Star Wars Crawl Creators

One of the things I’ve really been enjoying about running a load of Star Wars RPG games recently is that I’ve been making intro crawls for each of the episodes and putting them on my Youtube channel, if you don’t know what an intro crawl is then it’s the bit at the start of a Star Wars film where the text scrolls up the screen and gives you some background on the film, normally being followed by a space battle or scene of a planet or similar.

Still not sure what I mean? Well have no fear you can the intro crawls from the first six Star Wars movies by clicking here. Continue reading

RPG Review: Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook

In my latest RPG Review video I look at the OSR product, the Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook:

RPG Review: Force and Destiny RPG by Fantasy Flight Games

swf02_main

  • Product Name: Star Wars Force and Destiny Roleplaying Game
  • Author: Multiple
  • Genre: Space-opera
  • Size of the book: Approx 450 pages
  • Central game mechanic: Dice designed for the game with special symbols

 

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RPG Review – Crestfallen RPG

I review the excellent bronze age RPG Crestfallen written by Dan Hiscutt.

RPG review – 13th Age

Review of the OGL game 13th Age published by Pelgrane Press for my YouTube channel Red Dice Diaries.

Iron heroes review

Iron Heroes is by no means a new book, it was written by Mike Mearls, published by Fiery Dragon and was in written in a similar vein to Monte Cooks Arcana Unearthed and later Arcana Evolved alternate players handbook; recently (as detailed in my last blog post) i’ve been considering creating a nordic, survivalist setting that, as it slowly evolves in my mind, has become a low magic, humanocentric fantasy setting with a bit of a swords & sorcery flavour to it. I’ve had a copy of Iron Heroes sat around on my bookshelf for some time and, whilst I remember enjoying reading the book when I first got it, i’ve never really used it to run a game or had a setting that it suited; part of the point of this review is that i’ll be looking at the suitability of it for my proposed campaign idea in addition to all the normal review-style stuff in this entry.

What is Iron Heroes?
Iron Heroes describes itself as “action fantasy” and claims that the rules inside are designed to promote that style of play rather than the standard D&D rules; the introduction explains that the one of the main design ideas of Iron Heroes are that “options and choices make a fun game”, this is something that I very much agree with and i’m very in favour of giving the players a degree of narrative control and power within the game, making an RPG a more collaborative experience all round IMO.
Chapter One : Abilities
This is pretty much the standard chapter on ability scores that most D&D and Pathfinder players will be familiar with, the opening peragraph is interesting that it discusses the normal range of abilities for your everyday average person and quite clearly places the heroes of an Iron Heroes game in the ‘above average’ bracket. The rest of the chapter is pretty much standard fare with a list of the standard abilities (STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS and CHA), how scores translate into modifiers and what sort of things the abilities can be used for; the end of the chapter covers numerous methods of generating these scores for players (and everyday people), it is noticable that Iron Heroes default assumption is that players will use a points-buy method of determining their scores, all abilities start at 10 and it costs 1 point to buy a point of an ability up to 15, 2 points to buy up an ability between 16-17 and 4 points beyond that, players can also designate a score as a weakness, the score drops to 8 (and may not be bought up further at character gen) and the player gains 2 bonus points to spend on other abilities. Player characters start with 24 points by default and may not buy higher than 18 in any ability at character gen (although the GM can alter the amount of points if he prefers a grittier or lower powered campaign), important NPCs also receive 24 attribute pointsd whereas average people start with 8 in each of their ability scores and have 16 points to improve them.
Whilst I didn’t find this chapter particularly interesting to read this isn’t really a criticism of it, generally I don’t find such chapters particularly rivetting in any D20 book, but they’re a necessity; this chapter does what it sets out to do with a couple of interesting tweaks and largely solid writing.
Chapter Two : Traits
This is a chapter that I found extremely interesting; the core Iron Heroes book largely assumes a humanocentric setting where most of your PCs will be human (ala Conan, etc), in the absence of any different races or racial abilities Iron Heroes has introduced the concept of Traits, small elements that either relate to your background, your mental and emotional makeup or your physical prowess. At character generation each PC selects two of the Traits from the large list provided in the book (including such gems as Arctic Born, Child of Faith, City Rat, Bewitching, Bloodthirsty and numeroud other); players are only allowed to select a maximum of one background Trait but may select any combination of the others (up to their limit of 2).
The Traits grant bonuses in certain situations or additional abilities for the player characters, within each Trait there are a couple of different options that can be taken.
For example: The Arctic Born Trait gives a +4 against cold effects, a +2 survival check and can trait heavy snow as normal, rather than difficult, terrain; also the player can select Bears Toughness (allowing them to heal/recover from nonlethal damage more quickly), Ice Water Veins (bonus to resist mind effects) or Wanderer at the Edge of Creation (bonus to balance, climb and survival).
I really love this idea of distinguishing characters via Traits, I know that Iron Heroes probably wasn’t the first to do it and lots of books have done it since under a variety of guises; but I like the idea of tying the various background traits into different parts of a campaign world or different cultures, the variety of different Traits available in this chapter is great.
Chapter Three : Character Classes
Arguably the main difference between Iron Heroes and the core D20 books (D&D3.5/Pathfinder) is that the classes listed in the game focus less around professions or life-paths taken on by the players and more around their preferred methods of combat; this definitely slants the game more towards a hack and slash or swords and sorcery style of gaming (which is no bad thing if that’s the campaign flavour you’re going for and is one of the stated aims of the book). Instead of using Armour Class (or AC) to make players harder to hit, Iron Heroes provides players with a defense bonus and has armour provide damage reduction, absorbing the harm of a blow rather than making the blow less likely to land in the first place; this is a largely a matter of personal preference and I don’t see it making a massive difference to the game, although I do think the idea of battered armour constantly ringing with the blows of enemy weapons fits the swords and sorcery feel quite well.
This chapter also covers gaining skill points, feats and ability adjustments as characters go up in level, with a brief mention of multi-classing and how that work, again all pretty standard for a D20 game; although Iron Heroes does introduce the concept of Feat Mastery where you can gain progression in different categories to gain access to more powerful Feats.
Most of the classes within the game also allow you to build up tokens for undertaking certain actions, these tokens are then spent on triggering class abilities; I found this a very compelling idea and certainly a lot more interesting than the standard “you may use this ability x times a day” ruling from a lot of D20 games, effectively the lure of token gain should encourage players to act in ways appropriate to their class and by doing so they gain the power to activate their abilities more often, I think this is a great idea. Players are limited to a number of tokens equal to 10 + their class level.
The book contains the following classes:

  • Archer: Master of long ranged combat who gains tokens for aiming at opponents and then unleashing them in a deadly storm of projectiles.
  • Armiger: Heavily armoured warriors who wear down their foes, they gain a token for every 10hp of damage their armour soaks.
  • Berserker: Violent, furious warriors who gain tokens when either they of their friends are injured, allowing them to unleash their rage.
  • Executioner: Silent assassins who call on their abilities to strike at an opponents weak points.
  • Harrier: Scouts and rangers who rely on speed and striking from surprise to take down their foes.
  • Hunter: Tough, independent tacticians who use their knowledge of terrain to help them overcome their enemies.
  • Man-at-Arms: Master of many weapons who can tailor their abilities each day to confront the challenges that they face.
  • Thief: Golden tongued tricksters who strike from the shadows and then fade away to be lost in the crowd.
  • Weapon Master: Individuals who hone their abilities with a single weapon to almost supernatural levels, they gain tokens from attacking the same opponent with their signature weapon.
  • Arcanist: Users of strange and arcane powers who channel mana through themselves to create otherworldly effects.

Most of the classes are quite interesting, some have token pools and others don’t and, since they are based on a particular style of combat, I can see how those classes not suitable for a particular campaign could be tweaked or removed without it having such a noticable effect on party makeup as say, removing clerics from a D&D3.5 campaign; that said the inclusion of the Arcanist class seems a little strange and more a concession to the fact that players of D&D3.5 and the like expect to be able to have a magic wielding class, however, the class itself is relatively well written and provides an interesting alternate spell point system that could be used instead of the standard D20 Vancian magic system (not sure if i’ll allow it for PCs in my own game but it’s nice to have the option). One thing I particularly like about this chapter is that each class write-up has a few suggestions at the end for how that class might fit in to various campaign models.
Chapter Four : Skills and Ability Checks
Iron heroes does away with the idea of cross-class skills by allowing anyone to buy ranks in different skills, however, your class gives you access to a group of skills, and each point spent on a skill group buys you a level in all the skills covered by that group, making it far more cost effective to purchase skills related to your class; this is a slightly different way to the manner in which Pathfinder would later handle this (in Pathfinder you buy levels in any skill but receive an additional bonus on your check when using class skills) but seems no less valid.
I do like the way this chapter provides details on what specific difficulty rolls can accomplish, it also provides details on how players can impose penalties on their own rolls or voluntarily increase the DC of a challenge in order to gain specific additional benefits should they pass/succeed at the roll; there follows a fairly exhaustive list of modifiers, synergy bonuses and sample task difficulties which is fairly comprehensive although I feel it may lead to a little more page turning than I generally like in game, and I think that i’d probably create some sort of quick reference sheet when and if I was to use Iron Heroes. The section on skill challenges is well written and provides clear guidelines as to what benefits you can gain by voluntarily accepting a penalty or increasing the DC of a skill roll; these include a +2 bonus to attacks in the round, a +2 bonus to damage in the round, a bonus to a future skill check equal to the penalty and others.
Chapter Five : Feats
Again this is fairly well-trod ground for anyone familiar with D20 games, although Iron Heroes splits Feats into two types, General (those that have few pre-requisites or that can be mastered by anyone) and Mastery Feats (ones that require advanced training); basically Mastery Feats allow you to select a Feat multiple times as you progress in levels to unlock higher abilities that are all loosely thematically related, some mastery Feats also characters to accumulate token pools (in the same way as certain classes) in order to power their abilities.
Chapter Six : Roleplaying Iron Heroes
Given how much detail the system gives to combat I was a little worried that the actual RPing elements of the game were going to be overlooked, however this chapter contains some very useful advice and suggestions for ensuring that the RP isn’t lost amongst all of the combat options provided by the system; I particularly like how the segments stresses players should think about how the characteristics of their characters would be shown or acted on in-game, this is something i’ve often seen, where characters have great and detailed backgrounds but not much of it actually gets shown in play (and i’m sure i’ve been guilty of this too), so it’s nice to see this addressed in the book.
This chapter also does a fairly good job of painting in the default assumptions for an Iron Heroes campaign and it was memories of reading this chapter that have prompted me to re-examine it for possible use in my (as yet unnamed) nordic post-Ragnarok style campaign; the default assumption is that there are no spell-casting clerics and that the gods never directly intercede in human affairs (with most religious leaders maintaining their position via political power), civilisation is small and scattered with a lot of the world being unknown or given over to wilderness and barbarism, humankind is the only player race available in the default setting (non-humans are distrusted and alien) and magic is rare. A capsule sample setting called ‘The Swordlands’ is also provided that could, with some effort, be worked up into a full setting.
Chapter Seven : Equipment
A pretty standard list of equipment with stats for the game, the only real deviation from the norm that jumped out was that Iron Heroes adds additional descriptors to certain equipment that links in with certain feats and powers possessed by characters in the game.
Chapter Eight : Combat
This follows the standard D20 game mould with a few exceptions, characters do not die automatically at -10 hit points but make a roll each round to see if they stabilise or die, characters also possess a number of reserve points that can be used at appropriate moments to speed the healing of damage; without any clerical healing in the game this is no doubt a necessity to prevent player parties having to stop and rest after every other combat. Unfortunately the chapter also seems to get caught up in examining grid-style combat in almost excrutiating detail, this may be useful for people who use miniatures or find the tactical minis element of comabt interesting, however, I generally prefer to rely on description and dramatic pacing in combat rather than minis and so a large part of this section wouldn’t be of particular use to me.
Chapter Nine : Adventuring
This chapter includes the rules for the game which aren’t covered by Feats, Skills or Combat, such as breaking objects, movement and encumberance; the material is well written and clearly laid out.
Chapter Ten : Magic
Covers the magic system of the game, it proposes that casters draw on a form of energy called mana that they attempt to bend to cause certain effects; in order to cast a spell an arcanist gathers mana shapes it into an effect based on what schools of magic they have mastery over (abjuration, divination, necromancy, etc) and then channels the spell (making the roll to cast it); each school of magic contains numerous methods (spells) that will look familiar to anyone who has played a D20 game before, however certain aspects of the method are based on how much mana a spellcaster puts into it, a spellcaster can spend over their maximum mana pool but they must make saving throws or suffer unpleasant side-effects.
I think this idea is very interesting (although i’m not sure if it fits in with the low-magic feel of the rest of the rules) but I can see how with an indecisive player or a GM it may cause the game to bog down due a debate about how much mana to spend optimising a spell; given this i’m not entirely sure whether it is any great improvement over the standard Vancian magic, I think that anyone desiring a spell point style system may be better off just adapting the various psionic rules available for D&D3.5/Pathfinder.
Appendix
The appendix contains some useful information about importing material from other D20 games into Iron Heroes campaigns and vice-versa.
Conclusion
Overall Iron Heroes is a bit of a mixed bag, there are a number of things that I like and dislike about the game; i’m a big fan of token based systems that allow players to marshal their resources and decide how important passing a certain test is to them, I know they aren’t to everyone’s tastes but I personally quite like such systems and think that the classes in Iron Kingdoms do them well, i’m not sure about the idea of keeping seperate pools for each type of ability and think I would probably just have PCs put their gained tokens in a single pool.
The book is extremely well laid out with a nice uncluttered background (meaning that PDF versions are quick to load, unlike some more recent RP PDFs that seem to take an absolute age to load and are riddled with unnecessary graphics), the art in the book is nice and all feels appropriate to the style of setting and in general the writing style in concise and to the point. I do feel that in some sections of the book it goes into fair too much detail, devoting countless pages to skill examples and such like, but this is not a major downside for me. As discussed above i’m not sure about the magic system, I believe that it could slow down a game.
I think for my campaign that i’d probably take the classes (although NOT the arcanist), traits, skills, feats and such like from Iron Kingdoms but (assuming I decide to allow player character magic classes) would probably take the psionic classes from Psionics Unleashed by Dreamscarred Press and come up with a background of Vancian magic having existing when the gods were alive but that their downfall bought the end of both traditionally arcane and divine magic, leading to psionic style magic being discovered by the survivors of the god-pocalypse.

Things I learnt making an RPG youtube video

Inspired by several members of the Youtube RPG brigade and various youtube footage that I had watched about tabletop RPGs I decided to have a go at making a couple of videos myself and uploading them to my youtube account (the results can be seen here for anyone interested). The videos that I made were fairly spur of the moment affairs using just the built in webcam on my laptop, without any real planning (or experience of handling video footage); although the videos didn’t turn out too badly in my opinion and most people were fairly kind and constructive in their feedback there were a few things that became obvious that I thought i’d pass on in this blog to anyone else who is thinking of making Youtube RPG videos:

  • Have some notes ready to prevent stumbling over words or rambling.
  • Make sure that any props or the like are ready to go or (preferably) have them edited in afterwards to save fumbling around for a book (or whatever) during the video.
  • Do a quick rehearsal or run through of what you plan to say first, this helps enormously when you come to record.
  • Have a play around with some of the free video manipulation software available on the internet (i’ve been doing this myself and plan to incorporate what i’ve learnt into my future videos).
  • Talk clearly and concisely, trying to minimise long pauses.
Overall I quite enjoyed the experience of making the videos and definitely plan to make some more in the future (I would recommend anyone at least try it), i’ve gained a few subscribers and have had some encouraging comments; hopefully by following the advice above i’ll be able to make some slightly more published videos.
If you plan to make some videos and are perhaps looking for some more advice, you could do worse than joining the YouTube RPG Brigade G+ community.

Psi-Punk review

Recently I saw a post on Google+ from Jacob Wood on the Pen & Paper Bloggers community asking whether anyone would be interested in reviewing a cyberpunk FUDGE RPG; I contacted Jacob and expressed interest and was , as a fan of dark/dystopian settings, soon eagerly flipping through a PDF copy of the Psi-Punk game.
Review

Front Cover and Blurb
Front Cover

The front cover is very visually striking and yet not over complicated, showing two people battling infront of a matrix-esque background of 1s and 0s whilst a blurred face overlooks the scene; on the back of the book is a fairly standard blurb that sums up very well what type of game Psi-Punk is, it reminded me of some of the similar material on the various editions of Shadowrun (hardly surprising since the two games both cover a similar mix of futuristic and more fantastic elements).
Layout
The PDF seemed a trifle slow to load new pages on the version I looked at, although whether this is due to the way that the PDF is put together or my slightly aging computer I can’t say, it didn’t greatly impact my enjoyment of the book though. Using a twin column scheme, the book has a nice, clear layout making it very easy on the eye without some of the odd/barely readable heading fonts that I have seen used in some other RP products recently.
Contents

Game Background
Right, now to the actual meat of the book, the contents; the book begins with the usual introduction of the concept of roleplaying games, a brief run down of what is contained in the other chapters and an explanation of the FUDGE system used by the game; I have a certain fondness for FUDGE given that it was one of the precursors to the FATE system that I currently favour and was the first roleplaying games that introduced me to the idea of using words to represent difficulty levels rather than solely numbers.
This chapter is followed with a brief history chapter, detailing the events that lead to the game world differing from our own; there will be nothing particularly surprising in this chapter to anyone who has playing cyberpunk or occult style games. The game takes place in 2096, 80 years after a psychic called Nathan Hunter escaped from a covert North Dakota research facility and revealed the existence of psychics to the world; psychics were created as a result of military experimentation begun by the Nazis, continued by the Soviets and later by the Americans in the wake of WWII. Although initially outraged by the indignaties heaped on the psychic by the military, the public who once called for their release now find themselves marginalised by those members of society possessing strange powers that they cannot possibly compete with; into this arena steps the company MagiCorp who deal in items and technologies designed to even the playing field. I enjoyed reading this chapter, although there is nothing startlingly original in it and there are some well worn tropes used (nazi experimentation for one example), they were handled well and were written up in a straight-forward way without any unnecessarily flowery language; the brief history tells you what you need to know in the space of a few pages.
There follows a more lengthy description of the world history, seeming to take a fairly Americocentric view of the fture world (although there are smaller sections hinting at activities outside of the National American Union (a future state covering America, Canada and Mexico); this section is a little more stodgy and difficult to digest in my opinion, but persevering with it does give some interesting ideas for games set either during the fictional history or for events influenced by it. The history as a whole is fairly normal cyberpunk fare with the additions of psychics (known as “mentals” within the setting) and technology that blurs the line between tech and magic, huge megacorporations dominate the future society hoarding wealth and resources, keeping them away from the common man; there is a very interesting write-up of how the inevitable world food shortage was dealt with as populations rise, leading to real food becoming a prize commodity and most people subsisting on a nanotech produced Soylent Green styled substance called “nano-food” (thankfully without the main Soylent Green ingredient).
Psi-Punk paints a word where the current social/economic gulf has become vast indeed, the rich and corporate minded are able to afford the luxury of real food and elevate themselves using magical technology from MagiCorp whereas the multitudinous poor are forced to live in squalor often turning to crime as the only real means of supporting themselves; this has given rise to a powerful criminal underclass of gangs, mobsters and ghost cartels (high organised data-thieves) who are occasionally cracked down upon by a corrupt police system. The description of the class divide and the criminal elements of society is very well written and interesting, the only slight flaw IMO is that a number of concepts are introduced before they are explained (for example the concept of ‘Wraith Butchers’, people who murder astral travellers are introduced before any real mention of astral travel is made), however this is a minor niggle at most. The last part of this section focusses on ‘Street Runners’, independent mercenaries for hire, the game suggests that the default party of players would be made up of Street Runners.
Character Creation
The character creation section begins with an interesting discussion of Archetypes, with each one listed receiving a brief write-up and suggestions of how they fit in society; a very interesting diversion from the norm in these sort of games is in some of the titles used to refer to the archetypes (for example: Brenner, the german word for ‘burner’ is used to refer to pyrokinetics), this helps give the game a slightly different feel, hinting at the game slang and language usage without being too intrusive or obvious.
Characters in the system are determined by three primary attributes (body, mind and persona), each of which is then divided into two seperate sub-attributes (ie. strength & dexterity for body); primary attributes are determined by totalling the modifiers of the secondary atttributes – this reminds me somewhat of one of the suggestions for handling attributes in the old AD&D Skills & Powers book; the primary attributes seem a bit unnecessary to me and the book itself even says “On their own, attributes are rarely checked against,” I would argue that the game could have potentially been streamlined a little by removing these primary attributes, although TBH since they are rarely used and are derived from the secondaries it’s not really a massive problem and should have little impact on the actual enjoyment of the game.
The character creation chapter is quite dense with numerous modifiers being used, build points to determine skills and luck point dice being modified by skills; IMO this may prove quite daunting for players or GMs not used to a lot of number crunching and figuring out modifiers, although anyone used to some of the more crunchy systems like D&D3.5 or Pathfinder shouldn’t have a great deal of trouble adapting to it, personally I prefer a slightly more narrative approach, but I can appreciate that there are RPers who enjoy the “crunch” of game rules a lot more than myself.
After this there is a discussion of Gifts and Faults; this should be familiar territory to anyone who plays systems that allow merits and flaws (World of Darkness or Savage Worlds for instance) and allows players to tweak their characters a little using a provided list of merits (that cost build points) and flaws (that gain a person additional build points) whilst personally not a fan of flaws that allow you to get extra points to spend on your character (since I think it can be open to abuse) this part of the section is very clear and well written, I am sure that any sensible GM running the game (ie. one who doesn’t allow overuse/abuse of the Faults) will find this is a useful addition to their game. The book itself very pointedly mentions several times that the GM should be careful not to allow abuse of the Faults system.
Luck points allow the players to either accomplish an unopposed action automatically and with panache, reroll a skill check, reduce the level of injury taken in a combat, to cause a favourable coincidence (with GM approval) or (if they roll a high enough success) to cause a truly extraordinary/astonishing result. I’m a big fan of anything that allows the players to also have a degree of narrative control within a game and take control of their players destinies so I think that Luck points are a welcome addition to the game.
At the end of the chapter there is a very useful character questionnaire that provide 30 questions a player may want to consider when making their character and a summary of the creation process.
Equipment
Chapter three is basically a big list of equipment, vehicles and weaponry for you to tool your character up with, it is fairly comprehensive without being ludicrously detailed and provides additional interest by introducing Gifts, characteristics that can be applied to weapons in order to customise them. There is also a discussion of how magic (items that emulate psionic powers) can be created and how much they cost.
Playing the Game
Psi-Punk uses the standard 4 fudge/fate dice roll (4DF) common in FUDGE, FATE and the various systems that use similar rulesets; a player takes their 4DF (each dice containing two sides marked ‘+’, two sides marked ‘-‘ and two that are blank) roll thems and adds the resulting modifier to their skill or attribute, the final score can be references on the games Trait Ladder to determine whether or not that have succeeded.
In Psi-Punk the Trait Ladder looks like this:
Astonishing +7
Extraordinary +6
Phenomenal +5
Wonderful +4
Superb +3
Great +2
Good +1
Fair 0
Mediocre -1
Poor -2
Abysmal -3
So if you had a skill of Good (+1) and rolled -, +, +, blank then your final score would be Great (+2). I’m a great fan of this system and think that it has an elegant simplicity to it as well as the visual element of the Trait Ladder.
Details of how wealth works in the game (basically an addition to the Trait Ladder) and how to run a combat follow, these sections are well written (if a little dry) and fairly clear.
Psionics and Magic
Chapter five of the books contains a more detailed look at the psionic and magic systems present in the game; in game terms psionics are the ability to control and manipulate your surroundings using nothing more than the power of your mind, whilst magic is a term referring to electronic devices that manipulate energy to produce similar effects to psionics. Psionics are only available at character generation although magic devices can be acquired/purchased in game; psionic powers are linked into attributes and are rolled using 4DF like any other ability, on a successful roll they can generate a number of effets as discussed in the book; a large list of psionic powers and magic devices follows this, there aren’t really any surprises in here but the lists are comprehensive and would certainly allow most players to create the psionic or magic user of their dreams.
Hacking
Always a potentially troublesome element I find in cyberpunk or sci-fi games, chapter six deals with hacking; i’ve always seen this (along with space combat) as a potential problem area in a game because it can result in the exclusion of players not involved with the main action and, although it is possible for a decent GM to jump between two groups, it does result in a somewhat choppier/more disjointed gaming experience. Psi-Punk seems to reduce haxcking to a series of Computer Use and Technical skill rolls which can be modified by equipment used and research performed before hand; it then diverges into explanations of how to psionically hack computer systems and how to manipulate people via social engineering. Psi-jacking functions very similarly to normal hacking, however social engineering switches the various technical rolls for social based skills as the player character attempts to manipulate the target into doing whatever they want; there is also a lengthy explanation of how to control (“jack”) people using psionics.
Whilst I think some of this section is a bit lengthy, it does do a good job of reducing the various strains of hacking down to a manageable level that could be completed without the rest of the player party being forced to sit on the sidelines during a lengthy hacking session (as has happened with some other similar RP games)- this is to be applauded, although I think the number of rolls required could have been reduced even more.

When Worlds Diverge
The seventh chapter of the book deals with the online world of the Net and the mystical world of the Astral Plane that both exist alongside what we know as our world; the net is omnipresent in the form of Augmented Reality (AR) overlays of the real world, this is a concept that I first encountered in RP during reading one of the more recent versions of Cyberpunk and is a great way of bringing elements of this realm into a game session without excluding people who aren’t playing hackers. Psi-Punk does allow people to project themselves into the Net however it does provide for people bringing along passengers, thus very neatly sidestepping the exclusion problem mentioned above, I think this should be applauded and is IMO a great decision by the authors. The discussions of hwo the Net appears, can be used and the various challenges that a player party might face in this realm are very interesting, with security programs being treated as cutdown versions of characters who can attack or otherwise attempt to disable an invading Ghost (hacker).
The Astral Plane appears to be a mystical alternate realm that suitably calm and focussed people can project their consciousnesses into, mechanically it functions much the same as the Net realm save that the unwary traveller may find themselves assailed by magical creatures rather than intruder counter measure programs. I found the inclusion of an Astral Plane a little odd given that, by and large, magic in the rest of the book has been referred to as machinery.
Game Mastering
For me the star of the book is the Game mastering chapter, that contains some great advice on how to plan and run a game, also containing advice for tweaking or excluding the various rules sub-systems throughout the book; it also provides advice and tips on bringing the players into the creation process of the setting and the various adventures something that, as I said earlier, I am a big fan of. The chapter includes some no-nonsense and useful advice on adjudicating difficulty levels, handling the GMs pot of Luck Points and creating NPCs to challenge the player party.
Sample Adventure Brain.Net
The sample adventure that comes with the main book is an interesting one; it deals with an attempt to recapture lost sensations of the past and the cost that people pay when corporate greed and the need to meet deadlines overwhelms the public good. Brain dot net begins with a fairly standard pub brawl style opening that does have a certain nostalgic feel if you’re an old school roleplayer and I feel the adventure is a good introduction to the world of Psi-Punk drawing on selected elements from its history.
Overall Verdict
If you’re looking for a cyberpunk style game setting that combines the numerous different types of dystopian future settings into one and binds them all together with the FUDGE rules system then you can’t go far wrong with Psi-Punk; the rules may be a bit crunchy and unnecessarily bloated in places but the setting of the game is genuinely quite interesting, containing enough oddities and little flashes of originality to make it worthy of consideration against some of the larger RP games of a similar genre. The writing style of the book is clean and concise in the majority and the art, whilst only black and white, is very appropriate to the setting.
Personally i’m quite likely to take the background of the system and convert it to use with the much simpler FATE or FAE systems from Evil Hat productions which, given they are both based on FUDGE, should be quite easy to do; however for just over £10 you can’t really grumble with the sheer amount of material that is crammed into Psi-Punk.

Psi-Punk is available from RPGnow priced at $19.99:
http://www.rpgnow.com/product/114830/Psi-punk

Outcast 9 – The Cleansing (LRP event)

As a bit of a break from the normal tabletop fare that makes up the majority of this blog I thought that i’d take this post to talk about the recent LRP (Live-action Role Play) event that I attended “Outcast 9 – The Cleansing“; for anyone not aware LRP, or LARP as it is sometimes written, is a style of gaming where, instead of gathering round a tabletop to RP out the various bits of your game, you actually costume yourself and represent that character physically (normally using foam latex weapons sculpted in a realistic fashion that have solid cores but are cushioned enough to prevent injury). I’ve been LARPing since about 2005 on and off (depending on finances, since it’s not a particularly cheap hobby) and mainly attend the Lorien Trust events (a blog of my IC “diary” entries for my last two characters can be found here http://squad-d-lt.blogspot.co.uk/); however a friend of mine started getting on to me about another system called Outcast, which was a smaller system run by Nic Doran and a lot of other people that I knew from the Lorien Trust.
Being quite limited budget-wise I ummed and ahhhed about it for a long time, about whether or not I could justify spending money on more kit and paying for more LRP events; however I was eventually lured into participating both by the enthusiasm that everyone I spoke to who had attending an Outcast event displayed, and how well they treat their crew. Again, to those not familiar with LRP, since the players are physically representing their characters, you also need people to represent the foes and monsters they will face; this ‘monstering’ or ‘crewing’ is normally free or low-cost at most smaller events as a thank you for giving up your time to basically get pummeled on your weekend (in the nicest possible way). Outcast really do seem to look after their crew, operating where you accrue a discount toward the next event you play based on the amount of events you have monstered, with three monster events getting you an event playing completely free; monsters are also catered for and provided with bunks when available (depending on what site is being used).
I attended Outcast event 8 with a few friends monstering and had a great time; being my first experience of a smaller more story-driven system I was initially very surprised by how willing the ref team was to run with story ideas or elaborate on stuff that had been done by the players as a reward for good roleplaying.
Example: At Outcast 8 myself and my friend Pigeon were asked if we would mind playing corpses for a scene, we were the bodies of two deceased knights from the Sol Victus (one of the groups within the game) who had been slain by demons whilst trying to protect the recovered pieces of a puzzle key; after the initial checking of our bodies, etc I was quite surprised when one of the players went to the lengths of laying out our bodies in a repose fashion and saying a prayer over us, even putting one of his weapons with us as a mark of respect. This would have been cool enough, but the refs, as a reward for the players RP and to return his weapon, had the order raise us as Risen (one of the playable races in the game, effectively deceased people given a second (and final chance at life)) who then went to thank the player for his efforts on our behalf. Upon our return to the monster room myself and Pigeon were both told that if we wanted to keep these monster roles then we could do so, needless to say we jumped at the opportunity to play these characters with a bit of background already established.
This was reflected again in Event 9 when I was asked to play a manikin, effectively a golem-like automata created by the Sil, a race of snakemen, to follow their orders and act as combat fodder (basically rock hard combat beasts but with no real motivation beyond following orders was the impression I got of them following my brief). The Sil in Event 9 were being lead/controlled by a number of evil demons who had us out looking for some magical herbs that the players needed to cleanse the land of demonic taint; obviously if we got them first then it was bad times for the players. When the monster group split up, I was ordered to guard the entrance to the glade and do what the snakemen I was with said, the players entered the glade and took the snakemen captive before I could do anything and so I reverted to the original order of guarding the glade.
This lead to an entertaining 15-30 minutes of the players trying to puzzle out what my monster was doing as I remained stationary, pivoting on the spot to face the last person who had moved and only striking if someone came within reach of my polearm; being unable/unwilling to talk (I wasn’t really sure on this on an out of character perspective so I stayed quiet, assuming that I could always have been an early/defective model of manikin) the players couldn’t get anything out of me via conversation. Eventually someone theorised that since the Sil created me I might be programmed to follow their orders and that, since I obviously had no magic, presumably I recognised them by sight; fetching a player snakeman (from a different tribe) the players discovered, after a few minutes, that I would follow orders from the snakeman (although they were a little wary since that meant presumably I would also follow orders from any other snakeman, including the demon tainted Sil).
I spent a good hour or so stationed as an expressionless manikin at the player camp as they tried all manner of mysticism on me, eventually culminating in one of the fey linking his soul to me via a magical ritual, giving him the sole ability to command me; having been well looked after by the players (given drinks and a chair, which was greatly appreciated) I was eventually sent to guard the boats on distance shores, giving me an excuse to return to the monster room and continue helping crew the event. It was a great encounter, good to see the refs run with it, and being asked to bring the kit with me to future events was also rewarding, not sure whether this a potentially secondary character for me if my Solarian dies (again) or just a recurring monster role, i’d be happy with either.

Photograph courtesy of Harland Quarmby.
Outcast is also very much a family system that caters very well for children, those below a certain age are linked to a realm of innocence, dreams and nightmares that contains reflections of things in the real world; this includes monsters, although only those connected to the realm of innocence can repel them. Basically this is a good justification for having monsters (denoted by a blue sash) that can only be affected by children (although the monsters can (mostly) still affect adults), clearly denoting encounters for the younger members of the system whilst also giving the kids a chance to feel like heroes when the adults call on them to help them against the monsters. Obviously there are various levels of appreciation for the rules amongst the very young members of the game, but I was quite surprised by how many of the children fought very safely and, if told how they needed to respond to a certain call or rule, were generally very good at following the instructions.
The rules system in general is very easy to grasp, certainly if you have played Lorien Trust or any other fest based system, I can speak too much for the magic system since I haven’t got into that, although I know there are several distinct types of magic that all work in different ways; all XP and spending is handled online via the game website:
Currently (as of time of writing) the website is unavailable because they take it down and bring a copy with them to each game so that it can be updated, it should be up again soon.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Outcast, event 9 was only my second attempt at wearing any metal armour (my first abortive attempt at Lorien Trust lead to a lot of back pain and swearing), having been kindly donated some shoulder pauldrons and bracers by friends, and I seemed to cope with it a lot better this time, although I will be looking for some more padded clothing to go under it in future (especially since i’m planning on buying a chainmail shirt to go with it). The system is great fun, very story driven and with a friendly player base – i’m booked up to monster event 10, the last event this year and then will do my free play event next year; i’m currently planning to continue the method of monstering three events, playing one, monstering three, playing one since you still accumulate XP for your character whilst monstering and also it helps the system and everyone’s enjoyment by ensuring that they have enough crew.
I highly recommend the system for anyone who wants to try LRP in a (very) reasonably priced, story driven environment with a very friendly player base.

25 Quick and Dirty Map Tutorials

I’ve recently been looking at the 25 Quick & Dirty Map Tutorials Guide Google+ community on the net; the community contains numerous maps created by Michael Tumey and some good tutorials on how to create maps using most modern graphics packages; although the tutorials that I have read so far assume a certain level of technical competence. I like to think that i’m fairly intelligent when it comes to computers but, not having used certainly features in Photoshop before (the package that I have on my computer), I did have to avail myself of Google and some experimentation to get the desired results.

Part of the aim of the community is to drum up interest in the kickstarter for the printed Guide that will be starting at some point in the near future, in addition to providing a forum where people can have discussions, show off their work and ask questions about all things map related. I think that the community fulfils its purpose admirably although it may be a little daunting to anyone not experienced in using a computer graphics package.

Official website for the Guide is here:
http://www.quickanddirtymaptutorials.com/

I’ve posted the two (rough) sample forest maps that I worked on using one of the community’s tutorials below:

Addition 26/06/13 23:45 

I asked Michael Tumey about the lack of specific information related to the most popular graphics packages and was told the following:

“That would be the advantage of having the book, as there will be a chapter on Explanation of Terms where we look at what is the intent of a given task, with corresponding subsections for Photoshop, GIMP, Xara, Inkscape and several other common applications, giving more specific instructions on which tools in those applications needed to perform the same task.”

Given this additional information I will certainly be planning to support the kickstarter and would have no problem recommending the book (even at this early stage) for those interested in map/world creation.