Tagged: Fate

Crestfallen RPG – Bronze Age Fantasy RPG



This week has been very busy for me for all sorts of reasons which I won’t go into here, but during the course of this week I have made time to read a detailed playtest copy of “Crestfallen”, a bronze age fantasy RPG which will launch itself on Kickstarter today.

It is fair to say that I get to see a lot of playtest documents; either through Kickstarter’s that I back, or through people looking for reviews on miskatonic.co.uk, or more commonly from people simply looking for some experienced feedback and an impartial, critical eye.  Crestfallen came to me in a slightly different way. This time it came about through social media, and I actually asked to have a look by signing up on the games website and dropping the games author a note.  I don’t do this often so I think it is important to say why I did.

Crestfallen grabbed my attention for a few reasons, the first of which is the setting itself.  I haven’t come across anything with which to make a direct comparison in terms of story, and genre.  Clearly its a fantasy game, but its roots are firmly placed in the deep soil of Bronze age history and what is known of the people of that period, their beliefs, lives and deaths, their challenging and brutal existence in a world of real awe and wonder.  To use the authors own words Crestfallen is; “a game about man’s relationship to the natural world”.

The World Tree has been murdered, and Sky Father is dying. The natural world is unravelling and clashing against itself – natural and supernatural disasters are everywhere.

The characters that you will play in Crestfallen, cover a wide range of bronze age society, skills and outlooks. The possibilities range from Politicians, to Seducers, from Scholars to Death Dealers, the social spectrum is broad and makes for colourful, descriptive story led characters.  These characters live in a world that they can’t fully understand, interaction with the supernatural are an everyday occurrence, magic is real, necessary and frightening.  The magic of Crestfallen is based upon real research and interpretation of real world shamanism and druidism, it is not full of spell lists and quick fireballs.  In Crestfallen the magic is largely ritualistic, it takes time and effort, can involve the participation of many characters, and it may not always work. Magic is part of the adventure not just a tool or weapon.  Like many other other things in the game it is a challenge for your characters to overcome.

crestfallenSpeaking of magic leads nicely into one of the other key concepts of Crestfallen that I like a great deal.  That  is the carefully crafted “twin world” setting.  (This is a concept that I have enjoyed in other games; for example Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, or the excellent reworking of the same for Terror Australis to give characters a chance to play in Alcheringa). Crestfallen takes this concept and uses it not as an alternative to “normal” play but as an integral part of the setting.  Characters will experience the ethereal Otherlands first hand, piercing the veil themselves, or may be visited by spirits from beyond.  You might even choose to have characters that are killed live on in the Otherlands as ancestor spirits, especially if they have unfinished business to complete before they can “move on” and be reincarnated into the world.  The playtest document contained enough information for me to really get a feel for the Otherlands, its races, its flora and fauna, and I can see how future supplements or materials could really build upon this aspect of the game.  Interestingly, I can see many areas of future development for Crestfallen, not to suggest that anything is lacking, in fact quite the contrary, there is  so much in the concept that people will want to know more about it.  Crestfallen and the land of Kerun has the potential to keep growing as your characters explore and survive and I think the authors have a really exciting opportunity.

Finally Crestfallen piqued my interest with its underlying story construct, a long term plot line that will influence your own story arcs, subtly controlling and influencing the characters lives and actions;

Kerun, the mortal world, is in the grip of a supernatural Ice Age brought about by the creator goddess – Earth Mother. Inside a sentient glacier simply called “The Ice” is a prisoner – the insane goddess Annwn. Like an animal chewing off it’s own limb to escape a snare, she is doing everything in her power to break free. When she does, she will break the world in half. She MUST be stopped.

I like this premise a great deal, it serves to emphasise that the characters are not fully in control, that there are events way beyond their direct influence but upon which their individual actions may have a bearing.  I like to think that in a game of Crestfallen the characters relationship with Annwn would play out on many levels, with the characters largely unaware of their importance in her story.

It came as no surprise once I had read the playtest that Crestfallen has been in the works for a number of years, in fact as many as fifteen years ago it made its first real appearance.  There is on the web already a good following for Crestfallen and in the playtest document this maturity is evident.

With that in mind I think it is worth taking a a moment to describe the book that I reviewed. It was an official playtest copy of a very advanced game development.  It is already in a state that is both readable and playable and indeed I took the time to generate a couple of characters as a way to better get to understand the game – an approach I like to take – and in general the layout of the book made this very easy. The playtest copy was a pdf of just over 240 pages and is, as you would expect in a draft layout, missing some art items and with others clearly used as placeholders.  It had comprehensive contents pages which made finding my way around very easy, there are also a lot of call outs/sidebar boxes which explain key concepts or provide expanded detail. It is also clear that this is a work of passion, a labour of love, and as such there are a few areas where it will benefit from that final editorial review as part of its publication. Sometimes its hard to see the whole picture when you are that close to the detail.  Despite these pre-production  foibles, the structure of the book was there to be seen and the integration with the Fate core rules is also apparent.  That integration in itself is nicely done, this isn’t a couple of hundred pages of Fate core with forty pages of background layered on top, no – this is a complete game setting making the most of a solid creative commons based ruleset.

I admire the fact that the author has chosen to use Fate core. With such a “different” setting the temptation to try and create a specific set of mechanics must have been there, and like many projects it may well have got lost on the way.  Recognising that Fate copes well with the challenges posed by the Crestfallen setting; the ritual magic, the spiritual world, the seemingly malevolent and intelligent weather, and the dangers of travel as things which need to be fought and beaten, the need to deal with whole communities or armies – all of these things can be managed within the constructs of Fate, with all but the addition of some specific guidelines or rulings which Crestfallen does in a well considered and practical way.

Crestfallen deserves to be a successful Kickstarter, to see publication and to reach a wider audience of gamers who I have no doubt will enjoy it immensely.  As noted before the Kickstarter launched today (and you can find details here), you can also keep up-to-date with the game on the website www.whiterosegames.com, through Facebook and on Twitter.

We look forward to backing the project and more importantly to playing the game properly at some point in the near future, we wish the authors much success and hope that after reading this you feel like taking a look at the Kickstarter for yourself.

Ia! F’tagn!

Derek.

Mindjammer – The Roleplaying Game

Mindjammer RPGI 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.

Mindjammer - Starblazer AdventuresThe 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).

Mindjammer

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.

Ia! F’tagn!

Derek.

A Cat out Of Hell & The Secrets Of Cats

51dm-e4Io1LNot 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“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!

Bad News, Good News – Starblazer Adventures

Starblazer AdventuresBAD NEWS: A recent email from the nice folk at Cubicle 7 broke the news that they are discontinuing their classic “Starblazer Adventures” and “Legends of Anglerre” products. With their licensing agreement due to expire, and other projects in the pipeline they have had to make the tough decision not to renew it and to cease the publication of these landmark titles. After March 31st none of these products will be on sale.

GOOD NEWS: To celebrate these fantastic products, the nice folk of Cubicle 7 are running a special sale for the rest of March – all “Starblazer Adventures” and “Legends of Anglerre” PDF products will be $5. Which is an absolute BARGAIN! This means that for a measly $15 you could pick up the Starblazer Adventures, the Legends of Anglerre core book and the companion… Again I tell you BARGAIN!

Seriously though, “Starblazer Adventures” is a work of genius, if you are old enough to remember the Starblazer comic book of the 1970’s and 80’s you need to have this before it disappears from the virtual bookshelves. As well as lots of nostalgic artwork, (over 400 pieces spread through 630+ pages), the book details many recurring characters, organisations, empires and aliens such as the Fi-Sci (the Fighting Scientists of Galac Squad), The Star Patrol, The Suicide Squad, The Planet Tamer, Cinnibar the barbarian warrior of Babalon and galactic cop Frank Carter to name just a few. It has attracted much praise, none more impressive than:

“Enough galactic conspiracies, star creatures, space fleets, swashbuckling scientists and alien war worlds to keep you and your friends busy for years” – Ian Livingstone

As if that wasn’t enough, to quote the wonderful folk at Cubicle 7:

“Legends of Anglerre shoves a massive battle axe in the hands of the Ennie Award nominated Starblazer Adventures roleplaying game”.

Legends Of AnglerreJust like “Starblazer Adventures” itself, “Legends of Anglerre” is a stand-alone  interpretation of the FATE rules and features two detailed fantasy settings.  Most significantly “Anglerre”, the world featured in the original Starblazer fantasy comics, and secondly “Lords of the Hither Kingdoms”, an new and original setting.

As with “Starblazer Adventures” artwork from the classic Starblazer comics is used throughout, evoking the high fantasy nostalgia brings the worlds to life in a way that would have pleased even “Axel The Avenger”!

Finally the “Legends of Anglerre Companion” adds new rules for families and dynasties, city and island adventures, aspects-only play, and a complete random adventure generator, as well as two complete scenarios (“Dreams on Dragon Island” and “The Sirens of Simris”

Don’t miss out, it really is the last chance and its a lot of RPG for $15.

Ia! F’tagn!

Derek.