Earlier this year Dungeons and Dragons, and, as a result, the role-playing game as a formal, published form, turned 45. It is one of the youngest mediums in entertainment; as a point of comparison the first video game patent was issued in 1948, making that medium over 70. And like video games did with arcades and Atari, role-playing games are beginning to enjoy mainstream recognition, several decades after their genesis. There’s another similarity between video games, consoles specifically, and role-playing games: the first mainstream video game console outsold every competitor it had more than ten to one, just like the first mainstream role-playing game. In video games that was the Atari 2600, and in role-playing games that’s Dungeons and Dragons.
Something funny happens when you spend a lot of time reading and reviewing games. At a certain point you reflect on all the games you’ve read and all the mechanics you’ve studied, and say to yourself “I bet I could design a game”. You see it a lot over here. Site founder Seamus is the co-author of the recently released Transit: The Spaceship RPG, and newest contributor Jason wrote Blessed Engines for the Emotional Mecha Jam. There’s design chops floating around in this blogger soup, and I suppose it should be no surprise that on the tails of the first System Hack, Genesys Mecha, I’d be throwing my hat into the ring.
Memories are a powerful thing. They define much of who and what we are, and even when the edges become hazy some things, some impressions, remain crystal clear in our psyches. I can’t remember how long ago it was (though math tells me that we are pushing 20 years now), but I can remember who I was with and what we were doing (trying the dangerous addiction that is Magic: The Gathering) when I was first introduced to my Friendly Local Game Store. Looking back, it was dingy and in a sketchy part of the neighborhood, but I would wind up spending so much time there over the years that I can’t help but look back at it with fondness.
It was on one of those trips that I was saw something that caught my eye: a card game that I hadn’t seen before, but whose art reminded me of some of the new cartoons I was seeing at the time. I wound up buying a pack and trying out the game and, I had no idea what I had stumbled into. I played for a while, found some of the tie-in novels, and largely forgot about it as a part of my adolescence that I would likely never see again. Suddenly, in the last six months, Legend of the Five Rings (commonly referred to as L5R) came back into my life. I not only found that there a Tabletop RPG version of the franchise, I found myself playing in two different editions: the 4th edition, originally published by the original creators Alderac Entertainment Group, and the new version created by Fantasy Flight Gaming. I found myself marveling at how different they were, and yet, how strong of a fanbase I found for each. After having played a bit of both, it seemed worthwhile to look at some of the pivot points at which the game changes.
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.
There’s always been a bit of mystique and fascination with fighter pilots from the days of the Red Baron, so it should be no surprise that there has been a fascination with those same tight dogfights IN SPAAAAAAAACE!!! Space fighters have been a big part of the Space Opera for decades, popping up in places as varied as the venerable Mobile Suit Gundam and Macross franchises (as forerunners to the famous mecha), to harder sci-fi novels such as the LAC’s in Honor Harrington, but probably the biggest exposure has come through Star Wars, with starfighter v. starfighter combat being staples of the movies, the well loved X-wing and TIE Fighter franchises, and a long stretch of novels in the Expanded Universe that brought fans fleshed out and loved characters in the form of Wedge Antilles and Corran Horn. And so the concept of these awesome space fights has been brought to us in tabletop form by our good friends over at Evil Hat with their new installment, Tachyon Squadron!
The smoke from the hookah lounge downtown swims through the place, heavy and sweet. At a back lounge sits a bald man with a gold hoop earing who knows just what you need to do to get what you want…if are able to ignore the literal fire flickering in his eyes. In the Industrial District’s meatpacking plant, a grizzled old timer working the graveyard shift wonders how life passed him by, noting with some curiosity how his skin didn’t break on that saw, when he slipped and ponders why all the leftover animal parts always seem to vanish when he takes a nap on the job…and why he just gets hungrier whenever that happens. In the financial district there is a business guru who, despite his age, always seems to be in exceptional vigor and with an improbable knack for turning seemingly useless investments into gold…and nobody seems to know how long he’s been here? It’s like he’s practically immortal. But lots of strange things happen in The City. Once its inhabitants were wide eyed and agape, but now they’ve seen it all…or so they like to think.
The adventurers rested, either leaning against the altar with weapons in hand, or scrambling around the spare furnishings of the temple. The Shadows moved faster than Folk did, and they didn’t have much time until the ten of them that were released found the way up and out of the crypt. Ander and Jethro found glass bottles in the Undertaker’s apartment and filled them with water for their skins, setting the bottles and some of the silver they gathered from the Keep in front of Hugh, who performed a ceremony to bless the water. Holy water seemed to be a potent ally in the fight against what was to come. Clouds gathered over the temple, and the adventurers prepared for a fight. As the sky darkened, the adventurers scrambled to the squares of sunlight made by the overhead windows; shadows didn’t usually exist in daylight, and the adventurers needed all the help they could get. The Shadows ascended the crypt stairs in groups of two and three, met by eldritch blasts, sacred weapons, and holy water. Now, with time to prepare and adequate supplies, the adventurers drove back the Shadows with only a few wounds and a little strength sapped. Not yet ready to return to the crypt, Hrive went outside the walls to retrieve his mule, and the group foraged old abandoned gardens for food. Sleep came easier in the keep without gnolls to harry them, but the adventurers were still wary.
There are stories that require a different approach than the traditional party-based RPG. Epic stories, with scales vastly larger than just the four to six people in an adventuring party, have proven difficult in this format, though many have tried. A story-game approach can give the flexibility for telling big stories; that was one of the thoughts behind Ben Robbins’s games Kingdom and Microscope. Now, there is a new designer entering the space: Aaron Reed has created a story-game of epic science fiction stories, Archives of the Sky.
Yar! Yo ho, me hearties yo ho! Today, we are going to be exploring Pirates of Drinax, a supplement and campaign for Mongoose Traveller (we’ve previously done a Meet the Party), where the party is brought in to be privateers…and then allowed to do whatever they want, so long as they are willing to pay the consequences for it!
Welcome to this month’s edition of Kickstarter Wonk! As Kickstarter season has well and truly kicked off, it has become more clear to me that trying to write up every single new RPG project on Kickstarter is a fool’s errand. I have a day job, after all! Therefore, I have decided that Kickstarter Wonk will represent the Level One Wonk’s top ten RPG Kickstarters of the month. These are all new games, though some of them use existing rulesets. There were a ton of interesting supplements this month also, but that at least doubles the material to choose from and I have to draw the line somewhere! Like before, I’ve noted if I’ve funded the project already or have saved it to potentially fund later. Though I most likely will not fund all of these (my day job doesn’t pay *that* well), I believe that all of them are worthy of your consideration.