Extreme SF LAW
One of the issues with HARP SF is that beyond the necessary piloting skills, it does not detail the vehicles—starships, aircars, gravbikes, and the like—which all have a role to play in a Science Fiction roleplaying game like HARP SF. Especially a Science Fiction roleplaying game in which star travel and different worlds and systems all play a role. Now this is not due to any oversight on the part of the publisher, Iron Crown Enterprises, but rather an issue with space—or page count. The addition of the rules for vehicles (and a whole lot more) would have added greatly to the page count of HARP SF, which is why they have been split into a second book, HARP SF Extreme. Half the length of HARP SF, HARP SF Extreme covers vehicle rules for slower-than-light and faster-than-light travel, a long list of land, marine, air, space and hybrid vehicles, combat between starfighters and capital ships, and more. The more gets a little more personal in taking HARP SF and its characters into the far future of Transhumanism—upgrading the mind with nanoware implants and the body with cybernetic replacements, and uploading your mind into the virtual world of cyberspace and downloading it into a robot body, and even going beyond as an Artificial Intelligence. HARP SF Extreme can be divided into two parts. The first part is entirely vehicular in nature, covering space and vehicle travel, and space and vehicle combat. It goes into some detail how the Lagrange Drive—the means by which Faster-Than-Light travel is achieved in the Tintamar setting, the default background for HARP SF—and highlights how it can only be used at certain points within a star system, at the Lagrange points of its largest bodies. This adds certain wrinkles to starship travel, limiting its free use, but making its use more interesting in term of storytelling. Distances are listed for within the Solar System and far beyond in the Nexus Sector of the Tintamar setting, but the SysOp is also given various formulae for working distances should she prefer that to ‘Moving at the Speed of Plot’.Numerous vehicles are listed, including Ground Effect Machine, or GEM, vehicles, gravitic vehicles, motorboats and submarines, aeroplanes and gravplanes, aircars and seacars, and more. Spaceships range from maintenance pods, mini-shuttles, and starfighters all the up to corvettes, freighters, and scoutships. Some of the larger starships include decent and serviceable deckplans too, all done in colour, although there are a couple of issues with all of these means of transport. One is that they are generic, so if there are differences between the various species of the Tintamar setting, they are not discussed, and the other is that it is not obvious in some places which illustrations refer to which vehicle or starship. The rules for combat cover ground combat and space combat, but HARP SF being a Science Fiction game, focus on the latter. The rules are an extension of those for personal combat found in the first HARP SF rulebook, with the combatants making supporting Manoeuvre rolls to benefit (or hinder, depending on the quality of the roll) the actual attacks. Combat between vehicles is designed to be co-operative, the player of the character at the controls making the rolls for initiative and Manoeuvre rolls to better place their vehicle or spaceship to make an attack or avoid one, the player of the engineer either making repair rolls or rolls to boost manoeuvring power or shields, and the player of the communications officer making rolls to jam signalling or targeting by the enemy with Electronic Countermeasures with a Signalling Manoeuvre roll. Ultimately, this will generate a set of modifiers that the player whose character is in charge of the weapons will apply to his Offensive Bonus and die roll, whilst the SysOp will be doing the same with the enemy’s Defensive Bonus, which is deducted from the total and the appropriate Critical Table consulted if the attack is a success. The weapons include autocannons, laser cannons, particle beam cannons, and plasma cannons of various sizes, as well as missiles, the latter taking several rounds to reach their target once launched giving time for a defending vessel to try and jam them on their way in. The rules for spaceship and vehicle combat in HARP SF Extreme are not necessarily as complex as they look, as they do not require the arithmetic and mathematical formulae that spaceship travel might. Nevertheless, they require a careful read through upon the part of the SysOp, if not her players. Fortunately, they are supported by two lengthy examples of play, which should help alleviate any difficulty in learning to use them. In the second part of HARP SF Extreme, the supplement takes a more personal tone, shifting its Science Fiction ever closer to Transhumanism with three options—Cyberware, Artificial Intelligences and Electronic Characters, and Robots. Although a Player Character can have any Cyberware, he requires the Cyber Compatibility Talent to possess them. Thus Cyber Compatibility (Lesser) for basic cyber augmentation, such as cosmetic modifications, datajacks, and neuralware implants, and Cyber Compatibility (Greater) for anything beyond in terms of augmentation and replacement. HARP SF Extreme presents a long list of cybernetic augmentations, from Datajack, Fibre Hair, and Bloodstopper to Taste Enhancer, Vision Enhancer, and Subdermal Pouch, as well as Cyberarms and Cyberlegs. There are even options for the Cybertorso and Cyberhead, although that pushes a character towards being a robot rather than a Cyborg. Further options can be installed in the cyberlimbs, like an Agile Limb or Built-in Weapon. In traditional roleplaying treatments of cyberware, the replacement of the biological with the mechanical typically comes with a loss of empathy or humanity. Not so in HARP SF Extreme. Instead, Cyberware takes investment in terms of time, money, and development upon the part of the Player Character. First, it takes weeks to install and recuperate from, as well as costing thousands in terms of credits. Second, the biological is not accustomed to using the mechanical and so a character requires the Cyber Control skill, which requires specialisation in either Arms, Implants, Legs, Miscellaneous, or Senses. Thus every use of a piece of Cyberware requires a standard Cyber Control skill manoeuvre roll. Further, the number of skill ranks a Player Character has in a Cyber Control specialisation limits the complexity of the device that he can control. For example, controlling a Cyberarm requires three ranks of Cyber Control (Arms), a Built-in Weapon another one, Agile Arm one per bonus, and so on. In the long term, as a Player Character acquires new Levels and thus new Development Points which his player can spend on him, his Cyberware can be upgraded with new features and his skill in operating the various devices, effectively keeping pace with the other Player Characters and avoiding the power creep that adding Cyberware has the potential to bring to a game. Electronic Characters covers not just rules for creating A.I. characters, but also virtual copies of a character—creating the latter taking time as money to create, and more time depending upon the age of the character. In general, virtual copies are kept as backup versions of a Player Character in the event of his death, but this comes with a penalty, since it can mean the loss of experience and memories accumulated since the last copy was made. Which actually means a potential loss of character Levels, and thus loss in terms of skills and talents purchased since! In the main, the primary difference between biological and electronic characters is the lack of physical statistics, although that may be offset in the long term if the electronic or virtual character decides that being downloaded into a physical form, whether that is robotic or biological, is an option. An A.I. character could remain in cyberspace though, or become part of a spaceship, for example, but if downloaded, there are plenty of options given in terms of robot types and bodies, which need not even be humanoid. Several full examples of robots are given, including explorer, medical, and repair types, as well as companion models, and these are all designed with remaining Development Points with which a player could modify the design. Alternatively, a player could design his robot’s form and chassis from scratch using the numerous options included. One issue which a gaming group may want to decide upon—and this applies to Cyberware and vehicles too—is whether or not power matters. That is, whether a robot or a piece of Cyberware will run out of energy and power down. This does complicate play, but it all depends on how technical the gaming group wants to get or if the matter power at this level is left up to SysOp to decide as a storytelling option. Throughout, the SysOp is not just given choices in terms of the rules that she wants, but also additions to the Tintamar Knowledge Base, the state of any particular technology in the defiant setting for HARP SF. The SysOp can decide whether to combine supporting actions and attacks in vehicle combat for slightly faster play, include weapons placement and facing, being able to dodge missiles, and more. In the Tintamar setting, no Manoeuvre rolls are made for travel in hyperspace, only for entering hyperspace; background is given as to how the Portals which make long distance interstellar travel possible; the inability to transfer psionic abilities from the biological to the virtual; and the status of an A.I. controlled robot as property. Overall, the SysOp has an array of options to consider in bringing the contents of HARP SF Extreme, and is supported in terms of background if running a Tintamar-set campaign. Physically, HARP SF Extreme is generally well presented. It uses a lot of colour digital artwork of its vehicles, which does mean that they are somewhat characterless, which is not the case with the later pencil artwork which appears in the rest of the book as well as HARP SF, and thus is far more engaging. Certainly, it is fun to spot the influences on the robot illustrations. Otherwise, the book is well written and examples of the rules, if unfortunately done in a light grey and thus harder to read, help the reader a great deal in terms of grasping the rules. Putting HARP SF and HARP SF Extreme together very much means that HARP SF begins to feel complete in terms of being a Science Fiction roleplaying game. Characters, action and combat, vehicles, starships, robots, and the virtual are all covered. That does mean that the rules still lack a means for creating new worlds, new alien species, and sentients, though hopefully that is covered in another volume. HARP SF Extreme does an excellent job of detailing the technological aspects of HARP SF and its Tintamar setting, and even if not using the default setting, brings a grittier edge to the Space Opera and Imperial Science Fiction leanings of HARP SF. For playing groups who prefer their Science Fiction with a little harder edge, then together HARP SF and HARP SF Extreme is a good option.
Now in its fourteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2021, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 16th October. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Of course, in 2021, Free RPG Day took place after GenCon despite it also taking place later than its traditional start of August dates, but Reviews from R’lyeh was able to gain access to the titles released on the day due to a friendly local gaming shop and both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in together sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles. Reviews from R’lyeh would like to thank all three for their help.—oOo—Fabula Ultima TTRPG: Press Start is something a little different for Free RPG Day 2021. Published by Need Games!, it is a quick-start for the Fabula Ultima TTRPG—or Fabula Ultima Table Top Roleplaying Game—and is based on Japanese console roleplaying games such as the Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts series. As a quick-start, it is of course designed to introduce and teach the game to both players and the Game Master, but it does it in an interesting way. It models the learning process upon that of a computer roleplaying game. In a computer roleplaying game, the player is taken through the process of playing the game step-by-step—so movement, looking, attacking, defending, inventory, and so on. And until the player gets to the particular step in that process, he cannot tell his character to do the new part of the play of the computer game. Fabula Ultima TTRPG: Press Start does exactly the same, locking each part of the character until the players reach a particular scene in the adventure in the quick-stat. So in Scene #1, the Game Master introduces the game and its setting, and the attributes and status effects, whilst Traits and Bonds are explained and come into play in Scene #2, how to use Fabula Points in Scene #3, and so forth all the way up to skills, actions, inventory, and abilities. Fabula Ultima TTRPG: Press Start takes place the near the city of Dunova in the surrounding forests. In the forest can be found the Crater of Megido, the ruins of a once-great city renowned for its magic, but destroyed in a magical cataclysm in ages past. The ruins are rumoured to still contain many of its secrets and the forces of neighbouring Empire of Elonia have been spotted in the area. The exact reasons why the Player Characters are headed there are left up to the players to determine, but as the scenario begins, they are aboard an airship bound for the crater. Fabula Ultima TTRPG: Press Start is designed to be played by a group of four to five players, including the Game Master. It comes with four pre-generated Player Characters. They include Blair Clarimonde, the heir to the throne of Donovan, who can support her friends in battle and unleash the power elemental light upon her enemies; Cassandra, a former camp again of the Skyriders who wields a spear and can weaken enemies and strike at flying targets with her elemental powers; Edgar, a young inventors armed with a custom-made pistol which can target multiple foes and inflict negative status effects; and Lavigne Fallbright, the princess of the Kingdom of Armorica which was conquered by the Empire of Elonia, who wields a mighty greatsword. Each of the character sheet for these four is presented on a double-page spread and is easy to read, though there is no background for any of the four given on them. A character in Fabula Ultima TTRPG: Press Start has four attributes—Dexterity, Insight, Might, and Willpower, Traits—an Identity, Theme, and Origin, Bonds (with the other Player Characters and NPCs), Fabula Points, Actions, and Skills. The attributes are rated by die size, from six-sided up to twelve-sided die, whilst of the Traits, the Identity is who the character sees himself as, Theme the dominating narrative force driving the character, and Origin is where he is from. Bonds are emotions towards others and are paired as Admiration or Inferiority, Loyalty or Mistrust, and Affection or Hatred. A character’s Bond to another character—Player Character or NPC, can consist of up to three emotions he feels about the character, one from each pairing. Fabula Points are gained when a Villain enters the scene or when a player rolls a fumble, but can be spent by invoking a Trait to reroll dice or invoking a Bond to add the number of emotions tied to that Bond. Invoking either, requires a bit of roleplaying upon the part of the player. Actions include Attack and Guard, and depending upon the character, can include spells and Skills too. For example, a spell might be Flash of Insight to ask the Game Master about a single investigation and whatever answer the Game Master gives, it becomes the truth and a Skill could be a Bone Crusher, an attack which does no damage, but instead inflicts a Status Effect like Dazed or Weak, or reduces the target’s Mind Points (used to power spells). Mechanically, in Fabula Ultima TTRPG: Press Start, and thus Fabula Ultima TTRPG, a player always rolls two of his character’s attribute dice and adds the results together. Typical Difficulty Levels are seven for Easy, ten for Average, and thirteen for Hard. Results of six higher than the Difficulty Level are a critical success, but rolls of one on both dice are a critical fumble. Status effects, suffered due to the environment, attacks, and spells, such as Dazed, Slow, and so on, which temporarily reduce the die types for a character’s attributes. Combat uses the same core mechanic with the sides involved acting in alternate order, one by one. Initiative is slightly different in that it requires a Group Roll. In a Group Roll, one player, designated the Leader, makes the actual roll, but everyone else makes a separate taste against the same number. Each successful roll grants a +1 bonus towards the Group Roll. All of this is explained scene by scene over the course of Fabula Ultima TTRPG: Press Start, as well as combat, interacting with NPCs, and descending into the Crater of Megido. There are some nicely done scenes which very much match the feel of the computer game, including a cutscene where the scenario’s villain enters stage left, but this actually comes with mechanical benefits in that the Player Characters gain more Fabula Points. Another is interacting with a merchant NPC, from whom the Player Characters can purchase Inventory Points. These are a resource which a player can use to purchase Remedies (which heal Hit Points), Elixirs (which restore Mana Points), and Tonics (which enable a character to recover from a Status effect). Although this abstracts the process somewhat, it still feels appropriate to the setting. For the most part, Fabula Ultima TTRPG: Press Start is linear, but it offers a reasonable mix of scenes and challenges along its learning path—interaction, exploration, and of course, combat. It ends as it should with a Big Boss final battle which is intended as a big fight, but includes other options too, since unlike in a console game, the Player Characters have a wider choice when it comes to their actions. This is the most complex scene in the quick-start, and of all them, requires the most preparation upon the part of the Game Master. Physically, Fabula Ultima TTRPG: Press Start is well presented. The writing is decent and the artwork has an anime style throughout. In addition to telling the Game Master the mechanics of each and every scene and how to run them, Fabula Ultima TTRPG: Press Start includes advice on running each scene too, whether that is enemy tactics in the final battle, advising that the Player Characters take a moment to heal, and so on. Initially, Fabula Ultima TTRPG: Press Start is a disconcerting read because it is doing something in a way that not normally found in roleplaying games. It is teaching both the Game Master to referee and the players to play the Fabula Ultima TTRPG. Most roleplaying games, and certainly most quick-starts, expect the Game Master to learn and understand the rules and then impart them and everything else to her players, although exceptions abound where sometimes the learning by the player is done through play—such as in Alone Against the Flames, the solo adventure for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. Fabula Ultima TTRPG: Press Start is different because of its programmed, step-by-step learning for both the Game Master and the players. The former is still expected to learn ahead of time, but both learning and teaching is focused because of its compartmentalisation, enhanced of course by a deft piece of design and layout. The result is that Fabula Ultima TTRPG: Press Start does have the feel of an introduction to a Japanese console roleplaying game, its anime storytelling backed up by the art used throughout. Overall, Fabula Ultima TTRPG: Press Start is an impressive introduction to the Fabula Ultima TTRPG and learning path to its play which will have players humming the Final Fantasy victory music after every battle.
[Free RPG Day 2021] The Starfinder Four Vs. The Hardlight Harlequin
Now in its fourteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2021, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 16th October. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Of course, in 2021, Free RPG Day took place after GenCon despite it also taking place later than its traditional start of August dates, but Reviews from R’lyeh was able to gain access to the titles released on the day due to a friendly local gaming shop and both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in together sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles. Reviews from R’lyeh would like to thank all three for their help.—oOo—One of the perennial contributors to Free RPG Day is Paizo, Inc., a publisher whose titles for both the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the Starfinder Roleplaying Game have proved popular and often in demand long after the event. For Free RPG Day 2021, the publisher again provides a title for each of the two roleplaying games, one of them being Threshold of Knowledge for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, whereas the one for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game is a change of tone and pace.In past years, the releases for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game have been adventures involving four of the cheerfully manic, gleefully helpful, vibrantly coloured, six-armed and furry creatures known as Skittermanders—Dakoyo, Gazigaz, Nako, and Quonx. However, they do not appear in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game release for Free RPG Day in 2021, which instead features a new, and altogether more diverse cast, as well as kicking off a brand-new series of adventures. The adventure can be run as is, using nothing more than the Starfinder Roleplaying Game core rules, although the Game Master and players alike may find access to the supplements, Alien Archive 2 and Alien Archive 3, to be useful. Starfinder Four Vs. The Hardlight Harlequin is designed to be played by four Player Characters of Fourth Level and to that end comes with four pre-generated Player Characters. They include Chox, a Bolida Gladiator Soldier; Err0r, an Android Outlaw Technomancer; Gliko, a Raxilite Icon Operative; and Ritta Aufenren, a Vlaka Solar Disciple Solarian. This is a good mix of species and identities, and come with some fun abilities, such as Gliko’s biotech augmentation which gives them a cluster of prehensile vines or Chox’s ability to roll into a defensive ball and then make a rolling charge! Each of the four comes with a little background and a full illustration. All four are recent graduates of the Starfinder Society. As the scenario opens, the Starfinder Four are on their way to HACTexpo, an event put on by HACTech, a small publisher of VR technology and games. Unfortunately, as they fly their into the destination to take a little time off, they receive a distress call which appears to rattle throughout the ship’s hull. Everything is going haywire down on the moon where HACTech has its headquarters, and of course, the members of the Starfinder Four are the nearest members of the Starfinder Society who can respond. If the players and their characters decide to demur and look for help else there is advice for the Game Master to keep everything on track, and very quickly the Player Characters will find themselves hurtling down towards the moon as all-too perfect asteroids seem to be flung at them! This sets the tone for the adventure as once they land, the Player Characters find them facing computer game demo after computer game demo come alive and challenge or attack them. The Player Characters will find themselves attacked by digitised Carrion Bats, digital Jack-in-the-Boxes made real and weaponised with giant scissors, soldiers taken from a first-person shooter, and more. Much of this takes place in a giant convention hall where there stands and demonstrations for all of the VR games they appear in.Each of these encounters is self-contained, so that there is time for the four Player Characters to rest and perhaps recuperate between each of them. However, it may seem like the Player Characters are wasting their time in investigating each of the various displays and booths rather than proceeding deeper into the complex and investigating the cause of the emergency, but this is not necessarily the case. In many case, there are survivors—both event staff and attendees—to rescue from these booths and displays, and the Player Characters may also gain extra items which will help them in later encounters in the adventure.Once the Player Characters have dealt with the displays—or most of the displays—dangerously in disarray, they will want to proceed behind the public areas of HACTexpo. This begins the climax to the adventure as the Player Characters explore the limits of a giant server room, a maze-like complex of server towers and computer consoles, strewn with thick bundles of cables and clouds of low-lying computer coolant. Again, the temptation for the Player Characters may be to rush through here to get the final confrontation, but a little patience, which gives time for exploration and examination, will pay off and gain them a slight advantage by the time they get to face the true villain of the adventure. What is essentially an ‘end of level fight is challenging and calls for more than a stand-up fight. In this the pre-generated Player Character, Err0r, with his advanced computer skills—along with his Technomancer spells—will play a major role in this final confrontation as he does throughout the adventure. Physically, Starfinder Four Vs. The Hardlight Harlequin is as decently presented as you would expect for a title from Paizo, Inc. The artwork is excellent, the writing decent, and the cartography a blaze of bright colours. There is a lot going on in the scenario, though mostly in quite self-contained scenes despite the fact that they take place in the same enormous convention hall, so the Game Master will need to take a little care in preparing it for play.Running throughout Starfinder Four Vs. The Hardlight Harlequin are references to Champion Squad, a superhero comic book series in the future of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game which has been adapted to other media and which certain aspects of the threats faced by the Player Characters comes to see them as members of the superhero team. It would have been fun if this had been played up a little further, but there are hooks included for each of the Player Characters to motivate them to attend the HACTexpo. There is plenty of fun though to be had with the computer games included at the HACTexpo, all of course, inspired by the games of today, so in more than a few places it feels not a little tongue-in-cheek, and if everyone joins in with that, Starfinder Four Vs. The Hardlight Harlequin should be fun to play.Overall, Starfinder Four Vs. The Hardlight Harlequin should provide one, perhaps two good sessions’ worth of play and an exciting, action-packed adventure.
[Free RPG Day 2021] Epic Encounters: The Hills Have Legs
Now in its fourteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2021, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 16th October. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Of course, in 2021, Free RPG Day took place after GenCon despite it also taking place later than its traditional start of August dates, but Reviews from R’lyeh was able to gain access to the titles released on the day due to a friendly local gaming shop and both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in together sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles. Reviews from R’lyeh would like to thank all three for their help.—oOo—Epic Encounters: The Hills Have Legs is designed as an introduction to Epic Encounters. Published by Steamforged Games for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, the Epic Encounters line is a series of boxed adventure sets which include a scenario and both floor plans and miniatures for use with the scenario. Steamforged Games divides its Epic Encounters series in three Tiers of Play—Lower, Middle, and Higher—which determine the standard Difficulty Check value that a Player Characters has to roll and Damage Level (or die type) suffered by a Player Character throughout the scenario. For The Hills Have Legs, the Tier of Play is the Middle, which means the scenario is designed for Player Characters of Fifth to Tenth Levels and has a standard Difficulty Check for the players to roll of fourteen, whilst the standard Damage Level rolled throughout the adventure will be an eight-sided die. As with other titles in the Epic Encounters line, an experienced Dungeon Master should be able to adjust the scenario up or down to a different Tier of Play to make it suitable for Player Characters of higher or lower Levels respectively.The set-up for The Hills Have Legs is that a foolish friend of the Player Characters was last seen entering the desert burrow of a spider-tyrant, and whilst there is every possibility that he will have got caught up in the giant arachnid’s web, there is an even greater chance that he will have been captured by the group of Goblins who make the burrow its home, picking over the leftovers and detritus dropped by the spider-tyrant. Well, the scenario says friend, but that ‘friend’ could just as easily be a criminal that the Player Characters are escorting across the desert or the merchant whose caravan they are guarding. Either way, the last thing that the Player Characters will want to do is leave him to his fate. Whatever the exact set-up, the authors do warn the Dungeon Master that The Hills Have Legs is a tough adventure—and that she should warn the players at the start of play.As the Player Characters lower themselves down into the caves, they can hear the cries of their missing friend, but his cries have also alerted his captors and they are fully prepared for his would-be rescuers. The goblin denizens are smart and tricksy, and are very much written as such. They know their environment and have adapted to it, such that they can manoeuvre around the webbings left by the spider-tyrant, the clouds of poison that waft around certain chambers, and the dark… The scenario consists of just five locations, four of which come with maps. All four are quite dark and although marked with a grid, the squares are a little small for use with miniatures. The encounters, all of them challenging—whether fighting across a giant web or dodging in and out between giant poison spewing cauldrons—are action and combat focused and the use of the maps reflect that. Some are a little weird and creepy too, such as the fungus-infested caves where the Witch-Queen Goblins have their lair, who will use fungus to inflict confusion upon the intruders. Plus of course, spiders have a reputation for being creepy too.Rounding out The Hills Have Legs is a short bestiary which presents the creatures that the Player Characters will encounter in the scenario. These include the Funnel Goblin Warrior—the standard Goblins found in the complex and capable of disengaging with a foe or hide with ease; Spider Weblings—essentially tiny spiders; and the one, not two, but five NPC Goblin threats, representing Papa Io, the Goblin chief, as well as his henchgoblins. These are slightly different from each and so pose a variety of threats when encountered.Ultimately, the Player Characters will locate their missing friend and are free to climb back into the desert above. Or, because of course, The Hills Have Legs is a prequel to a forthcoming Epic Encounters title, Web of the Spider Tyrant, carry on adventuring and face the real danger at the bottom of the burrow—the spider-tyrant itself! The Hills Have Legs ends on a dramatic note and sets up a confrontation in the next part, should the Dungeon Master and her players want to carry on. Alternatively, The Hills Have Legs is just as easy to keep as a self-contained side trek on a journey to elsewhere which is easily slotted into a campaign.Physically, The Hills Have Legs is a slim, but glossily presented scenario. It needs a slight edit in places, but is generally well written and easy to set up. If it is missing anything, it is an overall map which would have better shown the relationship between the scenario’s five locations and four maps. Further, given the verticality of the scenario, of descending into the burrow and of some of the encounters, a cutaway view of the burrow would also have been useful.Epic Encounters: The Hills Have Legs is a short, one session scenario, heavy on combat and action, made all the better with its creepy, web-strewn atmosphere. Overall serviceable, whether as a one-shot, a side-trek inserted into a campaign, or as the prequel to Epic Encounters: Web of the Spider Tyrant.
If HARP Fantasy—first published by Iron Crown Enterprises in 2003 as High Adventure Role Playing or HARP—can be seen as a lighter, more streamlined version of the publisher’s original roleplaying game, Rolemaster, published in 1980, then HARP SF can be seen as the publisher’s Science Fiction equivalent of Space Master: The Roleplaying Game. All are percentile driven, Profession, Level, and Skills systems, but as with HARP Fantasy, what HARP SF is a fair degree of flexibility in terms of choices for both the player and the Game Master or SysOp—or Systems Operator as he is known in HARP SF. A player is free to decide what Race his character is, what Professions his character follows, and what Skills his character knows, whereas the SysOp is free to decide whether or not to include psionics, cybernetics, and whether or not she wants to run HARP SF in the setting included in the core book or one of her own devising. And even if she decides on the former, the SysOp has choices as to where she sets her campaign.The default setting for HARP SF is the twenty-fifth century. Mankind has built a Ring City around the Earth connected to the planet by a series of space elevators, and not only populated the Moon, Mars, and Venus—both Mars and Venus have been extensively terraformed, but also the outer system. Although the Lunar Alliance, the Martian Republic, the Protectorate of Venus, the Belter League, and the Jovian Confederacy all remain independent governments, along with the Parliament of Earth, they have signed the Declaration of Man, forming the Terran Federation and binding them to pact of mutual assistance, defence, and governance beyond their own borders. Almost three centuries later this still holds sway, every new colony expected to become a signatory. Since the discovery of the Lagrange Drive at almost the same time as the Declaration of Man was first signed, over a hundred colonies have been established within a fifty-light year sphere of Earth, but more have been founded since with the discovery a portal device which was capable of transporting a starship across the galaxy at a speed equal to one light year per minute—as opposed to the one light year per day speed of the Lagrange Drive. The other side of the portal lies some four hundred light years away from the Terran sphere of influence and it was here, in what became known as the Nexus sector (named after the first portal found), in the year 2454 that mankind made first contact. This was initially peaceful with various alien species, but raids by the aggressive reptilian Silth would escalate into an inadvertent raid in the solar system and the retaliatory Silth War by the Terran Federation in the Nexus sector which would curb the Silth activities. More recently, in 2464 a larger portal was found in the asteroid belt and a space station, Tintamar, established nearby to handle travel through and from the portal. It is this space station from which the default setting in HARP SF takes its name.The Tintamar setting is not hard Science Fiction per se, but harder than straight Space Opera. Technology is important, including Faster-Then-Light travel, anti-gravity technology, cyberware, and more, but not super-advanced technology like transporter devices capable of beaming people down to a planet and back again. Although the setting has cyberware, it is fundamentally positive in feel and tone, though far from a utopia. At the federal level, that of the Terran Federation, it leans towards being so, but the fact that planets and colonies retain their autonomy means that governments can vary from democracies and republics to theocracies and autocracies and unless the activities of a Terran Federation member spill over to another, the federal forces rarely intervene. Further pirates could be hiding out anywhere and the Silth still have designs for expanding their territory. Although the Tintamar setting is sketched out in relatively broad details, there are plenty of options as what the Game Master does with the setting. A humancentric campaign could be confined to the solar system and the sphere of human colonies, perhaps before first contact was made, whereas a broader setting that includes the presence of aliens would be set in the Nexus sector. Military campaigns could be fought against the Silth, an investigative campaign might be against the Terran Federation-wide crime Syndicate, and of course, the Player Characters could explore beyond the limits of human space. On the whole, the style and feel of HARP SF, and of its Tintamar setting, is one of Imperial style Science Fiction even if there is no Imperium or empire present. Alternatively, the Player Characters could adventure in an alternative future of the SysOp’s own design.A character in HARP SF is defined by his Statistics, a Profession, Race, Culture, Skills, and Talents. A character has eight statistics—Strength, Constitution, Agility, Quickness, Self-Discipline, Reasoning, Insight, and Presence, which each has a value between one and one-hundred-and-five. There are eleven possible professions—Adept, Dilettante, Entertainer, Fusion, Merchant, Pilot, Researcher, Scout, Soldier, Spy, and Tech. Of these, the less obvious Adept studies and is capable of using psionics, and the Fusion combines the training of the Adept with another Profession. A Profession consists of Favoured Categories—the categories into which skills are grouped, such as Combat or Influence; Key Stats—those statistics favoured by the Profession; and one or more Professional Abilities unique to the Profession. For example, the key Statistics for the Pilot Profession are Agility, Insight, and Quickness, whilst its favoured skill category is vehicular, and its starting Professional Abilities a player can select from are Instinctive Evasion, Lightning Reflexes, Natural Astronaut, and Natural Gunner. At First Level, and then again at each Fifth Level, a Pilot also gains a +10% bonus to Vehicular skill.In terms of Race, a player can choose from Human as well as five alien species. These include the inquisitive Krakur, amphibious, hexapodal, and tentacular, capable of changing their skin pigment and even separating a tentacle to perform a simple task; the short, pudgy Madji who have three eyes and multiple fingers on their hands, and who favour industrious co-operation; and the Runcori, intelligent, motile plants who can change shape slowly and have distributed senses all about their limbs, and who are brilliant scientists and technologists. The Cerans are large, muscular, but warm-blooded reptiles who have strong sense of territory—personal, intellectual, and social, whilst the Gorsivans are an avian-like species, intensely curious and often arrogant, capable of flight and possessing of telescopic vision. A sixth species, the cold-blooded, reptilian Silth are also given, but are only available as a Player Character species with the SysOp’s permission. Now what each Race provides are modifiers to a character’s Statistics, bonuses to his Endurance, Power Points, Resistances, Stamina, Will, and Magic, plus special abilities unique to each Race. Also with a permission, a player can have his character possess genetic adaptations, represented by Genetic Talents, which model the character having adapted to the harsher conditions on which he was born. The Genetic Talents can be rated at major or minor, and a character needs to have the minor version before he can have the major, for example, High Gravity Adaptation would represent a character having grown up in a high gravity environment. If minor, High Gravity Adaptation would allow him to live under a gravity of up to 2g, whereas with the major version, it is up to 3g. Both grant bonuses to the character’s Strength, Quickness, and Constitution, but to have High Gravity Adaptation (Major), the character must also have High Gravity Adaptation (Minor). Typically, these are bought during character creation—and sometimes later during development when the character acquires a new Level—using Development Points.HARP SF gives several Cultures—Aristocratic, Belter, Corporate, Cosmopolitan, Exotic, Frontier, Militaristic, and Scientific—each of which provides a basic language plus Skill Ranks gained as an adolescent. Skills come in nine categories—Artistic, Athletic, Combat, Concentration, General, Influence, Outdoor, Physical, Scientific, Subterfuge, Technical, and Vehicular—and are purchased in Ranks. There are some eighty or so skills, covering the sciences, technology and engineering, the arts, piloting, combat styles and manoeuvres, and so much more. Some of the slightly odder skills include Armour (training in to move and fight in armour to negate its lack of flexibility and its bulk), the Two Gun Combo Combat Style, Cyber Control (required to use particular types of cyberware, such as cybersenses or cyberlegs), Frenzy (essentially, going berserk), and Rope Mastery, but otherwise, the skills included are all appropriate to the genre! Lastly, a character can have Talents, such Biosculpted Body, Fast Fixer, Increased Lung Capacity, or Radiation Resistance.To create a character, a player generates the Statistics, either by rolling dice or purchasing them with points, and then selecting a Race and Culture. Each character receives a pool of Development Points, modified by their Statistics, with which to purchase Skills and Talents. A limited number of Development Points can be spent to improve a character’s Statistics. There are oddities in the system which require the player to spend Development Points if he is to improve certain aspects of his character. One is that despite HARP SF being a Profession (Class) and Level system, a player does not simply roll his character’s Hit Points, but purchases the Endurance skill and its final value is how damage a character can have. A player will also need to put Development Points into Psi Energy Development if he wants his character to be able to use psionics, this in addition to purchasing active and latent psionic abilities. Even odder though, is the fact that the character’s Resistance Rolls—Stamina, Will, and Magic—are also skills and again can be improved by a player spending Development Points on them. Both Endurance and the Resistances have base values derived from a character’s Race, so there is a minimum value built into the mechanics. What this points to though, is how little a character’s Level has on the character—primarily it places a cap on how many Ranks a character has in any one skill and when and how many Development Points a character gains—and the degree of freedom a player has to build and modify his character.Each time a character gains a Level—through earning Experience Points—the player acquires further Development Points with which to improve his character. He also gets the bonus Development Points as the character had at First Level and because these are derived from a character’s Statistics, it does mean that characters with better Statistics will develop faster and better in the long term.Our sample character is Hurik, who grew up on Earth’s Ring City where life was easy. Having no real plans for a career, he attended for the Colony Resettlement Programme and attended Colony College, deciding that he wanted to do something different and see more than what home offered. He discovered that he like animals and growing things, and if he cannot have his own farm out on the frontier, then he wants to work on one.HurikRace: HumanGender: Male Age: 20Height: 5’ 6” Weight: 136 lbs.Culture: CosmopolitanLevel 1 ScoutStrength 79 (+6) Constitution 90 (+8) Agility 56 (+2)Quickness 44 (-2) Self-Discipline 60 (+2) Reasoning 52 (+1)Insight 75 (+5) Presence 46 (+0)ResistancesStamina 0 (+10), Will 0 (+10), and Magic 0 (+10)Endurance 80Defence Bonus -4SkillsArtistic: Painting 6 (+40)Athletic: Climbing 1 (+13), Wrestling 1 (+15)Combat: Brawling 2 (+18), Modern Ranged 2 (+18)General: Appraisal 1 (+11), Computer Operation 2 (+16), Linguistics Anglic (Spoken) 6 (+36), Linguistics Anglic (Written) 6 (+36), Linguistics Other Species – Madji (Spoken) 4 (+00), Linguistics Other Species – Madji (Written) 3 (+16), Machine Operation 1 (+08), Mundane Lore: Own Culture 1 (+07), Mundane Lore: Cosmography 2 (+12), Mundane Lore: Geography 1 (+07), Perception 5 (+32), Resistance – Stamina 1 (+21), Rope Mastery 5 (+28), Vocation (Administration) 2 (+16)Influence: Charm 1 (+10)Outdoors: Animal Handling 6 (+35), Beast Mastery 6 (+35), Foraging/Survival 6 (+36), Horticulture 11 (+58), Navigation 6 (+36), Tracking 6 (+37)Scientific: Biology 1 (+11)Physical: Endurance 6 (+50), Jumping 1 (+13), Swimming 1 (+13)Subterfuge: Camouflage 5 (+32), Sniping 5 (+29), Stalking & Hiding 5 (+29), Streetwise 1 (+10)Technical: Engineering 1 (+11)Vehicular: Driving (Conventional) 3 (+22)Special AbilitiesBonus Skill Ranks (+5 Ranks), Profession AdaptationProfessional AbilitiesToughness (+10% Endurance)Equipment (1005 credits)Hunting Rifle with Scope, Handheld Computer, Personal Communicator, Backpack, All-Weather Bag, All-Weather Tent, Inertial Compass, Firelighter, Rope, SpadeMuch like HARP Fantasy, the character creation process in HARP SF is neither fast nor easy, and in comparison to contemporary roleplaying games, it is actually cumbersome, especially once you figure adding psionics, which everyone can have access to. Finding everything in the book is also something of a struggle to the point where it hampers the process. Nevertheless, the process is comprehensive and a player will be able to produce the desired character at the end of it—just one of the benefits of HARP SF—plenty of options and no little flexibility in what sort of character a player could create. This is further enhanced with the use of Training Packages, limited groups of skills that represent a profession, guild apprenticeship, and so on. So, it might be Entrepreneur, Netrunner, Starsoldier, or Xenoarchaeologist, for example. Such packages are available at a discount, can be taken only the once per Level, and a player is free to design his own, with of course, the Game Master’s consent. Now the Game Master could also design his own and use those to help provide a place and occupation in his world for player characters and NPCs alike.Being a Science Fiction roleplaying game, HARP SF encompasses a wide range of technology. It grades its technology levels at Unavailable, Prototype, Early, Mature, Advanced, and Obsolescent, rather than a numerical rating, which is actually easier to grasp on a case-by-case basis, and more obviously offers roleplaying and storytelling tags than just the plain numbers. The range of technology available covers neurowhips, vibroknives, blasters, lasers, needle guns, electrostunners, DNA scanners, poison sniffers, arterial fixers, skeletal healers, infrared contact lenses, laser listeners, inertial compasses, environment tents, and much, much more. All of this is rated at the Mature grade in HARP SF’s default Tintamar setting. Rules cover miniaturising and combining equipment too, although doing either will cost more.Adventuring in HARP SF of course has to cover a wide variety of situations and conditions, since after all, it is a Science Fiction game. Computer issues, diseases and poisons, equipment—uses and limits, sensors, scanners, and countermeasures, occupational hazards and environments, and more are covered in sufficient detail in the likely event that they arise in play, although the rules do get more complex than you might expect when having to determine terminal velocity, sensor ranges, and the like. Here a bit more arithmetic creeps in than perhaps it should since working out the results of an equation at the table is not going to appeal to everyone. Nevertheless, the core mechanic in HARP SF is straightforward enough. When he wants his character to undertake an action or Manoeuvre, a player rolls the percentile dice and adds the character’s appropriate skill, whether that is Rope Mastery, Machine Operation, Ranged Weapon, and so on, and if the result is over one hundred, then the action or task has been done with complete success. Modifiers can apply, whether from the situation or equipment, as well as the difficulty. If the roll is open-ended, any roll of ninety-six and above on the dice, means that the player roll again and add the result. Even if a Manoeuvre attempt does not completely succeed, the result can also determine to partial degree of success—measured as a percentage on the Manoeuvre Table, which is useful if a Manoeuvre involves a time factor. In addition, the Manoeuvre Table can also determine whether the outcome of a Manoeuvre is a fumble—generally a roll of ten or less on the percentile dice, and depending upon the nature of the action, the Fumble table covers everything from grenade fumbles, melee combat fumbles, and ranged combat fumbles to physical fumbles, psionics fumbles, and vehicular fumbles.Combat uses the same mechanics, and is generally more complex than the standard rules—and understandably so, since it has to encompass a greater number of variables, including multiple differing weapon and armour types. Initiative is rolled a single ten-sided die plus modifiers from Statistics, encumbrance, and the situation, rolled at the beginning of each two-second turn during which a character will perform one action, whether that be draw a weapon, attack, stand up, or move, or a combat action. All attack rolls are open-ended, to which the attacker adds his Offensive Bonus—determined by skill, statistic, talents, weapon, and positional bonuses, plus range and situational modifiers for range, and then subtracting the defender’s Defensive Bonus—determined by the Quickness statistic and armour, shield, talents, cover, Manoeuvre, equipment quality, and situational bonuses. If the result—the Total Attack Roll—is equal to one or more, then the attacker has hit the defender. It can be further modified by weapon size to give an Adjusted Attack Roll and it is this result which is compared to the Critical Table for the weapon type used. In HARP SF, there are Critical Tables for Crush, Puncture, Slash, Martial Arts Strikes, Martial Arts Sweeps/Unbalancing, Grapple, Cold, Heat, Electrical, Impact, External Poison, Internal Poison, Large, Huge, Ballistic Impact, Ballistic Puncture, Blaster, Laser, Neuro, Plasma, Radiation, Shrapnel, and Vacuum attacks. Essentially what HARP SF does is combine the attack roll with the critical results tables of the much earlier Rolemaster or Space Master, effectively streamlining them. Overall, the combat rules are comprehensive, but despite being supported by numerous examples, do require a close study. Certainly, the SysOp should work through several examples of her own before attempting to run them at the table.Penultimately, HARP SF covers psionics, which come in variety of disciplines whose effects can be observed, but not adequately explained by science. They are divided into various fields—Biokinesis, Electrokinesis, Extrasensory Perception, Psychokinesis, and Telepathy. These are further broken down into disciplines, with characters possessing Latent Psionic Fields before Active Psionic Fields. The Adept and Fusion Professions have greater access to Psionics, though any character can have them by expending Development Points. The more Psionic Fields—Latent or Active—a character has, the more expensive they are to purchase. Each Psionic Discipline requires two things to activate. First, Psionic Energy Points, the number of which can be increased with the Psi Energy Development skill, and second the related Psionic Discipline skill. It is fair to say that much like magic in HARP Fantasy, psionics in HARP SF really require their own discipline to study and understand how they work and how they play in game.Lastly, there are guidelines for the SysOp too, starting with ‘Have Fun!’ and ‘Know the rules!’. There is good advice here, though ‘Know the rules!’ is most obviously pertinent primarily because of their relative complexity in parts and the challenge of the imparting an understanding to the players despite that complexity. Similarly, the advice to ‘Work out the math in advance’, specifically when dealing with space-based combat, highlights the complexity of HARP SF. There is advice too on customising the SysOp’s game and some suggestions as possible campaign ideas and adventure seeds. Some of the roleplaying game’s more useful tables are printed at the back of the book.However, there are elements missing from HARP SF and it is not complete in its treatment of the genre. It does not cover vehicles or vehicular combat in space or on the ground, and there is little in the way of cyberware or coverage of advanced computing. For that, the HARP SF Xtreme is required and is very much the companion or other half to HARP SF. That said, the contents of HARP SF would stand on their own to an extent, depending on how the gaming group wants to handle vehicles. It would result in a very planetary-based campaign, with travel between systems done as story rather than action, or even done via portals. Even then, what HARP SF does not have is rules or guidelines for creating worlds and systems, or indeed alien species, and again, the SysOp will likely need to create those without referring to rules or guidelines. What that means is HARP SF is not the toolkit that it could have been for the SysOp to create of her own, and that HARP SF Xtreme is a must buy purchase.Physically, HARP SF is a plain, simple, greyscale book. The artwork is decent and the writing is clear and easy to read—for the most part. The game’s many examples of the rules are presented using light grey rather than black. This makes the examples difficult to read. In addition, the book’s numerous tables are often also too small to read. Another issue is the organisation of those tables. They are not repeated for easy access at the back of the book, for example, the Critical Tables for the various attack types, so the SysOp will need to bookmark the tables that get referenced a great deal during play, if not purchase or create his own reference screen. The book could have been slightly better organised in that the need to purchase Endurance, Power Point Development, and the Resistances as skills could been made more obvious, if not explicit. They are essentially buried in the skills section when they needed to be highlighted as part of the character creation process.In comparison to the much earlier Space Master, it is clear that a great deal of effort has been put into making HARP SF a much more streamlined and simpler Science Fiction roleplaying game. However it cannot avoid a degree of complexity in places, especially the psionics rules which feel like a subsystem of their own, and so this does mean that HARP SF is still a challenge to really teach the players even once the SysOp has grasped how it works. In comparison to HARP Fantasy, which felt somewhat generic in its treatment of the fantasy genre, HARP SF does not, the Tintamar setting suggested a low Space Opera setting in which technology plays an important role rather than high Space Opera where the Player Characters push buttons and the spaceship just goes. The mechanics to HARP SF do suggest a harder edge to its Science Fiction though, which is slightly at odds with the setting. Nevertheless, its setting of Tintamar offers plenty of scope for gaming and expansion, and if a gaming group can pick the rules up, HARP SF offers a solid range of options and flexibility in terms of characters, combat, and even campaign frameworks.
Near & Far
“Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.” It seems glib to be opening with a quote from Douglas Adams’ The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Guide, but given the sense of scale to The Atlas Of The Imperium: Second Survey, it nevertheless feels appropriate. Published by Far Future Enterprises, this is a supplement designed for use with Traveller5: Science-Fiction Adventures in the Far Future, but actually compatible with any version of Traveller which brings together over sixty star maps which together show the vast expanse of the Third Imperium and nearby sectors in Charted Space. It covers an area roughly thirty-nine by twenty-nine sectors—each sector consisting of sixteen subsectors, and each subsector ten by eight parsecs across, meaning that—roughly—the area covered by The Atlas Of The Imperium: Second Survey is fifteen hundred and sixty by nine-hundred-and-twenty-eight parsecs across! Make no mistake, from the Coreward sectors of Gashikan and Trenchans to the Rimward sectors of Aldebaran and Langere, and from the Spinward sectors of the Vanguard Reaches and Tienspevnekr (and beyond!) to the Trailing sectors of Arzul and the Crucis Margin, this book covers a huge amount of space. However, The Atlas Of The Imperium: Second Survey covers a whole lot more than just space. Every sector is given a one-page map depicting all sixteen of its subsectors, marked up with world types—worlds with water, desert worlds, or asteroids, whether a gas giant is present in the system, the letter code for the type of starport present, and type of base present, including Imperial Naval Base, Scout Base, and so on. The list of symbols has been greatly expanded to cover an array of base types, such as a Zhodani Base, Corsair/Clan/Embassy, Research Station, Imperial Reserve, Penal Colony, and more. Worlds with large populations have their names given in uppercase, letter codes indicate political allegiances, and various worlds are ringed to indicate travel zones—Amber and Red. Lastly X-boat routes are marked, as the political borders in different colours. The name of each sector, plus those for each of the sixteen subsectors in the sector is given in the outer margin. Each sector is followed by a listing of the world data for every world in the sector, the data running for barely a page for the lesser populated sector, but as many as three pages! This is done in the Traveller5 Second Survey format. Thus, hex location and main world name, followed by the UWP or Universal World Profile (starport, planetary size, atmosphere type, hydrographic percentage, population, government type, law level, and tech level), all pretty much as you would expect for Traveller. The Traveller5 Second Survey format expands this with an extensive list of further classifications and remarks. Thus a world can have Trade Classifications such as Garden World or Non-Agricultural, Remarks indicating whether the world is home to an Ancient Site, a Penal Colony, or under Military Rule, the highest nobility found there if any, whilst Importance, Economic, and Cultural Extensions all expand upon the basic details of each and every world. However, in many cases, the Importance, Economic, and Cultural Extensions all have code strings of their own, though much shorter than the standard UWP, represent more numbers for the Game Master to interpret and attempt to bring to the gaming table. For example, the Cultural Extension includes ratings for the world’s Heterogeneity, Acceptance, and Strangeness, with seven being the norm. Overall, it is a lot of information to take in and interpret, and the process of doing so, is hampered by the way in which the information is presented. The content on the maps is small enough, but the text size for the world data is not that much larger and presented in dense columns of fairly text makes it a challenge to read and pick any details. The Atlas Of The Imperium: Second Survey is designed to be a navigational guide to the Third Imperium and its surrounding worlds—in game and out of game. In game, it is an update of the First Survey conducted by the Imperial Grand Survey, an office of the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service, and published in the year 420 after a hundred years of work. The Second Survey, a much-needed update and expansion of the obsolete First Survey was begun as part of the millennial celebrations of the Third Imperium, and published in 1065. The current version of The Atlas Of The Imperium: Second Survey has a publication date of 1105. Out of game, The Atlas Of The Imperium: Second Survey is an update of The Atlas Of The Imperium published by Game Designers’ Workshop in 1984, and provides a massive amount of information for the Game Master to explore and see how the many sectors, subsectors, polities, and worlds relate to each other, and at least have the basic information about world to hand, if not necessarily the specifics. One sector, Foreven, abutting the Zhodani Consulate, just Spinward of the Spinward Marches, apart from a few worlds, has been left intentionally blank, including the specific World Data entries which follow, essentially providing the Game Master with two pages of question marks. In some ways though, the most interesting aspect to The Atlas Of The Imperium: Second Survey is its credits pages. This names the designers and origins of each one of the supplement’s nearly seventy sectors, as well who most recently developed it for inclusion here. In doing so, it mentions many of the great names that long time Traveller fans will recognise, such as J. Andrew Keith, William H. Keith, Joe D. Fugate Sr. Martin Dougherty, and more, drawing on sourcebooks as diverse as MegaTraveller Alien, Volume 1: Vilani & Vargr, Crucis Margin, Gateway to Destiny, and many, many more. It is a reminder that a great deal of the setting to Traveller and its Third Imperium and beyond, was not necessarily developed by Marc Miller and Game Designers’ Workshop, but rather farmed out to other publishers to develop and publish content for. Physically, The Atlas Of The Imperium: Second Survey is cleanly laid out, but does need another edit and barring the cover, is illustration free. Of course, the text and the maps may well be too small for some readers to read with any ease and a magnifying glass may be warranted. The Atlas Of The Imperium: Second Survey feels such a high-level product–both in the game and out of it, providing the ultimate in grand overview of the Third Imperium and its surrounds, that it is really difficult to say how useful the supplement truly is. It does provide both player and Game Master alike with swathes of maps and territories and data, that it is difficult to encompass. The likelihood after all, is that a gaming group and its campaign is going to dig down from the lofty heights presented here and be exploring, adventuring, and gaming at the level of the subsector and sector at most. For that, they will need further information, which of course, is not present in the pages of The Atlas Of The Imperium: Second Survey. Which is reasonable enough, since such a project would have the scope and stature of the Encyclopaedia Galactica of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, one of the primary inspirations for Traveller. Yet, The Atlas Of The Imperium: Second Survey does feel like it needs context. Perhaps a page devoted to each sector, providing an overview and some Library Data (there is none in the supplement)? Ultimately, however useful a Game Master and her players find The Atlas Of The Imperium: Second Survey, it is very much a huge update and an enormous improvement in both the amount and the presentation of the information first seen in 1984’s The Atlas of the Imperium. It really needs an Encyclopaedia of the Third Imperium as a companion.
Micro RPG I: Smithy of Sacrilege
For every Ptolus: City by the Spire or Zweihander: Grim & Perilous Roleplaying or World’s Largest Dungeon or Invisible Sun—the desire to make the biggest or most compressive roleplaying game, campaign, or adventure, there is the opposite desire—to make the smallest roleplaying game or adventure. Reindeer Games’ TWERPS (The World's Easiest Role-Playing System) is perhaps one of the earliest examples of this, but more recent examples might include the Micro Chapbook series or the Tiny D6 series. Yet even these are not small enough and there is the drive to make roleplaying games smaller, often in order to answer the question, “Can I fit a roleplaying game on a postcard?” or “Can I fit a roleplaying game on a business card?” An example of the former is Smithy of Sacrilege.Smithy of Sacrilege is a minimalist roleplaying which fits on the back of a postcard and comes with just about everything a gaming group needs in a roleplaying—bar a setting. The bulk of the game focuses on character creation and the rules, but there is an implied setting, sort of… In Smithy of Sacrilege, a Player Character is defined by three Abilities—Skill, Stamina, and Luck, and Health and Equipment Score (or EQ), the latter indicating how much a Player Character can carry. Both Health and Equipment Score start at eight and the value of the three abilities are determined by rolling a single die for a Background and an Occupation, both of which grant a single Ability bonus and a piece of equipment, and also an Aspiration, which only provides an item of equipment. For example, the Darksilt Ruffian Background grants a bonus to Skill and lockpicks, whilst the Alchemist Occupation adds to Luck and gives some Reagents. The Aspiration of ‘Dispense a cure’ comes with a sacred relic. (A Player Character generator can be found here.)Eltaor NinthalorBackground: Birchrift ElfOccupation: AlchemistAspiration: Rout an armySkill 0Stamina 0Luck 2Health 8Equipment Score 8EquipmentCatgut Bow, Reagents, BugleMechanically, as you would expect, Smithy of Sacrilege is very simple. When a Player Character has to undertake an action, his player rolls two six-sided dice against a Difficulty Value, which is either eight, ten, or twelve, and adds the appropriate ability and a point for any piece of equipment used. If the result is equal to or higher than the Difficulty Value, the Player Character succeeds. If the action is regarded as dangerous, such as against an enemy, the difference between the Difficulty value and the roll—if successful, determines the amount of damage inflicted. The Difficulty Value to hit an NPC is also its Hit Points and so as combat progresses and the enemy takes damage, it effectively becomes easier to hit!For example, Eltaor Ninthalor and travelling companions have been ambushed by a bunch of Orcs. It is his turn to attack. These are tough Orcs and so the Game Master sets the Difficulty Value at ten, which also represents their Hit Points. His player rolls two six-sided dice and adds one for Eltaor Ninthalor’s bow. Eltaor Ninthalor is incredibly lucky—his player rolls twelve! The total result with the bonus from the bow is thirteen, which means that the Orc takes three points of damage, reducing its Difficulty Value to seven.Now mechanically, that is the limit of Smithy of Sacrilege. There are no rules for NPCs beyond their Difficulty and initiative, so there is a whole lot more that you might expect to find in a traditional roleplaying game which is absent. However, such is the simplicity that the Game Master can decide on how these work herself, and easily draw them from the fantasy scenarios of her choice.The other big element missing from Smithy of Sacrilege is a setting, although there is an implied one and the roleplaying game does open with, “At last your two-day hike is over. What you do next might not make the history books, but it’ll win you bed and board the next few times you tell the tale over a mug of ale. Let’s begin.” This suggests that the Player Characters have set out to do ‘something’—whatever that is—and each Aspiration gives an objective that a Player Character wants to do, such as ‘Climb Mount Ashpeak’ or ‘Best the Fang Gauntlet’. There is also the implied fantasy in Smithy of Sacrilege, with its Dwarves, Elves, Alchemists, and so on, but it leaves questions such as “What is the ‘darksilt’ of the Darksilt Ruffian Background?” and “What is a Toothduke Dwarf?” open to development and determination by the players and the Game Master. The aspirations ask similar questions about the world and about what the Player Characters want to do.Physically, Smithy of Sacrilege is simply laid out, but the text is just slightly too small to read easily and it is not quite clear how Abilities are rolled for. For example, it states “Roll 3D6 for attributes and starting gear.” That reads as if three six-sided dice are rolled for each attribute (when it should be ability), but a much-needed close read through of the rules suggests otherwise.The only piece of artwork on Smithy of Sacrilege is the front of the postcard and it is a fantastic piece, depicting a tentacular, trident-wielding deep-sea diver. However, anyone coming to Smithy of Sacrilege knowing that it is a micro roleplaying game would expect to see some kind of connection between that cover and the game, but there is none. Which is so disappointing.Smithy of Sacrilege is not necessarily a terrible game, the mechanics are workable, and the implied background, likely to be fantasy of some kind, something to work from by the players and Game Master alike. Essentially, pick this up and there is not a lot to explain, roll up some Player Characters, ask a few questions, establish a few facts about the world to begin with, add some more as you go along, even grab a scenario—for example, Isle of the Damned or The Isle of Glaslyn would do, and away you go.And yet… What does ‘Smithy of Sacrilege’ mean? Who or what is the tentacular, trident-wielding deep-sea diver on the front of the postcard? That will have to wait for another roleplaying game or even the back of another post card…
[Free RPG Day 2021] Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness
Now in its fourteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2021, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 16th October. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Of course, in 2021, Free RPG Day took place after GenCon despite it also taking place later than its traditional start of August dates, but Reviews from R’lyeh was able to gain access to the titles released on the day due to a friendly local gaming shop and both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in together sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles. Reviews from R’lyeh would like to thank all three for their help.—oOo—It is such a common trope in fantasy roleplaying that it is almost no surprise that amongst the releases for Free RPG Day 2021, there are not one, but two scenarios in which the Player Characters must protect a village against a threat. Common enough, of course, but in fact, the nature of the threat in both scenarios consists of the undead, in both scenarios the Player Characters have to protect the village overnight, and in both scenarios, the Player Characters face an onslaught not once, not twice, but three times! One is Reap and Sow, a scenario and quick-start for Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound, but the other is Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness. This is a scenario for Iron Kingdoms: Requiem, the version of the Steampunk and high fantasy setting best known for its miniatures combat game, Warmachine: Prime, for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Published by Privateer Press, Iron Kingdoms: Requiem and thus Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness bring the setting and intellectual property full circle, both having been first seen in The Longest Night, Shadow of the Exile, and The Legion of the Lost, the trilogy of scenarios published for use with the d20 System in 2001. The three would later be collected as The Witchfire Trilogy.The Iron Kingdoms is noted for three things. First, its interesting mix of races—Gobbers, Ogrun, and Trollkin alongside the traditional Humans, Elves, and Dwarves. There are no Halflings or Gnomes, and even the Elves are different to those of more traditional Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy. Second, the prevalence of technology, in particular, the use of firearms and Steamjacks and Warjacks, steam-driven robots with magical brains, used in heavy industry and on the field of battle. Third, the tone of the setting is fairly grim, there being an island to the west, Cryx, where the sorcerers have long experimented with combing the undead with Steamjacks and Warjacks, and have long planned to invade the Iron Kingdoms. Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness is not a quick-start for Iron Kingdoms: Requiem, but a scenario, so the Game Master will need access to a copy of Iron Kingdoms: Requiem to run the scenario. It is designed to be played by between three and seven Player Characters of First to Fourth Level, but is optimised for five Third Level Player Characters. As the scenario opens, whether as envoys, on escort duty, or conducting family business, the Player Characters have come to the small coastal village of Ingrane, which is in the middle of celebrating Founding Day, the anniversary of its refounding. Surrounded by swamp, the village is a year old, having been refounded and rebuilt on the ruins of the previous village of Ingrane which was destroyed a little over three decades ago by Cryxian raiders. However, the village was also home to a late, great hero of the Iron Kingdoms, and many people have come from far and wide to rebuild the village in her honour.Upon entering Ingrane the Player Characters have the chance to explore Ingrane and interact with the villagers, whether that is praying at the Shrine of the First Daughter—the statue of the fallen hero of the Iron Kingdoms, engaging in friendly competitions and games of chance, doing a little bit of shopping, and even testing out a new invention! These are chances for the players to roll the dice without having anything serious at stake, roleplay a little, and with luck establish some rapport with the villagers. Certainly the latter will be in their favour when the Player Characters have to defend the village, the Founding Day ceremony has barely been completed when the villagers are assaulted by the stench of burnt corpses! Which can only mean one thing—Ingrane is under attack by Cryxian raiders (again). Cryxian forces consisting of a mix of Bile Thralls—bloated reservoirs of digestive tract corrosives which fire their own intestinal acids at their targets via a Bile Cannon, Brute Thralls—great hulking things capable of knocking down the walls of, and then whole buildings; Mechanithralls—horrific fusions of corpses and machinery possessed of great strength; and Scrap Thralls—ramshackle amalgams of old jacks rebuilt to carry necrotite-infused bombs, assault the village in the course of the evening and into the night. In the first wave, the Cryxian attack the people on the streets of the village and target the garrison, whilst in subsequent waves, they will target individual buildings. The Player Characters will be forced to react time and time again, rushing to each flashpoint, with little chance for rest or recuperation. Perhaps the most fun encounter is with the Brute Thralls attempting to smash the village open, but the attacks in each the three waves are different and present different challenges for the Player Characters. Ultimately, the commander behind the raiders comes ashore and his real intentions revealed, all tied into the history of Ingrane.There is plenty going on in Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness, its structure differing between its two halves. In the first, there is a decent amount of roleplaying and a celebratory, playful feel, whilst in the second, the tension ratchets up as wave after wave makes their way ashore and assault the village. There is very much a nod to the wargaming play style of Warmachine: Prime in this second half, such that if a gaming group wanted to, it could easily map out the village on the table and use miniatures, and mixing the roleplaying with the defence of Ingrane. This is helped by the simple, clear map of the village provided with the scenario. Rounding out the scenario is a pair of appendices containing the stats and write-ups of all of the monsters and NPCs the Player Characters will face, as well as details of some magical items, firearms, and the village’s NPCs.Physically, Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness is a decently presented book. Not necessarily done on glossy paper as other releases for Free RPG Day, but full colour, with some excellent artwork. The scenario is well written and easy to understand, and consequently, relatively easy to prepare, and should provide one good, if not two sessions’ worth of play.If there is a problem with Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness, it is that it is not an immediately accessible adventure that perhaps a quick-start might have delivered, and so Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness is much more demanding in terms of a Game Master bringing it to the table. That is not a criticism ofIron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness as such, but rather a matter of highlighting the investment necessary to simply play it. Overall though, Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness is a likeable, flavoursome adventure, which nicely shows off the feel and threat to the Iron Kingdoms.
Jonstown Jottings #49: GLORANTHA: The Avengers of Earth Temple
Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford’s mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, 13th Age Glorantha, and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.—oOo—What is it?GLORANTHA: The Avengers of Earth Temple is a scenario for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.It is a four page, full colour, 1.93 MB PDF.The layout is clean and clean. It is art free, but the cartography is reasonable.Where is it set?GLORANTHA: The Avengers of Earth Temple is set in Swenstown in Sartar. Who do you play?Player Characters of all types could play this scenario, but an Ernalda worshipper or priestess many want to become involved, whilst any Chaos-hating character or character capable of fighting Chaos will be useful.What do you need?GLORANTHA: The Avengers of Earth Temple requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and also Ye Booke of Monstres II. Alternatively, the Game Master can use the Glorantha Bestiary should she not want use Lovecraftian monsters and/or purchase another supplement, and instead prefers to generate somethings more Chaos-related herself.What do you get?GLORANTHA: The Avengers of Earth Temple details a temple to the Earth goddess, Ernalda which was corrupted by Chaos following the defeat of various Earth and Air goddesses and gods in the past. One such temple is located in the caves below the town of Swenstown which sits on a hill, although it could be relocated to any Sartarite town with caves below where an Earth temple might be.It is suggested that GLORANTHA: The Avengers of Earth Temple be used as a sequel to either GLORANTHA: The search for the Throne of Colymar or GLORANTHA: A Trek in the Marsh. Beyond the fact that the adventurers might have gained a reputation from undertaking either of those adventures, no actual reason is given as to why GLORANTHA: The Avengers of Earth Temple might be used as a sequel, so to actually make such a suggestion is hyperbole at best, codswallop at worst. In actuality, to make such a claim and then leave it undeveloped is sheer laziness upon the part of author.As to the temple itself, it consists of a six-location cave complex based on a free-to-use map by Dyson Logos. Each location is given a sparse one paragraph description, placed around the edge of the map.Where any flavour or detail is required, GLORANTHA: The Avengers of Earth Temple very much leaves it up to the Game Master to develop and add. This includes the monsters—Bouchers (rat monsters), Voors, a hell-Plant, and Proto-shoggoth, which she will need to create the stats for after buying Ye Booke of Monstres II. There are no notes or advice on handling such creatures in the different milieu of Glorantha and how Gloranthan magic will affect them for instance, and for some Game Master may push the limits of ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’ in the choice of monsters used. Why the author could not have simply used the Glorantha Bestiary to create something horribly Chaotic to show off a modicum of inventiveness beggars belief. GLORANTHA: The Avengers of Earth Temple is not badly written, but very much like the earlier GLORANTHA: The search for the Throne of Colymar and GLORANTHA: A Trek in the Marsh, it is underwritten and underdeveloped—and severely so given the temple’s bare bones description and the lack of advice on mixing the Gloranthan with the Lovecraftian. However, the set-up to the scenario makes more sense than that of the previous two scenarios and since it only defines—however underwhelmingly—six locations, it feels more self-contained with less of any legend or outcome left dangling and unaddressed by the author.As with the previous titles with the author, there is plenty of development work for the Game Master to do before she brings GLORANTHA: The Avengers of Earth Temple to the gaming table. Probably more than it warrants, since if the Game Master is going to have to that development work, she might as well grab the map and start from scratch.Is it worth your time?Yes—GLORANTHA: The Avengers of Earth Temple contains the germ of an interesting scenario if the Game Master is willing to completely develop the set-up, add the flavour, and the detail to this mini-dungeon which its author failed to do.No—GLORANTHA: The Avengers of Earth Temple is a self-contained dungeon bash which the author kindly leaves all of the detail, stats, and flavour to the Game Master to develop herself. Cheap, cheerless, characterless, and charmless.Maybe—GLORANTHA: The Avengers of Earth Temple is a perfect showcase of how to write an uninteresting dungeon bash for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, so if the Game Master wanted to know how not to do it, she should start here.
Frontier of Fear
If Alien: The Roleplaying Game is missing anything, it is two things. First, further details of the United States Colonial Marine Corps, who it is, what it does, what equipment it fields across space, and more, since after all, the marines feature so prominently in Aliens, the second of the two films to fundamentally inform and inspire the Alien: The Roleplaying Game. Second, it does not have an example of its Campaign mode of play. Alien: The Roleplaying Game is designed to be played in two different modes, Cinematic and Campaign. Cinematic mode is designed to emulate the drama of a film set within the Alien universe, and so emphasises high stakes, faster, more brutal play, and will be deadlier, whilst the Campaign mode is for longer, more traditional play, still brutal, if not deadly, but more survivable. To date, the only scenarios available for Alien: The Roleplaying Game—Chariot of the Gods (also found in the Alien Starter Set) and Destroyer of Worlds, are written for the Cinematic mode. All that changes with Alien: The Roleplaying Game – Colonial Marines Operations Manual.The Colonial Marines Operations Manual is in effect, two books in one. The first book details the history and organisation of the USCMC, its equipment, the various forces which serve alongside it and against it, and the opposing forces’ equipment, and lastly, expanded USCMC marine creation. The history runs form the Weyland era through the foundation of the USCMC as part of the United States’ response to increased rivalries for resources and territory on the frontier, through police actions to free the near human Acturans from Chinese/Asian Nations Cooperative and later Dog War against the Chinese/Asian Nations Cooperative when it is revealed that it is stockpiling and testing biological weapons, the Oil Wars which stem from the hunt for more petroleum resources, and the more recent Frontier War between the United Americas and the Union of Progressive People spurred on by colonial unrest and rebellion on both sides of the border. There is much more going on than this, much of which will be revealed in the full campaign and all over the new biological weaponry—what it is, how it can be used, and what it really means. Both timeline and history greatly expand upon that given in Alien: The Roleplaying Game, almost too much so given the wealth of detail and in places, the wealth of acronyms!The organisation of the USCMC runs from top to bottom, from its three Marine Space Forces which together protect the Core Systems and the frontier worlds, but much like the campaign to follow, it focuses upon the organisation at the platoon, section, squad, and fireteam levels. This is at the very personal level, the level at which the players will be roleplaying, that is they will be roleplaying members of a fireteam, a squad, a section, and thus a platoon. Other allied organisations, such as United States Aerospace Force and the Latin American Colonial Navy are covered, but not described in detail, as are those of other governments and organisations, such as the Royal Marine Commandos of the Three World Empire, the Space Operating Forces of the Union of Progressive People, and the Weyland-Yutani Commandos. Combined with the extensive list of the equipment, ranging from the VP-70MA6 pistol, Norcomm RPG122 Rocket Propelled Grenade Launcher, and Weyland-Yutani NSG23 Assault Rifle to the Alphatech XT-37 Stinger 4×4Fast Assault Vehicle, MI-220 Krokodil Series Armoured Dropship, and the VP-153D Kremlin Class Hunter-Destroyer, the Game Mother has a wealth of material with which to arm and equip not only the Player Character marines, much of it mundane—like jungle boots or BiMex personal shades, but also the forces opposing them too. With a little effort, an inventive Game Mother could even use this material and switch things around so that a scenario or even a campaign could be run with the Player Characters as soldiers serving the Three World Empire or the Union of Progressive People, for example.In terms of USCMC characters, Colonial Marines Operations Manual expands the number of Military Occupational Speciality options. These include AFV (Armoured Fighting Vehicle) Marine, Assault Marine (Breacher), Automatic Rifleman (Smartgunner), Comtech Marine, CBRN (Chemical Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) Marine, Dedicated Marksman, Dropship Crew, Hospital Corpsman, Forward Observer, and Rifleman. They all have their own Talent options, and there are five new Talents included, such as Bypass for jury-rigging your past locked doors or Hug the Dirt for making the maximum use of cover during a firefight. Marine Player Character creation follows the rules as per the core rules for the Alien: The Roleplaying Game, but with the addition of the Military Occupational Speciality options and Field Events tables for Enlisted, NCO, and Pilot and Crew Chief Marines.Name: Lance Corporal Mandip ‘Drone’ NogueiraCareer: USCMC MarineMilitary Occupational Speciality: ComtechAppearance: Short, tidy hairPersonal Agenda: The death of your buddy has spooked you—now you secretly fear combat and confrontation. You need to overcome your fear.Event: In a protracted bug hunt, you ran out of ammo and had to go hand-to-hand with an entrenching tool.Gear: M41A Pulse Rifle, Seegson System Diagnostic Device, Entrenching ToolStress Level: 0Health: 3Strength 3 Agility 3 Wits 5 Empathy 3Talent: RemoteSkillsClose Combat 1,Comtech 3, Mobility 1, Observation 2, Ranged Combat 2, Stamina 1, Survival 1Throughout both background to the USCMC and the campaign, the central idea is that the life of the average marine is tough and often dangerously exciting. Sure, a recruit gets taken off his rockball of a colony home world with its badly smelling atmosphere, trained to serve, given a big gun with lots of bullets, fed and watered whilst sending a paycheque home to mum and dad, but… That marine and his platoon is going to get sent to one hellhole after another, shot at (and worse) by insurrectionists, fanatics, and soldiers from other governments, run into environments which will kill him, go on bug hunts against creatures which will kill him (and no, that really does not mean Xenomorphs), and more. And when that is not happening, spend years in hypersleep as his family gets old and he effectively does not. All this is the ‘horror’ which the marine has to deal with on a mostly daily basis, but there is worse… Not just the Xenomorphs and their numerous variants, which are terrifying enough, but there is the horror of just what those in power (and sometimes not) will do to obtain, understand, and ultimately weaponise the Xenomorphs and their numerous variants according to their own agenda. That is the basis for ‘The Frontier War’ campaign in Alien: The Roleplaying Game – Colonial Marines Operations Manual.The Alien: The Roleplaying Game has already seen a scenario which combines its Cinematic mode with its Colonial Marines model—Destroyer of Worlds, and that scenario serves two purposes as far the ‘The Frontier War’ campaign. Most obviously, the two contrast each other, Destroyer of Worlds throwing danger after threat in an unrelenting torrent that drives a desperate race for survival, whereas ‘The Frontier War’ plays outs its threats and dangers enabling the Game Mother to ratchet up the tension over months of play rather than a few sessions. It also enables the Game Mother to eke out the paranoia and the fear of the unknown, and gives room for the players and their characters to try and work just what is going on, whereas in Cinematic mode, there is an obvious immediacy. Destroyer of Worlds can also serve as a prequel to ‘The Frontier War’, foreshadowing many of the events to come during the course of the campaign. This is not necessarily as a direct prequel, that is, the Player Character survivors of Destroyer of Worlds should not be played in ‘The Frontier War’. Rather, the terrible knowledge and experiences gained by the survivors from Kruger 60 AEM can serve as a source of rumours and horrifying tales for the Player Characters of the new campaign, and so give them a sense of foreboding. That said, Destroyer of Worlds could not be played after ‘The Frontier War’ since the pair share a lot of background and secrets.The campaign assumes that the Player Characters are assigned to Kilo Company of the 33rd Marine Assault Unit and stationed aboard the USS Tamb’ltam, a Conestoga-class troop transport/light assault starship. The ship is fully detailed, but only a few members of Kilo Company are, providing a number of NPCs that can also be used as ready-to-play pre-generated replacement Player Characters, whilst still providing scope for the players to create their replacements as necessary and the story allows. Further, the Player Characters are all assigned to the same squad, so the campaign is ideally suited for four Player Characters, perhaps five at most. Just as the film Aliens, the Player Characters are grunts—marine privates and NCOs—and whilst not technically in command, ‘The Frontier War’ is written to ensure that they have a high degree of autonomy. This is at odds with the typical chain of command you would expect of the genre, but in terms of play, it provides several benefits. It places the Player Characters at the centre of the action, even if accompanied by fellow military forces, and rather than have their overly beholden to that chain of command, the players can influence the direction in which the campaign goes and thus enjoy it more.In addition to the advice for Game Mother on how to run the campaign, ‘The Frontier War’ includes a wealth of background on the frontier and border regions where it takes place and on the numerous factions involved in the events of the campaign and both their secrets and their motivations. At times it feels like too much, but the Game Mother will need to read and understand it as part of her preparation to run the campaign. The campaign itself consists of seven parts; six missions followed by a seventh part which provides a finale to the campaign. The six parts can be played in any order, as directed by the events and the players. In turn, they will see the Player Characters sent to rescue survivors of a crashed hospital ship, respond to a terrorist hostage situation on the only world where humanity has encountered an extra-terrestrial intelligent species, investigate a testing facility in Union of Progressive People space which might be linked to the Border Bombings first seen during the events of Destroyer of Worlds, mount a rescue mission on a world about to be invaded by Union of Progressive People forces, investigate an isolated station which could be the source of strange signals, evacuate survivors from a world following a mining accident, and… All seven of the missions are highly detailed, with detailed maps, floorplans, and deck plans, suggestions as to possible random events, and alternative uses, that is, how to use the content in the mission elsewhere (potentially meaning that the Game Mother could simply run each of the missions separately, but that would mean ignoring the scope of ‘The Frontier War’ campaign). Lastly, they all have ‘Metapuzzle Pieces’ which represent Epiphanies—or major clues to the campaign’s overarching plot—that the Player Characters can discover during the course of mission, and as they collect more and more, begin to work out what is going on…In addition to the main campaign itself, sixteen mission types, such as combat patrol, peacekeeping, and snatch and grab, are also detailed. These are intended to be developed and run by the Game Mother herself in between the parts of the main campaign, not only to extend its play, but also to highlight how the will not necessarily be the main focus of the Player Characters and their commanding officers all the time. There is advice on how to bring elements of the actual campaign into those missions as necessary and there is a guide too for handling downtime for the Player Characters between missions.Physically, Alien: The Roleplaying Game – Colonial Marines Operations Manual is as good as you would expect it to be for the line. The writing is excellent, often in tone that you imagine a fellow member of the USCMC might use, and as much as it develops the Alien Universe as somewhere to roleplay, there are one or two nods beyond its franchise too, such as Blade Runner and Outland, if the reader knows what to look for. The book looks fantastic with great artwork—though not as much and a lot of it different in tone to that of the core rulebook, perhaps more heroic, but definitely more militaristic—than the other books for Alien: The Roleplaying Game. As with other books, the layout is fairly open, so that it does not feel as dense a book as this normally might. It also means that it is much easier to read. However, the lack of an index is major omission, especially given that this is a campaign and the Game Mother will need to study the book carefully to fully grasp what is going on in the campaign. A lesser issue is the lack of a list of acronyms, which really would have helped with reading both through the general history and the background to the campaign.One main issue in coming to understand both the scope of ‘The Frontier War’ and the scope of the history presented at the start of the supplement, is that it is difficult to grasp the astrography of the campaign’s setting and how the various stars and their planets relate to each other. The star charts feel just too small to be effective, so perhaps the Game Mother might want to develop some star charts that she can have out on the table ready to show where the Player Characters are going and where the frontier and political borders are.As two books in one, the good news is that Alien: The Roleplaying Game – Colonial Marines Operations Manual does both of them very well. What is effectively the first book, widens the scope of what is possible in running a campaign or scenario based around the USCMC, not just in terms of types of marines the players can roleplay and missions they can undertake, but also the enemies they might face in doing so. And that is in addition to the material which also develops the Alien Universe, both this first part of the book and the campaign that follows it. Then with the second book, Alien: The Roleplaying Game – Colonial Marines Operations Manual delivers the three themes of Alien: The Roleplaying Game—Space Horror, Sci-Fi Action, and a Sense of Wonder, in a horrifically good, desperately deadly (but not too deadly), and epically grand military-conspiracy horror campaign. If you still think that the Alien: The Roleplaying Game is just good for one-shots in its Cinematic mode, think again; Alien: The Roleplaying Game – Colonial Marines Operations Manual is proof that the Campaign mode for Alien: The Roleplaying Game is not just workable, but will provide months’ worth of military horror gaming.
[Free RPG Day 2021] Enter the Collection
Now in its fourteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2021, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 16th October. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Of course, in 2021, Free RPG Day took place after GenCon despite it also taking place later than its traditional start of August dates, but Reviews from R’lyeh was able to gain access to the titles released on the day due to a friendly local gaming shop and both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in together sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles. Reviews from R’lyeh would like to thank all three for their help. —oOo— Enter the Collection: An Adventure for the Essence20 Roleplaying System is Renegade Game Studios’ offering for Free RPG Day in 2021. It is the first scenario designed using the publisher’s Essence20 Roleplaying System and is written to be used with any of three roleplaying games it is planning based in turn on the G.I. Joe, Power Rangers, and Transformers intellectual properties. The scenario provides a little investigation and interaction, a fair degree of stealth, and plenty of action, but it is not specifically written for any one of those three roleplaying games. This has its advantages and its disadvantages, all of which stem from the fact that the scenario is generic in its set-up, its plotting, and its tone. Now whilst that means it can be run easily with the G.I. Joe Roleplaying Game, Power Rangers Roleplaying Game, or the Transformers Roleplaying Game, it also means that it could run with almost any other modern set roleplaying game. It also means that it feels like a Saturday morning cartoon, but though is very much what Renegade Game Studios is aiming for with this scenario and the three roleplaying games in general.Enter the Collection takes place in Crystal Springs, a community just half an hour away from the nearest major shipping and transportation hub where nothing extraordinary ever happens. That until the past few weeks when there has been a rash of missing person reports, an increased number of patients coming into Accident & Emergency due to anonymous violent crimes, and a sharp rise in late night activity outside of city limits in the industrial park. Despite complaints made to the mayor and the city police department, neither have responded and nothing seems to have been done about any of this strangeness. Then the Player Characters’ contact (command leader?) gets in touch and asks them to investigate, telling that they should meet, Doctor Caroline Benedict, a biology professor at a local college.When they meet Doctor Benedict, she shows them the strange blue mussels she has in the nearby Lake Vermillion and tells them that a colleague, Terrance Brighton, is missing. After investigating his house (and avoiding his nosey neighbours) and then going to Lake Vermillion, the Player Characters will quickly discover that someone is dumping toxic chemicals into the lake and that the culprits are prepared to go to great lengths to protect their operations. The Player Characters will be able to track the culprits back to their base of operations. There they can confront the masterminds behind the operation and perhaps learn a little more about what is going on in Crystal Springs.Mechanically, Enter the Collection: An Adventure for the Essence20 Roleplaying System does not include any explanation of the Essence20 mechanics. It is clear that it is a d20 System-based with Player Characters and NPCs having skills rated by die type, from a four-sided die to a twenty-sided die, which is rolled and added to the result of a twenty-sided die to exceed the difficulty of the test in order to succeed. Devices and vehicles can have similar die-based bonuses as evidenced by the various vehicles detailed in the scenario, which range from a half-track to a stealth fighter. What this means is that it is relatively easy for the Game Master to discern skill ratings and bonuses from devices and vehicles and so potentially be able to run the scenario for the roleplaying game of her choice if she does not have access to either the G.I. Joe Roleplaying Game, Power Rangers Roleplaying Game, or the Transformers Roleplaying Game.Physically, Enter the Collection: An Adventure for the Essence20 Roleplaying System is well presented and written. The artwork is good, although no NPC is depicted and the depictions of the vehicles are from top down only. There are maps of two of the locations, but not of the final area or the general area, so the Game Master might want to provide both—and the one of the actual area could be real if the Game Master wants to set the scenario somewhere that actually exists.Enter the Collection: An Adventure for the Essence20 Roleplaying System leaves some questions to be answered, especially if the Game Master wants to run a sequel. On its own though, Enter the Collection: An Adventure for the Essence20 Roleplaying System is a perfectly adequate scenario which will easily fit the G.I. Joe Roleplaying Game, Power Rangers Roleplaying Game, or the Transformers Roleplaying Game—or in fact, the modern-set roleplaying game of the Game Master’s choice.
[Free RPG Day 2021] Reap and Sow
Now in its fourteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2021, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 16th October. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Of course, in 2021, Free RPG Day took place after GenCon despite it also taking place later than its traditional start of August dates, but Reviews from R’lyeh was able to gain access to the titles released on the day due to a friendly local gaming shop and both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in together sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles. Reviews from R’lyeh would like to thank all three for their help.—oOo—Cubicle7 Entertainment Ltd. offered two titles for Free RPG Day 2021. One is Going Underground, an adventure for the forthcoming version of Victoriana, the roleplaying game of intrigue, sorcery, and steam for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. The other is Reap and Sow, a scenario and quick-start for Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound. This is the roleplaying game in which the Soulbound, heroes chosen by the gods, stand defiantly against the horrors that plague the Mortal Realms, tasked with preventing a new age of Chaos, Death, and Destruction. Sigmar’s Storm has already stopped the hordes of Chaos once and given the people of the Mortal Realms hope and time to plant the first seeds of civilisation and establish the new bastions of Order. Yet Chaos has not gone quietly. The Necroquake saw the undead legions of Nagash rise up to shatter the newly founded bastions of law and order. If civilisation is to survive, the Soulbound must face roving bands of cannibals, legions of undead, and hordes of daemons in a desperate struggle for survival.Reap and Sow provides a location within one of the realms; an adventure of the same name which sees the Player Characters protecting it against an assault by the undead and should provide between two and three hours of play; and four ready-to-play pregenerated Player Characters for use with the adventure. In terms of rules, it does not use the full rules from Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound, but instead employs a streamlined and simplified version that has most of the tasks that the Player Characters might want to undertake already written up in terms of the mechanics—the target number required and the number of successes needed. Alternatively, the scenario could be played using Player Characters created by the players using the rules in the core rules for Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound and the full rules themselves. This would require some development upon the part of the Game Master. Mechanically, Reap and Sow and thus Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound uses dice pools consisting of six-sided dice. Tests are rolled against a Difficulty Number and a Complexity. The Difficulty Number is the number which a player must roll equal to or greater than on a die, whilst the Complexity is the number of successes which the player must roll from the pool. For example, Malgra Dainsson, one of the four pre-generated Player Characters included in Reap and Sow, is armed with a Rapid-fire Rivet. To make an attack with this weapon, their player must make a DN 3:1 Test, meaning a Difficulty Number of Three and a Complexity of one. For this he rolls the five dice for Malgra’s Ballistic Skill. The weapon will inflict one damage with a successful attack, but generate extra damage the more successes the player rolls. As a stripped-down presentation of the rules to Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound, this works more than well enough, and is both fast playing and quick to grasp. Reap and Sow includes a quartet of pre-generated Player Characters. They include Xan Bemyer, a Warpriest of the Devoted of Sigmar, who can bring down the holy searing Light of Sigmar; Vel Arturious, a Knight-Questor of the Stormcast Eternals, who is a Bulwark, a stalwart defender who hold off hordes on her own; Malgra Dainsson, an Endrinrigger of the Kharadron Overlords whose Aether-rig renders her capable of flight; and Darach, a Kurnoth Hunter, a grown defender of the Sylvaneth armed with a greatbow, who can launch down a Hail of Doom in a zone or adjacent zone. All have three attributes—Body, Mind, and Soul—and various skills, plus ratings for Toughness, Wounds, and Armour. Toughness is essentially a character’s Hit Points, and when a character is hit, his Armour reduces the damage suffered. When a character’s Toughness is reduced to zero, he suffers Wounds. The effect of suffering Wounds is more complex in the core rules, but has been simplified here to each Player Character just having the four Wounds. The various NPCs and monsters in the scenario simply have Toughness and when that is reduced to zero, they are dead. Most characters—Player Characters and NPCs—have another rating for Mettle, the equivalent of Hero Points in other roleplaying games. Here though, it is simplified to just two uses. One is to allow a character a second action in a combat round, the other to have Xan Bemyer use his Light of Sigmar ability slightly differently and have it ignore Armour. The scenario, ‘Reap and Sow’, takes place in Shyish, the Realm of the Dead, where the dead far outnumber the living. The latter includes colonists who have travelled through realmgates to establish settlements and a new life scratched from the grey soil of the haunted realm with its suspended decay. The realm is dominated by Nagash, the Unliving King, who has subsumed all of the other gods of death who once held power here. Grimreach is such a settlement, recently founded by the Dawnbringer Crusade. Here, the Player Characters, as members of a Soulbinding, go about their daily duties, whether that is conducting sermons in the temple of Sigmar, mounting patrols in the immediate area, performing maintenance on the settlement, or training the settlement’s defence forces, when each is approached by another member of the community about a strange event. This includes discovering evidence of an earlier settlement in the caves below Grimreach, somebody suffering a terrible sense of foreboding, of a mechanical breakdown, an accident, and so on, but at nightfall, a trio of Morghasts—great winged skeletons, servants of Nagash—come before the gates the settlement and demand a tithe! Not a tithe of food or goods or money or even souls, but bone! Naturally, the Player Characters—as the leaders of Grimreach—refuse, and so battle ensues! The scenario is entirely defensive, with the Player Characters have time first to bolster Grimreach’s defences, and then hold off the attackers in ‘The Night of Shattered Bone’. The attacks come in waves as the undead lay siege to the settlement, and there is certain wargaming element here. In part, this is reinforced by Grimreach itself being organised into zones, and to help the Player Characters enact the defence of the settlement, the Game Master may want to print out a copy and have it on the table so that the players can more easily track where their characters are. Overall, the scenario is fun, offering a little roleplaying, some planning, and a lot of combat over the course of the session, which should be no more than four hours, if that. Physically, Reap and Sow is decently written and nicely illustrated as you would expect for a roleplaying title set in a Games Workshop setting. It needs a slight edit here and there, and is written to be learned as the scenario progresses. The map of Grimreach is excellent and should ideally also serve as a good handout for the players. Reap and Sow is a solid adventure combined with basic rules, which should ideally serve as a good, though not full, introduction to Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound. More of a hors d’oeuvre than full starter—and certainly not the equivalent of a starter set. That said, Reap and Sow could be run using either the Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound Starter Set or Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound, and that way, might provide a more fulsome and detailed adventure. On its own, Reap and Sow will provide a solid session’s worth of play and action for a quartet of players.
Friday Fantasy: The Dark Heart of Roskem
The Dark Heart of Roskem is an adventure for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Published by Critical Kit, it is designed for a party of four to five Player Characters of Fourth Level and is intended to be played in a single session, either as a one-shot or as part of an ongoing campaign. It involves disappearances from a village, a nearby vile swamp, and dark, ancient magic. The scenario involves some interaction and investigation, but primarily emphasises combat and exploration.The Dark Heart of Roskem takes place along the banks of the river Roskem, in and around the fishing settlement of Myristat, and then in the Roskem swamp. It opens as the Player Characters are on the Scar Road travelling towards to the village, which is best known for the Roskite, the giant freshwater lobsters that are farmed along the river’s banks. Suddenly, a man lurches out of the swamp, delirious and covered with a green sludge—not to attack the Player Characters, but wanting their aid and to deliver a warning. There is a danger to Myristat in the swamp and the man keeps saying the word, “Krutz.” If the Player Characters take the man into town, they discover that he is a member of the town guard, who went into the swamp a few days before along with Krutz—who happens to be the captain of the town guard. However, Krutz himself has not returned, and neither have the other guards who accompanied him, and that is not all, a man and woman have also disappeared from the village, leaving their daughter behind. The mayor of Myristat offers the Player Characters a handsome reward if they find out what happened to Captain Krutz and the missing couple.After a little investigation and interaction—perhaps hindered by an overly officious Halfling mayoral assistant, the Player Characters learn that Captain Krutz was actually going into the swamp to hunt for treasure. Speak to the right people and they can learn that Roskem Swamp has a dark secret—long ago a mage disappeared into the swamp and there took control of the Thornscale Lizardmen, perhaps to conduct his research in solitude even as he claimed to be a god! The swamp itself is as bad as can be imagined—if not worse, with its maddening mist that drives those caught in its whisps to repeat the word ‘green’ or become entangled in vines. Along the way, they may encounter a surprisingly chatty and genial Lizardman, who will give pointers towards the Temple of Vines and warn them of its Dark Heart.The temple itself is quite small, amounting to no more than six rooms. Here the Player Characters will find the disappeared men and women, who like the rest of the temple, are draped and wrapped in vines. At their heart is the Swamp King, a humanoid statue of writhing vines and fungal mass which seems to want to control everything in the temple. Can the Player Characters defeat the Swamp King, drive back the vines, and so discover the true secrets of the temple?Rounding out The Dark Heart of Roskem are two appendices. The first is longer and gives the details of the scenario’s various monsters. These include the more traditional denizens of the swamp—Giant Swamp Leeches, Swarms of Poisonous Snakes, and Lizardfolk, but alongside this are the Bog Bodies, leathery undead which exhale a thick cloud of fog that they can sense any creature within it; Lizard Gargoyles (which are exactly what they say they are); and the Swamp King itself. The latter can pierce and ensnare with its vines, raise Bog Bodies, and it can cast Druidic spells too. The shorter has the single entry, a description of a magical item, a Vine Whip. This splits into three and can do a little damage to three targets as well as ensnaring one of them.Physically, The Dark Heart of Roskem is decently laid out and easy to read. There is no map of the area or the swamp, so either the Dungeon Master will want to draw one herself or find a place in her campaign to locate the adventure. The map of the Temple of Vines is decent enough though. The artwork is fairly light and sees a degree of repetition in its use. The writing is generally clear, although the dark history of Roskem Swamp is written for the Dungeon Master rather than the player, and she will probably want to adapt it so that it presents sufficient information without giving too much away.As soon as ‘Krutz’, the name of the guard captain is mentioned, the first thought is to wonder if The Dark Heart of Roskem has anything to do with Colonel Kurtz of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now fame? The author confirms that it was at least the scenario’s inspiration in the afterword, though it is up to the Dungeon Master if she wants to develop that inspiration any further. There is scope too for a sequel, but that is something that the Dungeon Master will need to0 develop on her own. Such a sequel hints of a Lord of the Rings-style journey at the very least… Although it is short—specifically designed for a single session—The Dark Heart of Roskem has a foetid, hot, and sweaty feel of a swamp fallen under a dark influence, and is easy to run as a one-shot or add to a campaign.
Jonstown Jottings #48: Ehnval Tallspear
Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford’s mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, 13th Age Glorantha, and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.—oOo—What is it?Ehnval Tallspear presents an NPC and his entourage, and trinkets for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.It is a twenty-four page, full colour, 2.49 MB PDF.The layout is clean and tidy, and its illustrations good.Where is it set?Ehnval Tallspear is nominally set in and along the edge of the Astrola Forest in northern Esrolia, but the NPC and his entourage can be encountered almost anywhere the Game Master decides.Who do you play?No specific character types are required to encounter Ehnval Tallspear. Worshippers of Odalya may have an interesting encounter with one of his companions though and anyone who destroys parts of the forest it is his sacred duty to protect will find him a fierce enemy. A worhsipper of Chalana Arroy or another healing deity will be presented with an interesting challenge in one of the adventure seeds.What do you need?Ehnval Tallspear requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, the Glorantha Bestiary, and The Red Book of Magic.What do you get?The second volume of ‘Monster of the Month’ presents not monsters in the sense of creatures and spirits and gods that was the feature of the first volume. Instead, it focuses upon Rune Masters, those who have achieved affinity with their Runes and gained great magics, mastered skills, and accrued allies—corporeal and spiritual. They are powerful, influential, and potentially important in the Hero Wars to come that herald the end of the age and beginning of another. They can be allies, they can be enemies, and whether ally or enemy, some of them can still be monsters.The Ehnval Tallspear entry is Ehnval Tallspear, which describes a Wood Lord of Aldrya whose duty is to protect Derstrovil Grove and the Old Woods as both Speaker to Foreignersand Defender of the Grove. He is surprisingly outgoing for an Aldryami and has had dealings with humans, both as a fierce protector of, and an envoy from the forest. Ultimately his motives may seem alien to humans, but he is outwardly cheerful, even extroverted in most of his dealings when visiting beyond the treeline.In addition to presenting the stats, history, and personality of the Wood Lord, the supplement suggests how he might be used as a friend or an enemy, also detailing his tactic should he become the latter. Both options are supported by an adventure seed each. In the first, he leaves the forest desperate to find a worshipper of Chalana Arroy or another healing deity who can help with a strange blight which has beset the forest that Aldryami has been unable to heal, whilst in the second, he begins a series of unprovoked strikes against the farms and communities abutting the forest. Can the adventurers determine the cause?Ehnval Tallspear also details a number of interesting items. These start with a number of Elvish trinkets which can add flavour and detail to dealings with the Aldryami, and can either be used as gifts or items for trade. They include Arstolan honey and its flavours and effects (for example, black honey has little flavour, but greatly enhances fruit pies and sends anyone who knows a sorcery spell who eats such pies, to sleep), grown woodwork, Luck-Sprigs, and more. The secrets of the Icola Seed and Living Copper are also revealed. When thrown and the Accelerate Growth Rune spell is cast on an Icola Seed, it rapidly grows into vines that coil around and ensnare a target, whilst Living Copper is grown in Aldryami Dryad groves and when ultimately harvested—growing a branch can take centuries—can be enchanted and coldworked into various objects, including weapons. Ehnval Tallspear himself wields a spear of living copper.Ehnval Tallspear’s entourage is also fully detailed. Andovar the Watcher is another Elf, but Green where Ehnval Tallspear is Brown, an Initiate of Yelmalio whose duty is to protect the grove during Dark and Storm Seams when the Wood Lord hibernates, whilst the most fun are incredibly ancient Runner, and Borulgus, an Elf-Friend and talking bear who enjoys stalking hunters and then startling them when he speaks! An encounter with him should be interesting for any Initiate of Odayla. Rounding out the supplement of course, are the full stats and sheets for the four NPCs, plus generic Elf bodyguards.Is it worth your time?Yes—Ehnval Tallspear presents a potentially interesting ally or enemy, plus supporting cast, should the Game Master want to include Aldryami in her campaign or her campaign is specifically set in Esrolia (although the supplement can be set elsewhere).No—Ehnval Tallspear presents a potentially interesting ally or enemy, plus supporting cast, should the Game Master want to include Aldryami in her campaign or her campaign is specifically set in Esrolia, but it definitely adheres to ‘Your Glorantha May Vary’. So it may not be in line with how the Game Master views the Aldryami—or indeed, even Chaosium, Inc.Maybe—Ehnval Tallspear presents a potentially interesting ally or enemy, but the Game Master may simply not want to involve the Aldryami in her campaign, or even take her campaign to Esrolia.
Leagues of Mythos Miscellanea
Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil is a supplement for use with both Leagues of Cthulhu, the supplement of Lovecraftian horror for use with Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age! and its expansion, Leagues of Gothic Horror. Published by Triple Ace Games, it expands greatly upon the information and details of the Cthulhu Mythos given in the previous supplements. It describes new bloodline Talents and Leagues, a wide array of rituals, tomes, locations, and dread horrors, expanded advice for the Game Master running a Leagues of Cthulhu campaign, and more. In fact, that more is a detailed exploration of the mystical Dreamlands, including rules for dreamers and altering the landscape of the Dreamlands, rituals and tomes unique to that fabled land, a complete gazetteer, and a bestiary of its notable human and inhuman denizens. This is a first for Leagues of Cthulhu, but in effect, the section on the Dreamlands is a supplement all of its very own. Literally, because its chapter numbering starts anew! In addition, what few stats there are for use with the Ubiquity system are easy to interpret and adapt to the system of the Game Master’s choice, whether that is Cthulhu by Gaslight for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, Trail of Cthulhu, or Victoriana.In the main, the Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil is for the Game Master, but there are a handful of elements for the player too. These include the new Hobby Skill, which can include things like Cartography, Fossil Collecting, or Numismatics, and new Bloodlines and new Leagues. The new Bloodlines include LeBlanc, which provides political Contacts, and Northam, which provides Status, as well as dire effects detailed later in the book. The new Leagues include the Elder Club whose members possess sufficient status to keep the truth of the Mythos from society at large and the Elder Race Society, which holds that Human history is far longer than is normally accepted. Various Mythos languages are discussed, such as Aklo and Yithian, and there is a list of Manias to have the Globetrotters suffer, and glorious new Flaws like Blabber Mouth, Fainter, and Screamer!The content for the Game Master begins with ‘Magic & Manuscripts’ and provides several new Rituals. With Drain Life a caster can inflict lethal damage upon a target to heal his nonlethal wounds (or downgrade a lethal wound to the nonlethal); with Mark of Madness he can inflict Sanity loss upon a victim; and even gain protection against the fell beasts which hunt down along the angles with Sign of Tindalos. The forty or so Eldritch Books—or Mythos Tomes—are all new and are nicely detailed such that the Game Master can draw inspiration from and further, ties into further content elsewhere in the supplement. For example, The Assassin’s Creed: An Expose of the True Hashshashin is a diary of conversations between a crusader and a fellow prisoner about the true nature of the Old Man of the Mountain and details the links between both the fabled and feared assassins. It is not a little tongue in cheek, but does tie into the extensive entry on the Templars, the possible nature of the order’s actual treasure, and the description of what they do in the modern day of the Purple Decade given in the lengthy ‘Gods, Monsters, & Cultists’ chapter. As you would expect, each Eldritch Book description includes its language, author, date of publication, Complexity, Horror, and Mythos values, and contents in terms of spells. This is accompanied by a decent description as to the origins and history of the volume, plus what it actually describes. For example, The Serpent Through History is in English, was written by Sir Reginald Grosvenor and published in 1818, has Complexity 2, Horror 2, and Mythos 1, and contains the spells Commune Yig, Summon Child of Yig, and Summon Serpent Men. It is an examination of snake cults throughout history, including the Voodoo loa Damballa, cults in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Rome, and Mesoamerica, plus numerous snake spirits known to American Indians and the nagas known in Indo-China. Grosvenor makes it clear that the presence of so many snake cults is no coincidence, that they are linked to an ancient race of serpent people and that behind it is a universal cult—or at least a cult which set the pattern for those to come—dedicated to an entity that he names as Father of Serpents.The Eldritch Relics are given a similar treatment, such as Aladdin’s Lamp, which unlike the late addition to the Arabian Nights tells, was discovered in Iram of the Pillars and does not contain a genie. Instead, greatly enhances—almost automatically—the user’s ability to summon a Flying Polyp! Woe betide any daring Globetrotter who decides to give it a rub in case of three wishes… One or two of the items here are not new, such as Liao, which when injected grants the user the capacity to understand the mathematics of traveling through time if not the means, plus items such as the Fungi Brain Cylinder and the Gnoph-Keh Horn Dagger. Or rather, they are not necessarily new to Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying, but new to Leagues of Cthulhu. Which still leaves a lot which is new to both.The trend of the mix of the new to Leagues of Cthulhu, but not new to Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying continues with the gazetteer. Thus as it guides us around the five main continents—and beyond, it takes us to such well-known places as the original Dunwich, Kingsport, Ponape, and Roanoke Colony, along with innumerable lesser-known locales. All are quite lengthy descriptions, especially the counties of Somerset and Cumbria in the United Kingdom, which is no surprise that they have been previously explored in the supplements Avalon – The County of Somerset and Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria and thus in more detail. The principality of Wales receives some attention too, whether it is the dark history of Anglesey—also known as Yns Dywyll or the ‘Dark isle’, the sparse are of the Cambrian Mountains identified as the ‘Desert of Wales’, or St. Brides Bay with its sea-caves with tunnels which are said to run deep under the sea, bulbous-eyed, wattle-necked inhabitants, and the ancient, inscribed menhir that it is said the locals dance and cavort around. What this highlights is that Call of Cthullhu—or at least Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying—deserves its own supplement devoted to Wales. This section is a good start though. Further, all of these locations are accompanied by an adventure seed that the Game Master can develop.Perhaps the longest chapter in Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil is devoted to ‘Gods, Monsters, and Cultists’, a collection of new creatures and entities of the Mythos, such as the Beast of K’n-Yan and Courtier of Azathoth, alongside the old like the Serpent Man and the Tcho-Tcho, all joined by the Giant Albino Penguin. However, these are minor additions in the face of the nineteen cults described in the book, all of them accompanied with write-ups of two NPCs, one a typical NPC cultist, one a named member. For example, the Order of the Fisher-God is a quasi-Christian cult which began as a secret society on the Society Islands before adopting Christian beliefs, whose practice of child sacrifice led it to be driven from the islands and forced to adapt in distant lands. Members seek ascent to a higher plane, which includes transformation to forms better suited to life under the sea, and so their cultists preach those parts of the Bible involving the sea. Thus, the sample NPC, Pastor Andrew, is a popular figure and preacher along the docks. Also included is a discussion of Scaninavian cults as they relate to Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and Shub-Niggaurath. Here perhaps Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil may diverge from how some Keepers view the Mythos, whether they necessarily equate certain entities of the Mythos with real world gods—Azathoth as Odin for example, or even Nyarlathotep as Loki (although actually, that would not be wholly inappropriate). Of course, such an interpretation is up to the Keeper to include or ignore, and it is only one of multiple cults presented in the supplement. Other cults include a new take upon the Thuggee—complete with an entertaining nod to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the aforementioned Templars, and The Universal Hive, a bee cult with some decidedly fungal infestations… Rounding out the chapter are descriptions of various notables from Lovecraft’s stories, many of them, like John Raymond Legrasse, appearing in earlier incarnations than their appearances later in the fiction. All useful should the Game Master want them in her Leagues of Cthulhu set in the 1890s.In addition, boxes throughout Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil add further detail and flavour. This includes trapped tomes and self-activating spells, the exact meaning of Nephren-Ka’s name, the nature of genies in the Mythos—Flying Polyps or Fungi from Yuggoth?, and Sherlock Holmes and the Mythos. This provides some of Holmes’ cases which might be developed into Mythos mysteries, rather than suggesting how the great detective might become involved in confronting the Mythos.Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil sort of ends at this point, yet there is more in the volume. ‘The Realms of Morpheus: The Dreamlands’ starts the numbering of the chapters again and presents a four-chapter exploration of the Dreamlands for Leagues of Cthulhu. As well as suggesting the stories which the Game Master should read as inspiration, it provides new Globetrotter options, details the means of entering the realm of sleep, and gives a gazetteer that covers the places, peoples, and monsters of the Dreamlands. It includes the Dreamlands Lore skill, the Adept Dreamer Talent and the Dreamlands Persona Talent—the latter enabling a player to create a second character specific to the Dreamlands, and Leagues such as the Feline Club whose members might just follow the cats into the Dreamlands and the Morpheus Club, whose members learn to shape dreams. Archetypes like the Addicted Artist, Friend to Cats, and Seeker of Justice provide ready-to-play Globetrotters (or NPCs if necessary), whilst the gazetteer takes the reader from the entryway that is the Cavern of Flame and the magnificent port of Celephaïs to the Plateau of Leng and the port of Dylath-Leen with its thin basalt towers and berths to the much feared, black-sailed galleys whose crews are never seen. Gods include Bast and Nodens, the creatures Ghasts, Ghouls, and Gugs, and of course, Zoogs, and the NPCs, Kuranes, mysterious king of Celephaïs, and both Nasht and Kaman-Thah, guardians of the Cavern of Flame. ‘The Realms of Morpheus: The Dreamlands’ does feel out of place in Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil. Not just the fact of the separate numbering, but really an abrupt and unexpected switch in subject matter. This is not to say that the material is neither good nor informative—it is. More so at the time of publication when there is limited information available for the Dreamlands for Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying, whether for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition or other roleplaying games. So then it may perhaps be seen as an unexpected bonus, but still, at almost a third of the length of the Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil, ‘The Realms of Morpheus: The Dreamlands’ does feel as if it should have been a Leagues of Cthulhu: The Dreamlands supplement of its very own (perhaps with the addition of an adventure or two).Physically, Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil is well written and presented, although there are few illustrations to break up the text, so it is fairly dense. It does lack an index—for both parts—and so that density is not ameliorated.Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil contains a huge amount of lore and ideas, along with cults and monsters and items of the even weirder science found in Leagues of Cthulhu, adventure seeds, NPCs, and more. It could be argued that this one volume is the equivalent of both The Keeper’s Companion vol. 1 and The Keeper’s Companion vol. 2, such is the richness of its content. Even discounting ‘The Realms of Morpheus: The Dreamlands’—which is a bonus, Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil is a cornucopia of Cthulhoid content, containing a wealth of material for Leagues of Cthulhu that will provide the Game Master of any roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror with support and ideas until almost the stars come right...