Friday, October 26, 2018

Invisible Sun Unboxing

Since Monte Cook is launching a reprint Kickstarter, I thought this would be a good time blog my impressions about the Invisible Sun Box set I received in August. Invisible Sun feels to me like someone took Ars Magica, Over the Edge, and D&D Planescape put them in a blender and hit frappe. Everyone is a magic user a strangely dark and twisted realm filled with portals to other dimensions. As with many Monte Cook things, the pretention is strong in this product (see Jeff Rients I got your threefold model right here, buddy!). This time Monte has cranked it up to 11 with a custom box for the game and claims of all new roleplaying experience. Unfortunately, as a collector, pretention is one of my weaknesses. Although I was able to resist the first Kickstarter, once it became apparent last February that: first, they were actually going to deliver this game; and second they might sell out the first print run; I put my pre-order in. Unfortunately, this put me absolutely last in the delivery queue but in August it finally turned up (My Sooth desk showed up a couple weeks after I placed my order). Here are some pictures of the Black Cube and what lies within.

The Cube opens


The six-fingered hand (five was apparently not enough)


Miscellaneous Gubbins 


The Book I


The Book II


The Book III


The Book IV

Not pictured Character sheets, DM Ref sheets, cards, numerous wooden tokens, and a Sun Tracking mat for Sooth Cards (The Sooth Cards are sold separately). I have flipped through the rules, but as of yet have been unable to grok the system. It appears not to be the Cypher system since there appear to be only two stats in instead of three (I may have misread this). I will endeavor to probe the mysteries of this game further once my shoulder injuries from manhandling the cube heal (The weight of this cube put the former Monte Cook heavyweight Ptlous City by the Spire to shame). Was it worth the 300+ bucks I paid for it? In terms of owning something unique, my friends won't have yes. The pretention aspect is failed a little in the ability of the cardboard cube to withstand the weight of the items inside, mine is showing tears where some of the shelves join the walls of the cube. The game seems to have a few more moving bits than I like based on all the components included. Being that Ars Magica and Over the Edge are two of my favorite games if I can figure this one out it may be one of my favorites as well.

P.S. Not that surrealist actually require lots of rules, my friend Jeremiah's Fabulous Unknown City campaign was played nominally using 5e rules. I played a six-foot-tall white lab rat (descended from a sentient race created when one of the longer players alchemy experiment took an unexpected turn) barbarian who wore an Elizabethan ruff and a gold jumpsuit. It was no use mapping the City because it re-arranged itself every week. Jeremiah's far tamer Game of the North is available here (although the random items table does give you some of the Unknown City vibes).


Friday, August 17, 2018

Gencon 2018

Went to GenCon for Friday. Got to Gencon about noon. Spent a half hour for an open parking lot. Spent another half hour hiking the mile from where I parked. After another 15 minutes in the will call picking up my badge, I ate pizza for another 1/2 hour and hit the dealer's room. Started at the western end and stumbled out the eastern end when the room closed at 6:00 PM. Marched the loot out to the car. Was going to go to the ENies, but decided I was so tired I just drove home. Observations: The dealer's room is dominated by board games. Many of the roleplaying games I had already picked on Kickstarter. Purchases included: the three Forge World indexes I didn't already own, the rolling miniature case from battle foam, Knights of the Dinner Table and Girl Genius comics for she-who-must-be-obeyed. I picked up two 5e supplements on what to do with monster parts. Demoed a pirate card game and listened to a sales pitch for a gaming table (mostly a for a chair to sit in). Failed to connect with much of anyone (other than two random gamers for lunch). I am getting too old for a Convention this large.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Adventurer, Conqueror, King Character System Review


After finding that the ENine nominations were out (vote for Holy Crap: the Great Sects Change Operation my friend Andy's game supplement. It's good), I was listening to the (also up for an  ENnie) Hobbs and Friends of the OSR podcast. I am currently in a love-hate relationship with podcasts (as well as youtube videos and live streams) since many are talking about interesting subjects, but I find after five minutes of people droning on my attention wanders (this is true of those talking head youtubes as well). Hobbs was talking with Alexander Macris, one of the authors of the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System (ACKS) rules and they happened to mention something very interesting, the  Handbook allows you to create your own character classes. Now I have bought into the majority of  ACKS Kickstarters (a bit at the .pdf only level) because they produce nicely formatted and illustrated books. I am also grateful to them for pulling Dwimmermount's bacon out of the fire (Warning Kickstarter "want-to-be"s actually producing a product, even when you have a good start is tougher than it looks). However, I have always relegated the ACKS stuff to the "read-later" folder, as I am unenamoured of the "race-as-class" system ACKS inherited from it's Labyrinth Lord/BEMCI roots. Given the revelation I received from the podcast, I thought I would open up those files moldering on my hard drive and take another look. The player's guide does indeed include a section on custom character classes. The system is very simple for humans: You have four build points to spend on five class categories: Hit Dice, Fighting, Thievery, Divine, and Arcane; Each category is allocated between 0 and 4 points. Based on your selection your strength in each category is determined. Every build point allocation adds experience points to the experience required to level up.  Non-human races get an additional four build points to spend on racial attributes, however as you spend more points your level cap drops. I like the simplicity of this system. I do not like the Non-human level caps. I find the different experience levels for different classes cumbersome and hard to balance (although in the Greyhawk supplement the general weakness of the thief class was countered by the classes low experience cost making the thief usually a level higher than the rest of the party {until the wizard picked up his bonus level at 7th}). If you don't feel like making your own classes the Players book has 18 more character classes: Anti-paladin, Barbarian, Dwarven Fury, Dwarven Machinist, dwarven delver, elven courtier, elven enchanter, elven ranger, gnomish trickster, mystic, Nobiran
Wonderworker, Paladin, Shaman, Thrassian Gladiator, Venturer, Warlock, Witch, and Zaharan Ruinguard. If that's not enough the newly released Heroic Fantasy Handbook adds seventeen more: Beastmaster, Berserker (revised), Chosen, Ecclesiastic, Elven Spellsinger, Halfling Bounder, Halfling Burglar, Loremaster, Nobiran Champion, Nobiran Wizard, Occultist, Runemaster, Thrassian Deathchanter, Venturer(revised), Warmistress, Zaharan Darklord, and Zaharan Sorcerer. The  also newly released Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu includes fifteen more: Blessed Undertaker, Bugman Ovate, Bugman Dredger, Bugman Praetor, Cultist, Deep One Hybrid, Dragon Incarnate, Geckoman Spirit-Talker, Geckoman Stalker, Lizardman Gladiator, Lizardman Hunter, Lizardman Priestess, Lizardman Warrior, Lizardman Witch-Doctor, Mog Brute, Necromancer,
Nephil, Terran Cosmonaut, Terran Starman. Are all these classes fair and balanced against each other? With this many classes, there is a good chance a few of them are broken, although I have not done enough math to confirm this.  If classes stick to the Hit Dice, Fighting, Thievery, Divine, and Arcane model and the names are mostly fluff it could work. If every new class has its own special moves and spell list this system will collapse quickly. Could the number of classes have been reduced by not using a race-as-class model? I think so. While I can no longer complain about the lack of classes in ACKS, I am a little worried that the proliferation of classes offered as a solution will boost the complexity of the game to unmanageable levels. At least I can no longer set ACKS aside as lacking class diversity.

P.S. One of the most perplexing features of "Old School Renaissance" is their proclaimed desire for simplicity which they achieve by cutting out classes in their first book, and then immediately destroy in their next supplement by adding classes back in. Although I have to admit this is actually "Old School" since Original Dungeons and Dragons did similar things by adding new classes with every supplement from Greyhawk on.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Idle Champions Review

Heard about this game while watching the Wizards of the Coast stream of many eyes. I am super excited that they are going to try doing Undermountain again. Hopefully, it will not "Castle Greyhawk" (The joke dungeon released in the '80s, every level by a different author, no relation to Gary's design except the name and no connection between each level) on us. Unfortunately, despite all the Hoopla, the only product one can obtain today was "Idle Champions". Since this was all that was available and free to play I thought I'd give it a shot. After 6 hours I wish I could get back for something more useful (like sleeping),  I am issuing the following warnings:

Warning This game is not Dungeons and Dragons. I know of no version of Dungeons and Dragons were a 350th level dwarf and a 1st level tiefling have the same hit points.

Warning This game will give you carpal tunnel syndrome. Morrowind also gave me carpal tunnel syndrome, but it was much more worth it.

Warning Plants versus zombies has more tactics than this. In fact, tick tac toe has more tactics than this. Your sole options are rearranging the party and clicking on the endless stream of monsters as fast as you can.

Warning This game relies on loot crates. It doesn't seem it is "pay to win" since you can get loot crates with the gems from level bosses instead of cash. However,  you will need some crates to get your characters magic items.

Warning The levels (at least the sixty I have played so far are) are superlinear side-scrollers with almost no terrain at all (there are bushes and rocks to click on the side of the screen occasionally but they have no effect other than providing gold).

Warning This game gives you more gold for NOT  playing the game than playing. I logged out in the middle of a quest and when I came back several hours later it gave me 20 billion gold pieces. That may seem like a lot but it was only enough to unlock a 1st level tiefling, and even with the extra character I still couldn't beat the 50th level quasit level boss. Level bosses have this crazy mechanic where if you don't defeat them quickly they start powering up, the quasit had powered up 364 times when my last character went down.

Warning There is Minsic but no Boo. Perhaps the cosmic space hamster lurks in a loot crate somewhere, but I am not spending cash to find him.

On the plus side, the art is cute. However, unless you live for cuteness alone I do not recommend this game.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Ultima Resurrection a quick review

Make Ultima Online Great Again!
Meandering on the web has taken me to this interesting find. While browsing pixel art on Pinterest, I felt the urge to go looking for art from my favorite Ultima games. This led me to the Ultima codex gallery,  a marvelous website with all sorts of cool stuff I will explore later. However there I stumbled across this page "Ultima Resurrection" which contains a zipped version of a tabletop RPG version of Ultima. There is also a link to a host site for this game. Being interested in all things Ultima, I downloaded and took a look. Based on a quick read through it seems to be a playable and viable game. Unfortunately, it based on Ultima Ascension and Ultima Online my two least favorite Ultima games. Like Ultima Online, it is tri-stated and skill-based using skills rated from 0-100. One advances by using skills. Unlike the computer game, this is at a fixed rate rather than a random shot. I think this advancement system is workable but will require a lot of bookkeeping. It is subject to the same skill spam breakage techniques that soured me on Runequest. Combat goes as follows: the attacker makes a skill check against one of the combat skills (archery, fencing, mace fighting, swordsmanship, or wrestling); the defender gets a chance to parry if he has a shield; if the attacker is successful hit location is rolled; damage is determined by rolling the dice specified by the weapon; damage is reduced by the armor rating of the armor at the hit location plus the shield if a successful parry is made. Magic has four different systems: Ethereal Speak, Ethereal Lock, Spell Book Sorcery, and Ritual Sorcery. Ethereal speak is an impromptu magic system based on words of power. Fortunately, Ultima has a nice defined set of words of power.  However, adjudicating their combined effects on the fly may prove challenging. Ethereal Lock is like Ethereal Speak but uses virtue points to make the effect permanent. Spell Book Sorcery is a defined list of spells with defined mana costs and required reagents (from the Ultima Online list of eight reagents). Ritual Sorceries are special spells which can only be cast while possing specific items in certain locations. If I run this game I may limit the players to Spell Book Sorcery. There is a nice bestiary, although for some reason it is located in front of the character creation and how to play the game. Overall this is a very good adaptation of the Ultima Online game to the tabletop. The power word spell system has some potential if the game balance can be worked out.  The ritual sorcery has great potential for creating quests and adventures. I would have liked a little less bookkeeping. The game mechanics will fail in the same method as the online game (i.e. people will spam skills to gain; the only way to have high hit points is to have a high strength so all high-level monsters hit like trucks). However, this is still the best tabletop version of Ultima Online I have found. If I don't play it outright, I'll definitely mine for ideas for other game systems.

P.S. There is also an Age of Shadows supplement, but I haven't looked at it yet.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A generic outline for roleplaying game rules

I am trying to get beneath the roleplaying games I have to the underlying bones of the core the so-called "ur-game". The hope is to generate a framework for which to compare games against and highlight their unique features. Outline below

A. Character creation:
  1. Attributes
  2. Races
  3. Background
  4. Classes and/or Skills
  5. Feats and/or Moves
B. Basic Conflict Resolution


  1. Ability checks and saving throws
  2. Initiative and who acts when
  3. Movement
  4. Actions
  5. Attacks
  6. Damage
C. Items


  1. Equipment
  2. Spells
  3. Magic Items
  4. Treasure
D. Monsters


  1. Beasts
  2. Races
  3. NPCs


E. Adventures

  1. Underground
  2. Urban
  3. Wilderness
Comparing this outline to the contents of the fifth edition Dungeon and Dragons: Elements A and B are in the player's guide; Element C is split between the player's guide and the dungeon masters guide. Element D gets its own book, although pieces are in both in player's guide and the dungeon master's guide. Element E is in the dungeon master's guide.


Comparing this outline to the little brown books of original Dungeons and Dragons: Elements A and B are in Men and Magic; Element C is split between the Men and Magic and Monsters and Treasure; Element D is in Monsters and Treasure, and element E is in the Underworld and Wilderness Adventures.

Orginal Runequest stuffs everything in one book although the sections on D and E are rather short.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Phoenix Dawn Command Review

I picked up Phoenix Dawn Command roleplaying game this fall from the website  There was a Kickstarter a few years back but unlike many one-and-done kickstarters, you can still buy copies. It is written by Keith Baker (of Eberron fame) and Dan Garrison. The imprint is Twogether Studios, a small shop with only three titles on its website. However. it seems to be distributed by the same people who produce Cards Against Humanity. At $59 it is not the cheapest of games, but since it contains almost 300 cards it can be forgiven (you can get a .pdf of the manual from Drivethrurpg for $10, but you'll still need the cards to play). Sample art below.

Players guide.png


Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 10.01.20 AM.png

AlictionWebgallery.jpg




It has many of the features of classic roleplaying with a couple of interesting twists. First actions including combat are resolved with a custom set of cards. Secondly one levels up by dying first.

The main mechanic for resolving things is a comparison of the total of up to three cards from a hand of five against a target number. There are three suits Strenght, Grace, and Intellect, each players deck will only have two suits Grace and either Strenght or Intellect dependant on their character class. A starting deck consists of two each of cards valued 2, 3, and 4 from each of their suits, and five special cards from their character class (nominally valued 1, but usually adding +5 when its special conditions are met). Since success normally requires a total value of 10 or better, succeeding with only three cards often requires meeting special conditions. The players have a number of other tricks (including adding their life force, known as sparks) to up their score. Another interesting feature is that cards are only redrawn at the start of the next round, so making a strong attack can leave you with only low-value cards to defend against enemy attacks. Conversely, a strong defense may make mounting a successful attack not possible. For the most part, I think the card mechanic will work well although calculating the odds of success is tricky.

There are six character classes, three strength based ones (Bitter, Durant, Forceful) and three intellect based ones (Devoted, Elemental, and Shrouded). Each party (referred to in the game as a wing) can have only one member from a specific character class. There are only enough cards for four players two from the strength group and two from the intellect group.

Now for the leveling up by dying. The conceit of this game is the players are guardian spirits rather than mortals, having died prior to the start of the game and found themselves awakened in an Aerie of the Phoenix Dawn Command, an organization dedicated to the protection of humanity. After they die during the game they will resurrect again in the Aerie with more sparks, heath levels and get to add a new school card and one value 5 card. Every odd level you can remove one low-value card from your deck. However after seven levels when you die you are dead for good. 

As well as the core mechanics the book contains a monster guide and seven scenarios. the monsters (about 12 of them) are presented first but really make more sense within the context of the scenarios. Many are unkillable via physical combat (ssh, don't tell your players that just yet). The seven scenarios are marvelous and in many ways the best part of the book. Most of them cannot be successfully navigated by brute force alone (enhancing a sense of horror absent from most conventional roleplaying) and will probably require the sacrificial death of one or more of the party to obtain the optimum outcome. I'll not spoil the surprise by discussing the scenarios any further.

Overall I found the game an enjoyable read.  I didn't like that the starting deck description is hidden in the "Tools for the Marshall" chapter rather than the "How to Play" chapter. There is no index which would have been helpful, even though there is a good table of content. I look forward to trying to lure four players into a one-off campaign through the provided scenarios. Unfortunately, I think the rules presented are a little too complex and foreign for me to feel comfortable writing my own material for this system (although Ken does provide some good tips for additional adventures in the monster and scenario section). I do not see the potential for a long-running campaign with this rules set given the level cap of seven, and the limited selection of character classes. Perhaps I am in a rut, but for D&D I can put together three fights and a trap for an evenings entertainment with only an hour or two of prep time, doing something in this system would take me far longer. I am hopeful Ken will keep tinkering with this and provide some more scenarios of the same quality these first ones. Expansions to the broaden the play would also be welcome (already extra intellect and strength cards are available through Drivethrurpg allowing for a fifth and sixth player).
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