Thanks to some friends of humanity deciding to try and exploit a plugin that I was using for download management I have had to temporarily take the downloads section of the site down. I will over the next few days get it back up and running, however those of you kind people who have over time linked directly to any of our downloads are likely to find that the links are broken. I also can’t guarantee that when I get everything back on line the old links will work. Please accept my apologies for this and any inconvenience it causes.
I have been trying to write this review for a while now and there are a few reasons it has taken me far longer than it normally would. Normally when a new RPG drops into my lap, especially one based on game mechanics that I am familiar with, that first read through is usually enough to get a feel for the game/setting, but with Mindjammer there was so much more to get to grips with. To start with its huge – the book runs to almost 500 pages and its not just packed with fluff and FATE Core rules reworkings. No, indeed this is something different.
Lets start with where it comes from, because this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Mindjammer. Its origins lie in another game that I was very fond of “Starblazer Adventures” and Mindjammer was a supplement for that game, in fact it won a Judges spotlight award at the ENnies in 2010. However, it has evolved enormously since then, the Mindjammer universe has been developed into a much more complete setting and adapted for the FATE Core ruleset – and it is certainly the best FATE Core implementation I have read to date, but more of that later.
The creative energy behind Mindjammer comes from the magical mind of Sarah Newton. With a stream of successful titles to her credit including the ENnie Award-winning “Zero Point” campaign for Achtung! Cthulhu, and the ENnie-nominated Legends of Anglerre, Sarah is undoubtedly one of the most creative and exciting RPG authors working at present. It’s not just her writing that is exciting; it is the breadth of her work and her understanding of what makes for good, playable game mechanics. This is especially true with Mindjammer where making the right choices around game mechanics was so incredibly important given the nature of the setting.
The book itself is really nicely organized; you don’t need to go jumping around all over the place. All of the main character creation rules can be found in the third chapter of the book, (chapters one and two being a general “welcome to roleplay games and a basic game overview). The next hundred pages or so, (chapters four through eight), cover all the goodies of character creation in detail – its like the reference pages of a players book; Cultures, Genotypes & Occupations, Aspects & Fate points, Skills & Stunts, Extras, Technology.
Chapter nine is the detail of how to play the game, how the rules really work– including how to read FATE dice. Everything from combat and conflict resolution, recovery, movement through to character advancement is covered nicely. This chapter is among the best in the book – its just twenty pages, but really does cover “how to play”, the pitch of it is just right, its not written for the slowest kid in class but it doesn’t assume too much. You need to pay attention, but it’s worth it.
Chapter ten is all about games mastering for Mindjammer and its full of excellent and sage advice for newbies as well as for old timers like me, it advises that as GM “You’re the Chairman, not God”, interpreting and adjudicating the rules, working with your players and so on. It goes on to give good guidance on preparing for your game, how to run it (including the nuances of FATE such as Skills, Stunts, Aspects and dealing with Compels), how to create and run Non Player Characters, dealing with the passage of time and so on.
The remainder of this weighty tome, from page 186 onwards (more than half of the book), is the incredible detail of the setting itself. The setting is certainly complex and wide reaching; this isn’t your average space opera. This is “Transhuman Adventure in the Second Age of Space”.
“In the seventeenth millennium, the New Commonality of Humankind is expanding, using newly-discovered faster-than-light travel to rediscover lost worlds colonised in the distant past. It’s a time of turmoil, of clashing cultures, as civilisations shudder and collapse before the might of a benevolent empire ten millennia old”.
The Mindscape, a core concept, gets a chapter to itself. A vast communication network, data store and collection of virtual spaces, connecting everyone in the commonality, the Mindscape allows users to “Thoughtcast”, a sort of instant techno-telepathy. Indeed the Mindscape facilitates the use of techno-psi, a neat way of managing a sort of psionic power system within the setting. Its possible to have whole adventures within the virtual spaces of the Mindscape, but yet it is much more than the traditional Cyberspace of other sci-fi games. This and the remaining chapters give you all the setting detail you could want covering the New Commonality, history, culture, starships, vehicles, space travel, alien life forms, worlds and civilisations, even a fully fleshed sector of Commonality space is provided (The Darradine Rim).
To give an idea of the size of this book I thought it might help to show it stacked with some other weighty tomes.
It is worth taking a couple of seconds to discuss the “Transhuman” element of the game, basically the use of technology to allow mankind to progress beyond the physical limitations of the species. As noted previously, the Mindscape provides the mechanism for psionic like abilities, but it also allows a persons knowledge and memories to be recorded at the point of death, these “Thanograms” can then be loaded into sentient machines, personal equipment, or synthetic beings known as “Eidolons”. This potential immortality is carefully managed in the game (and described wonderfully in Sarah Newton’s novel “Mindjammer”), by recognizing that people are more than just their knowledge and memories, and by uploading these into another construct you are not preserving the person. In short the game setting doesn’t dodge the ethical issues.
I’ll concede now that you could, should you wish, ignore the setting and use the bare bones of Mindjammer to play your Space Opera your way – it certainly has all the tools that you need in your box to do so. But its not the rules that make this a very special game, it’s the setting itself. If I’m honest it puts me in mind of a game most of my friends and I loved playing back in college – Skyrealms Of Jorune – its not that it shares any particular plot elements and certainly it has no similarities in terms of game mechanics. But what it does have is an incredibly rich and complex setting with historic and cultural elements that are crucial to the success of the storyline. As with Jorune I can imagine that this will put some people off. Certainly I always loved playing Jorune but could never get around to investing the time needed to get to grips with the setting well enough to run it. But now I’m older, wider and a little less interested in beating up Snotlings and frankly Mindjammer is a fantastic read, even if I never run the game I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
I said earlier in the post that I’d come back to FATE Core and its importance to Mindjammer. Without FATE Core I’m not sure the game could work. Almost any other games system would end up with you requiring a plethora of “special” rules to cope with the scale of the setting, the sentient technology, armies, fleets, spaceships, weapons, organisations. Yet, by using the FATE fractal ruling it basically means that anything in the game – and I mean anything – can be constructed like a character, with aspects, skills, and stunts and so on. It’s a simple and elegant way to attach mechanics to the more difficult elements, key to FATE and in my opinion crucial in making Mindjammer a successful game without overburdening the players with different rules.
Lastly, the production quality. The book is beautiful, it has some really nice artwork throughout. The paper used is good quality, the watermarked pages add to the look and feel and do not obscure the text. There is liberal and sensible use of tables, sidebars and callouts to enphasise and clarify. Most important of all the text is clear, concise and extremely readable both in terms of its presentation and its content. The hardback binding is solid and the inclusion of a bookmark ribbon is a nice considerate touch. Priced at $54.99 this is not a cheap RPG, but then this is a quality product that represents a considerable body of work by the author.
The Mindjammer Press website (www.mindjammerpress.com) has a wealth of information to help you get into the game. If your appetite has been whetted then you might want to check out a number of previews available here, they are pre-release versions, before proofing and final page references, but otherwise are substantially the same as their final appearance in the book, and will give you a chance to grasp the look, feel and content quality for yourself. If you are ready to jump in and get playing you can also find character sheets and character creation, reference sheets and other templates here – along with pregens for some of the main characters to be found in the Mindjammer novel. I’ve mentioned the novel a couple of times now, its material enough for a whole separate review and like the RPG it is a cracking read.
When I first heard about Mindjammer my instinct was that another science fiction RPG was likely to struggle in a quite crowded niche of the industry – especially alongside some very well established games. But frankly, I think time will prove my first instincts very, very wrong. In fact I would probably go out on a limb and say that Mindjammer is going to raise the bar and set a new standard for the genre.
If you found yourself shipwrecked on a desert island with five friends, a lifetime’s supply of Haribo, Doritos, Jaffa Cakes and Mountain Dew, a set of Polyhedral dice and you could only have one RPG what would it be? Well I think Mindjammer may just have become my personal Desert Island RPG.
I don’t often mention other peoples websites, blogs etc and to be fair I’m not sure why. Todays interactive communities are a big part of the board game and RPG scene. Hardly anyone I know today will buy a game without first checking it out online for reviews, unboxings, and to get good look at what people are actually saying about it before parting with their hard earned cash. For quite a while now there has been a link over there on the right of my pages to one such site, one where I know I will get a good honest and unbiased view – G*M*S Magazine.
I’m also a big fan of G*M*S Magazine as a result of their Kickstarter for their webshow Dice & Slice. A show which combines my favorite things, games and food. Dice & Slice may actually help get us off of the Doritos and Haribo, (other crispy and gooey snacks are available), and get us preparing some slightly more wholesome food to have with our games. I did a plug for Dice & Slice when the Kickstarter was up and running (you can find it here – watch the video, its good!) and as a result of backing that Kickstarter I got the chance to go and meet up with Paco and Martin from G*M*S Magazine and to film a game unboxing or two. It was great fun, I learnt a lot about what it takes to make a professional looking video (and what the clapboard is really for) and I got to run my hands over a number of really good games.
The first of those games was “Odins Table” from Mindwarrior Games – “Odin’s Table” is a strategic board game where two players, (assisted by the ancient Viking gods), try to move their game pieces to the enemies fortress in order to win in a quite strategic game of tactics and bluff. Take a look at the unboxing video and see what you think – I quite like it!
If you enjoyed the video then make sure to visit G*M*S Magazine and subscribe to their updates – you’ll get some great impartial views on games and be sure to look out for Dice & Slice, I’ve tasted one of the upcoming recipes and I’m looking forward to making it myself.
Not long ago I really enjoyed reading “Cat Out Of Hell” by Lynne Truss, published by Hammer – (Working in association with Hammer Films, Hammer publishes compelling and intelligent horror in the form of film tie-ins, backlist classics re-imagined to bring them to a whole new market with a modern and sophisticated twist, and new novellas by established authors).
“Cat Out Of Hell” is essentially a tale about the true nature of cats the publishers blurb describes it as “mesmerising tale of a cat with nine lives, and a relationship as ancient as time itself and just as powerful”. I’d say that the story goes a long way to explaining why a dog looks at you as though it loves you and a cat looks at you as though you are a particularly pathetic example of your species. Anyway as is always the case, when I read a new book that I like I can’t help but think that there is inevitably a roleplaying game in there somewhere.
“The scene: a cottage on the coast on a windy evening. Inside, a room with curtains drawn. Tea has just been made. A kettle still steams.
Under a pool of yellow light, two figures face each other across a kitchen table. A man and a cat.
The story about to be related is so unusual yet so terrifyingly plausible that it demands to be told in a single sitting.
The man clears his throat, and leans forward, expectant.
‘Shall we begin?’ says the cat …”
Well clearly I’m not the only person who thinks that sentient, magic cats are a good candidate for a roleplaying game. The good guys over at Evil Hat, the driving force behind FATE, have released “The Secrets Of Cats” which is an excellent product made possible by their Patreon Campaign (read about that here).
“The Secrets Of Cats” is available as a PDF from DriveThruRPG, currently as a Pay What You Want title and it is based on the premise that Cats are magical creatures whose duty it is to protect their poor, vulnerable humans—whom they call Burdens—from the many threats that lurk in the night.
“Cats are magical; they understand sacrifice and the power of names. A decapitated mouse left on the doorstep or pillow is a powerful ward, and a spell wailed by the cat chorus confers even greater protection. When evil is on the rise and the safety of the neighbourhood is at stake the Parliament of Cats is there to stand firm against the darkness.”
The book itself runs to around fifty pages and is split into five distinct parts: an introduction and background, character creation, a setting (the mining town of Silver Ford), a ready to play story and finally details of Complications and Threats for your cats to deal with.
The production values are as good as any that we have come too expect from Evil Hat. In particular the artwork throughout the book is really good and gives a sense of context to the type of game lurking within. Its style is reminiscent of Don Bluth animations such as “The Secret Of Nimh”, or “The Land Before Time”, in particular it put me in mind of “All Good Dogs Go To Heaven”.
The Silver Ford setting included in the book, is a sleepy tourist town near a played-out old silver mine, (sounds like an episode of “Scooby Doo”), is sufficiently well fleshed out to be of use for more than just the one included story and is carefully constructed to show you how to think about the setting for your own feline adventures. The adventure “Black Silver” starts when kids messing around in the mine accidentally rouse an ancient evil on Halloween, and of course it falls to the secret and magical cats of the neighbourhood to protect their human burdens from the things that go bump and squish in the night.
I haven’t had a chance to play “The Secrets Of Cats” yet, but I will, and I know a ton of cat lovers that will really enjoy the game. It has appeal for gamers of all ages and the potential for some real good family fun. So for the sake of a Pay What You Want donation we would gladly recommend you take a look at “The Secrets Of Cats”.
Sharpen your claws and prepare to defend your territory!
August 20th 1890 Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born and it is fair to say that in his 46 years he managed to change forever the horror genre. In honor of his memory we wanted to present our five top tips for doing something Lovecraftian.
1. Play a game of Call Of Cthulhu
Since 1981 people have been playing Chaosium’s Call Of Cthulhu Role Playing Game – it has become the definitive horror RPG, and frankly I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening than deep into a 1920’s setting, battling the horrors of Lovecrafts Mythos. If you are looking for a particular scenario to run or play then you could do a lot worse than to pick up one (or all) of Goodman Games “Age Of Cthulhu” games.
“Set throughout the globe and torn from the pages of the hidden history of the world, Age of Cthulhu adventures bring new secrets and mind-bending horrors to your 1920’s Call of Cthulhu game. Each adventure comes with copious player handouts, detailed maps, and pre-generated investigators ready to risk their lives and their sanity to confront the horrors of an uncaring universe“.
In honor of Lovecraft’s birthday Goodman Games are offering the entire range of Age Of Cthlhu PDF’s at 25% off of their full retail price. Check them out here, I think they are some of the best materials around for Call Of Cthulhu.
2. Check out the Cthulhu Mythos Sales
I hate sounding like nothing but an advert for the Onebookshelf marketplaces, but if you like RPG’s then you can’t ignore the fact that they have changed the way we buy our games and have probably done more to keep our industry alive than anyone else. But that’s a debate for another day, all you need to know is that for the next few days you can indulge in Cthlhu Mythos sales at DriveThruRPG, DriveThruFiction and DriveThruComics.
3. Lots to see on Cthulhu’Tube
Well actually I mean YouTube, but there are no shortage of really cool Cthulhu Mythos clips to be found. My favorites are and will probably always be the “Calls For Cthulhu” series. Check out the available episodes here, or click below to watch my personal favorite – Episode 1.
4. Watch a movie
For sure there are some awful adaptations of Lovecraft stories into film, but there are also some fantastic ones and more importantly there are some movies that are inspired by and just would not exist if it wasn’t for the influence of Lovecraft’s tales. My personal favorites are clearly the Reanimator films starring Jeffery Coombes, (see the trailer for the 1985 classic below), but for greater and wider inspiration check out “MIKE DAVIS’ LIST OF RECOMMENDED LOVECRAFTIAN MOVIES” over at The Lovecraft eZine.
5. Read a book!
I’m always staggered by my CoC players who actually haven’t read any of Lovecraft’s books. So treat yourself and read some of his works. If you have an e-reader (Kindle, Nook etc) then treat yourself for free and visit Cthulhu Chick’s blog and download her fantastic “The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft” which contains all of the original stories which Lovecraft wrote as an adult. It begins in 1917 with “The Tomb” and ends in 1935 with his last original work “The Haunter of the Dark”.
It is a great piece of work and to make it available in this way I think is a truly kind spirited thing as I am certain it was no small effort. If you like it, then you could always consider hitting the button on the page to make a donation.