A review is, at the end of the day, an opinion. Good reviewers call upon their experience, their expertise, and their effort to make their reviews relevant and useful, but no matter how well-researched the writing, how polished and considered the perspective, reviews are always subjective. A hallmark of good writing is not to attempt and claim objectivity, but rather to list your biases as comprehensively as you can in an effort to help a reader understand and gain value from your perspective. This is why you all need to know that I’m an in-the-tank seventeen years running serious fan of R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk.
In 2005, while I was still in high school, Cyberpunk v3 landed with a resounding thud. I had discovered Cyberpunk 2020 only a couple years previous and was excited by the notion of a new edition coming out. Like many fans who had been with the game longer, though, I was disappointed, both by the change in thematic direction and also in the game’s editing, game design, and art direction. This review, though, is not about Cyberpunk v3, nor is it about Fuzion, nor is it about Mike Pondsmith’s extensive action figure collection. It’s about the edition of Cyberpunk that, years ago, many fans resigned themselves to never getting. It’s about Cyberpunk Red.
In a world of dazzling magic, airships, and gunpowder, the Empire forged in conquest and slavery stretches sea to sea. But the core of its heart is rotten, and a revolution is brewing in the underbelly of its floating capital. How many rebels does it take to bring the whole House Huffington down? Time to draw some cards, recall some memories, and swash some buckles as we swing into action with Dashing Scoundrels, a “high-heavens, gunpowder and airships world of dazzling magic where players are rebels and pirates undermining a corrupt empire by performing heists and swashbuckling shenanigans,” brought to us by Ilya Bossov and Lagging Dice LLC!
Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! While I wouldn’t say anything is normal, exactly, we almost got a normal-sized crop of RPGs this month! I was able to rustle up nine projects that are worth a look, and nine is very close to ten! You might have scrolled down and counted and seen only eight games. That is true, and it’s because my co-authors are quicker than me! The honorary ninth campaign for this month is Thirsty Sword Lesbians, which Maria already covered in depth. Check out her article, and consider backing the campaign while you can! Beyond that, there’s a stronger flow of high quality campaigns this month, hopefully a sign that the Kickstarter market is going to pick up in the coming months. Check it out!
The Cannibal Halflings wrap up their tour of duty with the Band of Blades! Blood soaks the ground in the forest outside Plainswood – but the Heavy, Sniper, Medic, and what’s left of the Silver Stags squad of the mercenary Legion press on in their assault against the undead (and turned) forces of the Cinder King. When they earn the personal attention of an enemy leader, however, they’ll have to depend on their luck to survive – and they’re not the only members of the Legion at risk.
The most passionate fans of fictional properties are rarely satisfied with consuming them passively. Fanfic, the convention circuit, cosplay, and yes, roleplay are all ways that fans engage with their favorite shows, movies, and books, and it’s no surprise that tabletop RPGs based on fan favorite licenses have become immensely popular. Engaging with these licensed games can pose challenges, though. Every fictional world, be it that of Star Trek, Star Wars, Discworld, or Marvel, has a body of work upon which it’s based; this body of work is referred to as its canon. While the definition of canon dates far back and has roots in Christian theology, canon as we nerds typically refer to it is most directly traced back to Arthur Conan Doyle and the Sherlock Holmes stories. Sherlock Holmes was an immensely popular character and also an early example of a character who was the subject of fan fiction, or fanfic. Sherlock Holmes is also the first example of trouble with canon, as there are Doyle-penned works which are not necessarily considered ‘canon’ Sherlock Holmes stories. Arguing over canon is one of the pillars of nerd discourse, propped up by numerous comic book retcons and bigger events like the recent revision of the Star Wars canon by Disney. To say the least, the arguments don’t necessarily stop when we sit down at the gaming table.
Imagine for a moment that you’re back in May of 2017. Cannibal Halfling is six months old, and I’m still tagging all of my articles “Level One Wonk” because I felt more like a guest writer than a co-founder. I hadn’t started doing regular coverage of Kickstarter campaigns yet, so one week I decided to write an article about one that excited me: Cortex Prime. The campaign was about halfway over when the article was published, and I said some enthusiastic and somewhat hyperbolic things, like how Cortex Prime would be the next big thing after PbtA. What I’m trying to say is that I jinxed it. Cam, I’m so, so sorry.
Joking aside, this week is a special week for all of us who backed the Cortex Prime Kickstarter back in May of 2017: As of yesterday (October 20, 2020), Cortex Prime is done, it’s released, the campaign is actually over. After a number of roadblocks and obstacles, we have books in our hands and the game is actually on sale. And you know what? It was worth it. Like many other backers, I was already familiar with the Cortex system and its potential; in my case it was from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. What Cortex Prime does is take that system and turn it into an immensely powerful toolbox, laying all the switches and dials bare in a way that GMs can actually use.
They’ve found themselves Dead in the Water and having to deal with Friends Like These. They’ve known there’s Trouble Brewing and tracked down the Mask of the Pirate Queen. They’re trying to find balance in the Force and working their way through the Chronicles of the Gatekeeper. Ever looked at a published adventure for Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars Roleplaying and wondered what kind of stories they could tell? Well this crew decided to find out for you, and no matter what cantina you drop into or freighter captain you talk with there’s a decent chance you’ll hear Why You Should Listen to Heroes of the Hydian Way.
Oftentimes in combat within tabletop roleplaying games, the dealing of damage and conservation of health points seems to be all that matters. The concept of getting in your hits and hoping to all hope that it’s more harm than the opponent gets in. It often treats opponents in the game as a roadblock, similar to video games. “You must get past me to receive more story.”
And there’s no harm in that, on the surface at least. A challenge can be enough of a motivation for fun. Strategizing and planning to surpass the foe in front of you so you can get what you want. Video games wouldn’t have made an entire industry and genre on the concept if it didn’t work. But, sometimes you don’t want a compilation of stats and HP. Sometimes you want an enemy you can empathize with. An enemy who has motivations, internal strife/virtues and a personality that makes you feel so many conflicting emotions about them. Above all, that’s it. You want a foe you can feel for. People in real life, no matter how detestable and wretched, are rarely as binary in “100% good or bad”. Like the saying goes: People contain multitudes.
While nearly every RPG can be used to achieve this goal of a complex and nuanced villain, I’ve yet to meet one that incentives it. A game that makes it an imperative of the message within. A game that damn near bakes it into every mechanic.
Until I played this game. When I joined the playtest for this RPG, I had such fun even in it’s beta stage. It was what I had been searching for in a fantasy RPG: a game where it’s not about how big your numbers are or the modifiers on your special sword. But about how your character feels about the world around them and people within.
Fantasy RPGs borrow heavily from myth. The superstructure of character advancement in D&D has always intended to emulate character growth from humble beginnings to nearly godlike heroism. Where D&D takes this broad structure and uses it for its own unique version of fantasy, Agon goes back to the source. Agon is an RPG of mythic heroes, seeking to emulate epic poems of Ancient Greek heroes and their exploits. Where a game like D&D guides the action and the narrative in broad strokes, Agon uses a more structured set of procedures to play through the trials faced by the characters. Designers John Harper and Sean Nittner seek to provide a specific structure by which players address challenges, see the consequences, and grow in relation to their world. The result is something evocative and easy to play, but which may frustrate players used to the more open-ended approach of D&D and other older, more traditional RPGs.
A long, long time ago, a man named Gary Gygax created D&D 1st edition. And while there were MANY problematic aspects of it that continue to proliferate and cling onto D&D and Wizards of the Coast at large, I am here today to talk about a particular part of the 1st Edition that always stuck with me since I became aware of its existence.
The Girdle of Femininity/Masculinity is a curse item. As what was seen by many trans players back in this time as the closest thing to acknowledgement of them in the “World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game” , the sheer fact alone that it is classified as a curse item should show you what the game back in those days thought of people like me.