Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The DunDraCon Review 2017

Masks: A New Generation is a teen superhero game using the Apocalypse World engine. All of these things sounds really cool. I picked this one up because not only did Ken Hite recommend it at his seminar, but the One Shot podcast played it on a recent episode and they made it sound really cool. And it is. It is also one of my major disappointments this time around.

One of the strengths of the Apocalypse World engine is that each character type has their own character sheet that includes every rule they will ever need. This works because those rules (called moves) are very spare and very specific. 1 or 2 pages of information is all you need to play that character in that game for as long as your campaign lasts.

The flaw here is that neither the character sheets nor any of the rules that are on them are reproduced in the physical book. In the section discussing the different character types that the game uses, it's basically "This is a cool character type to pick if you want to X" with a side of "They come with cool ability Y so you can do Z" with no way to know what anything actually does.

Of course, like all modern games since the dawn of the internet, you can download the character sheet from the internet, which does have all of the rules on it as expected. But to have this be mandatory in order to get core rules of the game is incredibly annoying.

Epyllion is another Apocalypse Engine game, this time themed around dragons. You play as dragons of varying types, but the overall playstyle is a little more My Little Pony: dealing with relationships and solving small problems. There is a War of Shadow in the setting's backstory and the implication is that Shadow is a corrupting influence. Preventing the next rise of Shadow is all about seeking out the small evils of life in Dragonia before they have a chance to grow into the corruption of Shadow.

Bubblegumshoe: This is the new hotness of the year. A teen detective game in the vein of the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew or Veronica Mars using the Gumshoe mystery RPG system. On top of a streamlined version of the basic Gumshoe rules engine, it also has extensive rules for relationships and a detailed social combat system. In fact, there's very little to support physical combat in the game.

One of the things that this game takes pains to point out is that you're playing teenagers, who don't have the same freedom of action as adults and much less freedom of action as an adult in a heroic, action-oriented career. When guns come out, it is serious business and any teen detective should take that as a cue to get out of that situation.

The writing feels modern and casual, without using a lot of slang or "of the moment" lingo that is going to make this feel dated in a year or so, so it should appeal to actual teen fans of teen detective fiction. Bonus points for being inclusive, with the sample characters being ethnically diverse and mentions of characters in non-heterosexual romantic relationships.

I was also able to pick up both Trail of Cthulhu and Night's Black Agents in the Buyer's Bazaar, making this year a real Gumshoe-a-palooza for me.

On the subject of Cthulhu, the copy of Call of Cthulhu went directly to a friend of mine, as did the Song of Ice and Fire RPG and a copy of the D&D module White Plume Mountain (I'm sure it's in the picture, but it's very thin, so you might not see it), so I didn't have the opportunity to develop an opinion of them.

Myriad Song (not pictured) is a space opera game from Sanguine Productions, publishers of IronClaw and a couple of other furry RPGs. This game, however, is a departure from that. All of the races are aliens. Sure, some of them are dog aliens or spider aliens, but there are also some really interesting alien aliens, as well as humans and robots available as playable races. I haven't seen the second edition of IronClaw, but the mechanics of this game remind me very strongly of the rules variant used for their Usagi Yojimbo game.

The setting is not specific about where in space and time it is compared to us, so it could be our far future or it could be like Star Wars and its "Long ago in a galaxy far far away." The Myriad Worlds were run by an empire known as the Myriad Syndicate. The Syndics were a race of advanced beings that had mastered the art of xen-harmonics, which enabled them to do all sorts of amazing things. They even had the ability to imbue beings with xenharmonic powers via genetic engineering, so the same principle that powers the setting's space drive can also enable your character to teleport and so on.

Then the Syndics disappeared. Their technology still functioned, but the ability to manufacture or repair it went with them. Various factions struggle to fill the power vacuum, including a faction that is trying to keep the universe in order for the Syndics eventual return.

Rounding out my GURPS collection, I picked up a couple of adventures. Adventures are not a big part of what GURPS does, so these were interesting finds. School of Hard Knocks is a superhero adventure written by Aaron Allston, who did a lot of work with Champions back in the day, though my primary exposure to him was his novel Doc Sidhe. I thought this adventure was interesting because the script calls for the PCs to win some fights, but lose others. While you can't guarantee outcomes where dice are concerned, it seems like an interesting break from the assumption that the heroes must be successful in every encounter.

Bili the Axe: Up Harzburk is a solo adventure to support GURPS Horseclans. The format is fairly similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but sometimes where the story goes is dictated by a die roll rather than a choice. The storyline here is actually a military campaign, so it could definitely be run as a group adventure as well.

While I haven't had the opportunity to find any of the Horseclans novels since I bought the GURPS Horseclans book last year, I have read some of Robert Adams' other writing. I have little interest in tracking down any more of it.

Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles RPG from Palladium Books was an interesting read. Palladium had the Robotech RPG license back in the 80's, but it seems that they have reacquired it about 10 years ago. The new book is "manga-sized" to catch the eye of the new generation of fans. The order in which the material is presented is odd, starting with game stats of the Invid, who are presumably the primary enemy in the Shadow Chronicles (making this the game's "Monster Manual"), followed by details on the humans and their mecha with the nitty gritty nuts and bolts of the game coming in very last. While it makes sense to catch the eye by starting with the good stuff and things that build the setting, it feels a little odd (and maybe even refreshing) to my experienced RPG-reading eyes.

Also from Palladium was After the Bomb, a supplement for their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG. It features an alternate, post-apocalyptic setting for the game, in which Gamma World's weird gonzo mutants with 6 arms and 2 brains and psychic powers are replaced with mutant animals of various kinds. There's a sample adventure included featuring a conflict with a cadre of rabbits with punny names, such as Bug Bunny and Gun Bunny.

A standalone After the Bomb game was released after Palladium let the TMNT license go. Maybe one day, I'll find a copy of that somewhere.

Dungeon Crawl Classics is an Old School RPG who's primary gimmick seems to be randomness. Players are encouraged to create a plethora of level 0 characters that then go through a "character funnel," a starter adventure that will kill off most of them. Once they have proven themselves worthy, they then achieve level 1 and gain a class.

The magic system is the most random thing in the game, with each spell having its own table to roll on which can determine if you cast the spell and exactly how much bang you get out of it. Spell failures lead to misfires and corruption, each with its own table to roll on. But fighters also get their own critical hit and critical miss tables to roll on during combat.

Warriors of the Red Planet is another OSR game that takes a different approach. Rather than a big sprawling book, it's a very slim volume. It covers only the barest essentials while letting your imagination do the rest. 4 classes with simple mechanics, a few maps and random tables followed by an interesting bestiary and you're off to the races.

The publisher had a few other OSR-style games at his table, but I picked Warriors of the Red Planet because I thought that sword and planet adventures were something that was right up the OSR alley without being too beholden to classic fantasy.

The picture also includes the Adventure Time Fluxx card game, making Adventure Time one of 2 franchises where I have the Fluxx game and the Munchkin game (the other being Oz). Also another Noteboard. Now that I have 3, I have the same surface area as my conventional battlemat in a form that fits in my pocket(s). Though it did wind up being roughly the same cost.

I was very disappointed in the lack of Star Trek merchandise available this year. Notice that there are no Star Trek shirts among the stash (though there is a cool Star Wars one, but that's my wife's). If you look closely at the white bag shopping it has little Enterprises on it, and the lining is command gold. I also got a bag with a Walking Dead fabric featuring the show's logo and a grasping hands pattern. That's another gift for another friend. (If you are my IRL friend, I will spoil you with convention goodies. Just saying.)

The black bag is actually a very deluxe dice bag called a d-bag. Not only is it nice and sizeable for dice collectors, it also has smaller pouches inside it, so you can keep your cool dice sets together without keeping them in their bulky plastic boxes.

I did, however, jump on some of the other Star Trek merchandise where I found it. I know the guy in the bottom right corner is not from Star Trek, but if you don't love the Flash Gordon movie where Queen did all the music, then we just can't be friends.

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