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.

Shadow of the Beanstalk Review

The day has come, and the second supplement for Fantasy Flight Games’ Genesys RPG is out! Shadow of the Beanstalk covers the Android setting, specifically focusing on New Angeles, the Beanstalk space elevator, and the Heinlein lunar colony. As an Android splatbook, the book works perfectly, giving a starting point for running games in the Android setting and tons of adversaries, locations, factions, and gear to flesh it out. If you look at the foreword, though, and at the Settings section of Genesys Core, it’s clear that this book is supposed to expand the Genesys toolkit to enable a wide range of science fiction settings. With three Star Wars games and the Worlds of Android book already in print, what does Shadow of the Beanstalk really provide to the Genesys ecosystem? Let’s take a look, chapter by chapter.

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Kickstarter Wonk: February, 2019

This February is an intense month for Kickstarter Wonk, with tons and tons of content. First up, February is the month of Zine Quest! Zine Quest is a Kickstarter event supporting RPG zines, small publications that have had an outsized impact on RPG history. For the event, there are 35 different zine projects (as of this writing at least, the number keeps going up), and pretty much all of them are worth looking at. Cyberpunk zines, PbtA zines, a Torchbearer zine…I could go on. Check out all the projects here!

In addition to 35 zines, there were nearly 20 different RPG projects I checked out. Some don’t fit my criteria, but are still worth checking out, like the third edition of Interface Zero. Others…the less said about them the better. Overall, though, it was tough narrowing this list down to ten, as there was a lot of quality stuff out there.

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Technoir Review

Cyberpunk drew deeply from the well of hard-boiled fiction, often called noir after the genre’s commanding presence in film noir of the 40s and 50s. William Gibson was directly inspired by Raymond Chandler, wearing this influence on his sleeve in the original “Sprawl” trilogy of Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive. These influences didn’t quite trickle down into the original Cyberpunk roleplaying games, though, with Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun more inspired by the techie bombast of authors like Walter Jon Williams and John Shirley, and their big guns, big hovercraft, and “fight the power” plotlines. There is a game out there designed for playing hard-boiled Cyberpunk stories, though. Technoir was originally released in 2011 after being funded on Kickstarter in June of that year. Though the game was released, the Kickstarter went fallow, leaving stretch goals undelivered and the game mostly unsupported. As of the beginning of 2019, though, this has changed. Justin Alexander, best known for his site The Alexandrian has, through Dream Machine Productions, brought Technoir back from the dead. The game is once again in print, and the undelivered stretch goal “Morenoir” has been completed and is now available. With all this activity, now is a perfect time to take a deep dive into this interesting narrative ruleset.

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The Yellow King Review

When we typically think of supernatural horror and someone mentions a Mythos, they are almost always referring to HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, and all the assorted otherworldly monsters and non-Euclidean geometry that goes along with that. Fortunately, Lovecraft wasn’t the only author trying his hand at the weird and horrifying. Robert Chambers wrote a sequence of four stories, collected in a book entitled The King in Yellow. Taking place in two settings, contemporary (1895) Paris and an imagined future America, the stories of The King in Yellow center around a strange symbol, the Yellow Sign, a mysterious figure, the King in Yellow, and a written play with strange effects, also named The King in Yellow. Chambers’ stories are considered hallmarks of occult fiction, and even Lovecraft himself borrowed from Chambers’ work. As such, it only made sense that someone would give them an RPG treatment, much like the one bestowed upon Call of Cthulhu. Robin D. Laws wrote The Yellow King for Pelgrane Press using the GUMSHOE system, but gave special attention to Chambers’ style of mind-bending horror, and extended his worldbuilding a little bit. The Yellow King has not two but four unique settings included with the game, and each one has a slightly unique version of the game, tailored to the conflicts and conceits of the setting. What’s more, the game is set up to play a sprawling arc of weird fiction across all four.

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Strongholds and Followers Review

The Fifth Edition of Dungeons and Dragons represented a return to form in many ways over the Fourth, and the merits of that from a rules perspective can be debated. What is not debatable, though, is that the closed-off approach to third-party material which Wizards of the Coast used in response to the d20 debacle of the 2000s went too far, and the return of the Open Gaming License for Fifth Edition is a good thing. Coming out of 2018, the largest tabletop RPG Kickstarter in terms of money raised was one of these third-party products, a supplement called Strongholds and Followers. Strongholds and Followers is the brainchild of Matt Colville, a designer with over two decades of experience in both the tabletop and digital realms. Strongholds and Followers is exactly what it says on the tin: rules for creating Strongholds and having Followers in your Fifth Edition D&D game. Colville’s rules are detailed and comprehensive, but the book harbors no illusions that, when implemented, the expansions from Strongholds and Followers will completely alter the power level of your game. There’s also more coming from Colville, a fact which can’t help but make its way into the book’s presentation and design.

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Kickstarter Wonk: January, 2019

Happy New Year! Kickstarter is as quiet as it can be in January, not only because of designers taking much-needed holiday time but also because many try to get their Kickstarters ready before Christmas to capitalize on the season. As such, there weren’t many campaigns live in any tabletop games category, let alone the somewhat restrictive box of original RPG. As such, I have an abbreviated list of eight this month, and several of these games don’t fit into the traditional criteria for Kickstarter Wonk. We do have one reprint and one play aid, but all eight of these campaigns are really neat and worth looking into.

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The Level One Wonk Holiday Special: 2018

Ho ho ho, holy hell that’s a lot of views! As we enter into the twilight of 2018 and as all of you are home with your families, it’s time once again to reflect on what the year has brought us. My year on the home front has been a difficult one (for reasons I need not get into here), but what we’ve been doing at Cannibal Halfling Gaming has been a continual bright spot for me no matter what else was going on.

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Adventure Log: Dungeons and Dragons, Part 10

Jethro saw her for the first time. In a clearing of the thickets that had occupied their dreams for so many weeks, stood a woman adorned in a cloak of feathers, astride a white horse.

“You are all getting closer. Eventually the time will come when you can decide to open the door.” Jethro shouted questions, but before he could get a reply, he awoke. While losing time was getting to the point of normalcy, Jethro had been gone for almost a week and a half, and the party was now far away from Montral’s Mine, sitting in a supply closet in the underground research complexes of the Wizard’s College of Glebhavern.

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Meet the Campaign: Straight Paranoia

Paranoia, West End Games’s RPG of comic dystopia, has become a meme in gaming circles, one of the few games with as strong a play identity as D&D itself. Shouts of ‘treason’ and ludicrous extensions of the color-based ranking system help evoke the feel of a Paranoia session, which tends to consist of different uses of the Alpha Complex backdrop as excuses for players to find more and more inventive ways to accuse each other of treason and/or being a communist or mutant, and then kill each other. Neither West End Games nor Mongoose Publishing, the publishers of the most recent edition of Paranoia, ever did anything to dissuade this. That said, the game has been designed to allow for something a tad more sophisticated.

It should go without saying that all text from this point hence is of ULTRAVIOLET clearance! Do not read, under pain of disintegration (or if you want hidden parts of the game to stay a surprise)!

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