Meet the Party: Legend of the Five Rings: Mahō Hunters

A Purifier of the Crab, dedicated to hunting down Mahō-tsukai and forcing others to give his clan the respect they are due. A Shrine Keeper of the Phoenix, a perfectionist who strives to both prove herself to her clan and show them what true loyalty means. A Wardmaster of the Scorpion tasked with keeping dark artifacts safe  who scoffs at the curse of the Yogo. An Investigator of the Dragon, unwilling to remain isolated in the mountains, looking for justice and a home in the wider Empire. A Smuggler of the Tortoise, tracking illicit goods of a particularly dire nature, longing for the respect of others. Meet the Party returns to a now-finished land where honor is stronger than steel, with ready-to-play characters for Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying from Fantasy Flight Games!

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Table Fiction: High Impact Heroics, the Backstory: Gilbert “CryptoHertz” Philips

Have you been reading the High Impact Heroics Adventure Log? Wonder what got the team together, or why their secret base is under a game store? Well, this story won’t actually answer either of those questions. However, you can get an in-depth look into how Gilbert Philips became CryptoHertz, the Beacon and erstwhile team leader. Confused? So am I, and I wrote the thing! The High Impact Heroics Prologue should give you some background, or if you’re already familiar you can jog your memory with the most recent edition!

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The Witcher RPG Review

Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series was thrust into the spotlight through the work of CD Projekt Red, a Polish game development studio now best known for its games based on the fantasy series. The Witcher RPG, new this year, was the result of an intriguing IP flowchart that connects it to some of the biggest hype in both the video gaming and tabletop gaming space. R. Talsorian Games, publisher of The Witcher RPG, is the company founded by Mike Pondsmith, designer of Cyberpunk 2020. When CD Projekt Red optioned Cyberpunk 2020 for a video game (Cyberpunk 2077), another Talsorian developer, Mike’s son Cody, built out a proposal for a tabletop version of The Witcher and presented it to CD Projekt Red leadership. They accepted, and the resulting game is the one I read and review for you here.

The Witcher RPG is exciting not only because it brings a popular fantasy property onto the gaming table, but also because it is the first original publication out of R. Talsorian in 13 years. As a result, The Witcher RPG is important both because it tells us if the design chops in R. Talsorian are as vital as they were in the 80s and 90s, and it tells us what future games are going to look like. While The Witcher RPG is using the venerable Fuzion ruleset which traces its lineage all the way back to Cyberpunk 2020 itself, a number of updates and design considerations make it clear that even if R. Talsorian and the Pondsmiths like their old-school, they know how to make a game flow and play well.

Overview

The Witcher RPG is a lore-heavy, setting-heavy book on gaming in the world of The Witcher. Fortunately for everyone involved, this doesn’t make it a game about Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher from the books and games, nor does this make it a game where everyone plays Witchers. A number of classes are provided which give a fair breadth of different play styles, including mages and men-at-arms as well as merchants and craftsmen. Witchers are a playable option, but as the NPC stat cards toward the beginning of the book show, not all Witchers are as potent as Geralt. Every race represented in the games and novels are present here, and as befits the culture implied therein, there is a nice expansion of Cyberpunk’s reputation mechanic to include the generally racist attitudes towards elves, dwarves, and witchers.

After race and class there is a lifepath system which at a high level is similar to the one in Cyberpunk. The options have been beefed up quite a bit, though, and also include a lot of neat upbringing detail appropriate to The Continent. If you can’t decide whether your merchant is from Novigrad or Velen, that is baked into the lifepath quite nicely.

Mechanically, the system will be familiar to anyone who’s played Cyberpunk or Mekton: all rolls are a d10 plus stat plus skill. There are still nine stats like in Cyberpunk, though they’ve been changed a bit (Movement Allowance, Attractiveness, Cool, and Tech are gone, replaced by Dexterity, Speed, Will, and Craft). The skill list, in contrast, has contracted dramatically from the Cyberpunk days, which is a good thing. The most significant way that skills have changed is a revision to special abilities. In Cyberpunk 2020, special abilities were skills that only certain classes could get, and generally conferred the equivalent of unique class features. That is still true in The Witcher, but special abilities are no longer mere skills. Now, each class has a special ability which, when advanced, opens up additional abilities which either enhance the core special ability or are new abilities unto themselves. This ends up making the classes feel more like D&D classes in terms of how they’re written, but because of how much disparity there is compared to D&D, I think it works nicely here.

Magic is a broadly spell-based system, with a number of differing types of magical abilities. Mages can cast spells, Witchers can use the relatively simple Signs, and craftsmen can create magical potions. The alchemy system is interesting, using a number of Essences which can be extracted from different items. The crafting system broadly is built up the same way, using a number of ingredients which can be purchased or looted.

Combat is once again lifted from Cyberpunk, with a couple key differences. First, the wound track is gone, replaced with a more basic HP system (though with both wounds and stun damage). Second, a critical wound system akin to that from Warhammer has been added; when you exceed your target’s defense roll by more than 7, you deal a critical wound which confers an extra effect and is more difficult to heal. Beyond those two details, the mechanics will be familiar: opposed rolls for melee, target numbers for ranged, roll a d10. Even SP for armor is still there, and the infamous armor layering rules are still in effect.

The Witcher RPG is clearly an update of an existing system, though the update does many things well. There are also admittedly some missteps where either something really needed to be changed and wasn’t, or one of the new changes didn’t land quite right.

What I liked

To start, mechanically this game kept all the elements of the old system that I really liked. The combat is simple but wicked, lifepath is neat and evocative, and the classes are broad and not all combat-based. Certain design flaws in the Interlock/Fuzion system were addressed directly: advancement is significantly improved from Cyberpunk, both in terms of pace and options. Giving out improvement points isn’t particularly interesting, but that’s true for most games which aren’t called Burning Wheel. Additionally, the change in special abilities not only works better for making classes feel distinct but also moves away from some of the more broken special abilities in Cyberpunk. The addition of a social combat mechanic was needed and deserved. As one final mechanic worth recognition, the two-tiered difficulty system in the bestiary and complementary encounter building advice are excellent. The system is significantly less granular than challenge rating in D&D (nine categories rather than over twenty) but provides much more information thanks to the supporting material.

Beyond the rules, the lore in this book is excellent. Lots of information about the world, characters that people will likely know, and great adventure hooks which are much broader than what is brought to the table by Geralt and his friends. The GM’s section is very good, directly addressing topics like in-game romance and adversarial GMing in a blunt but helpful way. There’s also a section which has an overview of every important decision point in the Witcher video games, something which is invaluable if you or your group have played the games and have their own ‘headcanon’ to account for.

What I didn’t like

The book is not without its hiccups, both in design and formatting. The biggest issue, present throughout the book, is clarity. Every once in a while, this is from the writing…the new special ability tracks, which I greatly enjoy rules-wise, don’t have clear framing mechanics. I had to read the section four different times to figure out what it costs to advance these abilities, and I’m still unsure. More frequently, clarity issues are from implied omissions…things that the writer thought were obvious that the reader will not find obvious. An example of this is the bestiary. Each flavor section of the bestiary has a knowledge check DC in the title. This is a really neat flourish, but…two sentences at the beginning just saying why those DCs are there would have really helped. I did get it from context, but not immediately…and I’ve been gaming for nearly two decades. This also happened with item tables…many column headings needed more explanation as to what they were. The worst offenders, clarity-wise, are the sidebars. Do not put rules in the sidebars which aren’t mentioned elsewhere…just don’t do it. Finding that a rule I needed to know was stuck in a sidebar was profoundly annoying, because if I hadn’t been reading more carefully I would have missed it. And this occurred frequently throughout the book…after reading a section and feeling like I had missed something, I would find it in a sidebar. Leave the sidebars for flavor, suggestions, and tips and tricks…not core rules.

I generally had fewer problems with the actual rules of the game than with the layout, but there were a couple issues I saw. The crafting rules, which by and large are excellent, contain two issues. First, the price of items in the crafting rules and the price of the same item in the earlier inventory section were different. I don’t know if this was an error or if there’s a reason for it, but either way, clarity is needed. Second, and this is more philosophical, the crafting ingredients are lifted from the game very closely. Tracking half a dozen ingredients in a video game is trivial. In a tabletop game…less so. When you consider that every monster is supposed to drop something, it looks like engaging with the crafting system is going to require a lot of bookkeeping. It’s likely that having an ingredient-based treasure system solves more problems than it creates when it comes to power creep, so I will reserve judgment on how playable the crafting system is until I play it. As a final note, while I understand why The Witcher (and Fuzion in general, I believe) abandoned Cyberpunk’s wound track mechanic, I wish they didn’t. Characters are still pretty squishy with their static HP pools, but the stun/shock saves added to the danger of combat in a palpable way. If there was a way to keep that granularity without requiring five or six dice rolls to resolve each hit, I’m sure they would have done it.


The Witcher RPG is both a solid dark fantasy title and a return to form for R. Talsorian after a long hiatus. Grimmer than D&D but likely a bit more magical and fanciful than WFRP, The Witcher should attract fans of the genre, fans of the video games, and fans of R. Talsorian’s earlier work. If you’re looking to run from the Nilfgaardian army or just want to play fantasy Cyberpunk, The Witcher RPG should be where you look.

The Witcher RPG is available from DriveThruRPG. This review was written based on the print version of the game, and doesn’t take into account any errata from more recent PDF iterations.

Meet the Party: Star Trek Adventures

A Captain who finds profit in intangible ways and sees everyone as a potential asset.. A helmsman who pilots a Miranda-class like an attack fighter, and who learned all the wrong lessons from human engineers. An Operations Manager determined to make her mark and willing to shred the manual to do so. A Security Chief with a mostly-repaired chip on her shoulder trying to adjust to peace. A Ship Counselor who helps his patients face their issues head on – sometimes with a well-placed strike of the head ridges. We’re boldly going where no Meet the Party has gone before, with the ready-to-play crew of the U.S.S. Crimea (along with the ship herself) for Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius Entertainment!

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Adventure Log: The Flight of the Albatross Part 4

Now, safely back onboard the Albatross after the adventure with the Chimax, the crew was able to interrogate Krrsh. It didn’t take too much prompting to get him to spill the whole story: he had been the Captain of one of the ships that attacked Clarke, onboard an S-class Scout ship. He wasn’t part of the job on Toprol, so he had decided to stray off to make a bit of side money. On his trip he had stumbled across a merchant vessel, one that he thought would have been an easy kill. As it turned out, he was mistaken in his assumption: the trader held a set of concealed guns, and when Krrsh had ordered the ship to cut thrust and prepare for boarding, the merchant ship and opened up a broadside at almost point blank range. Krrsh had managed to get the ship out of the firefight and held it together long enough to make a jump to the next rendezvous point. However, the other two captains, Ferrik Redthane and Miria Silverhand were none to happy at his misadventure, which had rendered the Scout ship useless for pirating and as a punishment had marooned him on the ancient station as a warning to the others.

 

However, their act of ruthless pragmatism was now a windfall for the Albatross. While they had one of the pirates now, Krrsh was proving to be a most useful ally in their hunt. With a bit of prompting, the party was able to get the whole story: The reason for the attacks is due to Ferrik somehow running afoul of his former boss “Admiral Darokyn”, one of the heavy hitters on the pirate planet Theev, and as a result the pirate has been exiled from the planet, forbidden to touch down on one the one safe haven for pirates in the subsector. Ferrik was desperately looking to make big, flashy scores in order to convince another pirate captain that he was worth taking on and protecting from Darokyn. While he himself, couldn’t set foot on the planet, he would work through his second in command Miria to negotiate on his behalf. All too eager for payback, and with few options, Krrsh volunteered to join the crew, especially when it dawned on him that the party was trying to track down Ferrik. Krrsh could provide the up to date callsigns and passcodes to get through the pirate patrols along Theev, and was willing to be a guide around the capital of Blanksand City, and he had a few ideas as to who Miria might have gone to.

 

The group prepared to make their way along their preplanned path, firing up their jump drive and continuing to the secret refueling location they had been travelling to. However, when their reality bubble shifted back into real space, they were greeted to a distress beacon with Imperial Scout Service codes. Onboard, Kardoth Denive, retired Imperial Scout, struggled to try to keep everything on the ship together. Something had badly damaged the ship and left him drifting…the strange thing was that he couldn’t remember quite what, likely from a hit to the head during the blasts before jumping to safety leading to some Easy Amnesia. His scanners told him that a ship had just jumped into the sector, a…a Harrier-class? Did anybody still make those beauties? It was his lucky day that had brought the Albatross to his doorstep. The crew of the Albatross was happy to pick up Kardoth and see what the problem was. After a quick review of the S-clas, it was quickly written off as a loss. Kardoth offered what could be salvaged in terms of parts as a buy in to the venture, and was pleasantly surprised, if not a little suspicious, at the salary and “performance based incentives”. His buy in came with a very nice set of quality components, and Festus felt that he could likely use them to continue fixing up the ship, perhaps to complete some of the functions that Princess Rao had classified as “aesthetically pleasing but non-essential”.

 

With their stocks and fuel replenished, the Albatross made one more jump, arriving in Theev. They were quickly hailed by planetary control, and gave the pseudonym The White Witch. They were directed to a docking berth in Blacksand City, and were greeted by a smiling woman, dressed all in black with a neat bun of red hair. She cordially invited the group to the city, and took a moment to pointedly stress for the newcomers to follow the rules. Krrsh hushedly filled the party in: this was a Widow, one of those in the city charged with ensuring that the pirates followed the Laws of the Lords. In the starport, or the Upper City, or any building marked by red flags, the Law of Lords decree that is no murder, no weapons fire, and nothing that offends the calm and tranquility of the city is permitted. Those who do quickly find themselves with a slit throat in a back alley. Other than that, they were free to go about the city, so long as they watched their backs.

 

The crew had a few options to try to find Miria. They decided against seeing Admiral Darokyn, the former employer, and instead decided to go after the two names that Krssh provided as Miria’s hopeful partners: Petyr Vallis and Hroal Irontooth. The party tried Petyr Vallis first, traveling to his tower in the lower city, saying that they wanted “to show their respects” as newcomers. The guards gave them curious looks, but let them inside to meet their boos. Vallis was happy to meet with them, offering a feral grin from a scarred face. He seemed absolutely overjoyed that the newcomers had come to honor him as their first stop, and that “there weren’t any more cats making the city their litterbox”. It didn’t take much to realize a few things: one, Vallis hated the Aslan with a fiery passion, and that he was, at best, a borderline psychopath. With the pleasantries out of the way, the crew got down to business. They wanted to see if the man knew about where Miria was. Vallis claimed that he did, that Miria had holed up in the lower part of the city and was using street urchins to act as messengers so she wouldn’t be. Of course, that hadn’t stopped him from tailing them back to her hideout. The issue was, why would he give the Travellers that information for nothing in return? The pirate wanted 50,000 credits, an amount the Travellers didn’t have after spending the gains from their first heist…or a favor. Vallis went on to describe that he was looking for a way to wage war on the Aslan, and he was always looking for assistance. What he wanted was to be able to share access to any ports that the group considered their own. A few looks were exchanged, not wanting to give away Drinax, but Festus spoke up, mentioning Asim. A light suddenly caught Vellis’ eyes: Asim was right up against the border of the Aslan Heirate, and close to one of their shipping lanes…one that they Albatross crew had themselves raided. Vallis asked for the communication codes to identify as a friendly agent, and then he would provide the location. If his information didn’t pan out, they would be free to revoke it or change the codes. If it did, and the Albatross reneged on their promise, there would be hell to pay….


 

I want to take a moment to go back around the character creation process for Traveller. The rolls for Attributes and the lifepath generation puts a fairly distinct mark on the game. Overall, I enjoy what it does to the characters that it creates. Life rarely goes exactly the way we want it to, and the lifepath reflects that. There is also ample evidence that raw starting stats aren’t everything. In my first foray into character creation for Traveller, I got a decent stretch of starting Attributes when I did a pure line roll. Most tended to be around average, bounded by minor dips around the mean, but two stood out to me. Bisuke had near perfect stats, nothing below average, and a maxed out strength. She passed the roll to get into Marine academy and graduated with honors…and then promptly failed her first operation in the field and received horrific injuries, leading her to be discharged and requiring almost all of her benefit rolls to pay off a massive medical debt. In contrast, Declin started with below average stats in every category, and I honestly thought he would be a washout, so I put him into a career where I thought there was a small chance he would survive long enough to get some skills: Artist. Declan then promptly passed advancement roll after advancement roll, boosting his social stats far past what I expected and accruing a truly impressive number of skills and advancements.

 

That said, the process has one area that can infuriate people, and it’s not a bug, it’s a design choice: attempting to pick one certain path. This session was meant to be an introduction for a group of new players (Kardoth is one who I believe will be sticking around). One player in particular had been a bit apprehensive about the setting, and I had tried to kindle interest in mentioning that an angle he could take for his character could fall along the lines of the Honor Harrington franchise, one that I knew he enjoyed. However, when he attempted to make a character along those lines, the dice gods were just not having it. He tried to make six characters, none of whom managed to get the kind of career that he was looking to play and the process left him frustrated and resulted in him bowing out from the session.

 

This part of the game simply won’t appeal to some people. Personally, I think that there would be plenty of back doors to move up in careers that rather suit themselves to the environment of Drinax. To bring up Kardoth, I think he is a great example of a player making the best of some funky rolls. Kardoth had taken a stab at being a thief, washed out, became a drifter (and was stabbed by a fellow hobo), and then incongruously found himself drafted into the scout service. When disaster struck (stuck adrift in space with no memory of what happened), the player decided it was fitting that Kardoth would fall back on old instincts and be pragmatic about what would keep himself alive, even if it meant bartering with parts that weren’t his to spend and allying with people he has strong suspicions are outlaws. But if you really want to build a military vet, or a noble envoy, or a genius mechanic, and you absolutely MUST BE THAT THING…well, then maybe Traveller is not for you.

Adventure Log: Dungeons and Dragons, Part 8

The elementals lay dead after a brutal fight that claimed the lives of half a dozen kobolds. Interpreter Ogro and Commander Snaks had regrouped, seeing who was left in their troop. But the fight was over. Ander and Elliot went over to the forge that the elementals were working, cooling but still hot with elemental fire. Not much of a smith, Ander plunged his sword directly into the hottest part of the fire…and had no sword left to speak of. Elliot, more accomplished at the forge and amused at his comrade’s fumbling, used the cooling embers to reforge the blade, more carefully this time. The new blade held an edge just as well as the old, and seemed to have a mild twinge of elemental magic.

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The Noob GM: My First Original Scenario

It was time to take the training wheels off. My previous attempts at GMing have, up to this point, been drawn from modules and published campaigns, or had been drawn up using notes provided to me when I stepped in to guest GM. Now, there is nothing wrong with running from a module, and it is required for something like D&D’s Adventurers League. However, with an upcoming gaming marathon on the horizon (As Aaron, Seamus and were running the planned scenarios, it was dubbed CHGCon) I found myself preparing to run a session of Blades in the Dark, something I had been looking to do for a while. The problem, however, was that the first time everyone would be able to sit at the same table would be gametime. There wouldn’t be time to weave together the backstories of characters without making them myself. I would have zero idea of team dynamic, or what kind of gang they would be, and that would prevent them from having access to team benefits. While I could have made characters in advance, I didn’t want to take away from the character creation process for them, especially with a system with fairly streamlined and boilerplate mechanics for character creation.
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Kickstarter Wonk: October, 2018

Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk for October! This month, as the leaves turn and the days grow shorter, many designers, from the US and Italy and Sweden and other far-off places, are all ready to bring you autumn light in the form of new RPGs! Like most months, there were far too many games to cover all sufficiently, so here is my top ten; nine games and one collection of indie gaming material that (in my opinion) is too good to pass up. Whether you’re looking for Autumn leaves in The Forest Hymn and Picnic or something spooky in Things from the Flood, this crop is a perfect harvest for October.

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Adventure Log: Masks: High Impact Heroics Pt. 4

High above the Earth in a slingshot orbit that was taking him from Tokyo back to Halcyon City, Sabot received a message from CryptoHertz: Spitfire taken by Plague Hack, need to rally the team. Muttering a few curses in Japanese about the repairs that had mandated his absence in the first place, Sabot redlined the thrusters of his newly-acquired ‘kirbycraft’. In a back alley in Halcyon City itself, Morgan was once again cleaning house at an illegal card game, the best way they’d found to support themselves while living on the street. Things might have turned ugly, the thugs around the table glaring at Morgan, but they all scampered when The Lawman sauntered out of the shadows. “Deal me in?” Continue reading Adventure Log: Masks: High Impact Heroics Pt. 4

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Fourth Edition Review

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise- grim and gritty is fun. Since 1986, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has built off of the setting of the Warhammer Fantasy Battle miniatures game to offer adventures and untimely deaths in the Old World, a “Europe with the serial numbers filed off” beset by both feudal politicking and chaos beasts from beyond. Now, in 2018, the Fourth Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP) has recently hit stores, ready to introduce a new generation of gamers to “A Grim World of Perilous Adventure”. But like so many grim and perilous things, WFRP has had a difficult quest to get to this point. Before we dive into the game, let’s talk about WFRP’s 32 year history and why Fourth Edition is so pivotal.

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