The journal of a lone lighthouse keeper, their compatriots having vanished as a storm rages all around the island. The Dwarves of the Renidar Mountain Ranges, with all of their unique deities and cultural foibles. A project manager with little hope of success, filling out Status Reports and desperately trying to keep their job. As we continue to close in on the end of the year we also continue to check out the Ind of the Year . . . Bundle of twenty-five different indie games from around the world!
Welcome to the Level One Wonk Holiday Special for 2020! Traditionally the last post of the year is when I look back on the year past and ahead to the future, thinking about what’s happened in the world and what I’m going to write next. Needless to say, looking back means reflecting on some solid, unprecedented weirdness.
No two ways about it, 2020 has been a hell of a year. The pandemic created an environment the likes of which none of us have seen in our lifetimes, and that will likely define the generation that is growing up while it happens. And that meant many of us, once we were able to manage the emergent pressures on our health and well-being, needed a retreat, a release. And for readers of this site, that retreat was often going to be tabletop RPGs.Continue reading The Level One Wonk Holiday Special: 2020
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.
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!
Welcome back to System Hack! In the past, System Hack has been about new games and experiences, either building out mechanics for a generic system (Genesys Mecha) or using an existing game as inspiration to create something new (Cyberpunk Chimera). This new System Hack series, In Practice, is about looking at common hacks and modifications that can be used when your group brings a new system to your table. For this we’ll be using the new system that my group is bringing to our table: Cyberpunk Red.Continue reading System Hack In Practice: Cyberpunk Red House Rules
Immortal beings returning to a home long left behind, discovering what’s remained and what’s changed. Treason and death on a long march to safety. A curse, a tree, and the pages of a journal documenting the whole self-inflicted tragedy. Extreme tactical joy-giving (’tis the season, after all). It’s time to cap off 2020 by taking a look at a wide variety of indie tabletop roleplaying games – each of which you could enjoy on their own, sure, but until the end of the year you can get 25 games in the Ind of the Year Bundle!
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.Continue reading Electric Bastionland Review
Now, we all love a superhero fight. Seeing two monumental figures with fluttering capes dealing blow for blow in titanic might. Blasts of magic and ethereal energy shockwave from the fingertips of villainous casters. The climactic fights between good and evil. But a superhero story cannot survive on acts of superhuman power alone. They cannot go year after year for this decades-spanning industry if it was just Superman beating up Metallo every week. No, what keeps us coming back is Superman’s humanity. The moments where he talks with those of non-high flying identity. How his relationship with Lois Lane develops. We read the comics for the ‘man’ in Superman.
A friend once told me that my greatest strength as a writer was finding the mundane in the fantastical. Well, it is less a strength and more where my passion lies. I adore the scenes in comics of costume-glad crusaders sitting down for some pizza. I don’t care as much for the end to Dr. Destruction’s world-ending threat, as much as how the hero putting themself in such a stressful situation will lead to them developing as a person. It’s about the people who put on the mask for me. Not the mask itself. Today, I have brought a game on to discuss that exemplifies such a thing. A game that makes itself known as character first, superheroes second.
Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk for December! This has been…it’s been a year, no arguments there. We’ve had a pandemic, we’ve had an election, we’ve had so much more…and I feel like I’m still working off a sleep debt from March. No matter! The game designers are hard at work, and just in time for the holiday season we have a complete slate of Kickstarters! Ten Kickstarters, emerging from the quagmire known as 2020. Have designers been hard at work, reading my columns and heeding my advice? Well…no. Even though there have been some rookie mistakes made, there are still ten solid games listed here, ten games that deserve to get made! Will gamers heed my call? Will the designers read my summaries before it’s too late? Will the world ever forgive Brian Liberge for turning Seamus on to D&D 4th Edition? Only time will tell. For now, though, check out the games below!
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.Continue reading The Trouble With Discourse