All posts by Aaron Marks

Gaming for 15 years and writing about it for nearly ten, I've always had a strong desire to find different and interesting things in the hobby. You can follow me on Twitter at @LevelOneWonk, and read my more personal ramblings at 563rdattempt.wordpress.com.

Kickstarter Wonk: July, 2020

Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! As we enter into July, the world shows no sign of getting less interesting…and I mean that in the proverbial curse sort of way. Still, though, there are Kickstarters being launched and games being funded! Like before, we’ll take a look at a reduced list of Kickstarter campaigns, and hopefully add some valuable flavor to the discussion. Remember that with everything going in the world, often creators need the support to continue creating, so if you have the means, look for ways to help the creators that enrich your life, whether it’s through Kickstarter, itch.io, DriveThruRPG, Patreon, or one of the other platforms out there.

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Level One Wonk: Advancement

How much of a meme is RPG advancement? It’s so much of a meme that it’s right there in my pseudonym. Levels, experience points, and the various versions of same filtered through the ‘TSR don’t sue me’ lens have been considered inseparable from the notion of a tabletop RPG pretty much since D&D sold actual copies. The notion of awarding experience points (or XP) has become so ingrained in the concept of an RPG that tack-on advancement mechanics are *the* thing added to video games to give them “RPG elements”. The reason why this is the borrowed element is fairly clear: experience points have always been and continue to be an elegant mechanic to turn a game into a Skinner Box, to get us to keep pushing the lever in modern video games with perhaps repetitive mechanics. So why do they continue to be a mainstay of tabletop RPGs, where there should be more going on than just watching numbers go up? Well, read on.

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Secrets of the Crucible Review

In 2018, 25 years after the debut of Magic: The Gathering, Fantasy Flight Games released Keyforge, a game from Magic designer Richard Garfield. Keyforge is a hybrid between a trading card game like Magic and a living card game like Netrunner, which has no trading aspect and includes all the cards needed to play. Keyforge is sold in complete, playable decks, so the card trading and acquisition (and significant financial outlay) aspects are reduced, though not eliminated. In 2020, Fantasy Flight decided the Keyforge setting was strong enough to be the basis for the next setting book for the Genesys RPG. And in June of 2020, my copy of that book, Secrets of the Crucible, showed up on my doorstep. Time to take a look.

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Kickstarter Wonk: June, 2020

Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! We are technically a week late, yes, but these are not normal times. While I do want to keep the focus here on new and upcoming games, the fact is that we’re in a time of upheaval, a time to throw some weight behind forces that have been working for justice and equality in one form or another for decades. Now, the tabletop roleplaying community is neither at the forefront of this nor has really been all that great at the equality and diversity thing over the years, truth be told. In spite of that, there are many people in our community coming together to support both those who are protesting right now as well as those victimized by the pervasive racism we see every day. To keep this slightly gaming relevant, I’d encourage all of you to check out the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality on itch.io, and know all proceeds are split between the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Community Bail Fund.

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Degenesis: Rebirth Review

Let’s say you want an original game. D&D is played out, Star Wars requires dealing with Star Wars fans, and Cyberpunk seems like 1989 cosplay. You’re tired of all these tropes, you say, you want something built from the ground up to be new and strange. Let’s say that this game exists. It’s free, even, and the free PDF is filled with gorgeous art. The entire book is gorgeous because the publisher is a design studio first, and happens to be an exclusive partner with Riot Games. It’s even a second edition, with rules revamped to improve speed of play. This sounds perfect, you think. What’s the catch? Well, there are 720 pages to read and since it is wildly original, you need to read all of it. Welcome to Degenesis: Rebirth.

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System Hack: Cyberpunk Chimera Conclusion

In March of 2019, I began a project with a simple premise. After having played Cyberpunk 2020 for 15 years, I wanted to create a game that took everything I loved about the system and recast it into a game designed for me and how I run games. Now, 14 months later, I’m happy to say that the first stage of this project is complete, and another set of System Hack articles is coming to a close.

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Teenagers From Outer Space Review

Comedy RPGs are a tough nut to crack. There are broadly two challenges to writing funny role-playing games, and even the best ones have only overcome one of these two. The first challenge is to create humor from situations and premises that remain relevant. Paranoia is one of the most successful games at doing this, and that’s because ultimately the humor is about RPGs themselves and violating in-game expectations. The second challenge is to create a game that remains funny after the first session. While there’s no formula to solving this challenge yet, leaning on structures from other long-running comedy media is certainly a viable strategy. Teenagers From Outer Space is a comedy game from the mind of Mike Pondsmith, best known as the designer of Cyberpunk. Using tropes from comedy anime, he created a game that is light, smart, and self-aware about how it’s going to be played. Unfortunately, this game is 23 years old (33 years old if you count the first edition) and feels that way, which can lead to some awkward reading in a game about teen romance. Teenagers From Outer Space was given away for free as part of R. Talsorian’s response to the current pandemic, so now is as good a time as ever to take a look.

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Kickstarter Wonk: May, 2020

Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk! The world is still a deeply weird place this month, and Kickstarter is still being affected. With the economic uncertainty that comes along with a global pandemic, it makes sense that fewer people have the resources to either pull off a Kickstarter campaign or pledge one at this time. Still, there are creators out there putting in work, and producing some good stuff. If you have the means, check this shorter list of campaigns out. Since four campaigns does not an article make, I’ve also gathered up my thoughts about being a third-party D&D creator, community content programs, and why you should be careful pursuing either.

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Eclipse Phase In-Depth: Mid-Game Critique

Reading a game and playing a game are two different experiences, which both teach you different things about the game text, how the rules work, and indeed whether the game is something you enjoy. When it comes to traditionally-styled RPGs, the big hardcovers with lots of art and glossy pages, the reading experience is placed often on equal footing with the play experience. Sometimes the reading experience ends up being better. Eclipse Phase is not quite like that. While Eclipse Phase is a game that draws readers in with a great setting, evocative art, and a fair dose of in-line fiction, the mechanics definitely hold their own, though the game has benefited greatly from revision.

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System Hack: Cyberpunk Chimera Cities

Cyberpunk lives and dies in the city. The vision and aesthetic that we take for granted as Cyberpunk, especially when considering Cyberpunk in the context of games, is urban, replete with neon, skyscrapers, and bustling crowds of people. Cyberpunk RPGs have leaned into the assumption of an urban setting for some time now, with Night City from Cyberpunk 2020 arguably being one of the best examples in terms of character and development. When approaching the need for a city for the Cyberpunk Chimera, I opted to take a somewhat different path forward. By writing rules for the creation of a city sandbox, my hope is that any group can find a city that sets the tone for their campaign while also making prep easier for the GM.

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