Tag Archives: Review

System Split: Apocalypse World and the Burned Over Hackbook

It’s tough being the first. Back in 2010, before Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition (and before Fourth Edition Essentials too), Vincent Baker released the first edition of Apocalypse World. While the praise was immediate, the snowball effect of the game had just started. By the time Baker released the second edition, now (and from this point forward) sharing the byline with his wife Meguey Baker, Powered by the Apocalypse had become a force in the indie game world. After another five years, the Baker family revisited Apocalypse World again, with Vincent and Meguey working with their children to produce Burned Over.

There are two things about Burned Over which caused me to overlook it initially. The first was a misunderstanding, though also a reflection of how many indie games are made these days. Burned Over is a hackbook, and having not heard this phrase before I confused it in intent with an ashcan. An ashcan is essentially the game equivalent of a minimum viable product or Early Access; it contains the rules to play and a first draft of the written game while being otherwise incomplete. Burned Over is not incomplete; though some of the initial rules were released on Vincent Baker’s Patreon (of which I am a subscriber, full disclosure) in ashcan form, the hackbook as it stands is complete, laid out, and 100% playable. What hackbook means is that Burned Over is a hack of Apocalypse World released as a book; Burned Over requires Apocalypse World to play though this belies the differences made somewhat.

The second element which caused me to overlook Burned Over at first came from the description of what it was. When the Baker family undertook Burned Over as a project, it was described as a version of Apocalypse World which toned down the sex and violence of the original. My initial reaction was that this would be a bowdlerized Apocalypse World, and I didn’t really like that. Needless to say I was wrong, but it meant that I didn’t actually read Burned Over until I had seen praise of it elsewhere. Burned Over strongly recenters many elements of Apocalypse World without changing the core mechanics of the game or its core gameplay loop; this recentering both revises and strengthens the rules as well as shifts the game’s relationship towards its own setting. While this is perhaps too informed by recent discourse, I think Burned Over shifts Apocalypse World from genre emulation of post-apocalyptic film and games to being a post-apocalyptic work in its own right with its own setting. 

Continue reading System Split: Apocalypse World and the Burned Over Hackbook

The Trouble with NaNoWriMo: A Filler Post

The trouble with NaNoWriMo is simply that it takes a lot of time. Although most of you know me as an RPG commentator, I have been a writer, broadly, for most of my life, both personal and professional. I enjoy writing fiction, but it’s difficult to write long-form fiction and keep up the pace long enough to produce a full story. The 2000 word articles hosted here at Cannibal Halfling Gaming are, if not easy, at least easier than a 50,000+ word novel.

This year I decided to do NaNoWriMo to give my fiction writing a kick in the pants. In 2019 I picked up a rewrite of a novel I had written a decade before, right after college, and decided to give it an honest go. I got close, though the pandemic seriously disrupted my writing habits. In 2021, amidst a whole host of life challenges and transitions, the writing ground to a halt. So here, in November of 2022, I decided to challenge myself to do NaNoWriMo in order to get back into the habit of writing and build up my self-discipline enough to also finish my in-progress novel. So far, so good: yesterday was the midpoint of NaNoWriMo and I have successfully hit the 25,000 word halfway mark.

Continue reading The Trouble with NaNoWriMo: A Filler Post

Galactic & Going Rogue – Games of Rebellion and Sacrifice

An interstellar empire controls the galaxy with fear, propaganda, and alienation. Only constant aggression, weapons development, and violence keep it propped up, but even with its brittle foundations it can cause untold death and destruction before it could ever collapse on its own. However, heroes both plucky and jaded are building a community beyond the empire’s reach and fighting for the liberation of the galaxy. We’re telling a galactic story of rebellion, relationships, and war among the stars before going rogue and putting it all on the line to pass the torch of hope onwards!

Continue reading Galactic & Going Rogue – Games of Rebellion and Sacrifice

Apocalypse Keys Review

Powered by the Apocalypse, or PbtA, is one of the most popular RPG rulesets in the indie gaming sphere. After getting its start with Apocalypse World and the Bakers’ permissive license, PbtA blew up first among single designers and small groups and then in the wider gaming sphere. While Apocalypse World was modestly successful in its own right, many of the games it spawned, including Monster of the Week, Dungeon World, and Blades in the Dark, multiplied its success many times over.

Mainstream PbtA success continues to this day, fed mostly by two mid-sized publishers: Evil Hat Productions and Magpie Games. Magpie Games, arguably the largest and most successful company to design primarily PbtA games, first saw success with titles like Urban Shadows, Bluebeard’s Bride, and Masks, and has gone on to rake in millions of dollars from some of the first licensed PbtA games, Root and Avatar Legends. Evil Hat Productions, more known as the company behind Fate, doesn’t design PbtA games in house, but publishes several of significance. Evil Hat publishes Monster of the Week, Thirsty Sword Lesbians, and Blades in the Dark, and they’re about to add another PbtA game to their library.

Continue reading Apocalypse Keys Review

Back Again from the Broken Land Review – Small Heroes, Heavy Burdens, and Stories

You are small people who walked into a big war. The Doomslord’s forces were gathered in the Broken Land, and your fellowship unexpectedly played a key role in the Doomslord’s fall. Now, laden with stories to tell and burdens to bear, you set off on the journey home. But the Doomslord’s Hunters are still out there, and it’s a long way to walk. Let’s see if you can make it Back Again from the Broken Land with a storytelling game of small adventurers and a journey home from Cloven Pine Games!

Continue reading Back Again from the Broken Land Review – Small Heroes, Heavy Burdens, and Stories

Power Rangers RPG Review

There is a new generation of companies emerging in the RPG world. Free League and Modiphius were founded in 2011 and 2012, respectively, but an even younger studio is making big waves. Renegade Game Studios was founded in 2014 by hobby game industry veteran Scott Gaeta, and his business acumen shows through in Renegade’s portfolio. In addition to publishing more indie titles like Alice is Missing, Kids on Bikes, and Overlight, Renegade rocketed into the trad scene when they took over publishing White Wolf games Vampire: the Masquerade and Hunter: the Reckoning from interim publisher Modiphius. Now, they’re internally developing licensed RPGs that have already turned them into a sales powerhouse. Two Renegade titles showed up on the ICv2 top 5 RPG list last quarter, and I was unaware either were out, let alone already selling so well.

These two games, GI Joe and Power Rangers, make sense as sales successes. The licenses are for properties that peaked in the early 90s, aiming squarely at a mid-millennial market while Wizards aims younger (the core D&D demographics have been teens and twenty-somethings at least as long as Wizards has owned the game, if not even longer). And if it wasn’t these games it could have been others; Renegade also published a Transformers RPG and will soon release an official My Little Pony RPG as well.

Continue reading Power Rangers RPG Review

I Have The High Ground Review – Dueling Wits and Flourished Capes

You might be knights or fencers with your blades crossed for sport or mortal combat. But what if you were hackers vying for control of a contested server? A murderer and the aggrieved loved one avenging their victim? What if you’re assassins and ex-girlfriends, or in a boxing match, or a bar fight, or even just a school talent show? So, who will you be? What will you do? There’s only one way to find out. Pick your weapons, push the limits, flourish your capes whenever justifiable, and play through a session of I Have The High Ground from Jess Levine!

Continue reading I Have The High Ground Review – Dueling Wits and Flourished Capes

Doctors and Daleks Review

Gamers have long memories. In the early 2000s, the first iteration of the Open Gaming License was released by Wizards of the Coast, and accompanied by the ‘D20’ branding, which allowed many games to claim official compatibility with the Third Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. While this new era in licensing created some new and interesting games, it also created a lot of, well, garbage. This large quantity of garbage combined with Wizards handing out the ‘D20’ branding to essentially anyone combined to erode consumer confidence in the brand. Unfortunately, D&D was the biggest game in the industry at the time (much like it is now), so this, combined with some misplaced faith in the brand on the part of game stores and publishers, caused the ‘D20 bust’. Books didn’t sell, publishers and game shops went bankrupt, and Wizards…well, they published 3.5e and went on their merry way.

The point of recounting this is that the D20 bust is one of the root causes of distrust in the current crop of games developed using the D&D 5e ruleset. Because D&D is the largest, most successful RPG brand, it stands to reason that associating yourself with that brand is a way to make more money, regardless of the quality of your game, and regardless of whether or not your game aligns with the mechanics of D&D. It also doesn’t help that one of the recent high-profile games using the 5e ruleset, the Dark Souls RPG, was released in a pretty messy state, giving it no real chance to disprove the notion that D&D was a poor choice for emulating the ‘Soulslike’ video game genre (whether or not it could have otherwise is an open question).

It was in this environment that Cubicle 7 announced ‘Doctors and Daleks’, a Doctor Who role-playing game built on the 5e ruleset. The announcement was met with a fair amount of criticism, much of it baseless given that there wasn’t a game yet. The surface-level thinking, though, made sense. Doctor Who, especially the newer runs which started with Christopher Eccleston playing the Doctor, is a fantastical series about time travel, the history of the world, and a generally optimistic outlook on coexistence with life all over the universe. The Doctor has a code against killing, gadgets like the TARDIS and the Sonic Screwdriver have capabilities mostly defined by the scripts in that season, and the stories rapidly shift from small and intimate vignettes involving Vincent Van Gogh to apocalyptic, universe-ending plots where the Doctor faces off with the Master, or the Daleks, or the Cybermen. Dungeons and Dragons, on the other hand, is a game where the rules are roughly 90% predicated on killing things and taking their stuff. The mismatch observation is a fair one.

Continue reading Doctors and Daleks Review

Alchemistresses Advance Review

One of my favorite things about the RPG hobby is that there’s a game for everything. Games which aim for very specific genres, designed by fans of those specific genres, are often incredible showcases of creativity and windows into the love that the designers have for their subjects. Recently, I had a chance to look at one such game, a window into the Magical Girl genre of anime called Alchemistresses. Alchemistresses casts players as high schoolers who begin to discover their link to a former life as a Mistress of one of the Five Elements (though here Mistress, like Magical Girl, is a job description, not a gender). As your campaign progresses through a season of your show, you must balance slice-of-life high school antics with your past life and the villains you must now face. Right now, though, the designers are embarking on a different sort of campaign: Alchemistresses is funding on Kickstarter.

Continue reading Alchemistresses Advance Review

Crowdfunding Carnival: June, 2022

Welcome to the Crowdfunding Carnival for the month of June in this two thousand and twenty secondth year! Not to worry, Aaron is fine – just lost on a bike somewhere in the continental US, definitely not my fault. While he’s away I’ve snuck in and nicked his top hat and baton and gone looking for some tabletop roleplaying game crowdfunding attractions that are worth your time and possibly your money. There are chaotic cafes, regency scandals, vibrant seas, divine tales, monster-collecting kids, meta games, and exigent exalts along with a few observations from my unusual perspective up on this stage. So, without further ado, on with the show!

Continue reading Crowdfunding Carnival: June, 2022