Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Annual Review

Now to tell you all about the awesome stuff I picked up at this year's DunDraCon! I know it's been a while, but once I got home, the daily grind has just been really grindy. I do have a couple of other things in the pipeline that I hope to be able to get out, but getting this out is kind of symbolic.

We do often pick up a number of non-book items at the con, and this year we decided to show them off a little.I've been feeling my Star Trek fandom rise in my breast lately, so I picked up a Stat Trek t-shirt with all of the main ships from the Star Trek TV series' (on the left end) and a Star Trek dice bag with the classic Enterprise and logo (roughly center). My wife got the rainbow dragon dice bag on the right, and between my shirt and dice bag are a couple of shirts that she got representing the D&D classes of monk, rogue and wizard.

I was actually able to round out my GURPS collection a bit.

GURPS Ogre is a roleplaying setting book for the popular miniatures combat game Ogre, also by Steve Jackson Games. It has a very tough job ahead of it, since the Ogre supertanks that the setting gets its name from exist on a level far above any mere player character. Loaded with weapons up to and including tactical nuclear weapons, going up against one in anything less than another supertank is an epically bad idea. And although they are artificially intelligent, and therefore, theoretically, playable as a character, they would only really fit in a party made up of Ogres.

GURPS Espionage is another really interesting book that tries to balance the trademark GURPS detailed research with the expectations we get when we watch a James Bond movie. It succeeds for the most part.

GURPS Cyberpunk Adventures is probably the first GURPS adventure book that I've managed to get my hands on. It is of particular interest to me as a historical artifact. While I've never gotten the opportunity to play in the cyberpunk genre, I have read things on the internet by people who have. One of these things I have read is that current cyberpunk games (Shadowrun, as it's pretty much the only cyberpunk RPG still standing) are more focused on interacting with megacorp politics, while older games and adventures focused on protecting the little guy from megacorp politics. And not just in a broad way, but by helping a specific person against the machinations of an evil megacorp. Two out of the three adventures in this book are very much in that mold. The third is a identity-questioning mindscrew that I would probably have to run to fully understand.

Ultimate Psionics was my wife's pick this year. I've never been impressed with the psionics rules that have come out for D&D 3.x. It feels like an alternative magic system rather than anything that I would call psionics. But if you're going to use an alternate magic system in Pathfinder, this does look like the book to get. It's actually a couple of prior books from Dreamscarred Press rolled into one, given a slight update and using the font that Paizo typically uses for the titles of its books (as well as the word "Ultimate," which has appeared in several Paizo titles) to make it look a bit more "official" even though it isn't.

The Emerald Spire superdungeon was released as a tie-in to the upcoming in-development MMO Pathfinder Online, and it intended to be something of a preview of the game's content. The main way this shows through is in the listing of "quests" to be completed within the dungeon. I came away from the product rather unimpressed, if only because it's merely a superdungeon rather than a full megadungeon. Sorry, but I find that I'm spoiled on that front.

Noteboard is a simply brilliant product. It looks like a sheet of notecards laminated together into one piece. And that's pretty much what it is. But that's what makes it brilliant. It folds down small enough to fit in your pocket. One side is printed with both a square grid and a hex grid, so it can work as a battlemat. Because it's so inexpensive, you can do things to it that you would never put your battlemat through. Tack it to your wall. Cut off a piece. If you need a bigger mat, just buy another one for another $10 and double them up.

Fate Freeport Companion is one of those chocolate and peanut butter ideas; Two great tastes that taste great together. Bringing the fantasy setting of Freeport to the Fate system. The Freeport setting has been around for quite some time, first appearing in a trilogy of modules for the then-new Third Edition of D&D, and expanding outward. I did pick up the original adventure trilogy, but very soon after got burned out by the d20 glut of the early Aughts, so I haven't seen all that the setting really has to offer. Like a lot of other Fate products, it uses a "hack" of the Fate Core mechanics, trading out Fate Core's skill list for the classic D&D ability scores. Race and class are loosely supported, with suggestions for race and class stunts and aspects, but the book insists on nothing.

The only thing missing from the book is Freeport itself. Readers who want to explore the city of Freeport are recommended to the Pirate's Guide to Freeport. I can't say I feel cheated, though. The mechanical gimmicks provided can be used for a wide variety of fantasy games using the Fate Core system. There are stats for several monsters and a loose conversion guide for bringing over any monster from the D&D monster manuals that you want to.

The next two items are minisettings for Fate that were produced as part of the Evil Hat Patreon project. I find myself liking them a bit more than the slightly flashier Fate Worlds product they put out as part of their Fate Cote Kickstarter splash. For one thing, they hack the mechanics a bit less. When I looked over Fate Worlds, they had some really interesting ideas, but most of them had their own skill lists and other custom mechanics. It felt like I was learning a new game every time I changed setting, which seems like the opposite effect from what a universal system should achieve.

The Secrets of Cats is a game of playing cats as the secret defenders of the human race. All of the nasty horrors you've ever dreamed of are out there, and it is up to the neighborhood's Parliament of Cats to stop them. Cats can also learn certain magical skills to protect their humans. While the book claims a diverse number of inspirations, the main thing it made me think of was the Bunnicula series.

Aether Sea features magically empowered sailing ships in space, but it feels only a little bit like the Spelljammer setting, and a bit more like a reskinned Traveller. There's not so much swashbuckling against evil and more of a focus on running your ship and keeping it together in classic "Free Trader" style. It is intended to be used with Fate Accelerated Edition and uses the Approaches method of building characters. Fantasy races are implemented by giving each race a "favored Approach," including humans (who get "Flashy"). Rather than providing a bonus to make your favored Approach more awesome, it instead provides a safety net. You can never score a result of less than 0 when you use your favored Approach.

Beyond the Supernatural is an interesting beast. On the surface, it looks like a "follow the leader" game, tracing the footsteps of Call of Cthulhu. It's billed as a horror game, and there are rules for insanity (or at least an insanity table). But if you actually read it, it feels more like proto-Rifts than anything else.

Most of the setting flavor comes from a single narrator within the setting. Here it is paranormal researcher Victor Lazlo, while Rifts would get historian Erin Tarn. The discussion of ley lines, places of power and dimensional rifts sets up the pins that Rifts would knock down a few years later. The psi-mechanic class also seemed to presage the Techno-Wizard from the Rifts RPG.

I'm not sure I could really call it a horror game. I'm sure people have gotten some awesome horror experiences while playing it. It seems more like a game of psychic investigators (both investigators who are psychic and also the fact that they investigate psychic stuff) that hang around near ley lines waiting to get sucked into other dimensions.

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space is the newest boxed RPG that I own (as well as the second Doctor Who RPG). There are boxed D&D campaign settings on my shelf, an old FASA Star Trek RPG boxed set, and the Pathfinder Beginner's Box (the previous title holder). It is a very densely packed box. There are 3 books in this box, the Player's Book, the Gamemaster's book and an Adventure book. I got the Eleventh Doctor edition, so it came with character sheets for the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory and River Song, as well as a number of partially filled sheets and some simply blank. Below that are perforated sheets that break down into item cards representing major pieces of gear from the Doctor Who universe and Story Point chits. There are 6 six-sided dice packed so tightly that the box doesn't rattle at all. I get the feeling that, if I ever played the game and broke down the perforated sheets and rolled the dice, I would never get it to fit neatly back in the box again.

There are rules for making your own character that do not involve arm-wrestling the GM (a particularly amusing rule from the other Doctor Who RPG I own). Although the rules do feel like Eden Studio's Unisystem, there are apparently enough differences that neither C.J. Carella or Eden Studios are mentioned in the credits. You can create Time Lord, as well as simply human, characters. Although the game does not assume you will be playing the Doctor and his companions, there is the assumption that your characters will have the run of space and time to adventure in.

Doctor Who: Fourth Doctor Sourcebook uses a rather interesting conceit in how it presents the material. It is formatted mostly like a series guide, going through the Fourth Doctor era of the show story by story (Not episode by episode, as each story took between 2 and 6 episodes to tell). But along with the story synopses, it includes notes on adapting each story into an adventure for your group, along with stats for major supporting characters and villains. They even suggest twists in case your players have actually watched the show and know what's going to happen. There are also story hooks for further adventures based on ideas presented in the televised stories.

The book also includes playable stats for The Fourth Doctor and his companions, including Nyssa and Tegan, who I don't really count because they only appeared as his companions for his final story. I think of them more as Fifth Doctor companions who were introduced early.

13th Age looks like an attempt at "epic" D&D, from one of the designers of D&D 3rd Edition (and a bunch of other guys, none of whom are Monte Cook). It's very streamlined, with very little of the traditional D&D bean-counting. No worrying about rations or torches and spell-casters have rather small, but potent spell lists. Characters do not even track experience points to determine when they level, but instead simply gain a level whenever the GM decides that they've earned it. While they do offer some rough eyeball guidelines, the fact that each class only has 10 levels means that each level is a significant jump in power.

It does have some interesting bits to it. Most notably the idea that each character has "one unique thing." This is not really a power, but instead is something that is always true about the character. This can have impacts on the setting, like declaring that your character is the One True Fizzbin, or the Only Schnozzwanger in the World, but mostly feels like color.

The other neat thing about the game is the idea of Icons, major NPCs that run the world. And every character has some relationship to at least one of them. This doesn't mean that one of the most powerful people in the setting is your buddy, or even your friend. Just that you're on each other's radar.

Remnants is an interesting, but very small post-apocalyptic mecha game. The world achieved an incredible Golden Age, but was then cut down. All that's left now are Remnants, pieces of the previous world. Some of them still work, others don't. The most common functional Remnant is a slightly-larger-than-man-sized mecha, known as a Battle Remnant. They are self-repairing to an insane degree and are even able to adapt and change in response to circumstances. The longer a single individual holds a Battle Remnant, the more powerful it becomes. But if the Battle Remnant changes hands, it reverts to its "factory defaults" and it will customize itself to the needs of the new pilot, whatever those may be.

The setting provided is fairly loose, with many unanswered questions for the GM. It even leaves the nature of the apocalypse and the Remnants as open questions. Was the Golden Age a technological paradise and the Remnants built of adaptive nanotech? Or was it a magical wonderland and the Remnants are extremely powerful magic items?

Legends of the Wulin is a game that tries to emulate the Wuxia genre. I'm not a fan of the genre, mostly due to lack of exposure, so I can't really comment about how well it accomplishes that goal. The setting is conveyed very loosely in the form of "Loresheets" which can represent factions, philosophies, or locations. The idea is that characters can purchase them during character creation and draw various benefits from them, from privileged information to special kung fu moves.

I feel like I would have to play it to give it a proper grok. The entire book is written is a fairly flowery style, probably trying to emulate Chinese poetry. The mechanics seem simple, but the way the books' language breezes along, I'm sure I'm missing some details.
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