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Saturday 13 April 2024

Jonstown Jottings #90: Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford’s mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, 13th Age Glorantha, and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.

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What is it?
Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon is a supplement for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha which details an insula or city block with the ruins of the Big Rubble in Prax. It includes a complete description of an atypical city block in the Old City and an example city block, the eponymous ‘Insula of the Waning Moon’, plus four scenarios.

It is a ninety-four page, full colour hardback.

The layout is tidy and it is decently illustrated and comes with extensive floorplans. The Greek style illustrations are nice touch.

The PDF includes floorplans which can be used with miniatures.

It needs an edit.

Where is it set?
Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon is set in the ruins of Big Rubble in Prax. It is set after the liberation of Pavis by Argrath.

Who do you play?
Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon does not require any specific character type.

What do you need?
Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary.

The Big Rubble: The Deadly City will also be useful.

It is a suitable addition to New Pavis: City on the Edge of Forever and the rest of The Pavis & Big Rubble Companion series with some adjustment.

What do you get?
Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon draws upon archaeological plans to present a type of building block found across the old city of Pavis and the Big Rubble, which can be found in various states of repair across the ruin. This is a large, square city block complete with businesses and residences. In the case of the Insula of the Waning Moon, these consist of food sellers, an oil seller, stables and a carter, and an inn, plus residences and a sunken garden. These are mapped out in some detail with a series of large, easy-to-read floor plans measured in one Mostal (or metre) squares.

The insulae were standard designs across the whole of Lord Pavis’ city and details the history and general features of the design, the history of their ownership and how that changed from being municipal to hereditary, and how the design changed as the city’s fortunes declined. Thus, they can be in various states of repair, from simple walls to fortified strongholds in various locations throughout the Big Rubble. This is a possible subject for expansion and a table of ideas as to what might be found in insulae across the various building phases their design would have been useful.

The supplement also address the change in attitudes to adventuring in the Big Rubble with the liberation of Pavis. Where the Lunar administration encouraged adventuring, now it is seen as looting the city’s cultural identity. There is also the push to clear and resettle parts of the Big Rubble. This presents other opportunities for work, though, and building materials from the insulae are still worth salvaging. In addition, a group of Player Characters could actually settle in the Big Rubble, finding an insula that they can occupy and fortify. This is not without its risks as their presence will attract the attention of predators—both human and non-human—from the surrounding area.

There are four adventures in Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon. The first two short, one-session affairs and both involve vermin and both involve the Player Characters simply walking past the insula. In ‘Thirsty Work, the Player Characters come to the aid of a family living the ruins which is using the well in the Insula of the Waning Moon as its source of water, but it has dried up. There is not much to reward the Player Characters if they help, except the gratitude of the family and the knowledge that they have rid the Big Rubble of one more Chaos beast. The second scenario, ‘Lucky Snake Ball’, begins when the Player Characters see snakes slithering across their path and into the insula. Inside they discover a ball of writhing, fighting snakes. Dealing with the odd phenomenon reveals a second problem, one very common to the Big Rubble. It should also expose the cause of the ‘snake ball’, which a rather neat little magical item.

The third scenario, ‘No Good Deed’, is the longest and most heavily plotted of the four, as well as the most traditional. The head of one of the Pavis Survivors clans employs the Player Characters to find his daughter who he thinks has run off to become a Lunar convert after she saw the good work that their missionaries were doing in the Big Rubble. Which is made all the more difficult because the Lunars have fled Pavis. The Player Characters will need to deal with some of the poorer inhabitants of Pavis that live in the ruins and who are very wary of strangers. Eventually, they can track her down to the Insula of the Waning Moon, where she is not living with Lunar missionaries, but has been captured by a gang looking to hold her to ransom. The gang is on the make, so seasoned adventurers will not find its members to be two much of threat, although they could get lucky, plus they have the benefit of being holed up in the insula. How the Player Characters deal with the problem is left up to them, obvious solutions such as paying the ransom or mounting a rescue are described in detail.

The fourth scenario is more of a set-up than an adventure. In ‘First Rule of Fight Club’, the Player Characters are hired to escort a party overnight out into the Big Rubble to a ruined insula. As the title suggests, a fight club is being run. Not though, with the Player Characters, but with slaves. How the Player Characters deal with this is left up to them, although a rescue attempt would be very dangerous. They could take the money or they could devise a solution, it all depends on how they feel about the moral dilemma presented to them.

All four scenarios take place in then Insula of the Waning Moon. This, though, is not all at the same time and the only factor linking the four scenarios is the city block itself. So, they do not form a campaign. Instead, the insula is somewhere that the Player Characters might pass again and again and nothing happen, but very occasionally it does or they have reason to go there. This makes Rubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon easy to drop into an ongoing campaign set in Pavis and the Big Rubble.

Where the scenarios could have been improved is in the presentation of the set-up and possible consequences. The set-up for each is written for the player’s benefit rather than the Game Master’s, so it does take a while for the Game Master to actually find out what is going on, and the consequences of the scenarios are also always fully explored, especially, in some cases, the consequences of the Player Characters doing nothing.

Is it worth your time?
YesRubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon is a solid addition to any campaign set in Pavis and the Big Rubble, with a building type that can be easily customised and four scenarios to slot in between the major plots of the campaign.
NoRubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon is ideally suitable for campaigns with extensive urban and ruined areas, such as Pavis and the Big Rubble, and that is not where my campaign is set.
MaybeRubble Redux: Insula of the Waning Moon because the Lunars and the war against inflicted a lot of damage, so the insula could be relocated to any formerly Lunar-occupied town or city that has city blocks and its scenarios adapted to the new locations.

Psychics Save the Free World!

A line of cars, black, with the Stars & Stripes fluttering from the bonnet. The scene jumps. A cheering crowd, flags in their hands, waving. A band strikes up with anthem that always announces his arrival. Men in black, sunglasses hiding their eyes, but you know they are looking. Are they looking for you? You look up. The man in the suit. Striding. Waving. Grinning to the crowd, but not to you. The scene jumps again. Looking at the man. Looking at where you are, but from far away. It jumps again. Hands move quickly. They know what they are doing. There is something in those hands. Is it a device? A trigger? A rifle? There is bang. Close to you. The scene jumps. There are screams. People are running. You cannot see the man… Oh my god! Is it real? Will it be real? Will you be there? Fortunately, this is a vision, a premonition, it has not happened. Yet. But it might. Someone really wants to assassinate the President of the United States and the someone is the USSR. Nobody is going to believe you though, nobody except your fellow psychics in the program. Certainly not since the head of the program was killed in a car crash—why did nobody see that coming?—and funding from the US government got cut… Now it is just you, armed with your premonitions, which stands between you and the death of the leader of the free world and the consequences that would have.

This is the set-up for Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War, a roleplaying of secret government projects and conspiracies in which the psychically gifted, trained as part of a program to spy on the Soviets, are the only ones who know that the President of the United States’ life is in danger. Except, of course, for those involved in the conspiracy to assassinate him. Published by LunarShadow Designs as part of ZineQuest #3 following a successful Kickstarter campaign, it is designed to be played as a one-shot, of the Player Characters responding to the premonition and attempting to prevent it from happening, but it can be played as a longer campaign and it need not be about the assassination of the President. There are plenty of pinch points throughout the Cold War, from the Hungarian Uprising and the Bay of Pigs to the Moon landings and the stationing of Pershing missiles in Germany, which serve as inspiration for Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War.

However, given its subject matter, what inspires Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War is not the obvious cinema and television of the period. So instead of dark psychological thrillers or the constant dread of all too many of those who lived through the era, it takes its inspirations from lighter fare. The question is, what exactly is that inspiration? If not The Manchurian Candidate or The Parallax View, or similar films and television series, the most obvious inspirations, what then? These after all, are not only great cinema, but also great inspiration in terms of tone and atmosphere. Unfortunately, Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War does not include a bibliography and that is a serious failing. So why not dark psychological thrillers or the constant dread? The simple answer is Safety Tools. This is not a criticism of Safety Tools in general. They deserve a place in the roleplaying hobby and they deserve a place in Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War since it is set in the past when negative social attitudes were rife. Yet to ignore the inspirations for its inspiration means that Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War is really doing a disservice to its audience. It should not only have included them, it should have included them as an option and allowed the Game Master and her players to make that choice given the genre of Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War.

A Player Character in Project Cassandra has an Identity, a Background, ten Skills, several Knowledges or areas in which he is an expert, and a single, unique psychic power. The Skills are divided between three categories: Mental, Physical, and Specialist. The Skills can be anything that a player likes, but the Mental and Physical, skills are broad, whereas the Specialist skills are fairly narrow. To create a character, a player assigns a Rank value of one to one of the three categories, and a Rank value of two to the remaining pair. The player assigns four Skills to one category and three skills to each of the other two. The Player Character starts with a single Knowledge. It has no numerical value, but is used once per session to introduce a fact or truth related to the Knowledge into the game.

Identity: Maureen Herslag
Background: Housewife
Premonitions: 14
Mental – 2: Intimidation, Haggle, Chutzpah, Being Nosy
Physical – 2: Cleaning, Look Anonymous, Dodge, Athletics
Specialist – 1: Pistols, Self Defence,
Knowledge: Cookery
Power: Yesterday

Project Cassandra uses what it calls the Precognition Engine. To undertake an action, a player must roll six six-sided dice and obtain as many successes as he can. Each roll equal to or under the value of the skill counts as a success. The difficulty and the number of successes that a player has to roll varies between one and seven, the latter being almost impossible. Successes can also be spent to overcome a challenge, such as picking a lock or punching out a senator’s aide/Communist sympathiser, representing both the amount of effort it takes and the amount of time it takes. It might be done in a single action, or it might take several. A failed roll will result in a Player Character suffering a consequence, typically a narrative consequence, but it can also be a condition, such Paranoid or Bloodied. A player can choose to suffer a Condition in order to gain an extra success, meaning that it has come at some cost. A Condition can increase the difficulty or it can make a Player Character’s Premonitions more difficult to use.

A Player Character starts play with fourteen Premonitions. These represent his ability to see the immediate future and can be used to reroll any dice that did not roll successes. They recover slowly, at a rate of one Premonition per night of rest. A Player Character’s tenth and fifth Premonition is special. It grants the Player Character a more detailed vision of the future, specifically about the next scene. A Premonition is also used to activate a Player Character’s power. Most people will be unaware of psychic powers, but some are Nulls, who have no psychic footprint and who can negate a Player Character’s power if it is used directly on them. The conspiracy does employ Null agents as well as psychic agents.

The set-up to 
Project Cassandra is intended to be fairly freeform. It begins with the players and the Game Master building a conspiracy. Together they create an Opening Vision and answer some Conspiracy Questions. This should set the era, the nature of the conspiracy, and so on. Typically, this will involve the assassination of the President. For example, ‘How will the President be killed?’, ‘Where will the attack take place?’, and ‘Why will the world believe you are responsible?’. Project Cassandra incudes some sample questions, an example of play, and good advice for the Game Master on running the game and what Safety Tools to use. There are notes too on running longer term conspiracies—longer than four sessions—but they are fairly brief.

Besides five ready-to-play Player Characters, 
Project Cassandra includes two Mission Profiles, also ready to play. The Opening Vision of ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ sees President Kennedy assassinated in Berlin in June 1963, and starts with a bang for the Player Characters, whilst ‘The Dark of the Moon’ is pulpier in tone, asking the Player Characters to confront what hidden secrets Apollo 12 brought back from the Moon. Both come complete with questions to set the stakes and details of the conspiracy.

Physically, Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War is generally well presented and nicely illustrated. However, it could have been much better organised and it takes a while to work out quite what is going on. Once done, the roleplaying game is easy to grasp. The other aspect of the roleplaying game which could have been made clear on the cover is the fact that it is a storytelling game.

Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War is in need of a bibliography and really some general background about the period, because not everyone is going to be familiar with it. However, for those that are, Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War does have an enticing set-up. That though is far as it goes, for Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War is storytelling game, and the uncovering of the conspiracy and the prevention of it coming to fruition as well as the set-up depends on both players and Game Master working together. For the most part, Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War is best suited for a group which has some experience with storytelling roleplaying games and some understanding of the period.

Friday 12 April 2024

Friday Fantasy: A Gift for all of Norway

The land of Norway is one of mountain ranges and fjords, and according to legend, one of the mountain ranges is not at a mountain range at all! Instead, it is the body of a Jötunn, Hrungnir, who has been lying sleeping ever since he was killed and thrown out of Ásgard for being a very bad guest and threatening his hosts, whereupon his body turned to stone and formed the mountains! In the many centuries since, Norway has since changed, not least of which was the widespread adoption of Christianity and abandonment of the Old Ways. Not every Norwegian has abandoned the Old Ways though, and there is a cult whose members believe that they can be restored. The cult believes that when Hrungnir was killed by Thor, his mighty hammer, Mjonir, knocked a piece of the giant’s heart free that also fell to Earth. If the Heart of Hrungnir is restored to the mountains where the Jötunn is said to have fallen, the cult believes that a great gift will be bestowed upon the people of Norway. Only recently has the cult found the Heart of Hrungnir once again, in the possession of John Ostergaard, a London merchant, as part of his Cabinet of Curiosities. However, as the cult begins to make threats against him, John Ostergaard discovers that the object of the cult’s attention has been stolen!

This is the set-up for A Gift for all of Norway, a scenario for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. The Player Characters are hired by John Ostergaard—perhaps at the recommendation of The Magnificent Joop van Ooms—to recover the Heart of Hrungnir. He is a hard, but fair bargainer, and will tell the Player Characters that he believes a recent acquaintance, Francois Arquette, stole it and is taking it to Norway. The Player Characters, of course, will follow in its stead.

A Gift for all of Norway really begins with the Player Characters standing before a cavern entrance on Hrungnir’s Peak. Once they enter, what they discover is a series of caverns, initially connected by a single, often convoluted tunnel. In places, the tunnel walls want to open and digest the Player Characters, oozes float around waiting for the opportunity to attach themselves to intruders, and there are signs too, of others already having passed through the caverns. The long tunnel connects to a bat-infested cave and another lined with sticky vines. The dungeon is actually quite long, but consists of a very few locations. In fact, bar confrontations the strange creatures to found within the caverns and the tunnel connecting, and perhaps cultists dedicated to restoring the Heart of Hrungnir to its rightful place, proceeding through the dungeon is very quick and the Player Characters could be in and out within an hour or two’s worth of actual game play with the Heart of Hrungnir in hand… Except…

Well, there is an ‘except’ here, and it is very much a big ‘except’ and a very small ‘except’. It also hinges on the fact that the legends are true, that Hrungnir’s body really did fall to the Earth and form a mountain, and that part of his heart is missing. What this means is that the tunnel and caverns the Player Characters are travelling through is his partly ossified alimentary canal. Now adventures in which Player Characters penetrate and explore the body of some gigantic beast or even a god, are a known design choice such that they have become almost a cliché in their own right. In general, the Player Characters find a way in via the mouth or nose or ears, but not through the anus. A Gift for all of Norway is, of course, written for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying, so using the rear entrance was a given.

Anyway, the Player Characters will find the Heart of Hrungnir very quickly. Then they have a choice. Go home, return the Heart of Hrungnir to its ‘rightful’ owner, and take the money, or give it to the cultists or perhaps explore further and see if there is any truth to the cultists’ belief that a great gift will be bestowed upon the people of Norway if the Heart of Hrungnir is also restored to its ‘rightful’ owner. What that gift is, is left up to the Game Master to decide, but the inference is that whatever it is, might have been good for Norway during the age of the gods, but in modern day, Christian, Norway? Not a chance… Thus, taking the money is the good choice, whilst being overly curious is the wrong one. Which all begs the question, is that it?

Yes.

Physically, A Gift for all of Norway is well done. It is well written, the descriptions are good, the artwork fine, and the maps excellent.

A Gift for all of Norway combines a number of elements common to Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying. One is the consequences for the Player Characters if they are too curious. The other is a big, stompy threat that will probably unleash hell upon the surrounding countryside, and in most cases those scenarios have been a combination of entertaining, clever, and amusing. Unfortunately, A Gift for all of Norway is none of those. It is not that the scenario is bad per se, and it is certainly not a case of the scenario being presented badly, but rather that A Gift for all of Norway is not really sufficiently interesting or atmospheric to entice the Game Master to want to run it. At best A Gift for all of Norway is a sidequest that could have severe consequences for Norway and the Game Master’s campaign, but if it does not, the effect is underwhelming.

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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 thus the author has no bearing on the resulting review.

Magazine Madness 29: Senet Issue 9

The gaming magazine is dead. After all, when was the last time that you were able to purchase a gaming magazine at your nearest newsagent? Games Workshop’s White Dwarf is of course the exception, but it has been over a decade since Dragon appeared in print. However, in more recent times, the hobby has found other means to bring the magazine format to the market. Digitally, of course, but publishers have also created their own in-house titles and sold them direct or through distribution. Another vehicle has been Kickststarter.com, which has allowed amateurs to write, create, fund, and publish titles of their own, much like the fanzines of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest. The resulting titles are not fanzines though, being longer, tackling broader subject matters, and more professional in terms of their layout and design.

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Senet
—named for the Ancient Egyptian board game, Senetis a print magazine about the craft, creativity, and community of board gaming. Bearing the tagline of “Board games are beautiful”, it is about the play and the experience of board games, it is about the creative thoughts and processes which go into each and every board game, and it is about board games as both artistry and art form. Published by Senet Magazine Limited, each issue promises previews of forthcoming, interesting titles, features which explore how and why we play, interviews with those involved in the process of creating a game, and reviews of the latest and most interesting releases.

Senet Issue 9 was published in the winter of 2022. As an issue, it does something different. This is to spread its wings away from its usual subject, that is, board games, into roleplaying—though only a little! This is in the issue’s interviews with designers and publishers who have both had a big influence on the games hobby and industry, one more recently, one over the course of decades. Never fear though, for outside of these articles, Senet Issue 9 is very much a board games magazine. This does not stop the editor highlighting one of the issue’s interviews in his editorial, which is perfectly reasonable, since it is with a designer and publisher who is a very big name in both the board game and the roleplaying hobbies—and other hobbies—here in the United Kingdom.

‘Behold’ is the regular preview of some of the then-forthcoming board game titles. As expected, ‘Behold’ showcases its previewed titles to intriguing effect, a combination of simple write-ups with artwork and depictions of the board games. Notable titles previewed include Pandasaurus Games’ The Fox Experiment, co-designed by Elizabeth Hargrave of Wingspan fame, which is a ‘roll-and-write’ design about the Belyaev-Trut experiment into fox domestication, in which the players attempt to draft friendly foxes and use them to breed even friendlier foxes, whilst Moon, the third and final part in a trilogy of card-drafting games from Sinister Fish Games which began with Villagers, takes the series off planet to colonise the Moon as well as increase the player interaction with this style of game.

‘Points’, the regular column of readers’ letters is only as thematic as to be all from readers praising the magazine, so is a whole lot less interesting than in previous issues. ‘For Love of the Game’, continues the journey of the designer Tristian Hall towards the completion and publication of his Gloom of Kilforth. In this entry in the series, he addresses the issue of  acknowledging your inspirations when it comes to your game, both in terms of other game designs and other sources. He cites Donald X. Vaccarino being inspired by the deck-building aspect of Magic: The Gathering for his Spiel des Jahres award-winning Dominion, but actually lists other sources for his inspiration for his own Gloom of Kilforth, such as the Fighting Fantasy books, Dungeons & Dragons, and J.R.R. Tolkien, so although this represents another nod to roleplaying in the issue, it does feel one-sided.

Senet follows a standard format of articles and article types and Senet Issue 9 is no exception. One explores a theme found in board games, its history, and the games that showcase it to best effect, whilst another looks at a particular mechanic. In addition, there are two interviews, one with a designer, the other with an artist. The particular mechanic in the issue is the engine-building game. In ‘Rise of the Machine’, Alexandra Sonechkina examines the history and state of the mechanic, starting by making an interesting suggestion that Monopoly, a fairly poorly regarded game, is actually an engine-building game—although not one in the modern sense. That, though, is really as far as the history goes in the article, as it looks what makes a good engine-building game. The article is an interesting look at what the mechanic can do, but it could have benefited from boxed sections highlighting particular designs and used them to track some of the mechanic’s development to give more context. Although interesting, the article does not feel complete.

The theme article in the issue is pirates! Matt Thrower’s ‘Pirates on Board’ is a far thorough look at the history of its subject, whose more recent surge in popularity as a theme can be traced back to 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean, and before that with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Along the way, it notes the historical nature of the subject means that it has long been a popular subject for wargames, such as Wooden Ships & Iron Men and Blackbeard, both from Avalon Hill, but the fantasy element of pirates means that it is seen as a suitable subject for lighter board game designs too. Examples include Cartagena and Pirate’s Cove, yet as the hobby has matured, there has been an acknowledgement the fantasy of pirates does not always equate to the actual history, since they are both villainous and violent, though less so with other board game themes and history. Thus pirate-themed board games tend to romanticise the history and make it palatable for a wider audience. It does, though, come up to date with a look at the issue of actual piracy and counterfeiting in the board gaming industry, but does not come to any more conclusion than that it is an ongoing issue. ‘Pirates on Board’ is an entertaining piece that nicely continues the magazine’s thread of examining the themes common to modern and not so modern board games.

The much-heralded highlight of the issue is ‘The Games Master’. This is the first of the two interviews in the issue, and is with Sir Ian Livingstone, co-founder of Games Workshop and co-creator of the Fighting Fantasy series, as well as designer of board games like Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One. The lengthy interview, which starts with Livingstone’s first experiences with board games and takes the reader through the founding of Games Workshop, the games he designed, the creation of the Fighting Fantasy series—the primary roleplaying focus in the interview, and beyond to what he plays today. It is a good, solid interview, interesting and informative, liberally illustrated, though more so if you have not read other interviews with Livingstone. The interview is, of course, timed ahead of the release of Dice Men: The Origin Story of Games Workshop, which expands upon the various subjects explored in the piece and more.

The second interview in Senet Issue 9 is with Johan Nohr, the co-creator and illustrator of Mörk Borg, the Swedish pre-apocalypse Old School Renaissance retroclone, and its Cyberpunk counterpart, CY_BORG. As with previous issues of the magazine, this does a very nice job of showcasing his artwork, although it is not necessarily a style that would be seen in board game design.

‘Unboxed’, Senet’s reviews section actually includes a review of Apothecaria: Solo Potion Making RPG, so continuing the issue’s flirtation with roleplaying games, although solo journalling games are typically the magazine’s only flirtation with roleplaying games. Otherwise, a wide range of games is reviewed, from family titles such as Dodo and its egg-rolling down a mountain mechanic to big, brutal storytelling designs such as Oathsworn: Into the Deepwood. The latter is the issue’s game of choice, but there are a surprising number of disappointments reviewed too, like Rear Window and Cellulose: A Plant Cell Biology Game. In between, there is a good mix of interesting games reviewed that should drove the reader to go and find out more.

Rounding out Senet Issue 9 are the regular end columns, ‘How to Play’ and ‘Shelf of Shame’. For ‘How to Play’, Mx Tiffany Leigh addresses the issue of ‘Playing with Alphas’, and how the over abundance of advice from an Alpha Player can negate player agency, involvement, and fun, before giving straightforward advice. In fact, the advice might be called too straightforward, even obvious, but this does not make it bad advice. Tom Brewster of Shut Up & Shutdown takes Pax Pamir, a wargame of nineteenth century politics in Afghanistan, off his and ‘Shelf of Shame’ and explains why it is not getting to his table to play more often. Unlike a lot of entries in this series, it is not because it got forgotten or bypassed in favour of other titles, but because it is actually not a game that others want to play because of its complexity and capacity. This highlights an issue with a lot of board games, that of finding the right audience.

Physically, Senet Issue 9 is very professionally presented. It looks and feels as good as previous issues of the magazine.

It has almost become a cliché to state that as with previous issues, Senet Issue 9 offers a good mix of articles, interviews, and reviews, but it does. Yet where the interviews both look great and are very accessible, the articles on the issue’s theme and mechanic are not. This is not to say that they are unreadable, as they are, but they are no longer highlighting particular games appropriate to either theme or mechanic, so unlike in previous issues with these articles, there are no examples to stand out effectively and catch the reader’s attention. The issue also has an odd feel to it because of its emphasis on roleplaying in its two big articles, but this change is refreshing, widening the scope of the magazine, if only a little. It also highlights how a magazine of similar quality devoted to roleplaying could be just as good. Overall, Senet Issue 9 is still good, but just a little bit different—and that is not a bad thing.

Monday 8 April 2024

Miskatonic Monday #274: Kane’s Tone

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.

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Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Orlando Moreira

Setting: Modern day California
Product: One-session one-shot
What You Get: Twenty-eight page, 53.64 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Post-event, amnesiac countdown horror
Plot Hook: How can you save the world when you don’t even know how it ended?
Plot Support: Staging advice, four pre-generated Investigators, one NPCs, nine handouts, and two Mythos monsters.
Production Values: Good

Pros
# High potential for Investigator versus Investigator violence
# Excellent staging advice
# Potential convention mini-scenario
Dendropobia
Amnesiphobia
# Thanatophobia

Cons
# Shepard Tone
# For full effect, requires careful staging
# High potential for Investigator versus Investigator violence
# No advice on lengthening it to a standard four-hour session
# Playing to the cues can end the scenario and the world

Conclusion
# Structured, post-event, amnesiac countdown horror one-shot
# Solidly written scenario that demands a lot of commitment from the players

Miskatonic Monday #273: Flash Cthulhu – Be Good Neighbours

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: Michael Reid

Setting: Lovecraft Country
Product: One-Location, One-Hour Scenario
What You Get: Eight page, 1.38 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Whispers within, monsters without, who do you trust?
Plot Hook: Some neighbours are too good to be true.
Plot Support: Staging advice, four pre-generated Investigators, four NPCs, and some Mythos monsters.
Production Values: Plain

Pros
# Nasty introduction to Lovecraft Country
# Short, sharp moral choice
# Easy to slot into a campaign or between scenarios
# Easy to adapt to other times and settings
# Potential convention mini-scenario
# Autopobia
# Phagophobia
# Oikophobia

Cons
# No floor plan or map

Conclusion
# Short, sharp bloody hour of horror
# You will never guess who is coming to dinner...

Sunday 7 April 2024

Cthulhu ‘Old Style’ like its 1981

The first thing that you notice about Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition is how surprisingly white and colourful it is. There is bold use of colour in its chapter headings and then the rest of the book is simple, black on white text. Which gives it a clean, modern aesthetic, that is, of course, easy to read, but also in keeping with the setting for Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition. That setting is the modern day of the here and now because just like H.P. Lovecraft set his stories in his time, so the Game Master’s scenarios are, by default, set in her time. This does not mean that Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition cannot be set in other historical periods, but the modern day is the default. Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition is the roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror, which means it pitches ordinary men and women in extraordinary situations and confronts them with the true sanity-leeching mysteries of the universe as portrayed in the stories by H.P. Lovecraft. For its mechanics, it uses The Black Hack, Second Edition, the player-facing retroclone originally published in 2016. Lastly, the simple layout and use of colour allows the artwork of Paul Tomes and Andrés Sáez Martínez to really stand out.

Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition is published by Just Crunch Games following a successful Kickstarter campaign. Notably content for both editions of the roleplaying game is compatible and the roleplaying game is designed for quick and easy play, especially Investigator creation. After an introduction and a decent example of play, Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition wastes very little time in explaining the rules. For its core mechanic, whenever a Player Character—or Investigator—wants to take an action against a threat that will either hurt or hinder the Investigator, his player makes a Save against an appropriate attribute by rolling under it. If the roll is successful, the Investigator avoids the Threat, but suffers its consequences if his player roles equal to the attribute or higher. This is always player-facing, so whenever an Investigator wants to punch a cultist, his player will roll a Save against his Investigator’s Strength, but to avoid the cultist punching the Investigator, his player would roll a Save against his Investigator’s Dexterity. Depending upon the situation the player can also run with Advantage or Disadvantage.

The investigative aspect of Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition is handled via Resources. These categorised into three types—Investigative, Sanity, and Supplies. All types of Resource work in the same way. Each is represented by a die type. When a Resource check is called for, the Resource die is rolled. If the result is a one or a two, the Resource suffers a Break, meaning that the Resource is partially used up. Eventually the Resource die is stepped down to a four-sided die and when that suffers a Break, it is completely used up and thus Broken. Investigative Resources are divided between Smokes and Flashlights. Flashlights are divided into Smokes and Flashlights. Flashlights are used to get clues through studying, finding clues, spotting things, and so on, whilst Smokes cover gaining clues via interaction, financial means, or connections. When a one or a two is rolled on either Investigative Resource, a clue is still found, but something bad happens to the Investigator. When Flashlights is Broken, the Investigator is burned out and exhausted, whilst when Smokes is Broken the Investigator has brought too much attention upon himself.

In terms of running and playing the game, Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition lays its principles for both the Game Master and the player early on. For the former, this includes giving out plenty of information, setting the stakes when the Investigators are faced by threats, giving them opportunities and choices, and so on, whilst for the latter, to be a part of the story and support the other Investigators’ role in the story, to investigate and ask questions, to focus on survival rather than fighting, and more. Much of this will be familiar to veterans of Lovecraftian investigative horror, but not everyone is, so the advice here is more than welcome.

An Investigator in Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition has six Saves (or attributes)—Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma—that are rated between three and eighteen. He also has four Resources— Hit Die, Sanity, Flashlights, and Smokes—and various Benefits, including a Skill, and various Assets. Two methods of creating an Investigator are provided. Freeform gives the widest choice, but the simplest method is to pick one of the roleplaying game’s six Archetypes. There are six Archetypes—Adventurer, Bruiser, Performer, Philanthropist, Ruffian, and Scholar. Each determines the Resource die values for an Investigator’s Resources, gives a single Special Ability and lets the player choose another from a choice of three, and either rolls for or chooses an Occupation and an associated skill. There is actually a lot of flexibility within each Archetype, so that an Adventurer can be an Archaeologist or an Aviator, but he could also an Aristocrat or a Sales Rep.

Henry Brinded
Strength 13 Dexterity 12 Constitution 10 Wisdom 15 Intelligence 18 Charisma 11
Sanity D10 Flashlights D12 Smokes D10 Hit Die D4 Armed 1 Unarmed 1
Hit Points: 4
Special Abilities: Iron Mind, Deduction, Erudite
Occupation: Academic
Skill: Language (Latin)

An Investigator is meant to be fragile, although as a group, Investigators do have access to a pool of Fortune Points which allow a failed Save or Resource check to be rerolled. Combat follows from the core rules and in spite of Investigators having access to Fortune Points, enforces their fragility. They have relatively few Hit Points, weapons can be deadly, and armour is rare.

Sanity is handled as a Resource die in Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition. When an Investigator is confronted with something truly terrifying or the effects of the Mythos and the Investigator’s Sanity suffers a Break, it indicates that he has encountered something so hideous or unreal that he has temporarily lost his connection with reality. Sanity being Broken means that the Investigator has lost focus or is overwhelmed by the alienness of what he is confronted with. The Investigator becomes permanently insane when the number of times a Sanity Break occurs equals the Resource die for his Sanity. However, not all horror is equal, and it is possible to suffer a Shock instead of an incidence of Insanity when his Sanity suffers a Break.

The moments when an Investigator is likely to be at his most fragile is in confronting the Mythos. Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition does not include an extensive list of Mythos entities and creatures. It goes even further by not actually including stats for several of the Old Ones, but instead discusses their relationship with humanity (or in some cases, humanity’s ‘supposed’ relationship with them). This moves the seven discussed—Azathoth, Cthulhu, Hastur, Nodens, Nyarlathoptep, Shub-Niggurath, and Yog-Sothoth—into narrative roles rather than something that can be physically defeated. Only eight lesser creatures and races are given more detail, both in terms of background and mechanics. Traditional Mythos creatures such as the Deep Ones, Elder Things, Ghoul-Kin, Rhan-Tegoth, Shambler, Shoggoth, and Yuggothi, are joined by the Deathless, the equivalent of Keziah Mason from ‘The Dreams of the Witch-House’ and its antagonist. All of these are given nicely detailed descriptions and an excellent illustration. In each case, their stats are very simply presented, there is a note as to their motivation, and their origins, purpose, and allegiances are discussed, along with options and variants. It is interesting to note that Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition makes clear that Deep Ones are not the equivalent of Orcs or Goblins in the Cthulhu Mythos.

Both Mythos tomes and artefacts in Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition work in a fashion similar to Mythos antagonists. Each volume or item is measured by its Index, representing both the potency of its content and the danger it represents to the reader; Ire is the attention garnered by its possession—and especially—the use its lore, power, or spells; and Lore the ‘benefit’ gained from the successful study or use of it. The latter might a modifier to a Save, an Advantage on a later Save, a Skill, one or more Spells, and so on. In the case of the Index and Ire factors, the Investigator will need to make a Save against them. Failure in the case of Index means that the Investigator suffers a Shock and in the case of Ire, a failure means that the attention and scrutiny of cultists or other forces of the Mythos has been drawn to the tome or artefact and thus to the Investigator. This can lead to more direct encounters with them or set up difficulties in the story later on, meaning that Ire and a failure to Save against it has narrative rather than mechanical consequences. One thing not explored here are Mythos artefacts—the focus is entirely on tomes rather than objects.

The list of Mythos tomes avoids the classics of Lovecraftian investigative horror, so no Necronomicon, De Vermiis Mysteriis, or Unausprechlichen Kulten. There are several quite detailed examples though and tables for the Game Master to create her own. In terms of spells, there is a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar. Thus, there is The Voorish Sign and Elder Sign alongside Deceiver’s Charm and Cyclopean Shift. Of course, knowing and casting magic has consequences. Knowing any spells automatically imposes a reduction in the Resource die for an Investigator’s Sanity and casting spells requires a personal sacrifice, there being the possibility of an Investigator losing a point from of his six Saves. In addition, casting a spell triggers a save against the Ire of that spell, potentially attracting the attention of the cultists and other Mythos entities. Magic in Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition is deadly and dangerous, and its use is definitely not for the faint-hearted.

The scenario in Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition is ‘Save Innsmouth’. This is an expansion and development of Save Innsmouth: A Student Documentary. It is specifically written to be run in two hours, but is easily expanded to run in a longer, fuller session. In line with the rest of the roleplaying game, it is set in the modern day, taking place in Lovecraft Country in New England in the modern day, specifically in and around Innsmouth. In the short version, it begins en media res, with the Investigators trapped in the tunnels and caverns of the blighted town, decades ago shattered by the 1928 FBI raid. Already bruised and battered—and low on Resources—they must find their out of their rough and rancid prison, hunted by a strange creature… In the longer version, the Investigators, students at Miskatonic University and members of its Miskatonic Heritage Club, have travelled to Innsmouth, first by bus and then by hiking, in order to examine and photograph the pre-Prohibition town before it is completely bulldozed to make way for a health spa. It is a scenario in two parts. The bulk of its investigation is done in the journey to Innsmouth, whilst the action takes place in the second part, the imprisonment, which is what is played out in the shorter version of the scenario. If there is an issue with the scenario it is that the author talks about it for four pages before actually telling what the scenario is about. This is frustrating, although the information given in those four pages is both relevant and useful.

Lastly, Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition gives a short discussion of campaigns, supporting it with a series of tables of prompts and pointers that can be used to bring the Investigators and get them sufficiently intrigued by a mystery to want to investigate. These are good starting points which the Game Master will of course, have to develop. It also introduces the concept of Remnants, the consequences of encountering the Mythos upon an Investigator’s personality. Roleplaying these will reward the players as a whole with an extra Fortune Point.

Physically, Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition is nicely presented. It needs a slight edit, but is very accessible, clean, and tidy, and the artwork is excellent. This does include some artwork generated by MidJourney AI, but the publisher has made a charitable donation to the Artists’ General Benevolent Institution.

Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition is a streamlined and cleaner presentation of the earlier, The Cthulhu Hack, much like Old School Essentials is a cleaner and more accessible update of the Basic Dungeons & Dragons designed by Tom Moldvay. It is not just cleaner and more accessible, the book itself is handier and easy to use. The downside of that is that it is not comprehensive in its treatment of the Mythos, but it is complete in and of itself. In play, the consistency of the rules, especially Resources, means that an investigation becomes one where every effort matters, not just facing the Mythos, since there is a chance of depletion, of a Break, each time an effort is made towards the investigation. Thus, the consequences of an investigation are wider than mere loss of Sanity and the tension of looking into mysteries is prevalent throughout an investigation rather than in just the confrontation with the Mythos.

Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition is an excellent redesign and reimplantation of The Cthulhu Hack. It provides a solid introduction to Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying and for any looking for a Old School Renaissance compatible roleplaying game dealing with the Cthulhu Mythos, Cthulhu Hack, Second Edition is the obvious choice.

Saturday 6 April 2024

The Sanctum Sufficiency Guide

In the mile-high tower of the Spire, the Aelfir—the High Elves—enjoy lives of extreme luxury, waited upon by the Destra—the Drow—whom they have subjugated and continue to oppress the criminal revolutionaries that would rise up and overthrow them. In the City Beneath, where heretical churches have found the freedom to worship their forbidden gods and organised crime to operate the drug farms that supply the needs of the Spire above, the Aelfir find themselves free of conformity, the Destra free of repression. They are joined by Gnolls and Humans. Some simply live free of the stifling Aelfir control, whether by means lawful or unlawful, others are driven to beyond the Undercity, delving ever deeper into the bowels of the world in search of the fabled Heart, or perhaps their heart’s desire. Yet even life in the City Beneath is enough for some. Together with like-minded folk, they seek out refuges away from both the oppression and the conformity of the Spire and the chaos of the City Beneath, where their shared values and ideals can build a community of their own. There is hope in this effort, but ultimately horror, for there are dangers down there that have been hinted at in rumours, and when written about, dismissed as the mitherings of a cheap hack!

Sanctum is a supplement for Heart: The City Beneath, the roleplaying game that explores the horror, tragedies, and consequences of delving too deep into dungeons, published by Rowan, Rook, and Decard Ltd. In Heart: The City Beneath, the Player Characters are concerned with what lies beneath, delving ever deeper below the City Beneath, closer to the Heart, exploring a wild frontier and a desire to know what is out there, if that is, the wild frontier is the equivalent of a mega-dungeon and the desire to know what is out there, is the yearning to know what calls to you far below. What Sanctum does is take that idea of the frontier and shift it from being somewhere to explore to somewhere to settle, but again if that frontier is the equivalent of a mega-dungeon. And then, have the Haven and its inhabitants face threats from without, threats that come to them, rather than the Player Characters going out on long Delves and facing threats along the way as they would normally in Heart: The City Beneath.

A campaign revolving around a Haven begins with its creation. This is a collaborative process between the players and the Game Master. Together they decide on its Domains, Tier, its unique feature, its Art, the Faces within the Haven, the Role that each Player Character will undertake as inhabitants of the Haven, what Threats it faces, and ultimately, what Ultimate Questions remain to be answered through play… Domains represent experience of an environment or a knowledge of some kind and consist of Cursed, Desolate, Occult, Religion, Technology, Warren, and Wild. The Haven will have one or two of these in addition to the Haven Domain. The Tier indicates how close the Haven lies to the Heart, the closer it is, the weirder the surrounding terrain. Most Havens are found on the upper Tiers, but they are sometimes found between Tiers, as well as possibly being mobile or found in extra-dimensional fractures. The Haven will also have something unique about it that makes it stand out and also be the reason why people visit the Haven or even why the Haven is threatened. The Faces within the Haven are its primary NPCs, primarily presenting those who support the status quo, who wants to shake things up, and who represent the bulk of the populace. These need not be NPCs, as Player Characters can fulfil their positions within the set-up, but their primary role is to establish tension within the Haven. The Art can be art, or it can be craftwork or entertainment, that represents the Haven and adds to its uniqueness. The Roles are functions that the Player Characters and their Classes perform in the Haven, whilst Threats—tied into one or more of the Haven’s Domains—are the dangers that the Haven faces. Penultimately, a Haven requires a name, and lastly, the players define what they want to discover during play, the questions which remain unanswered.

The creation process is simple and straightforward, and it is supported by suggestions and ideas throughout and then a fully worked out example, that is essentially, ready to play. Altogether, this is a very well written process and engagingly encouraging.

Mechanically, a Sanctum campaign differs from a Heart: The City Below campaign only slightly. The Haunts, locations where a Player Character can obtain healing and resupply in exchange for resources, to remove Stress or downgrade Fallout are moved within the Haven and so flesh out the Haven. Not all of the Player Characters’ Haunts need be placed within the Haven, and like Resources, can be located outside of it, thus presenting a motive for the Player Characters to leave their Haven, conduct a mission, and return. This is how a Sanctum campaign is intended to be played. Not just to go to remote Haunts or the sites of Resources, but also to go to deal with threats and actually Delve down to Landmarks (probably more than once) as in the standard play of Heart: The City Beneath. Landmarks also need to be added to the surrounding terrain as part of the creation process, but this is a task for the Game Master rather than the Game Master and her players. In the long term, there is guidance too for how Fallout, the consequences of Stress suffered by the Player Characters, can affect the Haven itself. Again, there are numerous examples. One last option given for a Haven is for it to have its own story beats, such as repelling attackers who after the valuable resources held within the Haven or creating communal art which enhances the Haven and its sense of community. These provide objectives for the Player Characters and reward them by enabling them to remove stress which they have shifted onto their bonds in earlier play. These range from simply being in danger and being infiltrated to the Haven having fallen and no longer being habitable and someone that the Player Characters care about being killed.

Penultimately, Sanctum presents the Game Master with a set of major threats to any Haven—Angels. These are emissaries of the Heart itself, so they can also appear in a standard campaign of Heart: The City Beneath as well. Encountering them though is rare, and they are usually only spoken of as myth and rumour. Sanctum introduces four new Angels in addition to the one in the core rulebook. These are protoplasmic, bone-clawed ink-blackness of the Blossom Angel, the chitin-armoured Cacophony Angel whose approach is heralded by the razor-sharp songs from its dozen mouths, the lurker in the cupboard that almost does not want to be known that is the Locos Angel, and the one that walks amongst us in the skin of another whispering dissent, the Penumbra Angel. These are major threats, dangers that ultimately cannot be destroyed, only temporarily defeated.

Lastly, Sanctum includes a selection of equipment and items that the Player Characters cannot purchase, but might be able to find. These all belong—or belonged—to Gris Hanneman, a pulp fiction author in the world of Spire: The City Above and Heart: The City Beneath, who fled into the City Beneath after his novel sales dried up and went looking for inspiration. In the resulting book, Beyond the Edge of Madness: A Year in the City Beneath, Hanneman claims he spent time in various Havens and encountered and discovered new Angels. Excerpts from the book pepper the supplement, providing an in-game commentary on Heart: The City Beneath and on the new Angels described in Sanctum. In fact, they are the only descriptions given of them besides the raw stats. The fiction adds plenty of flavour as well as a more nuanced view of the setting. The items to be found that once belonged to Hanneman include ‘The Pistol that Cris Pulled from a Corpse’s Hands in Redcap Grove’, (anti) ‘Angel Bullets’, and ‘Gris Hanneman’s Fingers, Conspicuously Missing From His Hand When He was last Seen’. Using his gear nicely brings Cris Hanneman into the world even though he is dead!

Physically, Sanctum is a slim, very well-presented book. The artwork is excellent and the book is easy to read and understand.

Sanctum presents a different campaign focus and set-up for Heart: The City Beneath, but whereas Vermissian Black Ops takes the Player Characters back into the Spire above, Sanctum is firmly set in Heart: The City Beneath, or rather, below the Heart: The City Beneath. However, rather than follow the transience of a campaign involving a series of ever longer Delves as in Heart: The City Beneath, what Sanctum does is shift play to a campaign where permeance and survival of community and family comes to the fore. This is no less dramatic than the delving of Heart: The City Beneath, only that the stories are different.

Quick-Start Saturday: Coriolis: The Great Dark Quickstart

Quick-starts are means of trying out a roleplaying game before you buy. Each should provide a Game Master with sufficient background to introduce and explain the setting to her players, the rules to run the scenario included, and a set of ready-to-play, pre-generated characters that the players can pick up and understand almost as soon as they have sat down to play. The scenario itself should provide an introduction to the setting for the players as well as to the type of adventures that their characters will have and just an idea of some of the things their characters will be doing on said adventures. All of which should be packaged up in an easy-to-understand booklet whose contents, with a minimum of preparation upon the part of the Game Master, can be brought to the table and run for her gaming group in a single evening’s session—or perhaps too. And at the end of it, Game Master and players alike should ideally know whether they want to play the game again, perhaps purchasing another adventure or even the full rules for the roleplaying game.

Alternatively, if the Game Master already has the full rules for the roleplaying game for the quick-start is for, then what it provides is a sample scenario that she can still run as an introduction or even as part of her campaign for the roleplaying game. The ideal quick-start should entice and intrigue a playing group, but above all effectively introduce and teach the roleplaying game, as well as showcase both rules and setting.

—oOo—

What is it?
Coriolis: The Great Dark Quickstart introduces the sequel to Coriolis: The Third Horizon,
the Middle East-influenced Science Fiction roleplaying game published by Free League Publishing. It is a roleplaying game inspired by 19th-century expeditions, deep-sea diving, and pulp archaeology in which Explorers delve into ruins in search of secrets, resources, and answers on the edge of civilisation.

It is an eighty-eight page, full colour book.

The quick-start is extensively illustrated, the artwork is superb, capturing the majesty and mystery of the setting.

How long will it take to play?
Coriolis: The Great Dark Quickstart can be played through in a single session, or two sessions at most.

What else do you need to play?
Coriolis: The Great Dark Quickstart requires multiple six-sided dice in two colours.

Cards numbered from one to ten are also required. These can be taken from a
standard deck of playing cards as necessary.

Where is it set?
Coriolis: The Great Dark is set far beyond the Third Horizon of Coriolis: The Third Horizon. A Diaspora fled the war growing there, looking for a haven and following a faint signal emanating from the depths of space. The signal was lost in a system the Diaspora called Jumuah, where unable to proceed further, it was forced to adapt and settle in massive, hollowed out asteroid called ‘The Ship City of Coriolis the Eternal and Jumuah the First and Last’, or Ship City. Although the Portal that should lead out of the system is dead, the Slipstream known as the ‘River of the Stars’ has enabled the Explorers Guild to send Greatships out into the unknown where mysterious ruins have been discovered in other systems.

Expeditions into the ruins require careful planning and resources which must be carried by the explorers or carefully placed at staging camps. Chthonian in size and nature, they are often protected by ancient defence systems and creative construction to hinder intruders. These, though, are not the primary danger that explorers face in delving into ruins. The primary danger is Blight, a plague that corrupts both structures and biology, that can kill and destroy, but also leave its sufferers with strange visions. One way to mitigate the effects of Blight is to be accompanied by a Bird, an automaton of unknown origins capable of detecting and withstanding its effects and protecting the explorers.

Who do you play?
There are four ready-to-play Player Characters given in Coriolis: The Great Dark Quickstart. They consist of a Wreck Diver, experienced in delving into ruins, a Guild Soldier capable with blade and bullet, a Vacuum Welder, good at fixing things as well as blowing them up, and an Algebraist Apprentice, a failed scholar. They are accompanied by their Bird, a constant companion on their delves, capable of scouting the ruins and detecting Blight.

How is a Player Character defined?
A Player Character has six attributes—Strength, Agility, Logic, Perception, Insight, and Empathy—and three stats—Health, Hope, and Heart—which measure how much trauma he can suffer before he is broken. He also has several Talents which either provide a single benefit or between one and three bonus dice to particular actions. For example, ‘Bird Handler’ enables a Player Character to talk to Birds and grants a bonus die when attempting to extract information from a Bird whilst ‘Sixth Sense’ prevents a Player Character from being surprised. A Player Character also has a quirk and keepsake, the latter which can give him hope.

Collectively, all of the Player Characters share Supply. This is a combination of air, food, water, and power, tracked over the course of an expedition. It is used one Supply at a time per marker of Depth travelled.

How do the mechanics work?
Mechanically, Coriolis: The Great Dark Quickstart and thus Coriolis: The Great Dark, uses the Year Zero engine, first seen in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days. To have a Player Character undertake an action, a player rolls a number of Base Dice equal to a combination of attribute and applicable Talent, plus Gear Dice. A single roll of a six (or the symbol on the custom dice for Coriolis: The Great Dark) indicates a success. Multiple successes improve the outcome, especially in combat and conflict. If the roll is a failure and no sixes are rolled, or a player wants more successes, he can Push the roll. This enables him to reroll any dice which did not result in a one or six. A roll can be Pushed once and any rolls of one on the Base Dice indicate that the Player Character loses a point of Hope, whilst any rolls of one on the Gear Dice indicate that the item of equipment used is damaged and needs to be repaired. Other Player Characters can help another on a task, each one contributing an extra Base Die to the player making the roll.

How does combat work?
Conflict in Coriolis: The Great Dark Quickstart uses the same core mechanics. The rules for conflict cover both ranged and close combat, plus social conflict. Reactions, such as blocking or dodging, are counted as actions and so use up a Player Character’s action in a round. Extra Successes in close combat can be used to wrestle an object from an opponent, trip him, or push him away. Ranged combat allows for aimed fire, full auto, cover, and so on. Armour has the potential to protect against damage, requiring a roll and successes to be rolled, to be effective. If a Player Character suffers more damage that reduces his Health to zero, he is Broken and cannot act. Critical damage is inflicted if the number of successes rolled are equal to, or exceed, the ‘Crit Threshold’. A ‘Critical Injuries – Physical Damage’ table is included.

How does Blight work?
Heart is degraded by exposure to the Blight. It is acquired by delving into Blight-infested ruins, from the Blight attacks of certain creatures, and particular locations. When a Player Character’s Heart is reduced to zero by Blight, he has been Broken by Blight and suffers a Blight manifestation. The player must then roll on the ‘Blight Manifestation’ table. This can result in the Player Character being stricken with ‘Shivers’, uncontrollable shivering, sapping his strength and causing him to become Exhausted, or having ‘Nebulous Breath’, in which his breath visibly manifests as a nebulous, swirling mist, suggesting the alien transformation within, forcing everyone nearby to become Shaken if the sufferer is not wearing a helmet, whilst he be Distracted if he does. Typically, these effects last for a few hours, but it can be days or weeks. Unless permanent, a Blight manifestation can be recovered from and Heart also recovered.

How do Delves work?
Each Delve is categorised by Class and Depth, the latter measured as a series of Markers. Class is its estimated difficulty and Depth its size and indication how much Supply is required. During the Delve, Explorers take one of four roles
—Delver, Scout, Burrower, and Guard. The Scout is primarily in charge of the Bird who accompany them on the Delve, determining where incidences of Blight are located, whilst a scanner is used to gain an initial map of the ruin. Throughout the Delve, the Explorers will expend Supply for each Marker reached, each combat engaged in, each act of strenuous activity, and after resting. Descending further into a ruin without Supply will inflict damage, Despair, or even Blight on the Explorers.

What do you play?
The adventure in Coriolis: The Great Dark Quickstart is ‘The Sky Machine’. The Explorers are hired to mount a rescue mission on the asteroid-moon of Moubarra 4 where a group of prospectors went missing in a newly extablished claim. The Explorers are not the only ones on Moubarra 4 with an interest in the outcome of the new rescue mission, though whether their interest lies in the successful rescue mission or in the recovery of any artefacts found in the claim remains to be seen.

‘The Sky Machine’ introduces the players and their characters to a little of the politics of
Coriolis: The Great Dark, but in the main focuses on the Delve, which is a linear affair whilst still showcasing the core mechanics of the roleplaying game. There is a genuine sense of ‘diving’ into the unknown, of reaching something mysterious and odd, yet majestic. There are signs here of technology far beyond that of ‘Lost Horizon’ of ‘The Ship City of Coriolis the Eternal and Jumuah the First and Last’. The Player Characters are not expected to understand it, merely recover it and return it to the surface.

The scenario includes six handouts and maps. These are decently done.

Is it easy to prepare?
The core rules presented in
Coriolis: The Great Dark are easy to prepare, especially if the Game Master has any experience with the Year Zero engine. The scenario itself is quite straightforward. However, the background to Coriolis: The Great Dark and its concepts do require some close study in order for the Game Master to impart them to her players. A handout or two towards that end would be useful and easy to prepare by the Game Master.

Is it worth it?
Yes.
Coriolis: The Great Dark Quickstart is an excellent introduction to its setting and its concepts, supporting with a good starting scenario and illustrating them with some excellent artwork that captures the grandeur and loneliness of its setting. Coriolis: The Great Dark Quickstart has a rough, frontier feel to it coupled with a sense of wonder at the universe above and below.

Where can you get it?
Coriolis: The Great Dark Quickstart is available to download here.

—oOo—

The Kickstarter campaign for C
oriolis: The Great Dark can be found here.