Category Archives: Editorial

Reviews, opinions, and whatever else strikes our fancy!

The Elusive Shift Review

Jon Peterson has done it again, my friends. The author of Playing at the World, arguably the most comprehensive history of the creation of Dungeons and Dragons on the market, has released another book. While Playing at the World covered anything and everything that led up to the first publication of Dungeons and Dragons in 1974, Peterson’s second book, The Elusive Shift, focuses narrowly on the time it took for ‘role-playing game’ to become an established medium. The story of how D&D and indeed the tabletop RPG itself matured in this roughly five year period is fascinating, eye-opening, and ends up asking a lot of questions about the state of the hobby some forty years later.

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Four Years of Cannibal Halflings

Cannibal Halfling Gaming has been working to Bring Games and Gamers Together for four years, and this last one has been by far the strangest. Despite everything, while it has definitely been a year of two steps back, I think in the ways that mattered we managed to take three steps forward. Let’s take a look at what we’ve done, and have a think about where we’re going next.

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Vaesen Review

For reasons not entirely clear to me, I have never reviewed a Year Zero game. The Year Zero engine is Fria Ligan’s centerpiece, and maybe even their house system as well. Named for Mutant: Year Zero, the game system powers designs as widely varied as the Alien RPG and Tales from the Loop. And now Free League Publishing’s Vaesen. Vaesen is new territory for the Year Zero engine and indeed mainstream tabletop RPGs in general, being a game of fairy tale horror and specifically Scandinavian fairy tale horror at that. While fairy tale horror may not seem like the most natural fit for a system better known for maps, bases, and colored dice, Vaesen ends up being a pretty wonderful take on the system, its juxtaposed strengths working well provided that you buy into the high concept.

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Factions 1 Review – Organizations in Genesys from Keith Kappel

Let’s be blunt: things have been very quiet on the Genesys front lately. The switch from Fantasy Flight Games to EDGE Studio has not exactly hit the ground running, although in fairness a lot of that can be attributed to disruption caused by the pandemic. Still,  that means that aside from promises and rumors – good money says Twilight Imperium will be the next IP tapped for the system – there’s been nothing coming out . . . except what’s found in the Genesys Foundry.

Player characters often find themselves interacting with much larger groups, organizations, and factions – but how does a character actually gain prestige and support in such groups? Sure, many games can handle that narratively, but what if you want something crunchier? Out of the Foundry and the mind of FFG-veteran Keith Ryan Kappel comes Factions 1, a Faction Talent Supplement for Genesys!

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Electric Bastionland Review

Role-playing games are rooted in rulesets which provide a simulation to help determine what happens in-game. In most traditional games, this simulation is, in broad strokes at least, based on physics; the game provides rules intended to reflect a world which players find consistent and believable. In many recent indie games, the simulation is based on narrative; the rules define what happens next based on what makes the story either adhere to a given narrative schema or, in some cases, just more interesting. What about the middle ground, though? What would it look like if a game were simulating tropes rather than physics, but of a setting rather than a storyline? It would look an awful lot like Electric Bastionland.

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The Trouble With Discourse

For as long as tabletop RPGs have existed, people have wanted to talk about them. At the very very beginning we had amateur press associations (APAs), zines, and good old mailing lists; today we have forums, Discord, and Twitter. As our media have changed, so too has how we talk about games and what ends up coming to the forefront of any day’s given discussion. Discussing RPGs is very much like discussing anything else, except the number of people involved is often much smaller. Combine this with the excessive bandwidth of our platforms, and…well, let’s say I could cause way more of an uproar on Twitter with the right mention than anyone ever could have writing an inflammatory letter to Dragon Magazine.

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Cyberpunk Red Review

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.

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The Trouble with Canon

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.

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Cortex Prime Review

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.

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Agon Review

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.

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