Monday, February 28, 2022

ACKS and Forbidden Lands

This is a fun comparison between games.

On one hand, you have Adventurer Conqueror King System, a modified B/X system that focuses on end-game kingdom building, politics, mass battles, hereditary storytelling, and realm management.

On the other hand, you have Forbidden Lands, a dark survival horror fantasy adventure old-school like game that focuses on exploration, travel, survival, sandbox world generation, exploring adventure sites,  building a stronghold, and telling a story of zeroes to heroes.

You probably guessed why these two games are being compared. They both have base-building aspects. Where they differ is in the scope and "why" one builds.

Forbidden Lands Strongholds

Forbidden Lands has this JRPG feeling when it comes to constructing a stronghold. You pick a spot on the map and build, and management consists of building structures, handling the periodic rules for them (like output of resources), and gaining mechanical game benefits from building certain buildings in your home base (like a shrine increasing willpower). Your stronghold can be a part of random events, and you are sometimes pulled into story arcs involving your home base.

Strongholds in this game very much feel like "endgame party resources and upgrades," and in that JRPG sense they fit in well. If the first act of the game is "not dying," then the second act is "stronghold construction," where the final act is confronting the end boss. Again, it feels very much like a traditional JRPG story arc and it is a very fun experience with a beginning, middle, and end.

I do like this sort of three-act structure to a game, and also knowing nothing about the world and moving things along until a story-like end is reached for the group. You could play on the same map again, but the real fun is in not knowing what is out there and building the map for that first time yourself.

But where the construction game ends is in the stronghold. The game says you can build multiple ones, but the extent of the scope of this game is just in building and defending the structures, and constructing upgrades for each one. There is a game-bonus limit to 50 guards in the stronghold as well, so the scope of these are more to guard the stronghold than it is to protect an area of land or several surrounding villages. It is a nice system, very detailed and "upgradey" like a video game, but it is not really a kingdom management style of game.

ACKS Kingdoms

Okay, completely different. You are conquering and building kingdoms. You are less getting mechanical benefits from building a certain building than you are getting into the mechanics of managing a kingdom that expands, settles, builds, mines resources, clears farms, builds roads, establishes lords and ladies of the land, and deals with its neighbors across the map.

Your scope is much larger in ACKS. Where in Forbidden Lands you could build a road for some reason (make up some rules and get out a sharpie), in ACKS you need to build roads and change the map. Same with terraforming the land, if you need to clear lands for farms, you clear the land, and your adventuring party may get called in to deal with monsters and lairs across that farmland. In ACKS you clear out hexes of mountains to start mines and capture water resources for your cluster of towns downstream, so those orcs don't dam up the river and kill your crops and populations And you raise armies and join in the mass battles with ACKS as well, so you can join in the fun.

You are also not really building smaller buildings with specific bonuses in ACKS inside a castle or keep, such as a workshop or shrine, and expecting some mechanical benefit in play. If you build a shrine in a castle and it makes sense for it to be there, great! That may come up in RP, it may be required for clerics, and the referee is free to use that fact for any reason or purpose - or it may not come up at all, who knows. Maybe it increases loyalty? Also, building mines, fields, and other structures are done by the population you attract instead of you. You for story reasons and increasing your kingdom's resources and wealth may finance a mine with your gold, and that would come up during RP.

ACKS does not really have an end. You conquer and build your first kingdom with your first set of characters, advance the clock 20 years, and start a new party of level one characters while your now older party becomes the regents and rulers of the world, and they can still play but they most manage the realm these days, do political stuff, and make appearances when something important happens. You keep advancing the story, get your characters married and put in positions of power, and generationally continue the story through play. It is very much like a game of Civilization or Crusader Kings that ends when you choose after several generations of rulers.

You can run merchant ventures, run rogue hideouts and do missions for gold, build dungeons as a mage and harvest them for monster parts and treasure, and do all sorts of cool things that are more world-focused than party-focused.

Both Great, Different Reasons

Both are great games, and they both do different things. If you want that lower-level, story-focused, survival, map building, zero to hero experience that is almost like a novel - play Forbidden Lands. This game is also great if you want to play to a conclusion of a story or campaign. Maps are build-as-you-go and filled with the unknown. The game is tightly focused, has a party-based scope, and fun.

If you want a B/X style game that does a whole boatload of stuff at higher levels, more than just fighting bigger monsters than bigger numbers, ACKS is a great game. This is a great game for open-ended play where there is always another land to settle, intrigue between major world powers to be had, or just this map-level management and 4X play that varies across classes and kin. Maps can be established ones or just pure random hex-crawls. The game is broadly focused, grows in scope, and fun.

But know your games and play the one with features that you are looking for. This comparison is not a "one is better" but more of a "know what they do best" sort of contrast. Pick and play from there, and have fun!

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Off the Shelf: Forbidden Lands

I liked Free League's Twilight:2000 so much I pulled Forbidden Lands off the shelf to give it another look. The games are similar, using rules built off the same underlying engine, and I wanted to give this one another chance.

I also got the Forbidden Hero solo play rules to go along with this off Drive Thru RPG. This looks like a fun set of solo play rules (different from Mythic) that also has suggestions on how to make a solo game in this system flow a little better and be more survivable.

I do want to get back to Twilight:2000, but I felt like giving this game a go would be a fun way to start with this system and have some fun in a fantasy setting. I am waiting for a second set of Twilight:2000 dice as well, so until those come I wanted to play with this and see if it worked for me.

I never gave this game a fair chance, honestly. I sort of gave it a quick look, realized I needed special dice, got the dice, and moved back into a Pathfinder 1e campaign, which proved to be a mess to play solo. The initiative system killed that game, huge lists of initiative order written over and over again on scrap paper, and characters that could be created using Hero Builder and the printouts were page after page of data and notes. Pathfinder 1e and Starfinder convinced me that if I needed a computer program to manage my characters, the game probably was not for me. So I went back to B/X and bounced around some until the Alien RPG captured my imagination.

And I honestly started giving Free League's games more attention when Twilight:2000 arrived. What fascinates me about Forbidden  Lands is the DIY map, and I bet if I give it a chance it will be a fun solo playthrough. I got these cool multicolor stickers off Amazon that I will number using a marker (before I stick them on) to use for my DIY map creation, and that will give me a better assortment of color-keyed locations for my adventures.

This way I can track dungeons, towns, the locations of pre-published adventures, and other points of interest on my map easily. I have a metallic gold marker around here somewhere so I will be able to use the black and dark purple dots as well for things, my feeling are towns since black with a gold number will really pop. Red will be dungeons, and white could be pre-published adventure locations. Gray could be gravestones. The other colors I will save in case I need them for other things.

Twilight:2000 does not feel like a "DIY map building" game, though it could be. The play-throughs I watched felt like "escape the map" games more than realizing, "Well, the whole world is destroyed, so doesn't matter where we start rebuilding." If I did a Twilight:2000 game with these sort of "legacy game sticker" map changes, I would likely use a mixture of stickers and plastic pawns (or wooden cubes) to track military units that move around the map, since there may be a tactical element to that game.

If a military unit was moving through the area a colored pawn could be the center of the unit's influence and that would likely change encounters in an area around the unit's rough location. Since military units in Twilight:2000 have to self-supply, they would need to setup cams to farm, scavenge, and base themselves out of for a while before they are able to move on. This idea may work for Forbidden Lands if there is a "tribal raiders" sort of thing going on, but it feels more appropriate for Twilight:2000 since there should be a feeling of push and pull in a more "tactical" feeling game.

If the war is over and nobody cares and you play that way, then you could just do DIY map locations as everyone gives up and begins returning home or settling in. Either way, Forbidden Lands was designed for DIY map play, and if I am ever going to use these 10,000 tiny stickers I need a way to start using them. Plus this will get me experienced with DIY map play and give me ideas on how to best manage and use these as I play.

Or you could say that a colored dot was a major encampment, number key it, and if it is destroyed, moves on, or stays put just make a note of it in your journal and keep the dot there as a record of the encampment and activity. That works too.

Either way I need a journal to make a note of what numbered dot goes with what encounter or location.

I wish Free League was doing more with Forbidden Lands, but I know they have a lot on their plate with their upcoming One Ring game (and just having gotten Twilight:2000 out). But then again, it is up to me to use what I already have and explore this world before I need anything else for the system.

New Traveller: My Experience

This one is going to hurt. Along with Starfinder and Pathfinder 2, I have boxed up my Mongoose Traveller 2E books and put them aside for a while. I always feel bad when I do this, since there is always that "promise of fun" sitting in these books, and the problem isn't the game is bad at all.

The problem is I have too many better games to play.

Better, is of course, subjective and will mean a different thing to different people, so always factor in your experience and background. For some, the new Traveller is the perfect game, and more power to you! This is never about edition wars or system advocacy, what games I put away for a while is always a reflection with where I am in life, my current interests, wanting to explore the new games I have, and my previous experience with the system and having seen most of it - and there not being enough to explore that I have not already.

Another factor is my recent purchase of the POD version of the original Traveller Book. This reminded me of how we adapted the 2d6 system to games like Car Wars, and how the first three little black books were an ideal "micro 2d6 system" to use as the RPG rules for many wargames, and how fun the original rules were to mod and adapt to new uses.

Original Traveller was like the system you could write down on the back of a few index cards and have 90% of the rules ready to go.

The new Traveller is a huge system, with a lot of detailed subsystems, and the game does not feel as quick and easy anymore. They go the Rolemaster route of thinking "charts equal detail" in some places, especially character generation, and there are times I feel that charts do not equal interesting content or fun. While it may be fun to have all this detail and different outcomes, a plethora of charts ultimately does not make a game.

Design makes a game.

I know, the original Traveller had charts too, but those were like a single page (for character creation) and they were minimized in scope and use. The tightness of the system meant that career chart with all the skills and career options was one page, and it didn't go on and on for a chapter or more. The game had to be frugal, and the charts were frugal too, which increased their usefulness and focus.

This is not to say the new Traveller is poorly designed, it just feels a bit unfocused to me and feels like a larger system trying to do what the original did in a few simple books with minimal rules.

Also, I do not like the specialty skills in new Traveller where you are forced to divide a skill into subskills when you get a +1. This hides the complexity of the skill list and bloats the system, while making some careers way less fun to play (engineering and science) just because of the vast number of subskills that need to be fed with skill levels. If you are a combat character with a few weapons, you will level up the skills you use at the table a lot faster than careers that need to divide skill points.

Also some skill specialties make no sense. If I am a Vargr, wolf person, why do I need to buy Melee (Unarmed) to punch, kick, or wrestle someone and Melee (Natural) to claw and bite them? When you get into this chart- and list-ification of game design you begin to see all sorts of strange subskills that from a design point of view make little sense, but to someone making a list it makes sense since, "we have to cover that option too!"

GURPS does this too (especially in the expansion books), and this is one of those trends in game design that makes sense to a game writer, but it shows a lack of understanding of what makes a game play and feel good at the table, or a lack of playtesting to iron out these obvious logical inconsistencies. GURPS has this skill (from some book) that covers the handling of hazardous materials, like toxic waste. So you mean a starship or real world engineer never works with hazardous waste? No part of that reactor is dangerous? Give me a break, the engineering skill covers avoiding injury on the job.

Otherwise every engineer needs that skill now (or a lot of careers are shortened), and you have put another tax on certain non-combat career paths. The answer to making non-combat careers interesting to play is not more complexity and more options. It lies in game design and making those rolls matter. Star Trek Adventures comes to mind, and the momentum/threat system shows thought was put into making every roll in a session matter to the success of the group's adventure.

I am not boxing up the Traveller Book though. That is still an inspiration and tight design, and right now opening it gives me a lot of good feelings and memories.

I am also not boxing up the newer OSR 2d6 retro-clone Cepheus Deluxe, since this feels like "Phat Traveller" to me, sort of an alternate take on generic 2d6 system with a lot of great ideas in it. I still have to find a use for this, and I have the fantasy version as well, so I would like to read them more.

I will likely unbox this and come back to the new Traveller, I always do. But for me, boxing up a game helps me focus on the few I want out, and lets me enjoy the ones I chose to focus on more. This eliminates the ugly "choice paradox" I have with my game collection, in that I have so many shelves my house feels like a game store, and I end up looking at my entire collection and playing nothing. Like all games, new Traveller has quirks and design decisions I don't agree with, but that does not make the game unfun or unworthy. I can fix those with a few tweaks. And if I wanted to play in the 3rd Imperium you bet I would use the new Traveller system, since that is where the fun and interest is at the moment.

Choice paradox sucks, and I box up games just to limit my choices and make my life better. I would rather enjoy a few games at a time than play none of hundreds. My Steam library agrees with me on this one, with a few hundred unplayed games on there.

What games do I have that are more interesting to me at the moment?

Stay tuned...

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Index Card RPG and Savage Worlds

Index Card RPG (ICRPG) is replacing some of my Savage Worlds gaming, especially the more d20 oriented stuff. Now, I love the mechanics of Savage Worlds and how the game plays and works, and I have a huge collection I love. But there are times I want the more d20 feel, roll high, knock down the enemies hits (or the problem's difficulty number), and collect cool equipment to level up.

For those times, when I want a quick-and-easy d20 alternative that still feels d20, I feel Index Card RPG is a perfect fit. I say "this room is a 13!" and off we go. Everything in there, goblins, pit traps to jump, runes to decipher, the swinging buckets of lava, it is all a 13 to me and the players. There are simple actions (auto succeed), checks (pass./fail), and the other dice are used for effort and knocking down those "attempts" where you need effort (10 points per heart). The room almost plays like a "Legend of Zelda" game no matter what is in there, and no matter the genre, and that is cool.

Savage Worlds fits a need, almost a GURPS level of character design where you can get into a cool build and spend a long time picking skills, advantages, and disadvantages. The characters feel unique and have a good amount of depth and complexity to them. There is a great initiative system. There is a bennies system. There are a lot of mechanical rules for when you need them. There are times when I love my character builds and rules complexity, and Savage Worlds is still my go-to game for those times.

But there are times I don't want all that structure. With Index Card RPG, I pick up a d20 and roll. I don't want to worry about all those rules, and I trust my skills as a referee and my player's ingenuity that it will all work out. It almost feels like an "anti d20" system that rejects the Pathfinder-level of rules structure and complexity for gameplay. I feel playing ICRPG makes you a better referee, since you are being trained in new ways to think about encounters, difficulty, tasks, and boiling down a situation into "what's fun."

Again, I didn't want to title this article "versus" since "and" is a better comparison, and both are great and fun games, and I am a fan of both. But I am finding ICRPG fills a need for those "pick up the dice and play" games where Savage Worlds is built for a more longer-term game with depth and rules options. With ICRPG, character advancement is done with gear rewords and milestone rewards, which do not fill my "detailed character advancement needs" that Savage Worlds satisfies nicely, but it sticks with that "fast and simple" design goal of ICRPG and works for these types of games well.

And there are times where I do not have the time to dive in that deep. I just want to play something, especially ICRPG solo which is very easy to do, and play something that feels like d20 without all the d20 complexity. Yes, there is also B/X for that need, but ICRPG is even more streamlined than that, and handles anything you can throw at it without the need for the standard B/X structural requirements: classes, genre equipment, genre spells and powers, monsters, and the basic B/X things you need to play.

ICRPG for horror or gritty games? Sure, make some checks "pass or die." Limit recovery. Add a rule for gaining "hinderances" such as a leg wound slowing movement and applying a -3 to any movement based check, or a terrified hinderance that forces the character to flee until it is removed. Just make it up, and these "hinderances" can be thought of as "negative equipment" that needs to be removed in special ways, such as healing, rest, specific checks, or other actions.

I just made that rule up and it works perfectly. Use it for some games, and not for others. Or make up a new rule and do that instead.

That is ICRPG. With Savage Worlds, yes, special rules are needed to make the character choices, skills, and game structure matter. There are times I want that, and this sort of "role protection" for character builds is desired. This is the same in B/X games, though the structure is simpler and defined along the traditional B/X roles and powers.

With ICRPG, you need none of this structure to play d20; you can steal, swap, or make up classes; the gear is easy enough to crib from one of the book's setting or make up on the spot; and you don't need special rules for the flaming pit you jump, the goblins shooting bows, versus a giant rolling boulder chasing you.

Just pick a number for the scene and go.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Mail Room: Twilight 2000

What a day to have Free League's Twilight:2000 dropped on my porch in a box filled with packing peanuts today. For those of you reading in the future, near or far, it is February 23, 2022, and I am listening to the slow motion Ukraine invasion news in the background as I write this. Planes are turning around from that country's airspace. Cyberattacks are ongoing. There are reports of explosions in cities happening. Politicians are saying the invasion is underway. Some livestreams have the sounds of gunfire on them, and the flashes of explosions. The military operation has just been announced.

Worse of all, people are dying. A game is trivial compared to the terror and suffering going on over there. I feel bad even bringing it up.

I know, what a day for this to arrive.

My first impressions on opening the box?

Okay, do I even want to open the box?

Pandora's box.

Might as well open it, as I would hate to have regrets later.

Wow, what a nice game.

Honestly, this box is heavy and packed with books, maps, dice, cards, SITREP guides, counters, and all sorts of cool stuff. You get a lot with the boxed set and this is an incredible value. I wish there was more to buy, as I would in a heartbeat.

My history with the game? My brother and I played a 20-year campaign using the original rules. This was one of our go-to games and sat alongside the greats of Car Wars, Star Frontiers, Top Secret, AD&D 2nd Edition, and Aftermath at our table. This was one of our great campaigns, and we loved the world and concept. Honestly, with my brother gone, it feels a little bittersweet opening this box, and I bet he would have loved this edition even though we were done with the game and the world.

We played this world to a satisfying end, one of hope and peace.

We were hopeful, and I still am.

And I can't fault the game's designers for the world this game was released in. This game was obviously a labor of love from true fans, and they poured their hearts out into this game. The art, presentation, and materials that come with the game are all top-notch, this is a high-end Euro-game in quality and presentation.

Then again, if you wanted to roleplay a side in a world similar to the one we now live in, I can't think of a better game. For some, they need to escape this world and I would not recommend this game if the subject matter upsets you. For others, you may want to roleplay a war movie or fantasy of being a hero on the front lines, and that experience provides a relief and way to cope with a world that feels strangely similar. In a great referee's hands this game could be very therapeutic to those worrying about the future and give players a sense of control and comfort about current events.

Face your fears by playing them in a game.

To the game's credit, it presents itself as a game of survivors and it does say the game is not a military game. I get it. For our original campaign, it did turn into a military game. One thing I love about this edition is they present the game in a manner similar to Forbidden Lands or Mutant Year Zero, they give you a map (Poland or Sweden), they give you scenarios and encounter cards, and they sandbox the entire world around you.

You can take this game in any direction you want. Rebuilding. Survival adventure. Drama. Humanitarian missions and peacekeeping (a theme I would recommend for players who stress about war). Heists and intrigue. Spy missions. The world is a lot like a traditional fantasy setting in modern times, as central authority has broken down and there are many opportunities for adventures of any kinds. This does not have to be a war game, and even in our campaign we had a lot of different things going on, even adventurous treasure hunting.

Don't let the war setting and bleak presentation intimidate you. What is beautiful here is a modern world that is very familiar to us and a blank canvas for you to craft adventures on. The setting is one of the greats in tabletop RPGs, very much on par with any D&D world or Traveller's Third Imperium.

Where else can you rewrite the modern world with your own adventures, conflicts, and stories? Unlike a spy game where the modern world and all of its politics and rules have to be accounted for, this game gives you a blank slate to change the world to fit any idea or adventure in your head. It is very much like a Car Wars type post-apoc world minus the armed cars, with more of a gritty survival and interpersonal focus.

Yes, you can still play this grim and gritty like a less science-fantasy Aftermath survival game as well. You could focus on crafting, exploring, and scrounging like a hex-crawl adventure game and forget the larger conflicts. You could do a kingdom-building and trading game of reconstruction. You could ignore all of the included SITREPS and lines of battle and just make it all up yourself.

Or yes, you could play this as a World War II type military adventure game with special missions, commando raids, a broken but still operational allied command, and all sorts of fun rescuing POWs, destroying enemy supplies, capturing plans, doing raids, and driving back the bad guys. The difference between this and WW2 is the future has not been written, and those in command (and it could be the players eventually) need heroes since they are in short supply. Also, since all the big hardware and weapons have been destroyed, the focus of heroism and changing the world takes place on a smaller scale where a single hero matters.

The above was our game. The one me and my brother enjoyed so much. It was both an homage to our favorite WW2 heroic movies and action serials as it was an escape from the paranoia of the 1980's and Cold War nuclear fears. We could take back the night. We could play Rambo or Chuck Norris. We could have moments of gritty survival. We could have tragic stories of loss, balanced by moments of hope and redemption.

The game is yours.

Free League went with the blank canvas model for this game and I feel it works very well. It gives you the freedom to rebuild the world for your adventures and stories, and your players a say in this new world as well.

Highly recommended, with a warning that the game may feel too real at times given current events. Know your players and talk to them. Don't force those uncomfortable with the concept to play, but if they are interested, offer them a humanitarian and peacekeeping option for a campaign. But give the game a chance if you are interested, and realize the power of conquering our fears through safe and play that lets us discuss the world we live in.

As for this world, I am hopeful we will avoid ending up in this reality. Hope springs eternal.

...Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall,
Atoms or systems into ruin hurl'd,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world. 
Hope humbly then; with trembling pinions soar;
Wait the great teacher Death; and God adore!
What future bliss, he gives not thee to know,
But gives that hope to be thy blessing now.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

~An Essay on Man, Alexander Pope, 1734. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

First Look: Star Trek Adventures

I spent some time last night reading through the starter set for this game and I had a couple thoughts.

They call this the 2d20 system, but pushing your roll allows you to roll up to 5d20. It seems odd, especially since the game only comes with 2d20. Now, if you play tabletop games, you have extra d20s lying around, but I thought this felt a little strange. Now I am trying to build a decent 5d20 set to play the game with.

The game has six primary ability scores. Six secondary scores act as skills and can be combined with any ability score given the type of roll. Granted, some will be more common than others, like Control + Security for ranged combat, or Daring + Security for melee combat. It leads to some strange combinations, such as Security + Fitness for climbing or swimming, which feels like an easy one to forget.

The rules are simple, and the combining of primary + secondary is the heart of the system.

Two pools are tracked, one for momentum and another for threat. Momentum is a beneficial pool that caps at six points, is reduced by one point per scene, and is refilled by excess successes at skill rolls. Immediately I thought "do not try to game this pool" and would enforce a "meaningful skill rolls only" rule at my table, as the natural incentive is to game the pool by making lots of easy rolls and banking momentum. Threat starts at two per player, and is increased by critical failures, hazardous situations, or if the players push their rolls and opt to increase the threat pool instead. Momentum is used to add dice to rolls, remove complications, create advantages, create problems for enemies, and obtain information about the scene. Threat works sort of in reverse as a hinderance pool doing roughly the same things, but penalizing the characters.

The momentum and threat pools are the mechanical guts of the system and the storytelling engine. I can see how some B/X fans would be like, "You don't need all this fiddly mechanical stuff! Make it up and just tell a good story!" This was my first reaction to this part of the 2d20 system, and it made me wonder if a B/X system that relied more on just making it up as the situation called for would be a better call. I will hold off a final judgment on this part of the game until I try it, and I can see how it creates that "TV reality" of overcoming a huge threat pool and building up a bonus pool to fight through an impossible situation.

Yes, while in B/X you are solving a situation presented in an adventure, the momentum-threat system starts your "TV episode" off at a disadvantage and lets you pare that down and build up successes to push the tide in your favor. And all specialties can contribute, such as a science officer analyzing a poisonous flower, so the system is not just combat-focused in contribution and usefulness. It also feels appropriate to the "many coming together to solve problems" theme of the show and movies.

The small font on the black pages is hard to read. The PDF version has a printer friendly version without the black background.

Where are the cover rules? I can't find them.

The starter set covers a lot of ground, and even includes ship combat rules. It comes with dice (but not 5d20) and is a good deal.

I am looking forward to having fun with this, and those are my first impressions.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Mail Room: Tales from the Loop


Got this in the mail today, a sort of interesting "kid-adventure" RPG in the spirit of movies like ET, Super 8, or Stranger Things. I like the concept, and it is an interesting shift away from the typical "violent party RPG" mentality. These are kids with families, school, chores, homework, and responsibilities - but latchkey enough they can get together for adventures into the strange and unknown. Here, the strange and unknown comes from the giant government-corporation particle accelerator facilities built under their hometowns (one in US, one in Sweden, but easily locatable anywhere in your own hometown if you would like).

This game is set in an alternate 1980s with all sorts of robots, anti-gravity, and other technology floating about while the world of the kids still is rooted in the familiar 80's technology level and mindset. The kids here are in an age range from 10-15. This is a game of wonder and amazement at the unknown as told through a kid's eyes.

There is a companion game called "Things from the Flood" set in the 1990s where the technology hard crashes with a "machine cancer" and has a more biological component, some horror themes, with older teens from 14-19. This feels more like a survival experience (of both the environment and the metaphors for a changing world and place in society) told through the lens of teen angst and adjustment.

This looks fun, sort of a throwback to the boxed games of the 80's and 90's like Paranoia with a clear setup and story, a sandbox world, a fun hook to jump into, and lots to do and explore - with a character driven focus.

More on this soon.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Mail Room: Coriolis

Firefly. Alien. Dune. Blade Runner. Event Horizon. The Fifth Element. Call of Cthulhu in space. The Expanse. Cyberpunk. A bit of the good seasons of Game of Thrones. Babylon 5.

Mysticism. Monsters. Strange spirits. Patron spirits to pray to. Ancient ruins nobody understands. The darkness and evil surrounding them all. What happens on a tiny spot on a world could affect the entire universe.

A ship full of diplomats, traders, or entertainers feels like it could get into just as much trouble as a ship full of mercenaries. Play as anything, go anywhere.

Strong, detailed factions. Political intrigue. Those from beyond. Shifting alliances. Betrayals and opposite sides finding themselves working together for a tense limited time. Newcomers and long-termers. A clash of cultures.

Space travel with limits and problems. A serious tone. Lore you can spend months or years digging into.

I can see why this is many people's sci-fi game of choice.

More on this soon, but all of a sudden many of my traditional sci-fi games feel almost too clean and sanitized compared to this. This is the game I wish Star Frontiers or Traveller could be, just in terms of depth of lore and play options. I feel like I could pick an option, any option, and begin my exploration of this universe from there, and still never see it all.

Amazing stuff, very inspiring, and a game I will be coming back to.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Index Card RPG: US Orders Shipping Soon!

Just a note, I got this email earlier today and it looks like the US orders for Index Card RPG will be shipping soon to the US! This is one of those orders I have been wondering what happened to the books, I have printed out the PDF and been playing with that, but I love my physical copies and consider this one of my top-shelf games.

We do live in an upside-down world these days, and shipping delays happen. I am not faulting the company at all and I know they feel just as bad as everyone about this. I am patient, and I have the PDF and a printer, so I am only inconvenienced a little. This is the price we pay for the non-POD high quality books that we love.

It is great Modiphius is up-front and got this message out on a Saturday, and they are a great company I trust to make things right. This company and Free League are quickly becoming my favorite non-OSR publishers, and I am happy to support them both during these tough times.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Mail Room: Star Trek Adventures Starter Set

This is another cool starter set for the Star Trek Adventures game. Yes, I know I wanted to use this for horror (and I have the Alien game), so I will give this a look-over as it is intended. This is a great party-based problem-solving and mission game, and the presentation has heightened the action-oriented combat and danger elements. You see this in the art, everyone is "doing things" like combat, dodging collapsing rubble, exploring, or in the middle of a situation. I like that focus, and the art makes a lot of smart choices in setting the mood (and is way better than static TV still image grabs).

Action Oriented

I feel Star Trek has always had this "sit on your butt in the bridge" sort of reputation. That is partially a problem of TV with the limited budget of sets, action, destruction, cool fights, and special effects. It is important not to let that TV budget limit your adventures, since you can show an entire universe with cool places, sweeping vistas, giant sets, cities, giant space stations, underground installations, labs, mysterious shipwrecks, and fantastic places from beyond your imagination. It is hard to break away from the trope, because what people see and remember is what they expect.

Your adventures should look like a big budget movie, and the art reflects that idea, which is nice. I do like that break from what we expect, and this elevates the game into more of a cinematic feeling, which is nice.

Mission Based

I like this game's "party based" approach, and while the Alien RPG also assumed a military unit or starship crew, this game has more of a structured "get a mission from Starfleet" approach which makes giving and taking adventures easier than a sandbox game. You have this structure in place, your goals are clear, and how you solve it however your group decides. There is a danger of railroading with a bad adventure author, but a good referee knows how to work around this and give a group room to explore and modify an adventure a little to allow for player choice.

This game actually reminds me of the classic Paranoia game, where players are a group of "troubleshooters" and they get a mission from the Computer to solve some problem, investigate some mystery, find a lost ship, check on a distress signal or remote outpost, and the classic "go somewhere and do something" plot setup. Along the way a lot of unknown complications happen and the players need to use their wits to figure out how to adapt and still get the mission done. Unlike Paranoia, this game is a lot more serious in tone and with a lot less dark humor.

Sandbox? I don't think this would play as well with aimless exploration and uncovering hexes. I feel classic Star Trek is this "present an impossible situation" sort of adventure, where if you played it you would just want to give up in frustration and disgust (and I had one of those adventures in old FASA Star Trek), but with enough angles and avenues of exploration that the more information you gather and sub-plots you complete, the situation begins to feel easy.


Degrees of Success

Where the Alien game feels like more of a survival experience where winning means getting out alive (and completing optional sub-goals), this feels more objective based with degrees of success. You are sent to provide security for a peace conference between two planets and saboteurs try to stop the agreement. Failure means the talks fail and war breaks out again. Partial success means a less-optimal agreement is reached and the hostilities continue. A little more success means a case-fire holds, or an armistice is declared. A great success means peace is declared and both sides come together.

Completing different objectives brings you towards those outcomes. The player's own ingenuity also could come into play as they figure out a better solution than the ones in the adventure or presented to them by the referee.

In my old FASA experience we played this module that was some impossible situation with a Romulan ambassador, the ship helpless, some colony under threat, and us players could not figure a way out since the module was so railroaded and one solution. If you did not follow the module's script, the only way you could end the night was getting court-martialed for phaser-ing your way through the Romulan diplomats.

Which is how it ended up.

That entire game was a train wreck.

But it does highlight what NOT to do in a Star Trek adventure and how NOT to write one. If you are writing a script for a TV series with one answer and one set path, even down to the things you should ask about and say during the social encounters, you have failed miserably because players will likely never figure that out. You will either be winging the adventure and coming up with alternate solutions yourself, or the player's brains will turn off and their phasers will turn on.

Solo or Party?

This feels like a better "party game" than a solo one, since a lot of the dynamic elements of problem solving should come from a group of players that brings different ideas to the table. Alien, being a lower-level survival experience feels like a better solo game, though party play feels strong as well. Alien I could play like solo survival Monopoly, completing objectives on a ship or station map, managing resources, and doing the best I can with a dwindling crew.

Star Trek I really want to play with a group, since that party dynamic with personalities and different viewpoints and solutions feels like a part of the genre. It feels harder to play Star Trek solo since I don't want a single hive-mind controlling my crew. I want other people in this experience to share and enjoy, and frankly, that is what a great Star Trek experience is in the TV and movies. A diverse crew of different minds coming up with solutions together.

This also looks like a fun game, and yes, I still may mod it for horror, but playing it as-is feels fun as well. More on this soon.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Mail Room: Alien RPG Starter Set

This is a very cool starter set. You get plenty of dice, cards, counters, some beautiful maps and deck plans, and a starter rulebook and adventure. You do not get the full Xenomorph as the adventure's monster, but once you consider the broader Alien-Prometheus sort of background the Xenomorphs should only be a small part of the equation here and all sorts of monsters should be able to mutate and morph from this alien DNA and the monster they do give makes sense.

"Alien DNA mutates humans and/or creates new creatures" - that is my game's tag line. This generic "alien DNA" doesn't even have to be "Xeno/Prometheus DNA" either - there could be many strains from different sources, and it honestly just a reason to infect anything and create a creepy bio-monster out of it.

You should feel free to create any monster given this background, from huge crawling brains with tentacles, a spider eyeball, anything from The Thing movies (a huge influence on my ideas as well), a snake with a human head, a mutant hellhound with tentacles, intelligent vines with human blood, monster crabs, icky triped grabbers, giant boring beetles, monster worms, or anything that creeps you out. I like "expanding the monster list" for this to the "DIY monsters" that the games like Lamentation of the Flame Princess or Dungeon Crawl Classics use.

You make your own monsters. They are unique and not like any other. They are not in a tired old bestiary. You do not know what they can do or their powers, attacks, defenses, or weaknesses. Every time you have an adventure, this is both the first time anyone encounters the beast and the last time anyone will.

If a monster is in a bestiary, it is not a monster anymore.

These have to come from your imagination, fears, and inside your mind.

This is very much an "Expanded Universe" view of the Alien universe, and I feel one that suites a role-playing horror game a lot better than just having week after week of Xenomorphs. I am not even as tied to the time or the technology, if I wanted to run a few one-shots in different times with different technology levels that would be cool as well. The system is pretty rules-light and you could create pretty easy stats for new gear and weapons quickly (or reskin the existing items).

This is one I am really excited about, and more soon!