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

Friday 31 May 2024

Friday Fantasy: Magic Eater

What happens when the Player Characters have their magical items stolen? They want them back, of course, but they also want revenge. And that about sums up the motivation for Magic Eater, a scenario for Lamentations of The Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying. Except that there is a problem with that, because whilst Lamentations of The Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying is an Old School Renaissance retroclone, it is not one known for the generosity of its treasure, let alone its magical items. In fact, Lamentations of The Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying is renowned for its frugality with regard to such matters. So, what Magic User does instead is suggest that the Player Characters’ employer be the one who has the item, the MacGuffin, stolen and wants it returned. So, if the Player Characters have not actually had something stolen, then they can at least be repaid by someone who has. No matter who the victim of the theft is, a note was left by a notorious thief going by the name of Grimalkin, who works with a Northman, in an obvious nod to the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories of Fritz Leiber. Tracking the Grimalkin is intended to be easy because it gets to the next bit in the story, the fact that Grimalkin’s house has been set on fire, he is dead, and whatever MacGuffin the Player Characters have to retrieve is gone, having been stolen a second. This time by a gang which styles itself as the ‘Loquesymths’, which if any of the players find out how the gang spells its name, is going to result in the players thinking that their characters are dealing with a bunch of pretentious wankers.

This is the set-up for Magic Eater, a scenario for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. And despite the antagonists having been identified as
pretentious wankers, things are going to get weirder from here on in, because it turns out that that yes, the ‘Loquesymths’ are a bunch of pretentious wankers, half of them are arseholes to boot. This is because half of them are now dedicated to the worship of a thing they call the ‘Magic Eater’. Part of this worship involves feeding him actual magical items—so yes, have a good guess as to has happened to whatever magical MacGuffin the Player Characters are after—and then take the great balls of excrement that the ‘Magic Eater’ defecates and brew them into psychoactive tea that grants them certain blessings whilst at the same the magic energies they are exposed to are causing them to deliquesce. Consequently, the thieves and the cultists in the ‘Loquesymths’ are easy to tell apart. The thieves look like thieves, bandits, or just ordinary folk, whilst the cultists are wrapped in cloaks to hide the fact that they have wrapped themselves in bandages. Unlike the cultists, the thieves do not make squishy sounds when they move.

The ‘Loquesymths’ hide out in a base in the boglands close to the city where the Player Characters or their employer resides. Infiltrating this base, the remnants of a Roman fort that has been used over the centuries and since fallen into a state of disrepair, is the focus of the scenario. (That said, it could be any old fortress, so need not be set in the default period of the Early Modern era for
Lamentations of The Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying.) The fortress of thieves consists of three parts. First, the above ground ruins, consisting mostly of the remaining towers and partially repaired walls, then the damp cellars, and the cult temple, a mixture of caves and tunnels and worked corridors and tunnels. The cult temple stinks like a hot, sweaty toilet, areas marked with weird colours due to the arcane seepage from the Magic Eater. There is the possibility here for any spells or magic to fail here, and when it does, it is suggested that the Game Master use either Vaginas Are Magic! or James Raggi IV’s Eldritch Cock as a means to handle this failure, and probably the most entertaining. That said, it would have been just as easy and as easy to create a table of results that could have been included.

The end of the scenario, against the semi-gigantic thaumaphage that is the Magic Eater of the title, is essentially an end of level, big boss battle. The battles against the thieves in the upper parts of the fortress are going to be fairly normal, whilst the ones against the cultists are going weird and creepy with their bandaged hands and faces and their squishy sounds, let alone the odd powers imparted to them by imbibing the excrement-infused tea they brew. The battle against the Magic Eater is going to be a big brawl of all against the hulking, lumbering grump, enlivened by the fact that his consumption of magical items has given him random magical powers. The randomness does rely on the Game Master rolling a natural twenty, so the powers may not even change over the course of the battle. Which is a pity and the Game Master might want to alter the odds to make it all the more fun for herself, if not the players and their characters.

There are some suggestions too, as to what might happen to the Player Characters actually decide to drink that tea—definitely not a good idea; what they might do with the fortress afterwards, because possession is possession; and what actual treasure might found if the Player Characters search the fortress above ground and below. There are suggestions to determine if the MacGuffin that the Player Characters were attempting to retrieve is still here and has not been eaten and what might be found if the players and their characters decide that a colonoscopy is in order. It might be the MacGuffin, or it might be one of the most useless magic items ever created. It really is useless—and intentionally so.

Also included in Magic Eater is the bonus scenario, ‘Another Rough Night at the Dog & Bastard’. If that sounds like the author’s author’s tribute to ‘A Rough Night at the Three Feathers’, the classic scenario for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, recently updated as Rough Days & Hard Days, then you would be right. In this scenario, the Player Characters take refuge at the eponymous inn on the same night as a trio of nuns who are not as innocent as they look, a bounty hunter, a thief, and a pair of sex cultists, because after all, this is a scenario for Lamentations of The Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying. And the cultists would not mind having sex with everyone and if that is done in front of their cult idol, it releases what can only be best described as ‘Jizz Pixies’. In addition, the inn and its staff have secrets of their own, randomly determined. The scenario primarily works off a relationship map which connects ten NPCs. The players will need to actively involve their characters in the relationship map to get the most out of the scenario, which is both roleplaying and NPC interaction heavy. As a one-night, one session affair, ‘Another Rough Night at the Dog & Bastard’ is pruriently serviceable.

Physically, Magic Eater is well-presented. Both artwork and cartography are decent, the maps being very clear and the depictions of the cultists a little creepy. It does need an edit in places.

Magic Eater is a daft scenario that punishes the Player Characters for being too attached to their possessions and then rewards them with a nice piece of real estate if they try to get them back—if they survive. That does not mean it is not entertaining though and Magic Eater is easy to drop into any campaign.


DISCLAIMER: The author of this review is an editor who has edited titles for Lamentations of the Flame Princess on a freelance basis. He was not involved in the production of this book and his connection to both publisher and author has no bearing on the resulting review.


Lamentations of the Flame Princess will be at UK Games Expo which takes place on Friday, May 31st to Sunday June 2nd, 2024.

The Other OSR: Under the Seal of Solomon

Under the Seal of Solomon is a scenario for Into the Bronze: Sword & Sorcery RPG in Bronze Age. Published by Lantern’s Faun, as the title suggests, it is set in the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia on the plains between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Here the first city states were founded, here the first men and the women strode forth to explore the lands between the first two great rivers known to mankind, to enter the silent, gloomy valleys where demons and their acolytes hid and devised their evil plans, here they would encounter the very gods of Sumer, and here they would build the first great civilisations. As those first men and women to stride the land, the Player Characters are Sumerian ‘Bounty Hunters’ , those willing to go forth and undertake dangerous tasks—explore the unknown, hunt down criminals, kill monsters, and more… In Under the Seal of Solomon, the Player Characters have a greater calling—killing demons!

In Under the Seal of Solomon, the king, Solomon himself, has selected the Player Characters for a great task. Whether the Player Characters are augurs, astronomers, sorcerers, priests, or warriors, you have been given a new role—exorcist. Demons run rampant across his kingdom, and King Solomon has chosen them to rid them from his lands. However, this is no easy task since demons cannot be killed. Instead, their physical manifestation must be defeated, the demon captured, and then conveyed to the Temple of Solomon where it can confess its corruptions. Only then will the kingdom be free of that one demon. There are seventy-two demons. If though, a demon cannot be killed, how is this task to be achieved? In addition to blessing the Exorcists with an oath to capture the demons, King Solomon bestows them with three other gifts. These are the Keys of Solomon, the Seal of Solomon, and the Jar of Solomon. The Keys work in similar fashion to the Magic Words in Into the Bronze, being written down on tablets or sheets of vellum and used against a demon. However, unlike the tablets of the Magic Worlds, the Keys of Solomon do not break, only the implements using them do. The Seal of Solomon is a ring engraved with his sigil used to seal the written Keys, whilst the Jar of Solomon is used to trap a demon before taking it to the Temple of Solomon. So think of this as Ghostbusters, but with Demons and set in Ancient Mesopotamia and not New York.

The bulk of Under the Seal of Solomon is dedicated to describing its seventy-two demons who are ranked as Kings, Dukes, Princes, Marquises, Counts, Knights, and Presidents—and some can hold more than one rank. A pleasing presentation places the hierarchy of the demons upon the steps of a ziggurat! Each demon is described in terms of its Manifestation, its Domain, and what Invocations it knows. The Domain is the power it holds over other demons and the Invocations are the powers it tempts sorcerers with. For example, Bael, King of the East, holds the Rank of King, manifests as a three-headed conglomeration of cat, toad, and man, has the Domain of “66 legions of demons”, and his Invocations include the teaching of science, bestowing of Invisibility, and the teaching of love. Attributes, Hit Points, and Damage are determined by the demon’s Rank.

In terms of support and advice, Under the Seal of Solomon suggests that a demon might be hiding amongst the population or tempting them openly as a false god, or colluding with a sorcerer. It suggests having a single demon dominate or take over a single hex, creating a location around it, in the process turning Into the Bronze into not so much a hexcrawl, but a hex clearance. The other factor that the Under the Seal of Solomon makes clear is that seventy-two demons is a lot and so the Player Characters are not the only ones to have received the blessings of King Solomon. This enables the Game Master to bring rival Exorcists into play. Lastly, Under the Seal of Solomon notes that it is set during the end of the Bronze Age, at the dawn of the Iron Age.

Physically, Under the Seal of Solomon is nicely presented, although the use of red text on black in places is not easy to read. It does need another edit.

Unfortunately, Under the Seal of Solomon is at best very light, at worst underwritten and underdeveloped. For example, it is not quite clear whether one Exorcist is holding the Keys of Solomon, the Seal of Solomon, and the Jar of Solomon and using them to fight demons or if they are divided between several Exorcists. Nor is it really clear how the Keys of Solomon work against the demons and what the user is actually dealing with them. Similarly, there is no actual adventure in Under the Seal of Solomon as its cover claims. Instead, what it gives the Game Master is a campaign set-up. It is not even a campaign framework, because there is only a beginning, and not a middle or an end. After all, what happens when the Exorcists have defeated all of the demons?

Ultimately, there is no denying that Under the Seal of Solomon is a great set-up for Bronze: Sword & Sorcery RPG in Bronze Age Mesopotamia (and indeed for any roleplaying game set in Bronze Age Mesopotamia). Unfortunately, it simply does not support the Game Master as fully as it should and leaves her with more concepts to develop and questions to answer than it really should


Soul Muppet Publishing will be at UK Games Expo which takes place on Friday, May 31st to Sunday June 2nd, 2024.

Monday 27 May 2024

Miskatonic Monday #286: Hospital Island

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 Jane E Cooper

Setting: Jazz Age England
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Twenty-three page, 12.36 MB PDF
Elevator Pitch: Hospital horror in the fog of isolation
Plot Hook: A mysterious telegram calls for help.
Plot Support: Staging advice, four handouts,
three maps, five NPCs, and eight Mythos monsters.
Production Values: Plain

# Easy to adapt to other times
# Nice sense of isolation
# Combines the cosy and the consternation
# Mycophobia
# Homichlophobia
# Autophobia

# Needs an edit
# Are an Investigator and the prime villain related?
# Feels like a solo adventure for a party of Investigators

# Atmospheric, isolated sense of foreboding and something lurking.
# Solid scenario that needs a polish to make it stand out.

Miskatonic Monday #285: The Black Pyramid

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

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

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author Dante Harrower

Setting: Jazz Age Egypt
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Twenty-four page, full colour 2.40 MB PDF
Elevator Pitch: The Black Pharaoh will walk the land and you will be there.
Plot Hook: An archaeological dig in Egypt promises fame and fortune
Plot Support: Staging advice,
six maps, eight NPCs, seven mythos spells, and six Mythos monsters.
Production Values: Okay

# Prequel to H.P. Lovecraft’s Nyarlathotep
# Atmospheric survival horror 
# Scoleciphobia
# Traumatophobia
# Aiguptosophobia

# Needs an edit
# Underwritten hook
# No handouts
# Linear
# Pre-generated Investigators would help 
# Feels like a sequel to a scenario the Investigators haven’t played

# Serviceable prequel to H.P. Lovecraft’s Nyarlathotep that will need teasing apart to run with ease
# Atmospheric survival horror that has its creepy moments

Sunday 26 May 2024

More Than Human

The year is 2037. Under the darkness of a world soiled by war, pollution, and ecological degradation, in the shadows spun by neon, simulacra skulk, hiding amongst those they want to be like, and they will do anything to survive and become more like the masters they once served. The Wallace Corporation is the wealthiest company in the system, having made free technologies and scientific advances that has ensured the survival of mankind with a reliable supply of food and an advanced communications network replacing the one that was destroyed along with vast swathes of human knowledge and digital data. These though, are not the only advances it has made. Using advances made on Tyrell Corporation technology and patents, the Wallace Corporation has introduced the Nexus-9, a replicant design incapable of lying or harming humans of its own accord. In response, the United Nations repeals the UN Replicant Prohibition Act of 2023, passed in response to the killings committed by Nexus-6 models in the late teenies, and classifies the Nexus-9 as a ‘safe’ Replicant, granting them the status of second-class citizens with limited rights. Replicant Detection Units of the world’s various police forces are still responsible for investigating crimes related to replicants, especially the previous models, such as the Nexus-8, and some even begin to employ Nexus-9 units as investigators. It means that Replicants are hunting and ‘Retiring’ their own. It means that the investigators of the Replicant Detection Unit charged with tracking down Replicants, known as ‘Blade Runners’, are hunting sentient beings that look like themselves and act themselves, but are not, strictly speaking, Human. This is a future when what it is to be Human is beginning to be lost, when empathy is all that separates mankind from that which is not only faster and stronger than it us, but also threatens to replace mankind. The year is 2037 and in the city of Los Angeles, under the cacophony of neon, culture clashes, and the watchful presence of the Wallace Corporation, Blade Runners stalk the streets, gun in hand with the power to question all and the responsibility to answer for everything they do. Some Blade Runners have been on the force for decades, the Nexus-9 Blade Runner units mere months and even then, are only a year old despite being fully formed adults, will have to prove their conduct to beyond reproach, but both are police brothers.

This is the setting for Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game, perhaps the unlikeliest of roleplaying licences. The film Blade Runner has always been regarded as a cult classic and then an accepted classic Science Fiction film, a neo-noir meditation of what it meant to be human and not only impossible to obtain the licence for, but also impossible to adapt, since after all, what was it that the Investigators would do and how exactly would you model what was human and what was not? When news broke that Free League Publishing had obtained the licence to coincide with the release of Blade Runner 2049, the official sequel to Blade Runner, the question became not if there could be a licence based on Blade Runner, but could it actually be good? Not wanting to answer that question has delayed this review of the Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game again and again, because if there was the possibility that it could be good, there was also the possibility that it could be bad. Fortunately, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is from the same publisher that released Alien: The Roleplaying Game—and that adaptation has proven to be good.

Published following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game shifts the time from the 2019 of Blade Runner and the 2049 of Blade Runner 2049 to 2037. The Player Characters are all ‘blade runners’, members of Los Angeles’ Rep-Detect Unit, tasked with investigating all crimes related to Replicants. This includes tracking down older Replicant models that have gone rogue and are on Earth still illegally or have committed some other crime, as much it does anti-Replicant hate and crimes against Replicants. As a team they will be assigned ‘Case Files’, or scenarios—such as ‘Case File 01: Electric Dreams’ in the Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game Starter Set and the recently released Case File 02: Fiery Angels—and expected to work together as a team. They will face not only the sometimes-terrible nature of the crimes they have to investigate—and the challenge of doing so—but also of political interference and interest in their efforts, both from within their department and without, and ultimately moral quandaries and situations in which they will be forced to question their Humanity and it means to be Human. The roleplaying game clearly highlights these at the start of the book as well as its key themes of ‘Sci-Fi Action’, character drama, corporate intrigue, moral conflict, and soul searching. It also notes that keeping track of the passage of time is important—this being done in shifts, used to measure investigative actions and downtime, that the necessity of investigating clues within a Case File means splitting the party, and that the moral dilemmas within a Case File may lead to Player Character versus Player Character conflict.

An Investigator in Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is simply detailed. He has four Attributes— Strength, Agility, Intelligence, and Empathy, and thirteen Skills, three per Attribute. The thirteenth Skill is Driving, which is derived from the manoeuvrability of the vehicle being driven. Both Attributes and Skills are assigned a letter, A, B, C, or D. Each letter corresponds to a die type, A to a twelve-sided die, B to a ten-sided die, C to an eight-sided die, and D to a six-sided die. Skills can have Specialities, representing dedicated areas of expertise, such as ‘Origami’, which lets an Investigator heal a point of Stress by folding an exquisite Origami figure or Sycophant, which grants the Investigator an extra Promotion Point as he ingratiates himself with his superiors. Thus, an Investigator is either Human or a Nexus-9 Blade Runner, and it is also possible to play a Replicant who is not aware of being a Replicant. In terms of the number of ‘Years on the Force’, the Blade Runner is either a Rookie, Seasoned, Veteran, or an Old-Timer. A Replicant Investigator can only be a Rookie. The ‘Years on the Force’ determines the years served, the number of extra points to assign to both attributes and skills, skill specialities, and both Promotion Points and Chinyen Points. Chinyen Points are the currency in the Los Angles of 2037, Promotion Points represent the Investigator’s standing within the department and have multiple uses. In general, Replicants have higher physical attributes, and limited skills and no specialities, whereas Humans tend towards the reverse. A Replicant will also have less Promotion Points and Chinyen Points.

An Investigator also has an Archetype, representing his role in the investigative team, his expertise, and the work he carries out for the LAPD. There are seven Archetypes—Analyst, Cityspeaker, Doxie, Enforcer, Fixer, Inspector, and Skimmer. The Skimmer and Cityspeaker are only available for Human characters, whilst the Doxie is only available for Replicant characters. The Analyst is a forensic specialist; the Cityspeaker works the city through his contacts and may have worked undercover; the Doxie is akin the kick-murder squad operative seen in Blade Runner, but can read suspects too; the Enforcer uses force and violence when necessary; the Fixer uses contacts and networks to help solve crimes; the Inspector is an old hand and relies on experience; and the Skimmer who is taking kickbacks on the side. Lastly, every Investigator has a ‘Key Memory’, a ‘Key item’, and a ‘Key Relationship’. These three have different effects in play, but should ideally come into play during an investigation. The ‘Key Memory’ can be used to gain advantage on an action; the ‘Key item’ can be used to gain a lost point of Resolve, and the ‘Key Relationship’ is used by the Game Runner to create scenes in a game and interacting with the ‘Key Relationship’ will earn the Investigator Humanity Points.

The character creation process is straightforward. Some elements the player has to choose, such as assigning points to his character’s attributes, but the rest can either rolled for or randomly determined. Tables are included for the latter.

Name: Remedy
Type: Replicant
Archetype: Doxie
Years on the Force: Rookie
Appearance: You are a thing of beauty. Quite literally.

Strength: A/D12
Agility: A/D12
Intelligence: B/D10
Empathy: C/D8

Health: 8 Resolve: 3
Promotion Points: 1 Chinyen Points: 1

Hand-to-Hand Combat: B/D10, Insight: C/D8, Mobility: C/D8, Manipulation: B/D10, Observation: B/D10

When Did It Happen? – Just a few weeks ago.
Where Did It Happen? – In the derelict housing projects of Los Angeles Hills.
Who Was There? – Your romantic partner
What Happened? – You saw something extraordinary that you cannot explain.

Who Is It? – Romantic Partner
What’s Your Relationship Like? – Hateful
What’s Going On? – They are suspected of a crime.

A necklace

Mechanically, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game uses a variant of Free league Publishing’s Year Zero engine previously seen in Twilight: 2000 – Roleplaying in the World War III That Never Was. To undertake an action, a player rolls one die for the Attribute and one die for the Skill. Rolls of six or more count as a success. Rolls of ten or more grant two successes. In general, unless rolls are opposed, only one success is required to succeed at an action. An extra success enables an Investigator to get more information, perform a task faster, or help an Investigator with a task. An easy task gives an Investigator an Advantage. In which case, his player rolls another die, equal to the lowest die in the pool. Conversely, a difficult task removes the lower die in the pool altogether. If any roll is unsuccessful, a player can choose to Push the dice roll and roll again. However, if a one—or the Origami Unicorn—is rolled on the first roll or the Pushed roll, the Investigator, if Human, will suffer a point of damage if the attribute rolled was Strength or Agility or a point of Stress if the attribute rolled was Intelligence or Empathy. If a Replicant, the Investigator will always suffer Stress rather than damage. A Human can Push a Skill roll once, but a Replicant can Push a Skill roll twice.

Only in combat do more than the one extra success count, indicating that more damage has been inflicted or a critical injury. Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is not a forgiving game in terms of combat and all firearms have a high ‘Crit Die’, so the Investigators should not engage in combat lightly. The rules also cover vehicles in combat—some vehicles can be armed, but for the most part, one vehicle will be ramming another. The rules for chases cover chases on foot, and then by ground vehicle or in the air.
For example, Remedy has been following a suspect, Ramirez ‘Ram’ Smith, whom she thinks has links to the Replicant Underground. She has tracked him down to the Grand Central Market, where all manner of dishes and foodstuffs—legal and illegal—can be found. As her and her partner’s spinner touches down, she leaps out of the vehicle, just in time to see her quarry duck into the heavy crowds carrying a package of some kind. The Game Runner call for an Observation test to determine if Remedy can see him. Remedy has a rating of B/D10 for both Observation and Intelligence, meaning that her player will be rolling two ten-sided dice. Ramirez ‘Ram’ Smith only has a rating of D/D6 for Stealth and B/D10 for Intelligence, so the Game Runner will be rolling a six-sided die and a ten-sided die. However, he is in a crowd, so the Game Master rules that Remedy will be at a disadvantage. This means that Remedy’s player has to remove the base die for Remedy’s Intelligence, so her player will only be rolling one ten-sided die.

The Game Runner rolls an eight and a two, giving ‘Ram’ Smith one success. Remedy’s player rolls a four, so she has no successes. Remedy’s player decides to Push the roll and describes how she leaps up one of the streetlights that a food stand has tapped into illegally for power and onto the food stand’s roof. Remedy’s play takes up the ten-sided die for her Observation skill. This time though, she rolls an Origami Unicorn, meaning that not only has she failed, but she also suffers a point of Stress as even from this elevated height she cannot see her quarry. In the meantime, the proprietor of the food stand yells at her in Cityspeak to get off his roof! The Game Runner tells Remedy’s player that although she cannot see ‘Ram’ Smith, she did see someone else moving purposely through the crowds and that she was fairly certain that it was her partner! This is the cause of the Stress.
In addition to gaining Stress because rolls of one or the Unicorn Origami are made on pushed rolled, it can come from working more than three Shifts without a Downtime Shift and simply from Stressful situations. When the number of Stress points is equal to, or greater than an Investigator’s Resolve, the Investigator is broken and will suffer from randomly determined Critical Stress effect. The tables are different for Humans and Replicants. A Replicant will generally begin play with lower Resolve than a Human and react in a more extreme manner than Human would, though this can be a negative reaction or a positive one. In addition, if an Investigator is broken by Stress, his Resolve can be reduced by one, and should his superiors become aware of it, a Replicant would have to take a Baseline Test.

In terms of background, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is firmly placed between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. Its focus is primarily on the city of Los Angeles, now a mega-city that extends up to San Francisco and down to San Diego, and to the irradiated edge of Las Vegas. It does include some details about the places beyond the confines of Los Angeles, such as The Archipelago, what was Santa Barbara, now voluntarily flooded to turn its wealthy estates into heavily guarded and isolated compounds. There are details of Off-World and even the idea of getting Off-World is discussed, but it remains a dream for nearly all of the remaining citizenry on Earth. Even when it comes to Los Angeles, it concentrates on the main sectors of the city’s Downtown, noting particular locations such as the LAPD Headquarters, DNA Row where the best bioengineers and tech vendors can be found, and Animoid Row for the robot animals in the city. This is accompanied by descriptions of life in the city-climate, technology, communications, and so on, which the Game Runner can use to describe world around the Investigators.

A companion chapter looks at the powers that be, though concentrating on Los Angeles. This includes various corporations, the LAPD, numerous United Nations organisations, criminal gangs—including the Replicant Underground, and of course, Niander Wallace and his corporation. Seen as the saviour of mankind, he remains a mysterious figure, though a newspaper interview with him adds a nice sense of verisimilitude. The aims and relationships with the Wallace Corporation are examined, as they are likely to clash if the Investigators’ inquiries get to close, and this includes a discussion of the various models of Replicant, from the Nexus-1 all the way up to the Nexus-9. Another in-game newspaper highlights the divide in views on the acceptance of Nexus-9 Replicants in general society, despite their official recognition as individuals with limited rights. Many believe that Nexus-9 Replicants are part of a corporate effort to steal jobs and act accordingly. Others, such as members of the Replicant Underground, object to Replicants being Second Class citizens and campaign for better rights for them, and more. The assignment of Nexus-9 Blade Runners to the Replicant Detection Unit has its own issues, as each Nexus-9 Blade Runner has to prove that it is capable of fulfilling the role, which includes hunting its own, without showing the signs of emotional and mental stress that drastically affected earlier models.

Much of this modelled by two of three points which can be earned over the course of play. Chinyen Points represent an Investigator’s income and are primarily used for purchases beyond normal expenses in combination with a Connections skill roll. Promotion Points are earned by investigating a Case File efficiently and by Replicants passing a Baseline Test, but can be lost for misconduct or poorly investigating a Case File. A Replicant Blade Runner whose Promotion Points is reduced to zero must make a Baseline Test. Promotion Points are spent to gain Specialities for an Investigator’s skills, to gain access to specialised equipment from the LAPD, or exchanged for a Chinyen Point, representing a pay rise. Humanity Points are earned as determined by a Case File, as well as an Investigator bringing his Key Memory and Key Relationship into play, and by a Replicant Blade Runner failing a Baseline Test. Humanity Points are used to raise an Investigator’s skills. Of the two it is easier to gain Promotion Points rather than Humanity Points, so consequently, it is easier for an Investigator to improve via Specialities rather his skills.

The LAPD’s Replicant Detection Unit is presented in some detail, fans of Blade Runner will be pleased to note that Dave Holden, now known as ‘Iron Lung’ due to the injury suffered at the start of the film, heads the unit after Harry Bryant retired. This covers its organisation, departments, resources—including those provided by the Wallace Corporation, and day-to-day operations including standard procedures and the perils of being promoted or decorated too often. Complementing this a section on standard and non-standard Replicant Detection Unit equipment. There are old standbys detailed, such as the Voight-Kampff Machine, the Pfläger-Katsumata PK-D 5223 Blaster, and the ESPER Machine, and these are joined by the Post-Traumatic Baseline Test, the PK-D FKM890 Blaster, and Digital Companions. Plus, of course, there are the Spinners. All of this equipment is nicely detailed in a fashion that fans of both films will appreciate. All covered is shopping in general and buying goods on the black market.

For the Game Runner, there is general advice on running Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game, setting the scene, setting the mood, and so on. The bulk of it is dedicated building and running Case Files, the investigations that the Replicant Detection Unit assigns to its Blade Runners. Broad actions within a Case File are split across four Shifts each day, with one of them being designated a Downtime Shift when the Investigator will rest and see to personal details. It will be necessary to split the Investigators up over the course of a Case File—and the roleplaying game encourages the players to do so—as there is invariably far more to a Case File than they can cover just going from scene to scene. Fortunately, the Blade Runners can stay connected and even be involved in a different scene, if only remotely, via the KIA—or Knowledge Integration Assistant—that they all carry as routine. However, the number of leads and sperate scenes is exacerbated by a Countdown, which means that the Investigators will be working against the clock, which can trigger events and even bring a Case File to a close before an investigation has had time to be completed. However, as important as Case Files are to the play of Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game, solving them is not the point of the roleplaying game. Rather, they are a means by which the Blade Runners can be challenged by difficult personal and moral dilemmas, can be confronted by who and what they are, and be forced to make choices.

Unfortunately, there is no Case File included in Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game. So just from the core rulebook it is difficult to see either the game play or the moral dilemmas in practice. For that, the Game Runner will need either Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game Starter Set or Case File 02: Fiery Angels. Although disappointing, there are good reasons as why there is no Case File in Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game, and that really is due to the handouts required, since as an investigative game, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is dependent on visuals. Just as in Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. That said, there is a set of tables for creating the basics of a Case File that the Game Runner can then flesh out.

Beside the lack of a Case File, there is the issue of the divide in Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game in the focus on Human and Replicant Blade Runner—more on the latter than the former. This is intentional, since Replicants are the focus of the setting in general. It shows in their physical capability versus their emotional capacity, which hinders their response to Stress and potentially their ability to work as a Blade Runner. It shows in their need to prove themselves as Blade Runners by gaining Promotion Points lest they be seen as less than ideal additions to the Replicant Detection Unit. And the best way of gaining Promotion Points will be to successfully investigate a Case File and that is unlikely to be to the benefit of other Replicants. This is the core moral quandary in Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game. Yet mechanically, the way to prove that that a Replicant Blade Runner is emotionally capable of undertaking the role is to improve his Empathy Attribute, and that requires Humanity Points. The primary ways of gaining these are to engage with his Key Memory and Key Relationship, the others being to investigate a Case File in a more humane fashion, often against the Replicant Detection Unit’s directive and interests and fail a Baseline Test, indicating to his superiors how he is not suitable for the role. In comparison, the Human Blade Runner is not faced with this near constant balancing act, either mechanically or narratively, and most of the moral dilemmas the Human Blade Runner will be part of Case File’s story as well as with his Key Relationship, and so narrative based rather than mechanical.

Physically, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is stunning book, its artwork bringing the energy and sense of movement of the streets of Los Angeles to life contrasting with the almost sepulchral atmosphere and stillness of its interiors. Everything is swathed in darkness, broken by blasts of neon shining off the ever-present rain. The book is also well written and engaging and well organised.

Despite not being set in the period of Blade Runner or Blade Runner 2049, but somewhere in between, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is going to satisfy fans of both, by detailing the world and exploring its core moral questions. The only downside is that without a Case File of its own, it cannot best showcase how those core moral questions can examined, or some of the nuances present in the setting. For that, the Game Runner will need a Case File of her own or an official one from the publisher. Nevertheless, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is a very good adaption of a licence previously thought unadaptable, let alone available, and a very good introduction to both the world and the questions it raises


Free League Publishing will be at UK Games Expo which takes place on Friday, May 31st to Sunday June 2nd, 2024.

Saturday 25 May 2024

House of Horrors

At the end of the street stands a house behind a crumbling wall. People who pass it, look at it askance, wondering why it stands empty after so long and why nobody has bought it. They only half remember it from their childhoods and if they did, they would realise that the building has been in the same state for decades. The children whisper that the house is haunted, that some kid went in there, and never came out. Even so, they dare each other to climb the wall and break in… just as their parents once did. They go in to see what treasures or secrets they can find. The one that has gone unlived in for years. Sometimes a few hearty souls creep in, it is said, Most find nothing—just an empty old house. Some return shaken. A few never come out at all. The house is thus a lurking presence, perhaps not in this town, but in the next, or the next one over? Or perhaps in all of them? And if the house has been lurking all that time, what happens to it when it sits alone for so many long years? What jealousies and hatreds does it quietly nurture? What secrets does it contain, waiting to be discovered within its dark walls, crouched within its dank and dreary rooms, hungering for the return of life?

This is The Darkest House. It is a horror scenario sent in a grand house, fallen to ruin, riven by madness, stained by trauma and emotional scars. Those it draws in, it torments out of hate and spite, and even as they discover some of the house’s secrets and its origins, perhaps the best outcome they can hope for, is to escape it confines, though not the same as they were when they crossed its threshold. Published by Monte Cook Games, The Darkest House is something different, a horror scenario originally designed to be played online and with any game system. As the former, it was originally designed and delivered as an app and a set of electronic documents, combining details of the ‘Darkest House’ itself, a set of handouts in terms of texts, images, and sound files, all richly detailed. As the latter, it comes with its own ‘House System’ which allows Player Characters to be adapted from any game system run The Darkest House using the ‘House System’, the simplified nature of its mechanics making it easier to run online. A Game Master—not calling the Game Master the House Master really is a missed opportunity—could even run The Darkest House with the different Player Characters from different systems and settings if she is ambitious enough.

The Darkest House is now available as a book, which presents all of this information in physical format, but marked with QR codes to link to handouts and downloads. It enables the artwork to shine and as the Game Master to see the motifs and flow of the scenario in one place.

A Player Character in The Darkest House is measured as a Rating on a ten-point scale. Between one and two, they will need to employ stealth and avoid direct confrontations with the dangers of the house; between three and six they will still be danger, but can still survive; and seven and up and they can survive with only minor difficulty. The aim though, is not to create Player Characters particular to The Darkest House, but rather draw them in from other game systems. This points to its intended universality and is underpinned by a conversion guide that adapt those Player Characters from other roleplaying games and fit them on the ten-point scale of the House System. This is whether a Player Character’s level or primary attributes are measured on a twenty-point, six-point, or percentile scale. Thus, it would work whether the Player Character comes from Monte Cook Games’ own Cypher System, Chaosium, Inc.’s Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, or Free League Publishing’s Vaesen – Nordic Horror Roleplaying. The process is more rough and ready then exact, and will very likely require the Game Master and the players to adjust as necessary to account for particular abilities, powers, spells, or skills. This is done by awarding Boons rather than adjusting a Player Character’s base Rating. Further, some spells and abilities and their effects can be applied narratively rather than mechanically. This is likely to be easier than working out the exact effects even on the limited scale of the House System and the overall effect of the House System is one that is rough and ready rather than exact or elegant.

Mechanically, the House System measures a Player Character’s Rating versus the Rating of the task involved. The Rating of the task is added to seven to give the target number for the player to role for his character to succeed. The player rolls three six-sided dice, one of which is called the House Die. The Rating of his character is added to the result of the two ordinary dice and not the House Dice, the aim being to roll equal to or higher than the target number. If the task Rating is six or higher than the Player Character’s Rating, the task is impossible to achieve, whilst if it is six or lower than the Player Character’s Rating, the task is impossible to fail. Under the House System, the player always rolls, which means that the player rolls for his character to act and rolls for his character to avoid actions against him. Boons and Banes make a task harder to achieve, respectively, and if a Player Character has one or more of both, they cancel each other out until either the Player Character has none, or a Bane or a Bane leftover. Whether the Player Character has a Bane or a Boon, his player rolls an extra die in addition to the two six-sided dice and the House Die. If a Boon, the player discards to die with the lowest result, and if a Bane, he discards the highest result.

What then does the House Die do? In general, nothing. Under special circumstances, it comes into play. This occurs when it is the highest result on any die rolled and when the player, in desperation, has his character ‘call upon the House’ for help. Neither of these are good. When the highest result on any die rolled is the House Die, the House Acts. This begins with creaking sounds, footsteps, or similar noises being heard by the Player Characters, a figure associated with the section of the House the Player Characters are in suddenly appearing, and so on, but that is only the beginning. It escalates each time the House Acts, step-by-step, up through ten steps, and starts again at one, recycling round and round as the Player Characters explore more of the house, and roll the highest result on the House Die again and again. When a player has his character ‘call upon the House’ for help, the House Acts just if the player had rolled the highest result on the House Die and the character gains a Doom. Doom affects a Player Character in a number of ways, such as if he is wounded and falls unconscious, the number of points acting as a penalty to the player’s roll to see if the character dies. However, what a player can do is ‘spend a Doom’, which gives the Game Master permission to do something terrible to his character. Whatever happens, though, it must be significant, be bad for the character, and at the time of the Game Master’s choosing—and the Doom points can be saved as well. Worse though, the Doom Effects can linger if the Player Characters leave the House…

Harm in The Darkest House is also kept simple. The Rating of the attack is added to a roll of a six-sided die, whilst the defender’s Rating is deducted. If the result is a positive number, that is wound that the defender suffers. The House Die is not rolled for damage, a Banes and Boons can be. Physical armour will reduce this damage. Mental damage is suffered in the same way. Wounds also mean that the rolls for all actions are made with Banes.

Effectively, what the House System is a meta-system, a set of rules and ultimately guidelines since it cannot cover every eventuality and every nuance from every system. It is that lack of nuance, at least mechanically, where The Darkest House is going to be lacking. What this means is that the Game Master is going to have to pick up the slack of the House System and shift what is nuance in another game system over to more narrative, even more storytelling resolution and outcome in The Darkest House.

The last thing to note about a Player Characters is that they enter the Darkest House with a truth or a lie. This essentially is weaponised as part of the play of The Darkest House, the House using it against the Player Character, attempting to shake his faith as part of the story rather than to victimise him. The Game Master should be building these truths and lies into arcs that will run throughout the Player Characters’ exploration of The Darkest House. In terms of advice, The Darkest House suggests reasons for the Player Characters to enter the house, stories that can be told in the House, and some of the objectives that the Player Characters might work towards, intentionally or not. It highlights how the house contains anachronisms even if fantasy characters venture inside, and there is magic to be found too within its walls. The House also isolates the Player Characters, making contact with the outside world technically impossible, though this will not be apparent to the Player Characters. The Game Master can instead use this against the Player Characters, deceiving them through the figures that they would otherwise trust. There is good advice on both running The Darkest House and on the challenges of running The Darkest House, all of which readies the Game Master for the campaign and the details of the House itself.

The House is described Room by Room in a lengthy series of two-page spreads that make up the bulk of the book. These come complete with a floorplan, description, overview, an illustration, and a QR code. The latter opens up a website with images and handouts that the players and their characters can view and peruse. It can include sounds too, their presence marked with an icon of its own. The commitment to the format even includes a darkened hallway, which follows the first location. Divided between areas of the House labelled father, mother, dining room, sister, lover, and ultimately, the Original House, voices whisper to intruders, a Mother figure lurks with her skeleton children in her arms ready to rebuke the Player Characters for their lack of love for her and ready to launch her children at them, a father figure looms over the Player Characters ready to deal out a beating, a door has been plastered over with notes telling the reader not to open the door, but someone keeps knocking from the other side, a clockwork child stalks the halls with a knife clutched in its hands, and so on. It veers from the little unerring uneasiness to grand theatre of the guignol and back again, always unsettling, weird, and worrying as the Player Characters edge their way from one Room to the next, picking at puzzles, poring over possible clues, and wondering what might happen next.

Lastly an appendix lists and details all of the handouts that the Player Characters might find in the House. The Game Master will still need to download these and again, they come with their own QR code. It means that even playing The Darkest House offline, the Game Master will still need Internet access and may want her players to have it to best access the scenario’s handouts and downloads.

In terms of play, The Darkest House can be played as a single big scenario, but it is really designed to be slotted into an ongoing campaign. Almost any campaign in which a ‘haunted house’ could appear. Nor is it necessarily designed to be played in one go. The Player Characters can leave and they can be pulled back in, plus there are ongoing consequences for leaving the House, especially if a Player Character has unspent Doom points. So, the Player Characters may enter the House explore some of it, escape, but re-enter the House at a later point in the campaign. Once the Player Characters have entered the House and come out, it is going to remain a lurking presence until they decide to return and deal with it.

Physically, The Darkest House is very well presented in rich dark colours, the text in red and white. The artwork is excellent, much of it seeming to lurk in the background with its repetition serving to enforce that sense of things and people lurking, ready to leap out and scare the Player Characters. It is well written and it is liberally littered with quotes from authors such as Stephen King and Shirly Jackson.

However, what must be stressed is what The Darkest House is not. It is not a traditional haunt house and it is not a traditional mystery. It means that there are not the ghosts to be found, their origins to be discovered, and their bones laid to rest, problem solved. There are ghosts, but neither ghosts nor the House are ever really going to go away until the Player Characters find a way to make the House go away and never come back. In terms of a mystery, this is a dark, haunted house, and whilst there are secrets to be revealed and aspects of the House’s history to be discovered, much like the ghosts there is no clear beginning, middle, and end, in which its origins can be discovered and the House completely dealt with as a threat. The author of The Darkest House even goes so far as to state that there are secrets to the House that he has not and will not reveal. What this means is that The Darkest House is pervaded with a sense of the ineffable and the unknowable, and whilst there is a mystery to The Darkest House, it is not a mystery to be solved and that may confound some players. This does not mean that The Darkest House cannot be played and cannot be completed. Rather it means that the expectations of what The Darkest House is and is not, are going to be different from the traditional haunted house.

The Darkest House is an audacious creation, a product designed in response to the Lockdown under COVID-19 and thus specifically designed to be played online and with any type of character from any game system. It is both grand and intimate, the great sweep of the House contrasting with the disturbing intimacy of the detail to be found in the individual Rooms, its horror lurking at the edge of the senses before cavorting at the Player Characters and then retreating… Like any big scenario or campaign. The Darkest House demands much of the Game Master, but The Darkest House demands more both mechanically because of the need for adjudication of its House System and because The Darkest House is campaign that is going to directly needle and work at the Player Characters. This also demands players mature enough to accept that this is part of the genre that v falls into.

Perhaps still best played online, The Darkest House is an ambitious design, a fantastic perturbation of puzzles and perils, torments and terrors, which combine to make a great roleplaying horror story


Monte Cook Games will be at UK Games Expo which takes place on Friday, May 31st to Sunday June 2nd, 2024.

Solitaire: Colostle – Kyodaina

Beyond the walls of your hometown or village lie the Roomlands. A vast castle that covers the whole of the known world and beyond, whose individual rooms, corridors, stairs, and rafters contain whole environments of their own. Mountains, lakes, deserts, forests, caves, and ancient ruins. Oceans stretch across rooms as far as the eye can see and beyond. Desert sands whip and whirl down long corridors. Forests climb the stairs that seem to rise to nowhere. Rooks—walking castles—lurk, a constant danger. Stone giants that seem to have no purpose, other than to wander aimlessly until something captures their attention and then they erupt in incredible aggression. This is world of a near limitless castle known as Colostle, into which brave adventurers set forth, perhaps to undertake tasks and quests for the Hunter’s Guild, perhaps to explore on their own, to hunt Rooks for the precious, often magical resources they contain, or simply to protect a village or settlement from rampaging Rooks or bandits. What though if a door from one room to another, led not to another, but another realm? One where the earth is broken and chunks of it float in the sky and the great pillars that hold up the ceilings of the Rooms are painted in once bright, but now fading lacquer. One where the Rooks with multiple, red-tiled roofs, stalk Rooms on thin, finely balanced legs and wield weapons with deadly finesse than the brute force of at home. One where sky ships, their hulls carved from Rook husks cross overhead. Where Imperial soldiers stop and search everyone for Rookstones. One where fallen Rooks have been turned into temples where you can rest, recuperate, and even research to gain new skills and spirituality. One where the Red Emperor rules with an iron fist. This is the land of Kyodaina and it is nothing like you have seen before.

Colostle – Kyodaina expands Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure, definitely the prettiest solo journalling game on the market, by taking it to the furthest east of its lands where the artwork is at its most Ghibli-esque. Kyodaina is also a sequel to Colostle – The Roomlands, the first supplement for Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure. However, a player need not have adventured through Colostle – The Roomlands to play, but narratively, it helps if he has. Much like Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure, what Colostle – Kyodaina does is introduce a new realm for the player and his character to explore and within that several lands or ‘Zones’, a new character type, and a directed campaign. The latter shifts the play of v away from the open world exploration of Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure towards a journalling game with a ‘choose your own adventure’ book feel, consisting of story sections rather than numbered paragraphs which work like cut scenes for video games, and map areas which can be more freely explored and have keyed descriptions elsewhere. The result is that Colostle – Kyodaina is designed to tell a particular story, though of course, how that story plays out is of course, up to the draw of the cards and the player.

The new character Class is The Spirited, which also introduces a new stat—Spirit. The Spirited Class represents someone who has grown up in or studied at one of the temples or monasteries to be found across Kyodaina. Radically, the Spirited begins play without any connection to a Rook, no augmentation provided by a Rook-part, but instead must rely upon his training and the secret arts learned at the temple or monastery. Each aligned with an element and a suit from an ordinary deck of playing cards—such as those used in the play of Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure—these powers include ‘Rook’s Power’, which lets the character flood his feet with his spirit and in stomping hard on the ground, causing a ripple that surges through the ground and knocks opponents to the ground and temporarily reduces their Combat score by one, and ‘Rook’s Senses’, which enables the character to fill his vision with spirit and see more than any ordinary person could, effectively doubling the number of cards the player can draw during the game’s exploration phases. The Spirited Class is intended to be played as a character native to Kyodaina, rather than as someone who has come from the regions and Roomlands explored in Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure and Colostle – The Roomlands. However, if the character does come from either the Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure or Colostle – The Roomlands, during the play of Colostle – Kyodaina, the character has the opportunity to rest, heal, and learn at the same temples and monasteries, and so learning these Spirit powers. Each temple or monastery offers a different range of Spirit powers. This gives the visiting character the Spirit stat too, which is used to activate the Spirit powers. Unlike other stats in Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure, Spirit can be depleted and restored without the character dying.

Mechanically, the differences between Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure and Colostle – Kyodaina are relatively minor. Kyodainan Rooks are different, faster and more precise, and unlike Rooks elsewhere, can make critical strikes against the Player Character. Imperial Soldiers will constantly hunt for Rookstones, the magical stones that power Rooks, operating in squads of three that will want to search the Player Character, whilst the Player Character might face wave after wave of Imperial Soldiers if he tries to infiltrate Imperial Fortresses. If successful, the Player Character will find all manner of information.

The play of Colostle – Kyodaina begins at one of its temples, the Temple of the Stone Fist. From here, the player will set out and explore the new realm. This consists of four zones—the Spirit Forest, the Fangs of the Mountain Range, the Hori Archipelago, and the Skylands. Each has its own temple, its own set of encounter and NPC tables in addition to the general ones given for whole of the realm, and above all, its own character. The Spirit Forest is serene and quiet, its donjon trees towering so high that the majority of Kyodaina’s inhabitants can live here in safety from the Rooks below; the Fangs of the Mountain Range consists of ancient Rook husks fused with the rock, laced with tunnels and rooms, and sometimes transformed into a volcano; the Hori Archipelago are tropical islands in a shallow sea where Rooks have adapted to the environment and the lands are pierced by towering swords, hammers, and axes; and the Skylands where chunks of earth—both uninhabited and inhabited—float like islands in the sky and can be reached by climbing or travelling via a skyboat. Each also has specific locations where events take place, for example, the village of Eda is in the Spirit Forest and faces an attack by Imperial Soldiers. The Player Character has the opportunity to defend the village.

Once the Player Character has explored three or more of the zones in Colostle – Kyodaina, an encounter with an NPC—previously encountered in Colostle – The Roomlands—will open up the end game for Colostle – Kyodaina. This involves the Player Character in the Resistance against the Emperor and his Imperial Soldiers and exploring the Imperial City of Shiro. It will lead to the infiltration of the city itself and a confrontation with the Emperor and his Rook servitors, both infiltration and confrontation playing out as sub-games in their own right. In the process of playing through Colostle – Kyodaina there are secrets to be discovered—or at least hinted at—and lastly, a suggested sequel to come which takes Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure below.

Physically, Colostle – Kyodaina is as stunning as both Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure and Colostle – The Roomlands. The artwork is superb, beautifully depicting the wonder of this new realm and its zones. However, the writing is not quite as good as it could have been and Colostle – Kyodaina does need an edit here and there.

Colostle – Kyodaina is a beautiful book. Its artwork alone—just as with the previous two books—is enough to draw the viewer into wanting to explore this world. The play of Colostle – Kyodaina differs greatly to the simple open-world exploration of Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure, though there is scope for that, instead offering a specific story to play out, one which feels much more like a video game. As a video game experience, Colostle – Kyodaina gives the player a more immersive and reflective experience as he plays out and records in his journal his character’s exploration of the new realm. Fans of Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure will welcome this return to the Roomlands as it takes them beyond and into Colostle – Kyodaina


Colostle will be at UK Games Expo which takes place on Friday, May 31st to Sunday June 2nd, 2024.

Friday 24 May 2024

The Other OSR: Runecairn: Wardensaga

Ragnarök came to pass and the world as it was known came to an end. Yet the world did not end, it was only broken, the gods of the Aesir and the Vanir missing or dead, Jörmungandr dead and flensed, the Jotunn forced to flee back Jotunheim. Yet as broken as the world is, and as full of dread and danger as the Nine Realms are, there are heroes who would stand alone against the darkness, to defend villages against roving bandits, hunt a creature stealing children, reclaim a family cairn overcome by the dead, retrieve a great relic lost to the ages, broker peace between warring clans, protect a caravan passing through dangerous lands, and search lands old and new for secrets and mythical beasts. Such activities are dangerous, but these heroes are strong of heart and even when they die, they will find their way back to bonfires that warm the soul and give life and never dwindle—and even link the Nine Realms. A great hero’s failure is only temporary, until it isn’t. Until then, a hero can try again and again to overcome the danger he faces, to find another way now that he is forewarned.

Runecairn: Wardensaga is the most complete version of Runecairn, the Norse fantasy tabletop roleplaying game published By Odin’s Beard, collecting the Runecairn Core Rules, the adventure ‘Beneath the Broken Sword’, and Runecairn: Advanced Rules into one handsome volume. Like the publisher’s We Deal In Lead: A Weird West Wanders Game, it is inspired by minimalist Old School Renaissance roleplaying games such as Cairn, Into the Odd, and Knave. It is specifically designed to be played by a single Game Master—or Warden—and a single player. However, the advanced rules gives options for reducing the players to one and turning Runecairn: Wardensaga into a solo roleplaying game or increasing their numbers for a more traditional roleplaying game.

Runecairn: Wardensaga begins with general advice and then advice for Warden and player alike. It does this as a series of principles presented as bullet points. The general advice states that the Warden’s role is one of neutrality, that the roleplaying game is Classless—the abilities of an Adventurer relying on equipment and experiences, that the possibility of death is ever present though never without warning, that fiction comes before the dice, that an Adventurer has opportunities to grow through his experiences, and that the player should always be presented with choices. For the Warden these include design philosophy—that she is helpful and honest as conduit of information, the context and realism determine difficulty, that the world changes and sometimes changes because of what the Player Character does, the narrative should support the emerging story, that danger is everywhere and obvious, that the player and his character should always have and be presented with choices, and when all that fails, there is occasionally, just luck. For the player, the principles advise agency, exploration, talking, caution, planning, and ambition, and if one path leads to defeat, then he should look for an alternative path. For the most part, these will be familiar to adherents of the Old School Renaissance, but here are not elucidated upon, but rather kept short and to the point. Similarly, the world of Runecairn: Wardensaga has its own principles.

An Adventurer in Runecairn: Wardensaga has four abilities—Strength, Dexterity, Wits, and Spirit, rated between three and eighteen; Vigour and Vitality, which are rated between one and six; and Resilience which is a total of Vigour and Vitality. Vigour is the Adventurer’s self-determination, which Vitality is how hale and hearty he is. A player rolls dice for all of these, and can swap two of the abilities. The player then picks a Class. This can be Warrior, Skald, Scout, or Seer. Each Class provides a range of equipment and skills or special actions that will give the Player Character many of their initial abilities.

Strength 17 Dexterity 15 Wits 11 Spirit 12
Vigour 6 Vitality 5 Resilience 11
Def 3
Linden Wood Shield (+1 Def), Chainmail (Bulky, Def 2), Bearded Axe (d8), Ash Wood Spear (d6, 20’), Memento of Defeat, (Free Slots: 4)
Skills: Block (Shield), Parry (Axe), Disarm (Axe), Hack (Axe), Thrust (Spear)

Mechanically, Runecairn: Wardensaga is straightforward. When a player wants his Adventurer to act or react-and it is dramatically appropriate—he rolls a save versus either Strength, Dexterity, Wits, or Spirit, needing to roll equal to or lower than the value. A one always succeeds and a twenty always fails. Standard rules are used for advantage and disadvantage, and can apply to damage as well as standard actions.

In terms of combat, Runecairn: Wardensaga uses the same core mechanic, but in terms of rolling dice, combat in the roleplaying game is all about damage and reactions. Fundamentally, every attack made by an attacker will hit the defender and inflict damage. That is, unless the defender can do something as a reaction. Every Adventurer can ‘Roll’ away from the attack or ‘Withdraw’ from the combat, but each Class adds its own options in terms of Reactions. These require ‘Key’ items, pieces of equipment, that without, the Adventurer cannot perform the Reaction. For example, the Scout’s Key item is a pair of hunting knives. These are light enough that the Scout can perform a ‘Dash’ as a Reaction, which requires a save versus his Dexterity, the Scout able to avoid all damage if successful or impairing it and reducing it to a four-sided die if it is unsuccessful. Attack actions also require an item of equipment and increase the amount of damage inflicted or another effect. For example, the Seer Class has the ‘Clobber’ action. This requires a staff and has the Seer smashing a defender over the head with his staff, granting the Seer advantage for the damage roll, and the defender being forced to roll a save versus Strength or be dazed. Many of the actions and Reactions force the Adventurer to suffer ‘Fatigue’. Each point of Fatigue fills a slot in the Adventurer’s Inventory.

One damage is suffered, the ‘Def’ or Defence value, reduces the amount of damage suffered. Both Classes and monsters and NPCs have a base ‘Def’ and this can be augmented by any armour worn or shield carried. Damage is then deducted from Resilience. If an Adventurer’s Resilience is reduced to exactly zero, he will receive an Omen, a message from the spirits, or gods, or… which can be good or bad. If reduced below zero, damage reduces Strength and counts as a critical strike. This requires a save versus critical damage on Strength, and if failed, the defender dies.
For example, as Gertrude struggles through the last of a snowstorm to get to the next village, she hears yells and screams from up ahead. Over the rise, she sees a caravan which has been ambushed during the storm. It is in disarray as several figures fight the surviving guards and others drag off merchants. Gertrude spots two of the rough-looking fellows attempting to abduct an old woman. Unlimbering her Linden Wood Shield and readying her bearded axe, she charges down the hill. The Warden rules that since the battlefield is noisy and the old woman is screaming, neither of the cultists will spot her charging down the hill and will grant her Advantage on the damage roll. This means that Gertrude’s player will rolling two eight-sided dice instead of one and taking the best result. Gertrude’s player rolls a five and an eight. He chooses the latter and inflicts eight points of damage. The Cultist has a Def of one, reducing the damage he is about to suffer by one to seven. However, the Cultist only has Resilience of six, so it is reduced to zero and the Cultist takes a point of damage to his Strength. It also means that the Warden has to make a Critical Damage save. The Warden rolls against the Cultist’s Strength of ten and rolls a sixteen! The Cultist yelps at the sudden blow and drops dead… At this point, it triggers a special ability which means that when the Cultist dies, a black tentacle bursts out of him and inflicts damage on the nearest person. This requires a roll of one on a twenty-sided die. The Warden rolls seven, so nothing happens.

The other Cultist looks round in surprise. He reacts by throwing the old woman down and drawing his seax, advances on Gertrude. He stabs at the mighty warrior and rolls six for the damage. Gertrude has a high enough to stop a lot of this damage, but his player decides on a Parry Reaction. This enables Gertrude to deflect the attack and riposte with advantage on the damage roll. Gertrude’s player rolls fourteen, which is under Gertrude’s Strength. Gertrude smashes the seax stab aside and the Cultist suffers enough damage to reduce his Resilience to zero, but not inflict any damage to his Strength. The Cultist screams in pain. This attracts the attention of the other cultists attacking the caravan. They stop what they are doing and move to take down their attacker. She will make a worthy sacrifice.
Two of the Classes—the Skald and the Seer—are capable of casting various forms of magic. These are Runestones and Sagas. Runestones are polished stones into which spells are inscribed, whilst Sagas are memorised tales that are recited to channel the power of the gods. Both Runestones and Sagas take up an Inventory Slot in total and when either a Runestone or a Saga inflicts damage, it bypasses non-magical armour. There is a decent list of spells for the Seer, such as Cloak of Knives or Spectacle, as well as one for the Skald like Laughter or Sense Evil.
As the mighty warrioress comes to her aid and attacks the cultists who would have kidnapped her, the old woman, Tove, finds herself thrown into the snow. She is now free to act, and as Skald, she reaches into the folds of her tunic to pull out her Runic Focus. Concentrating on the key item, she recalls the story in which Thor called down the power of lightning on his enemies. With a crackle of energy, a dagger of lightning appears in her hand. From where she lies, she throws it at the Cultist still standing in front of the unknown warrioress. This inflicts three damage, reduced by one for the Cultist’s ‘Def’. This means the Cultist suffers Strength damage and triggers a Critical Damage save. The Warden rolls eleven for the Cultist, which means that with a zap, the Cultist is blown off his feet. The Warden rolls for the Cultist’s post-death ability. This time she rolls a one and a black tentacle emerges from the dead Cultist and inflicts a six-sided die’s worth of damage on Gertrude!
If an Adventurer dies, it does not necessarily mean that play is over. The Adventurer simply reawakens at the last Bonfire he rested at. He loses all Souls found—Souls are remnants of the power of the gods scattered and hidden across the Nine Realms, that if returned to a Bonfire whilst alive can be used to imbue an Adventurer with power and improve his abilities and Vitality—and has his Strength and Resilience restored to full. However, when this happens, it also reduces his Vigour by one. If his Vigour is reduced to zero in this fashion, the Adventurer truly dies and rises as a Shade… Lastly, any enemy that the Adventurer killed before dying is also returned to life!

This is the extent of Runecairn in terms of its basic rules. What is interesting about Runecairn: Wardensaga is that it shifts what would be the inherent abilities of a Player Character because said Player Character has a Class in another roleplaying game from the internal to external. Much of what a Player Character can do is down to the equipment that he carries and packs into his inventory, and many of them enable the use of skills. What that means is that an Adventurer in Runecairn: Wardensaga could snatch up a spear and carry a ‘Thrust’ attack as per the Warrior Class, enabling him to lunge forward ten feet and make an attack, but suffering from fatigue in return, or after obtaining a Runic Focus, learn spells as can a Skald. In addition to finding Souls and spells, an Adventurer can also find Relics and Rings. Relics are items imbued with magic or spells, often one-use items, which when used do not inflict Fatigue, and sometimes can be recharged. For example, a Skull Beacon, a charred and crumbling skull with faintly glimmering eye sockets, which glows brightly when held. It can be used to light up and area, but only once. To recharge it, it needs to be burned on a roaring bonfire. Rings typically grant a better benefit, but always at some cost. For example, the Iron Ring is wrought of dense metal grants a point of Defence, but at a loss of Speed.

The Advanced Rules of Runecairn: Wardensaga provide two extra Classes, alternate ways of playing the roleplaying game, and a Delve Generator. The two extra Classes are the Berserker and the Pyre. The former is a warrior who calls upon his animal spirit to fight with great ferocity, whilst the latter draws upon fire to burn his enemies and even shield against their attacks. The first of the alternate methods of play is solo play. This suggests playing Runecairn: Wardensaga as a Journalling game, suggesting that the player use an ‘Oracle’ as a means to draw meaning from the randomness of play, such as that created using the Delve Generator. This ‘Oracle’ can be a Tarot deck, but the guidance for solo play in the Advanced Rules of Runecairn: Wardensaga provides a set of tables to roll upon. The co-operative play gives a way of bringing another player into a session, the Adventurer using an effigy stone at a bonfire to summon a fallen hero—from either the past or the future—who will fight alongside the Adventurer, until one of them dies. Conversely, the Adventurer might face a ‘black fetch’ instead of a fallen hero, intent of stripping him of his humanity and vigour. The ‘black fetch’ can be run as a normal NPC by the Warden, or if both players do not object to the situation, by another player, setting up an adversarial situation. Alternatively, the ‘black fetch’ might actually be a fallen hero who believes the Adventurer to be the ‘black fetch’!

The Delve Generator creates locations for play in Runecairn: Wardensaga. This includes locations such as cairn or stronghold, objectives such as infiltrating the mercenary group at a stronghold and convincing its members to join the Adventurer or hunting a cairn for the rock troll that killed the adventurer’s family is hiding out in the family tomb. An extensive set of tables provides encounters within these locations, NPC reactions and actions, and a countdown mechanic which determines how close the Adventurer is to his objective after each encounter. Thus, the Adventurer need not explore the whole of the location to achieve his objective. The process is neatly handled through a flow chart that makes the solo play proceed with ease.

Penultimately, Runecairn: Wardensaga provides a complete delve, ‘Beneath the Broken Sword’. This is designed as an introductory adventure which showcases how to play and how the Adventurer lives and dies. It begins with the Adventurer waking up not know where he is and what he should possess, so the first part is really looking for both, though the inevitable death within the first few locations will teach the player the transient nature of life and death in the roleplaying game and then reinforce the importance of the Adventurer’s possessions as they really are key to his survival. Lastly, the appendices consist of a short, but useful bestiary, and some player options as well as a pronunciation guide.

Physically, Runecairn: Wardensaga is well presented and the artwork is excellent. However, the writing does feel succinct in places, leaving the reader wanting a little clearer explanation. However, there is a good example of Adventurer and a good example of combat. Both do a good job of showing how the roleplaying game works. If there is anything missing from the pages of Runecairn: Wardensaga, it is details of the wider world, of the Nine Realms, which the Warden will have to develop. Another issue is that there is no differentiation within each Class, so that the only difference one Warrior and another is their core abilities. That said, Runecairn: Wardensaga is not designed for that style of play where these are multiple players. Nevertheless, when there are two players involved, they should ideally have their Adventurers each be of a different Class.

Runecairn: Wardensagaa is the complete version of Runecairn, containing everything needed to play, including a beginning scenario, and then more to play further, whether that is just one player and the Warden, as is standard, solo play, or more players. There is a fantastically brutal dynamism to the play of Runecairn: Wardensaga, combined with a strong player agency that the Warden is encouraged to support through the roleplaying game’s principles. In particular, the thrust back and forth of combat is desperate and gruelling, a player whose Adventurer has his equipment, always having choices in terms of how he attacks and he reacts. This reliance upon equipment emphasises the power of these choices and makes the Adventurer feel mortal—even though this is not the case as death returns him to the last bonfire—rather than like some fantasy superhero. Yet the heroic aspect of Runecairn: Wardensaga means that the Adventurer can return from the dead, to come back with the knowledge of what killed him and perhaps be better prepared for the next attempt.

Above all, Runecairn: Wardensaga is a really enticing roleplaying game for two that gives the Warden a set of solid tools with which to create the situations and delves for the Adventurer to get involved in, whilst for the player, there are some great Adventurers to play and bring to life and use their skills, and together the means to explore a broken world. Ultimately, Runecairn: Wardensaga is like a computer game in its one-on-one play-style, but its post-Ragnarök action has all the advantages of a tabletop roleplaying game—player agency, the varied and more reactive world created by the Warden, and the fierce and feisty actions, reactions, and decisions of the Adventurer


By Odin’s Beard will be at UK Games Expo which takes place on Friday, May 31st to Sunday June 2nd, 2024.