of the core books—to explore and experience. Part of that experience includes a mini-campaign set on the high seas which takes the Player Characters from First Level to Sixth Level. Like both core settings, Pirates of Pugmire does involve action, intrigue, and very much exploration, but this is an expansion setting where the Player Characters (and others) make their own families formed of different species rather than the packs of dogs or the clowders of cats. Where on land, the cats and dogs take an interest in the legacies and artefacts of the Old Ones—of Man—they do so from a primarily scientific or academic point of view. Nothing quite so dry in
Pirates of Pugmire. Pirates are only interested in treasure and there is plenty of treasure to be found—and if not found, squabbled over and stolen—if the pirates sail far enough, but in addition to facing the fearsome monsters of the Acid Sea, every treasure has a dangerous legacy and legend to it. So, the pirates had better hope that there is only a grain of truth in some of these legends.

Pirates of Pugmire includes plenty of fiction to get the tone and style of the setting—swashbuckling action, intrigue and squabbling, and so on. The book is illustrated with full colour painted artwork and the text is accompanied by commentaries from three in-game characters. These are Polly of the Seven Blazing Feathers, who is new in the Pugmire setting, and Princess Yosha Pug and Sabian Sphynx von Angora, who will be familiar from Pugmire and Monarchies of Mau, respectively. The first of the two families introduced as playable Species are the Lizards, who are primarily desert nomads, known as traders and excellent storytellers and the high value they attach to salt. This mineral is used in cooking, to aid water retention in their arid homes, in their religious rites, and as a component to their Akalist’s magics. The three Lizard families are Geckos, charismatic, agile, and able to blend into different cultures with their Chameleon Knack; Serpents are reserved, strong, and intelligent, and able to cross different terrain with their Slither Knack; and Turtles are slow and wise, but can take partial cover their Hunker Down Knack by withdrawing into their shell. All Birds dress to show off their plumage, yearn to return to the Sky Kingdom, a real place to some, more metaphysical to others, and have a difficult relationship with Cats. They are divided into three ‘nestes’ and the closer a neste is to the Sky Kingdom, the greater its influence in Bird society. Parrots are talkers and performers who Spin any tale or story to their advantage with their Spin Knack; Crows are tough and quiet, with a love of trinkets and ornaments, and have the Glide Knack; and Sparrows are flighty and prefer song as the means to tell stories, and with their Soar Knack, the only Bird capable of actual flight.

Besides new Knacks such as Sailor and Marine,
Pirates of Pugmire introduces six new Callings. These are Alkalist, Crusader, Gundog, Mystic, Rimer, and Torpedo. The Alkalist devises potions and concoctions as both balms and bombs that can both be thrown; the Crusader is a warrior with strongly held beliefs who fights for what is right; the Gundog is a warrior who uses the new gunpowder weapons and treats his weapons with reverence; the Mystic draws upon the power of the sea for his magic; the Rimer uses song and dance as misdirection; and the Torpedo uses stealth to strike hard and fast. There are some limitations in terms of Species and Calling. A Dog can only be a Crusader or Gundog and a Cat a Mystic or Torpedo, but any of the Callings from either Pugmire or Monarchies of Mau. There are no such limitations on Lizards or Birds and both have a different view on each of the Callings as explained by Polly of the Seven Blazing Feathers. All six Callings give a general view of what each thinks of the other five Callings and some sample Backgrounds.

If the mix of Species, Callings, and Knacks are engaging and fun, and make you want to play a Pirate Parrot or Gecko, the new mechanical elements of
Pirates of Pugmire are not always as successful. The good include Signed Knacks, such as the Signed Captain Knack which enables a Signed Captain to command a fellow crew member to reroll a die once per day aboard ship or the Signed Sailing Master Knacks which grants Advantage on all navigation rolls. Signed Knacks become available when the members of the crew sign the ship’s Articles and become Signed. Ship’s Articles are a way of enforcing the attitudes of a captain and his crew. Thus, Articles such as ‘Every pirate of the crew gets an equal share of the spoils’ and ‘This ship is a democracy, except when boarding or being boarded.’ represents a very different ship to one whose articles include ‘Prisoners are dead weight’ and ‘Never give an enemy comfort or mercy’. There are new seafaring spells such as Briny Deep which inflicts the sense that one is drowning on a target, Rough Seas which makes the seas around a target vessel or kraken choppy and the equivalent of rough terrain, and Suppress Gunpowder, which temporarily makes all gunpowder nearby inert. These are all great spells, flavoursome and genre suitable, as is the way that Pirates of Pugmire treats gunpowder. Originally seen as an Alkalist novelty, gunpowder and gunpowder weapons have been taken up by pirates everywhere—but not all pirates. The Gundog and Torpedo Callings are immune to the effects of Gunpowder Panic. Anyone within hearing of a gunpowder weapon being discharged who does not have the Exotic Weapon Aptitude Feat or Pistoleer Feat must make a Charisma saving throw to avoid gaining the Deaf and Scared Conditions. This keeps gunpowder scary and powerful and meaningful for the Callings that have it, without every Player Character having access to it.

Also detailed are the dangers of the Acid Sea, which constantly corrodes a ship’s plastic hull, sometimes reducing its Seaworthiness to the point where the ship is unsafe, hobbled, or simply adrift. If its Seaworthiness is reduced to zero, the ship will sink. Not every ship has a plastic hull and in game terms, a ship will need to have its Hull or Seaworthiness improved when built will outfitted with one. Ships are treated like a Player Character except their only stats are Artillery, Hull, Seaworthiness, and Speed. Only a few ships and ships weapons are detailed, but what is apparent is that these ships are small with crew numbers ranging between six and twenty, so the scale of them in
Pirates of Pugmire is actually quite small compared to that of the actual Age of Sail. As good as the other mechanical details are here, the ships are themselves underwhelming and the rules for ship-to-ship combat glossed over, relying on narrative detail perhaps more than the other rules in Pirates of Pugmire actually do. There are, however, lots of good explanations as to why a Cat, Dog, Lizard, or Bird might take up the life of a pirate or sailor, as well as what the various roles are aboard ship and what they do. In terms of piracy, Pirates of Pugmire is very much less “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.” and more swashbuckling and storytelling. The intent is that the Player Characters are adventurers and explorers rather than dangerous, lawless buccaneers.

One pleasing mechanic which pulls the Player Characters together in
Pirates of Pugmire, is how Fortune is used. Fortune in the game can be spent for various effects, such as rerolls or to cast a spell if the Player Character has no spell slots. In Pugmire, Fortune is a collective resource shared between the party, but in Monarchies of Mau, a Cat can have his own Fortune as well as access to collective Fortune. This remains the same in Pirates of Pugmire, which adds separate Fortune resources for Birds and Lizards, but once a ship’s crew has signed the ship’s Articles, then Fortune can become a collective resource between all of them. In this way, Fortune models the Player Characters becoming a family.

In terms of background,
Pirates of Pugmire adds a host of new creatures, such as the Acid Shark, the Globster, rotting sea life infused with necrotic magic, and Stormcallers, weather demons which possess crewmembers during storms, and crew like the Crow Lookout, Mouse Gunner, and Otter Boarder. Colossal Foes are added too, for example, the Kraken, which has two hit locations—Kraken Tentacles and Kraken Head, complete with different Hit Points and attacks. Treasure is important in Pirates of Pugmire because every artefact—major and minor—has its own legend and notoriety. Ranging between one and three, the latter represents both how well each treasure and its legend are widely known and the Notoriety that its discovery, recovery, and possession will grant a pirate. Effectively, the greater the Notoriety of an item of treasure in a pirate’s possession, the more widely known and recognised and easy to find he is. Beyond the magical effect that the treasure may bestow, this Notoriety is the only way a Lizard or Bird can benefit from a treasure. Neither can absorb a masterwork item or treasure like Cats can or Dogs can improve. Not every treasure has a beneficial effect, and as you would expect, many are also cursed.

In terms of setting,
Pirates of Pugmire describes several locations. These start with two ports. The first is Waterdog Port, whose founding triggered the War of Dogs and Cats and after numerous vicious Alleyway Skirmishes, the city’s leaders tired of the war, established the city’s independence, and made every species welcome. This includes Rats and Mice, Otters and Weasels, and Badgers, although none of them are particularly detailed in the setting. The other is Port Matthew, the Monarchies of Mau’s shipping capital, designed with a warren of tunnels and bridges to prevent successful assault by outsiders. Port Matthew is less welcoming as a city, especially to Birds, although in both cities, the Lizards have gained a reputation as arbiters when issues want to be settled. Both cities are nicely detailed, and include their history, species found there, politics and prominent leaders, and various locations. Beyond the waters of both harbours, Pirates of Pugmire details several locations far out to sea. Most notably, the more lawless archipelago of Dalmatian Cove, consisting of several islands of different character and all together shaped like a crab. In many cases, it is possible to get from one island to another via ships, ropes, and wrecks held fast between them. Several other locations are also detailed and they are followed by a number of story hooks using the previously described locations.

The three scenarios at the end of
Pirates of Pugmire, together called ‘Going on Account’, make further and more detailed use of the locations as well. Together, ‘Rotten Rats’, ‘The Race’, and ‘Heart of the Storm’ make up a loosely connected campaign that takes the Player Characters from First Level to Sixth Level. The looseness means that the Game Master will need to develop some adventures of her own, but all three scenarios end with a ‘Future Stories’ section which add more story hooks for her to use in addition to those earlier in the book. ‘Rotten Rats’ is a land-based adventure, set in Waterdog Port, in which the Player Characters are hired to recover a treasure—the Lost Flask of Bobby Golden—which can transform any liquid into something beneficial. The problem is that the city’s Rats are said to have it and they are not dealing with anyone as tensions are high in the city between the rodents of Waterdog Port. The Player Characters will need to work out the cause of the tension and perhaps ease it if they are to learn any clues. This is an investigative scenario, whereas ‘The Race’ takes them to sea—whether in their own boat or one they hired—to get to an island which is said to appear only once every ten years, find the treasures hidden in it, and come back. Of course, there are rivals racing with the Player Characters as well as those not ready to race, but ready to steal what the Player Characters have already found. Lastly, in ‘Heart of the Storm’, the Player Characters’ ship is caught up in the worst weather possible on the Acid Sea, almost shipwrecked, and forced to land on Stormheart Island where they find more shipwreck victims. The Player Characters need to delve into the island’s history to find out what is going on and perhaps a way of getting off. At the end of ‘Going on Account’ the Player Characters will be able to return with the treasure they were seeking and perhaps more. Although it does need fleshing out with extra content between the three adventures and the adventures themselves are fairly linear, ‘Going on Account’ is a nicely detailed and fun mini-campaign.

Physically,
Pirates of Pugmire is well presented. The artwork is excellent, whilst the cartography is okay. Perhaps the only thing really missing would have been maps of Waterdog Port and Port Matthew.

It does feel as if there is something missing from
Pirates of Pugmire. Perhaps it is that mechanically, it feels underwritten in places, and that it would have been fun to see Fortune used to help the Player Characters swashbuckle some action or the ship’s combat rules developed a little more. Nevertheless, Pirates of Pugmire expands the world of Pugmire in pleasing fashion, sending it out to sea and into another genre where the Player Characters have a bit more freedom and are less beholden to their families. Once aboard a plastic-hulled vessel, together with content developed herself, the Game Master has everything she needs to run anthropomorphic action adventures on the Acid Sea and let the Player Characters become Pirates of Pugmire.

Tales from Spaaace...! (Part One)

For fans of Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the '80s That Never Was and Things from the Flood, the roleplaying games based on the paintings of Simon Stålenhag, as well as other titles from Free League Publishing, there is the Free League Workshop. Much like the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons, this is a platform for creators to publish and distribute their own original content, which means that they also have a space to showcase their creativity and their inventiveness, to do something different, but ultimately provide something which the Game Master can bring to the table and engage her players with. Such is the case with Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One.

Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One takes the kids out of the Loop and throws them into deep space. It takes the traditional stories of Tales from the Loop, which contrasts the wonder of strange technologies and mysteries with difficult, often fraught home lives, away from Sweden and Mälaröarna, the islands of Lake Mälaren, the site of the Facility for Research in High Energy Physics—or ‘The Loop’—to the west of Stockholm, and sets those tensions in an alternate timeline, very far from Earth. In this timeline, at the end of World War 2, Maximillian von Grau, a German scientist took advantage of the Nazi desire for more wonder weapons to develop an engine powerful enough to get a probe to Proxima Centauri. No one believed he succeeded, until pictures were received on Earth in 1977. There the story would have ended, but for eccentric entrepreneur billionaire Elton Dors. He offered to fund further research and development by von Grau. With the new engine, developed by the German and known as the Max Drive, Dors then built The Argo, the world’s first interstellar starship, capable of travelling to Proxima Centauri in thirty years, with its crew and passengers—the first two hundred colonists on a whole new world—in deep sleep. The Argo is regarded as the eighth wonder of the world and it is aboard this vessel that Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One begins.

The kids are the children of the crew and the passengers—or colonists—aboard The Argo. They and everyone else aboard the starship wake up and very quickly there is a lot of hustle and bustle around the children, though it is not immediately obvious why. They are quickly taken to the ship’s school room where their teacher, Miss Lovely, can keep an eye on them. It soon becomes apparent that The Argo has not reached Proxima Centauri, having stopped in deep space, and that one of the children aboard is missing. Could the two be related? Well, the answer is, of course they are. Exactly how is another matter, but the plot is relatively straightforward, whereas getting to solve it is not. The biggest obstacle for the kids is not the mystery itself, but getting round the adults to investigate the mystery, and then once that is revealed, solve the problem at its heart. The adults are preoccupied with the technical problems aboard The Argo, so will either ignore the kids or send them back to the supervision of Miss Lovely, who is definitely not as nice as her name suggests. The Game Master should have some fun roleplaying her.

Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One is a solid one-session scenario. It makes use of a range of different skills, so every kid should have an opportunity to shine. If it is missing anything, it is advice on creating kids for this scenario. They would still use the same rules from Tales from the Loop, but some questions related to who their parents are aboard The Argo and what they think of travelling to another star system could have helped set the scene. Perhaps a set of pre-generated kids could help with that? The only real issue with the scenario is with its aftermath. Even solving the problem is underwritten, and by comparison, the cost of failure is glossed over. This is severely disappointing, since the cost of failure in Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One is a tragedy that is very likely to be emotionally devastating for the kids as well as the adults. It may well be campaign ending were the Game Master to want to run the sequel to Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One.

Where Tales of the Loop captured the feel of Sweden of the eighties, Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One instead captures the feel of positive, even homely Science Fiction of the period, whether that is Space: 1999 or Star Trek: The Next Generation. Yet, there is a sly dig at its retro-optimism with everything being a triumph of design over practicality and it is not too difficult to work out who Elton Dors is a parody of.

Physically, Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One is well presented, but needs a slight edit here and there. The artwork is excellent, whilst the overview of The Argo gives an idea of the layout rather than specifics.

Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One is undeveloped in places, but contains everything that the Game Master and her players have to roleplay a mystery scenario in space from their kids’ perspective. It can be run as the first part of a campaign or it would work as a convention one-shot. Overall, Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One proves that some things do not change, no matter how far you are away from home, it is just a case that the consequences of failure are bad—really bad.