Friday, February 8, 2019

Rulenomicon the Reviewing

Started a few months ago to go through my Role Playing Game (RPG) collection and give a stars rating to each of the items listed on my Rulenomicon page. I just finished up with Zweihander, the last game on the list, today. Here is a guide to what I mean by each star

blank   - Not rated yet
*          - Not playing this one
**        - Might play this one if someone else is GMing and I have nothing else to do
***      - Interested in playing. GMing, or stealing ideas for my game
****    - Will be studying this one again and actively trying to convince others to play
*****  - RPG perfection I am dropping everything to switch to this (no games rated this yet)

My star ratings are based on a quick flip through of the games which are mostly pdf files on my hard drive. They are somewhat capricious based on my initial impressions. I wanted to focus this list on RPGs so I have not rated items that turned out to be board games, miniature games, card games, campaign settings, or anything else other than an RPG (I may remove these from the list in the future). I guarantee I have called someone's RPG baby ugly. However, I do have some specific things I am looking for. Overall I am interested in systems that generate characters quickly, have rules that are simple to learn, but have enough complexity to make the game interesting in the long haul. I am more interested in campaigns than one shot adventures so character advancement is important. "Fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons (5e)" is my current go-to game, so an important consideration for any game is what does it do better than 5e. Since this is a review of rules I focused my attention on character creation, combat resolution, and spell casting. Rule sets vary in size from 1-page microgames to 400+ page tomes. Most of the games under 10 pages lacked enough complexity to sustain a long-term campaign and keep it interesting, so were rated lower. The 400+ page ones were treated more leniently as long I could find a core 20-30 page rules section which spelled out the base rules (a good table of contents helped with this immensely). The ability of the rules writer to explain things clearly and concisely without excessive use of acronyms and jargon was important. I have a great deal trouble with so-called "story games" as many of these reduce the resolution to a single dice roll, and also expect character reactions to be determined by dice rolls as well. One of the things I enjoy most about roleplaying is people working together to cooperatively solve problems, so games emphasizing intraparty conflict did not fair well in my ratings. I am biased towards fantasy settings, so modern and post-apocalyptic settings got rated a little lower (steampunk and hard sci-fi probably are somewhere in-between).

 I definitely have an opinion on which dice rolling mechanics are best. D20 is my favorite as the probabilities are easy to calculate and one can add a significant number of modifiers without skewing the rolls to badly. D100 is next although since most of the games I see are doing things in 5% increments so they would better just using a d20. 2D6 can work but probabilities here are no longer linear and adds greater than +3 seriously skew the results. A number of games are dice pool based, calculating probabilities for these games is a serious challenge which make them not my favorite. Dice pool games where all but the top few dice are ignored have some possibility. Dice pool games which count the number of successes by the number of dice exceeding a certain number seem workable as well, but don't try to sell me custom dice with plusses and minuses, or funny symbols. Rolling dice pools and adding them together seems the road to disaster as the chance to beat 1d6 with 2d6 is less than 10% adding more dice just makes it more likely you'll roll closer to average with each and decrease these odds. Some systems which limit the range from 2d6 to 4d6 with the assumption that the two dice roller is a novice who is going to probably fail and four dice roller is a master who is going to succeed are barely tolerable. Once you start throwing in extra dice when high numbers are rolled, low numbers canceling out high numbers, and different color dice doing different things calculating probabilities becomes challenging in the extreme, but it probably only slightly shifts the one die versus two dice inequality.

P.S. Blogger refused to accept my MSword formatted table, so you'll have to accept a text based layout for now.

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.

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