Saturday, December 22, 2012

Edge of Space - review

"Edge of Space" is a mini Sci-Fi RPG. When I say, "mini" I mean it.  It was initially designed to fit the PocketMod format, which is to say it prints on a single page and folds into a little booklet giving you 8 tiny printed pages.

When you purchase the PDF you actually get two versions of it, one in the PocketMod format and one in standard layout suitable for on-screen or even eReader use (my Sony e-book reader handled the PDF perfectly well).

So what's in here, you ask?

You get the barest hint that Aliens have attacked Earth and a space force is required to battle them. Next it's straight into character creation. This has just a hint of the Traveller feel in that you pick a career and roll for skills (but you'll be glad to hear, there is no death during chargen).

After that you "join" your characters together using "strings" which can be used during play to increase your chance of achieving things. I found this quite innovative, I've not seen this idea before.  It builds relationships directly into the system and allows you to use them mechanically during play.

Beyond CharGen are a few more rules on how to achieve things, teamwork, initiative, advancement, all of the usual sort of things.

The real strength of this game is its portability, and I don't only refer to the fact you can print it and slip it into a top pocket, but also of the fact that it's rules-light approach will fit in almost any Sci-Fi setting you want.

Imagine if you will, that you do have this game in your top pocket, someone mentions a cool film (Aliens/Battle for L.A./Predator) and BLAM(!) you have the game there you pull it out of your top pocket.  In ten minutes you'll have characters and a system everyone will get their heads around in no time at all.

This game can be purchased for 99c at

Friday, December 21, 2012

Campaign and adventure guidebook for Middle Earth - review

This is an odd product. Despite it's title, it is not a campaign, nor does it include an adventure. Indeed its almost like it's not designed for the role player at all. There are more oddities too.

However let me start by telling you what I'm missing. The original product came with 2 by 3 foot colour map of middle earth. Many people rave over the glory that this map is, however, my second hand copy didn't come with the map, so my review does not cover it.

The book itself feels like a magazine, it is staple bound and 24 pages long. Most pages use a two-column layout.

The front cover uses a image is from the cartoon version of Lord of the Rings, and features no characters or identifiable buildings or landscape. This graphical choice is rather odd, I presume they were trying take advantage of the buzz around the film, although this book came out four years after the film's release. Its quite bland.

Inside the front cover is the contents list, credits and introduction. The introduction has a quite telling line. It reads...

"The entire of ICE's approach is aimed at those who want a foundation from which to work, not necessarily absolutes."

If we take that line as a guide for what they are aiming at with this product, then I will say they have built a base from which you can build, but not a lot more!

On page 1, they give us a list of their reference sources. I have no idea why. We all know the reference materials, its plainly obvious. As this product is not designed for use with MERP I guess this is because the purchaser would not have read LOTR or The Hobbit

Most of the page is taken up by a section called "Definitions and Terms" which defines role playing terms and some of the nouns common to Middle Earth such as Valar, Morgoth, Mirkwood etc. It's here that another oddity comes to the fore. The size of the font used in this section is smaller that the preceding section, and not only is it smaller, it's practicably illegibly small. Capital letters are at most three millimetres tall. I needed a magnifying glass to read this. To describe this text as dense would be an understatement. There is a lot of middle earth general-knowledge here, if you can read it.

A section called Geography starts on page 2, thankfully back at a reasonable size. This section gives you an overview of the continent of middle earth, from bodies of water to mountains and plains. Woven through the text are references to the history of world. For instance it mentions how Morgoth was responsible for the lack of symmetry in the continent.

On page 4 details of Climate and Weather weave together not only weather patterns mentioned in the source material but general real-world climatology.

Page 4 also starts a large section that covers the history of nations and politics. If you have tried to read Tolkien's Silmarillian and failed, then here you will find an extensive blow by blow summary. In fact this section is almost entirely made up of a huge time line running from Eru calling the world into being, right through to the destroying of the ring.

On page 11 is the start of a section that deals with the inhabitants of middle earth, men, elves, orcs, hobbits, balrogs, nazgul etc. Unfortunately this section is once again in the tiny tiny tiny print. It's such a shame that this section, which actually is quite fascinating is printed in a way so difficult to read.

On page 14 starts a section on languages. This section uses another font size, not the smallest in use, nor the biggest. Once again a fascinating read. You'll read about how and who uses the various languages and how the languages evolved.

If you're like me and deciphered the runes on Thorin's map using the guide in "The Hobbit" then I think you'll like this section. Most of one page here is a guide to reading and writing using the Tengwar. This is not the runes from the Hobbit, but rather the curly writing you'll have seen elsewhere (remember the glowing writing on the One Ring in the 2001 film). This boxed panel will have you breaking out the sharpies.

Onto page 17 where a section on "Power" in middle earth begins. This is a reference to the greater magical sources middle earth. Not a lot of information here.

On page 18 is a section on using middle earth in a fantasy campaign. There is nothing specific here, just general hints at how a GM should start, picking a power level and a location.

Also on this page is a section that advises on how this booklet will integrate with the "modules to come", and how to use maps. Pretty much a waste of space.

Page 19 has a BW map of middle earth showing the prevailing winds. Eh?

Page 20 has a BW map of western middle earth showing which languages are used where.

Page 21 has a BW map of middle earth showing the prevailing temperatures and rainfall.

Page 22 has a BW map of western middle earth showing major trade routes.

Page 23 has a BW map of middle earth showing … nothing in particular.

Page 24 has a BW map of middle earth showing elevations.

All of these maps seems a waste of space, considering that the booklet comes with a 2 by 3 foot map of the place in glorious colour. Why have they spent 6 pages repeating the map in not so glorious black and white, and then squeezed in the text in the tiny tiny tiny font?

Inside the back cover, is a suggested reading list that includes not only Tolkien's works but various real world histories and fantasy novels.

I'm really not sure how to rate this book in role playing terms, it's not really one thing or another. I think they have met their stated objectives. They have given a broad overview of middle earth to someone not steeped in its lore. Yet, at the same time, this really is not a role playing aid. A role playing primer perhaps?

I can clearly state that the majority of the text in here is good and will be of interest to a Tolkien fan regardless of whether they role play or not, provided their eyesight is good.

I spent £2.58 getting this via eBay (without the big colour map) and feel like it was money well spent.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Middle-earth Role Playing Combat Screen - Review

I have the old Combat Screen in my collection and have had since the old days. My version consists of only a four panel fold-out piece of card, yet my memory is tingling with the idea that when I bought this there were some paper thingies inside. If that is so , and what the paper thingies may have been, my memory has failed to recall.

As stated, this is a cardboard four panel screen. The card is pretty thin and a little wobbly although it does stand up perfectly well. It is easily creased and does not stand wear very well. Each of the four panels is the size of the core rule book.

First lets have a look at the outside, the players side if you will. 

Panel 1: The back-cover sales blurb.

Panel 2: The front cover, the same art as the core rule book.

Panel 3: The action table, detailing various combat actions, such preparing a spell, loading a bow, melee attacks etc.

Panel 4: The Moving and Maneuver table. This is the full table and list of the usual mods.

Hmmm... not too sure I like their choices for this side. The M&M chart is useful to players, but the Action table not so much. I wonder if the basic combat charts might have been better. The other two panels which formed the front and back cover of the product on the shelf add some "colour", but are wasted in game terms.

Okay, so onto the GM's side.

Panel 1: 1-Handed-Slash/Conc, 2 Handed, Missile attack tables, plus lists of the Crit mods and the usual combats mods such as flank-attack.

Panel 2: Tooth/Claw Attack, Grappling, Movement and Maneuver(same table as shown on the players side) tables.

Panel 3: Action table (same as players side), Animal Weapon stats letting you know what crits Claw/Stomp/Beaks etc do.

Panel 4: This contains the general action chart, for Disarming Traps, Picking locks, Influence,Reading Runes, Tracking etc.

I think they made some good choices for this side of the screen. The product calls itself Combat Screen and they've got all the really important combat charts here. When I use this screen, I can leave the game rules open on the crit charts and I'm good to go.

Obviously the attack tables are a gimme, but the inclusion of the other mentioned charts really allows you to bring the combat environment alive by giving you everything you need as a GM. If you have some guys in melee protecting the wizard who's trying to open a magical lock, then this screen definitely has that covered.

If you don't like or want to use this as an actual screen, it is ideal to leave open on the table for reference during combat, it WILL save your book from half the wear and tare it would otherwise suffer.

Overall : Pretty Good.