Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A promo for my 3:16 campaign

Christmas is the time for sharing with your family, the giving and receiving of gifts... or if your me, the time to set up all the family computers as a render-farm for your animated promotion video!

Here's a new little promo video for a campaign book I wrote a couple of years back.

Planning a new gamebook

Having recently completed and published my gamebook "Dwarven Vengeance" I started thinking about a starting another. Despite it being a lot of work, I have really enjoyed the end result, so I wanted to start another one.

This time I thought I'd do a little market research about the subject matter. I went onto Role Playing Game Geek ( and posted a poll asking which genre would they be more likely to part with thier hard earned money for.  the poll ran for 15 or so days and got 49 responses.

The options on the poll were:
  • Sci fi trading and exploration: 18 votes
  • Pulpy noir detective (with tentacles): 9 votes
  • Marines vs Bugs: 4 votes
  • Dungeon crawl/landscape crawl: 4 votes
  • WWII, pilot escaping occupied territory: 10 votes
  • Other: 4 votes
I was hoping for Marines vs Bugs, but the omens have dictated otherwise.

This is a new genre for me, especially in gamebook form. It's set me a challenge. A gamebook needs a "system" of rules, those rules should match the expected game play. For instance it's no use having game rules for trading if there is no trading in the game.  So now I'm going to have to spend some time debating with myself what the focus of this new gamebook will be and once I've done that, how to implement a complimentary set of rules that fit the genre without over complicating something that needs to be really simple to fit the book format.

So now I'm collecting ideas and making notes about possible scenarios that could appear in the book. At the same time trying to avoid going too far down one line of thought without considering mechanisms at the same time.

At this point I know there are some limits on story. I polled a bunch of role players and "sci fi trading and exploration" means the RPG "Traveller" to them. The Traveller game has a number of tropes and associated expectations that goes along with the name, so those will be my focus to start with...

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Target! Bearing 093 degrees!

I designed and released a card game called "Target! Bearing 093 degrees!" back in 2011 and its been on sale at since then. Its only in the last week that I noticed that the people at WargameVault have stated that products with an associated video sell better than those without. So with that in mind, I've thrown together the following video promotion for the game.
Enjoy ... consume ... buy ....

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Golo - a review of a Golf-dice-game

I saw this for 1.99 in my local corner store I would have passed it by as another piece of junk-ware-shelf-filler but caught sight of a D12 in the bottom. I checked it out and low and behold it had nine D12 in there. My first thought was that 1.99 was great for 9D12, so if nothing else it was worth picking up for that. Actually it turns out the D12s are not normal D12s, so it might not be worth it.

When I got home I pulled it open expecting the worst of Christmas junk-gaming. Not so. inside the plastic tube was a nice golfing score page and a dinky little pencil, quality stuff! The rules appear on the score pad so I was good to go...but wait!

There is also a little cardboard rule book, that repeats the rules and adds in a few pointless optional rules. Pointless to a gamer that is, but I expect a few after-christmas-dinner players will like to try them out.

I was blown away by the quality of the dice cup. Thick plasic, mug-sized and lined inside. I'd be happy with the price just for the cup!

Then onto the dice. Nine engraved dice in three colours. Two red for Par 3 holes, five white for par 4 holes and two red for par 5's. These are not numbered like ordinary dice. For instance a white dice has three number 4's and ranges from 3-8. It's a similar story for the other dice too.

The "par" numbers on each die are surrounded by a square and the 1-under by a circle.

Game play is Yahtzee style. Roll all the dice, lock one or more, roll the rest and keep going until you've rolled and locked them all. Then allocate the dice to the appropriate holes on your score pad.

You do this once for the first nine holes, and then again for the way back to the club house. Add up your final score.

That's it. Simple. Multi player solitaire if you have friends over, or a quick diversion if you're on your own.

Considering the price, I'm really happy with it. A quick round of golf on your table and an excellent dice cup!

Found in "It's a Gift" a corner store that sells toys, cards, small tools, stationary, sweets and garden ornaments.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A cautionary tale for gamebook authors

I write a gamebook a few years ago, and it didn't end well. Here's why.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Creating a character in Diaspora

"Diaspora" is a hard science-fiction role playing game based on the FATE system.  THe video below shows you how to create a character.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Creating a character in Basic Dungeons and Dragons

Here's a run through of how to create (roll up) a character in Basic Dungeons and Dragons...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Monster of the Week - Session report

Last night I played the "Monster of the Week" RPG via Google Hangout and it was a great experience. It never ceases to amaze me how wonderful the internet and instant communication around the world is. Of course you youngsters won't appreciate that as you've grown up with it. Yet, when I was a kid we were limited to maybe sending a letter and waiting weeks for a reply! Last night I played with a group that was spread across Europe... England, Norway and Finland. Wow.

Anyway the game was really fun and exciting. In short the five players were playing monster-fighting heroes working for a secret government organisation and in the business of destroying any monstrous or super natural threats to humanity.

We were led to a remote village in Norway by an ancient prophesy. We were short on detail but it was summed up as "Ooh spooky end of the world thingy. Stop it." Not a lot to go on, as you'll appreciate.

From there we trooped into town, booked a room in the local pub, visited the local church where our suspicions were raised. Never the less the party bedded down for the night in the pub, planning to rise in the early hours and mount an investigative raid on the church.

Alas for the bad guys they beat us to the punch and raided our room! Let's just say there was screaming, clashing steel, puncture wounds, blood and ended with two dead cultists wearing robes. We nicked their outfits and knives, then discovered that there were more bad guys in the street waiting for us. We tried to sneak out the back, but sadly had to behead another cultist we found on the stairs.

Eventually breaking out the back door, we did a runner through the moonlit nights and over a few garden walls, generally making our towards the church. When we got to the church, it was in time to see a parade of villagers leading their willing victims off into the woods. We took the opportunity to scout around the church, find their secret lair, and torch the place. "Q" the flaming church of doom.

One of our number donned some cultist robes and slipped in with the bad guys, and the rest of us slipped through the woods. We were somewhat daunted to discover we were outnumbered by about 10 to 1. As you can imagine, things promptly got interesting. My character led about 10 of them off on a chase through the woods while the rest of the party set to with the bad guys. The chief bad guy with a scarey mask was chanting for all he was worth trying to raise the big bad to doom the world.

My compatriots handled it pretty well. One zapped the masked priest so he couldn't complete the incantation, our disguised party member leapt at him with naked steel and the rest took that for a good idea. Hack, slash, poke, choppy chop and it was all over, the world was saved and the cultists woke from the magic spell that was over them.

The black helicopters turned up and the good guys went home to nurse their wounds.

Playing this game was a fantastic fun experience. The rules worked really well, and suited a pretty narrative style that I enjoyed immensely.

The Hangout experience on Google+ was awesome. It's not just a video chat, but it's also built-in die roller, chat, and document sharing. I'll be looking to play more games this way.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Creating a character in 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars

Here's my run through of how to create a character for the role play game 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars. My fave RPG.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Creating a character in "Monster of the Week"

Here's a little run through of how you generate a character for the "Monster of the Week" RPG. A very original and interesting process.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Creating a character in classic Traveller

In this video I run you through creating a Vargr character in classic Traveller

Friday, November 08, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Legend of the Five Rings (3rd Edition) - Review

I'm reviewing the 3rd Edition of L5R which comes as an A4 size hard back. It is full colour on a good quality glossy paper and runs to 318 pages.

The game is set in a world called Rokugan, with a theme that reeks of feudal Japan, with samurai etc, although it is not set in Japan, it is an entirely new world.

The world as presented in this book is totally enthralling and presented in a depth that I found amazing for a single book. I had expected the book to contain hordes of rules but the majority of the book is background material which I found a refreshing change.

The background contains not only samurai using swords but magic, monsters, gods and spirits all bound up in a cohesive background that is rich and appealing.

When I started reading this book I found it hard going. That's not a reference to the text because that reads very well, but the book opens with a history of Rokugan in seventeen and a half double-column pages. I found it a struggle. There was no introduction or overview to the world, but instead it opens with this detailed year by year break down of history. As I read through it was full of names and places I'd never heard off and I became a little downhearted. My impression was, "I'm reading 17 pages of history, not the current-world I'll be playing in, so what's the point." Only after I had got past the history and into the body of the book did this all start to make sense. When I had finished reading the book I actually appreciated having that kind of history, it gave the world such depth.

This game is not your typical hack and slash. Part of the reason that they have such a rich background is that they expect you to play court politics part of the time. To role play without waving swords needs to have that kind of background depth especially when you start.

And that is a problem with the game. If you are playing an in-court session and players don't understand the intricacies of the Clan relationships, that is, haven't read up on the history of the clans, they might be in trouble. As a games master you might set up a scene of delicate politics and in come your players with no idea of what damage they can do... It seems a little harsh to need your players to have read so much background material.

Let's chat about character took me a while to realise I'd been reading the char-gen for the previous ten pages. There's a long section in the book that details all of the clans and families there-in. It includes history, details of leaders and relationships. There is also a note about a stat modifier for that clan, it's kind of hidden.

And that explains an ongoing problem relating to char-gen in this book. It's split up across multiple sections, each section is drowned in background information. When you add to that, the simple fact that the section of the book specifically about char-gen does not include a table of these hidden modifiers, it comes across as really confusing. I didn't really know where to start. This is not a book you can hand around the table and expect the players to step through making a character, it's not coherent enough for that.

The rules system itself is very simple, achieving tasks is rolling dice and beating a set difficulty (or opponents defence value). You roll a number of dice based on stats, skills and situation but only get to keep a certain number of the die results ( roll six dice, but only count the best two results). It's a really neat mechanic. Having lots of dice is good, but after the roll you have to pick just a few. It is a neat way to keep a check on power creep.

Alas there is a proof reading oversight here. The book says "here's a table of example difficulties"...but the table is not in here. As a games master, I have no guide to what would be suitable difficulty levels.

There are the other usual items for a fantasy game, including a list of spells for magic users and a rather short unillustrated list of monsters. The game is not focused on smashing monsters and taking their treasure, hence most of the monsters here are intelligent beings. The games focus is on dealing with other humans rather than monster bashing.

So let me wind this up by saying, I want to play in this world, I'm excited about it. However, I don't think I want to do it using this edition of the rules. The poor cohesion of char-gen and the missing table make that too difficult.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

De Profundis, a review

Ahhh De Profundis, what art thou? I mean, apart from 110 PDF pages of text with the occasional photo touched up to look like an old photograph.

Simply put it's a Story Telling game where people can use the framework it sets up to create a living story in a Cthulhu Mythos world. Although it does drift off-topic a little to suggest how you can use the same ideas to play in other worlds, such as love affairs in Spain during 1850, that is quite obviously not what they were aiming at. This game is soundly rooted in Lovecraftian horror.

The game presents no rules, no conflict resolution, no list of investigator skills and no list of weapons or monsters to help the GM, because there is no GM. When playing, everyone takes an equal role in helping to tell the story, a true collaborative story telling experience.

A word of warning before I go on. This book is written weirdly and you may find the going a bit heavy. It's written as a series of letters ( an epistolary approach ) . The letters are written in-character by a person that has found a creepy book called De Profundis. As the letters go on this mysterious book is revealed to contain a game about writing letters...which is what the game De Profundis is really about. So it's a bit of a circular-reference and odd.

...and that's all there is to the core of De proundis. You and your pals, write in-character letters to each other. With the preceding sentence I just presented the core of the game. You might now be thinking, "well if that's all it is why should I buy the game?" That's a good question. Yet I recommend that if the idea appeals to you, you should get your hands on a copy of the book (or PDF).

The confusing presentation of the game I mentioned, is actually a mood and an attitude that you need to adopt to get the most from the idea. Most of the text of this book presents the correct attitude and mood required for the game. It suggests how to best approach the letters, how to form your mind into the right receptacle to best appreciate the half-insane letters you'll be sending or receiving. I think it very unlikely that the game will be as good as it could be, if any player has not spent the time to read these rules and appreciate the attitude needed to play.

With the appropriate attitude and approach you will find yourself hand-writing letters on quality paper with a fountain pen, and paper-clipping photos (with a little Photshopping perhaps) of weird and inexplicable things to the letter before posting. Thus you see that the game will take time and effort and a love for the game. It's not a case of turning up on Saturday afternoon with pop n chips. This is a game where you're going to sit at a table in a darkened room, suck on a faux pipe wearing glasses you don't need, just to get in the mood to play your part and write a letter.

If you want to play this game, you'll be setting aside a couple of hours a month for the next few years and really exercising your mind as you get into character.

I give this game-book a big thumbs-up.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Review of Dragon Magazine #3

A latter day RPG gamer takes quick glance over Dragon magazine number 3 (1976!) working out if it's worth buying today.

Cover - a science fiction pencil sketch that I would rate at a 10 year old level. Not the best sales pitch!

Dragon Rumbles - A sardonically amusing defense by the editorial staff of their inclusion of fiction within the magazine. Getting defensive already!

Does anyone remember - Gary Gygax regales us with memories of defunct play-by-mail wargames. Zero use to the modern role player.

Notes on Women & Magic - Gadzooks the world was a different place back in '76. Female PC's should not have Charisma, replace this with "Beauty", and Lawful females may not "use Beauty". Sex as a weapon! This article goes on to lay out a series of feminine titles for the various character levels before explaining how women can use special sex specific charm spells on male opponents. Oh dear, it's somewhat back unenlightened.

The Search for the Gnome Cache - Chapters 3 and 4 of the fiction continue. It opens with smut, dodges past a bar room brawl that offered the chance of some action and finishes up with an uneventful start of a journey. Like the previous unexciting installments, meh.

Birth Tables - This article offers some good options for creating  some background for your character. From social rank of parents, monetary allowances, parental occupations and levels. This is a quickstart for building a character around your stats with a few rolls of dice.

Wargaming World - Entirely useless "current" affairs for wargamers.

Mapping the Dungeons - More names and addresses for DM's, my oh my, how carefree we used to be.

Out on a Limb - Readers letters, yawn. Although I liked the one moaning about the fiction!

A Plethora of Obscure Sub Classes - This is an interesting presentation of some new "unofficial" classes. Namely Healers, Scribes and Samurai. These are really just variants on existing classes, but do give you something to think about and consider for adding flavor to your game.

A new view of Dwarves - An interesting take on the Dwarf character, and presents a series of abilities that transform Dwarf from "poor fighter" to "something useful" to the party. It certainly does that, with new abilities and possibilities presented.

New Subclass, the Beserker - Wowzers, this may the first presentation of the Beserker class, not a lot of abilities associated with being a beserker but many behavior rules. I like this.

The Idiot Class - Errr. A class that specializes in acting goofy, in order to confuse the enemy. Printing this was a waste of paper.

The New Category: Jesters - See above. Only with "funny" spells including at 6th level, the "Die Laughing" spell...

GenCon IX's D&D Elimination - A report about a long gone con'. Useless.


That is all folks. This edition is better than the previous two ...but not by much. It has some interesting tables and even a class or two you might want to lift.

Worth 12c to a modern gamer.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mekton II - review

Mekton II is an mecha/anime RPG dating back to 1987. This edition is large A4ish paperback and 94 pages long. Thin card cover, colour illustration on the front with black and white throughout.
Inside, the rules open with the title “Danger! Romance! Giant Robot Combat!” which gives you an idea of what the game is shooting for. The designers have crafted a relatively light game, but by “relative” I mean relative to games of its vintage.

The book jumps straight into character creation with you generating D10 based statistics for Intelligence, Reflexes, Cool, Tech Ability, Luck, Attractiveness, Education,  Body Type and Movement Allowance. There’s a nice table relating to statistics that details what each value for each stats means. For instance a Luck score of 2 indicates “The gods hate you”, and an Intelligence of 8 indicates “Gifted”. This really adds some flavor to the bare numbers.

The next step is to work through a “life path”. This generates details of your characters family and fiends. Are your parents alive? What’s your goal in life? Does your brother hate you, what about your boss? After you’ve worked through these tables you’ll have a whole relationship network set up.
The next step is to buy skills. These are linked to career with each having a set of associated skills. You spend a number of points based on your Education stat. Skills, like stats range from 1-10.
The skill system works by you adding your skill to a stat to a D10 die roll and trying to beat a difficulty level, with all the usual modifiers.

The book now moves into kit and equipment. There's a table of weapons followed by the descriptions  of all the high tech kit you would expect from a any sci fi game, including vehicles and mecha.

The next 17 pages of the book detail the man and mecha combat rules. It’s a tactical combat system based on hexes. Mecha combat works the same as man to man combat but with bigger hexes, which means you don’t have to learn two systems.

The next few pages details the medical rules, so they obviously expect your characters to get hurt!
The really juicy bit comes next. Building mecha oh delightful tech crunch. Pick a size (weight) of mecha, add armour weapons and other bits of kit. I love this stuff.

The final section presents an adventure and default world in less than 20 pages.

I love this game. The character creation is a delight, the skill system simple. Admittedly I don’t use the hex based system of combat as I always prefer the more narrative style. The book looks good with line art on almost every page, it exudes theme and the rules back up that theme without getting in the way of quick game play.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Spell Law (for Rolemaster reviewed)

Spell Law is the magic system that “bolts on” to the Rolemaster. Although it does come as part of Rolemaster, the only reason not to bolt-it-on would be because you don’t want magic in your game.

I’m confused by the layout of this book. It opens with Guidelines for using the book, followed by descriptions of the three magical realms and THEN has the Introduction.  Rather an odd way of doing things in opinion, however it’s no more bizarre than the layout choices in the other Rolemaster books.

Wait, whats this coming up next? Another description of the three magical realms! Odd. Anyway, the book goes on to describe the various types of magic using characters, fourteen of them! What other game covers fouteen magical magic user classes, none I can think of.

Next up are the actual rules for acquiring spells, casting spells, armour vs spells and surviving spell attacks.  Also covered are magical research, magical objects and and wole bunch of edge-case  optional rules. This all totals up to 24 pages of small two column layout. It’s some dense stuff. If your used to D+D simple spell mechanics, you’ll find this a quite overpowering amout of detail.

I absolutely have to quote from rule 8.3 it’s a classic.

[size=18]“8.3 Base Attack Spells.
Base attack spells include all spells which are non-attack spells”[/size]


Let’s move on before out brains explode.

Next up in the book are spells lists for the “Channeling” realm of magic.  Spells within Spell Law are organised into lists. Each list has up to 20 spells in it. Each list is themed for such things as Detection, Weather, Fire, Light etc, etc. Each spell on the list has a “Level” and this refers to the casters level. If a character has learnt a spell list they know all the spells on the list but can only cast the spells of their own level or lower.

As an example the “Detection Mastery” list has spells on it for every level 1-20 then has spells for levels 25,30 and 50. The spells generally get more powerful.

Not all lists have spells at all of the lower levels, for example, the “Barrier Law” list does not have level 1 or 3 spells.
Mostly the spells are laid out in three columns but this changes to four at one point and the font size drops from small to tiny!
Then the books breaks into a series of tables that refer to bonuses and penalties to various magic based rolls, and more for the attack based spells.  They’re written in a bizarre olde-world font that makes then darned difficult to read.

There are also some full page critical hit charts. These are brilliant, just like the ones in the “Arms Law” book.  These give some great results, like: “Blast burns both of foes arms and all of upper chest. Foe loses use of both arms and is stunned for nine rounds. +15 hits.”
That’s some pretty cool effect.

Then come the spells lists for the “Essence Realm” and those for the “Mentalism” realm.

There are a metric ton of spells in this book. Most of the spells on each list are variations on a theme and can start to feel a bit samey. Yes there are always those critical hit charts to look forward to.

The book, is an awful mess, and I couldn’t bring myself to read all of the lists, there are just too many. I think this is really for the seasoned gamer with time on their hands.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Arms law and Claw Law

Arms Law describes itself as the first "system" to be bolted onto the Rolemaster role playing game.
It gives you rules for combat and...well that it really. 72 pages of combat related rules and data, nothing else!

The text is laid out in a tiny font spread across two columns.

The book starts with some term definitions that will be used in the following rules, nothing too in depth here. What does "Defensive Bonus" or "Orientation Roll" mean, that sort of thing. Then it starts to get meaty. The 9 phase Battle Round Sequence is presented and explained quite clearly.

The thing about Arms Law is that it is a detailed system. It takes some time explaining all of the various things that would effect a characters defensive capabilities , including the 20 differing levels of armour your character can be wearing! Then it moves onto describe a much shorter list of various offensive capabilities, such as "Expertise", "Magic Items" and "Experience".

In the next section it describes how you resolve combat attacks follows that with how to manoeuvre characters within the combat scenario. I really do like the fact that under this system you can attempt to leap from the horse into melee, and a die result indicates you achieve 30% of your task. Interpretation can be fun!

The next two pages cover all of the various bonuses and penalties that can get applied during combat. Bonuses for flank, read attacks, penalties for being wounded, bonuses due to spells, and penalties for using to swords. It's all here.

Then starts the insane craziness (and the beautiful beating heart) of the arms law system. The Charts!

A chart for fumbling your weapon.
A chart for manoeuvring in combat.
Critical wound charts for each of the following: Slashing, Puncturing, Crushing, Large creatures,  Super Large creatures.
Separate attack charts for : Dagger, Falchion, Hand Axe, Main Gauche, Scimitar, Rapier, Broadsword, Short Sword, Bare Fist, Club, War Hammer, Mace, Morning star, Whip, Bola, Composite Bow, Heavy Cross Bow,  Light Crossbow, Long Bow, Short Bow, Sling, Battle Axe, Flail, War Mattock, Quarterstaff, Two-Hand Sword, Javelin, Lance, Pole Arm, Spear.

That's a lot of tables and it's only one per page. These tables are in the smallest printed font I have ever seen, and they need to be to fit on one page. 22 columns, and rows for all of the possible values between 28 and 150!

But we're not done yet.

We have tables for Beak/Pincher, Bite, Claw/Talon, Grapple/Grasp/Envelop, Swallow(!), Horn/Tusk, Ram/Butt/Bash, Stinger, Tiny Animals, Trample/Stomp.

So that covers the Claw-Law part of the title. Phew, I was getting worried. But wait!  There's more!

Tables for: Martial Arts striking, Martial Arts sweeps & throws and one more for Fall/Crush damage.

Strangely separated from the other critical charts we have a few more critical wound charts: Grappling, Martial Arts Strike, Martial Arts Throws, Tiny Animals, Unbalancing

Let me elaborate on all of the critical wound charts. These are where the real fun comes in when using this system.  The results of a critical wound range from "A" the lightest to "E" the most dire, and each has a range from 1-100. Thus a character might receive an "E" Slash critical. This means you turn to the Slash Critical table, roll a D100 and cross reference E and the die roll.  For example if you inflict an "E" Slash on your enemy and roll 66 for the critical, the table relates the following.

"Sever foes arm. +12 hits. Foe expires in 12 rounds, drops immediately, +10% to your next swing."

Everyone of these critical charts is stuffed full of these beauties. This is the bit that people remember fondly.

Following all of these charts are some additional rules, for adapting historical weapons, explanations of how to interpret animal attacks ( and a few more charts to help you out). A special section of rules for martial arts giving differences for the various major schools and techniques.

That's it. Frankly its enough. There is so much "data" in this book it truly boggles the mind. It's a worthy read. These rules are supposed to be independent of the Rolemaster system and adaptable to any fantasy role playing game. I'm not so sure that was true back in 1984, and it would be hard to mash this into modern systems. Having said that, I do think tacking those great critical wound charts onto a D20 system might well be fun!  But beware using the critical fumble charts..

Hand Arms Fumble result of 100: "Bad taste and poor execution. You attempt to maim yourself. Roll a "D" slash critical against yourself."

Character Law & Campaign Law (Rolemaster 2nd Edition)

Let me give a you a little background to this review. I played Rolemaster way way back in the day. I didn't own the books, I wasn't the GM, but I played it and had a great time. Since then played and GM'ed Rolemaster's little brother "MERP" and really enjoyed doing so.

I saw the three Rolemaster books on eBay and snagged them, thinking "this is a great system and going to be a great read".

So here I am to present you with a review of the first book of three "Character law and Campaign law".

This book is split into three sections, RoleMaster, Character Law, and Campaign Law.
The RoleMaster section is about 24 pages (including the contents list). The text is split into two column layout and uses a tiny font.  This first section is also printed on grey rather than white which can make bed-time reading difficult due to the lack of contrast.

The introduction covers the "what is rolemaster" and the "what is roleplaying" sections somewhat poorly.  There are many words but no real clear description and with no example play this wouldn't be a good introduction to a total newbie.

The book makes a strange choice next. We go straight from introduction into rules for healing and death. Stat loss, recovery rates, types of injury, loss of soul are all covered. It's a poor way to start, The reader has no idea what half of the terms mean at this point. Then come Disease charts, Poison Charts, again referring to terminology yet to be explained.

The introduction of rules relating to subjects you don't know about continues with Movement, Encumbrance, walking pace etc, with constant forward references to sections you haven't reached. The problem with these references, is that they are "forward" to things that have yet to be explained and not “backward” as reminders. Without reading the other sections first these rules are somewhat confusing.

Next up are equipment, coinage and magical item rules, again the newbie reader will most likely be totally lost here. The rules are very detailed and exacting.

Then come a series of charts. Charts are the strength of the Rolemaster system, and as reference these are without comparison.  Resale values charts, Purchasing prices, Armour charts, Magical Item costs, Food, Lodging, Transport, Weapons, Herbs, Intoxicants and Poisons.  Lots of detail in each chart and rules for each where applicable. Excellent reference material.

At this point we get to the Character Law section of the book.  This starts out with definitions of game terms such at experience, skill-ranks, action, defensive bonus etc etc etc. Once again someone new to this system is going to have trouble reading through this, there are so many new terms and each is defined outside any context. As an example, defining defensive bonus before even entering the combat section of the rules doesn’t help get it straight in your head.

Finally we get to Character gen. Sadly it’s as incomprehensible at the preceding sections., perhaps worse. 2 pages detailing stats, the differences between temporary and potential, development and non-development, primary stats, stats bonus’ calculating hits based on stats...only at no point in this section does it mention rolling dice to determine you statistics!  The next couple of pages give you statistic based tables for getting bonuses and penalties and utilising stats in contests.

Next we jump into Skills and Ranks. This section fortunately is better composed. The skill rank and development system of Rolemaster is complex, with skill groups, the player having to choose the advancement rates for each before even allocating points to them. Yet I think they’ve managed that pretty well.

The rules spend some pages on using these skills and presents some tables (rolemasters strength). For instance the Maneuver and Movement table is introduced here (one of my favourites) in relation to the movement skills.

The basic skills are covered and explained before dropping into magical skills, including descriptions of the various magical realms that a character may choose from. Sadly in another round of confusing layout choice we drop back into the descriptions of more mundane skills!

Next up are professions. Each is described along with the “magical realm” each belongs to (although fighting professions belong to a non-magical realm). Sadly the layout man has hiccuped again. Having described the professions but not supplied related character gen rules, the book jumps into Experience levels, advancing your character and spending xp.

Now come the various races and cultures that a character can belong to each is descibed and limits and bonuses described. The next section describes the softer bits of generating a character, the background, personality, alignment etc.

Only now do we come to section 10, creating a character. There are 13 steps to the process each of which refers back to the preceding 56 pages. I think the layout guys was trying to introduce you to the  concepts before introducing the process. A nobel ideal, yet a few paragraphs of introduction would have sufficed, followed by bringing in the 13 point process and the associated rules in order would have created a cohesive logical process. It is all back to front here.

The last 14 pages of character law are “optional rules”. This is a list of disparate rules that can be “injected” into the system across all aspects of play. Reading through this list I’m confused as to why they are introduced as optional, they all seems to fit the system and should have been presented in the appropriate place, not as a seperate section.

The final section, is Campaign law, once again printed on a grey background.  

I like this section a great deal. It’s designed for the GM to help through through the production of a game-world and a campaign. It gives you great list of things to consider when building your woulrd and campaign, and by responding to each bullet point you’ll cover most of what you need as a GM to make a complete world.

There are some charts here for such things as weather and animal distribution which can help you fill in the environmental “culture” of the world.  There is much more but it is all “offline” content, not to be used during play. Although there’s nothing outstanding or amazing here, it is a good reference section. The section on developing sentient “cultures” is very good.

The campaign advice is good too, and includes a few gems such as advice to avoid rail-roading although back in 1987 it was called “contrivance”.

So in summary, what do I think of the book?

It’s an awful mess. Disorganised beyond comprehension. Hard to read (small font, grey backgrounds). It would be a crime to give this to a new player. The system too, is very old school and complicated beyond need.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mekton Empire - Review

 [Mekton II is an Anime RPG about giant fighty robots, written in the 1990's. This review is for an expansion to the original game.]

What we have here is a campaign type book, expanding the default universe from just the single world of Algol to a complete universe. At least that's what the blurb says. I'm not so sure.

The basic: Softback, A4'ish in size. Thin card cover in colour with black and white interior. 132 including index.

Starting with the cover itself. Yuk. It features a multi-coloured Mek that looks like something from Go-Bots, which is not something I like in my Meks. I prefer military colouring, or at least sensible colours. The back cover is black and white image of a battleship, I prefer that to the front cover.


This short section is exactly what it should be, it tells us what the book is about. Nice.

A History of the Bendar Spiral Galaxy:

This made up of a few things. It starts over a descriptive overview of the galactic empire. Very nice and interesting. Then comes a 5 page timeline... but about half the entries are blank. Let me confirm that for you, 5 pages, mostly blank. This is supposedly so that you can fill in the blanks and make the universe your own.  That's an odd concept for such a campaign book. Why did I but it, if I have to make stuff up and write it into the book?

Next is a biographical section, listing lots of NPCs and giving many a head shot. the entries are short, descriptive and good summaries. But again the "this book is a tool box" idea comes into play once again. There are no stats, and no place in the presented universe to place these NPCs, that's for you to decide. It even has space where you can write in the birth and death years of these characters. I ask you, why would you create a dead NPC?

Guide to the Bendar Spiral Galaxy:

This section starts with a list of tables of planetary stats, such as tech level, atmosphere, port facilities etc. Each level is given a number and a code.  Quite Travelleresque, but no system for generating planets.

Next comes a list of planets, each entry has the planet stats and short good description of notable points, such as predominant life form or resources or government. However there is no place for these planets, no galactic coordinates. You have to assign them to the map yourself, more on the map later.

Races of the Bendar Spiral Galaxy:

Nine races, all but two humanoid. One is human, one is manga-people (big eyes) and one is pixies. All in, rather unimaginative.

Next up are organisations, military, political and commercial which span multiple planets and races. Some good stuff here, great ideas and starting points for adventures.

Creatures of the Bendar Spiral Galaxy:

Four pages, four entries each...not many creatures in this galaxy! However they do look good, handy to pull out at short notice.

Technical Guides:

Guns, armour, space suits, kit and some nice looking mecha. Stats for everything. Nice.

Next up space ships. They state here how spaceships in anime are only bases from which to launch plot, and their intention was to creat such plot-ships in these rules. To that end the stats for ships are pretty simple and ships come in just a few basic classes.

I think they've got the rules down here, just enough no build the plot and run through some battles without is becoming a big heavy wargame. bonus points for some wonderful ship art.

Mysteries of the Galaxy:

This section is a great idea, badly presented. These are cool plot hooks for adventures or entire campaigns. They are good ideas! Yet , once again the section has "blanks" for you to fill in. Wasted, white, empty space.

New Rules for Mekton Empire:

The main segment here, and really the best part of the book, it the rules section on Psionics. Based around a new statistic, characters may have trained or wild Psionic talents. Lots of great powers are listed and explained. This section is very well thought out and fun to read. It sparked off no end of ideas for me.

Space Combat is explained next, and how it different from the usual planet side combat. Meks in space, spaceships line of sight etc, are all laid out here

Building the Better Beast:

Two pages of rules for creating new animals to populate your planets.

Next, four pages of Life Path alterations to the basic rules life path. It has the same boxed tables layout, but only shows the new tables, rather than re-presenting the entire life path system. For the new races, you'll need to reference both books.

Then comes the detailed index. But this not the end!

Last but one, comes sheet of starship silouhettes for you to cut out. (Eek! Cut up your book! No!)

The final thing is a colour star map that folds out to double page spread size. Alas, it is again a good idea badly implemented. It was good in its day, I guess. It was printed in 1990, so they didn't have access to the great free public domain art of NASA. A grid is overlaid on a spiral galaxy that looks like it was simply and quickly done with an air brush. Various places on the map are marked with round coloured (and ugly) spots. These are planets. But which planet is which? Well that's easily solved. You have to go through the section that listed a bunch of planets and assign them to the map. They've even left spaces for you to do that at the side of the map.

There you have it. But what do I think?

The designers/writers of this book produced a thing that is not quite sure what it is. A tool box, and/or a campaign book.

I have no interest in the sections where I have to fill them in myself, that's not the point of source book. If it's a tool box, why have they written so much detail in of actual places , people and events?  This leaves me with a galaxy where only half of it is mine. I don't like that feeling.

I've created sectors in Traveller, clusters in Diaspora, I'm not afraid of making my own universe. But this approach left me cold.

I'm really happy with the starship design, the Psionic rules, space combat, guns, armour and kit sections. I will drop these into an existing Mekton game at the drop of a hat.  I may even lift some of the ideas, planets and people, for a game here and there, but those sections will not be automatic reference points.

I am glad I've added this to my collection.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Our little group got together and we played a game called Pandemic. This game has been around for a long time now, must be a few years but I've never played it.  I have made and played a Print n' Play game called Pandemic-Express which closely simulates Pandemic but uses dice instead of cards.

I was looking forwards to playing the game and was not disappointed. There were three of us playing and I got the role of ... er ... the guy who can build research stations. 

There are many roles in the game and everyone gets to choose one role, each of which has an ability that breaks the basic game rules. I like that there are more roles than players, that'll give the game some replayability.

As to the components, I was pretty impressed. The board was very nice, a good heavy weight and richly coloured. the cards were very nice too. Clear text etc, but I was a little a little colour problem with blue/purple. the cards and board colours didn't match too well.

The disease cubes were semi transparent plastic, and I believe that they were painted wooden cubes in a previous version. I'm glad to have played with the plastic ones, I prefer them to wooden cubes.

I glanced through the rulebook and it looked pretty good too. I actually downloaded and read a quick-play guide from the interwebs so I didn't have to refer to the manual for actual use.  the chap who owned the game was playing for the first time too and he didn't feel the need to constantly refer to it, and that suggests that it is well written.

I loved the game, the fact that we lost had no impact on that! the interaction and planning steps were great fun, and the tease of having just lost and then working out that we might have won, if only we'd dome something slightly different was great.  It appears to be a game where you must work together, you must interact if you want a chance of winning. Playing on your own, trying to collect cards and keep on top of the outbreaks is just impossible.

Lots of consideration on your turn and other peoples turns keeps you involved in the game all of the time. Great!

This is a game I'm looking forward to playing again sometime soon!

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Settlers of Catan - review of sorrts

On Thursday I played Settlers of Catan for the very first time. I've known about the game for years, but never bought a copy for myself.  Whenever the opportunity came up, I would look around and there was always some other game that looked more exciting or more like it would appeal to my family. Always some other priority.

On Thursday I actually got to play someone else's copy of the game. I was very happy with the look and feel of the game. the components were perfectly suitable. Everything was colourful, the rules were clear and the bits and cards felt good to handle.

I liked the look of the board, although I do have one very minor complaint. I wish that the hexes that make up the main board had symbols on them to match with the resource cards themselves. It's just a very minor niggle.

I liked the way it played, a turn could be very quick. Roll the dice, grab the resources, a quick trade perhaps, then play the resources that you worked out you were going spend while everyone else was taking their turns. Very simple, very straight forward.

But what did I think? I liked it. I didn't love it. I will happily play it anytime, there is enough social and game interaction to make this a game I will always play if someone offers it up. But the theme is not one to inspire me to pick it myself when I have so many other games to play.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ticket to Ride : Europe - first play

Last night was my first experience of Ticket to Ride: Europe. I've been a player and a fan of the original game for years, but have never been inclined to buy any of the variants and never, until now, had the chance to play someone else's copy.

Stephen turned up to the group with Europe and a copy of Settlers (STILL IN SHRINK!) and as no-one knew the rules to Catan we opted to play Europe.

It was a fun game no doubt about that and very easy to get into, my experience of the original made everything familiar.

Apart from the change in the board and tickets there was a new feature called "tunnels" which I thought was pretty intense.  Playing trains to a tunnel is the same as usual, but you MAY have to play additional cards of the appropriate colour.  You lay out your cards, then turn over three cards from the deck, if any of those three are the same colour as your cards (or an engine) then you have to play additional cards of that colour in order to get your train down on the table.

This means of course that you have to risk not getting your train down, if you don't have any extra cards, or wait and save up additional cards.  I have to say this is a clever addition to the system, it adds extra depth without complexity or fiddliness. 

Another subtle difference is that some routes actually require an engine (or two) in order to play to the route.  The requirement is printed on the board making the situation very clear.  Once again they've created a seemless way to integrate a new feature. Double well done you game designer chaps! I love that you've added to a great game in such a slick way.

There is another new feature, that of stations, which allows you to get past blockages. We didn't play with stations in this game, as three of the players were totally new to Ticket to Ride. I'm looking  forward to trying this option.

In summary, after one play of this variant, I'm sold. it's good, solid, and every bit as fun as the original.

Catan, next week :)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Battlestar Galactica - Review...ish

This review (really just a first impression) is based on a single four player session, where I played another gentleman's game (thanks Gary!).

First off, I can say that it is a rather beautiful game, I would expect nothing less from a Fantasy Flight production.

The board is big enough to hold the pieces and everything seems pretty clear and straight forward. I really like the dials feature for tracking the resources.The standup counters for your playing pieces are a delight, good thick card standing on a solid well thought out base.The character cards were nice. they could so easily have been simple card-size, but having them so large made them feel significant.

The action cards being so-small seemed a bit of a shame. The iconography and text was clear, no problem there, just a bit of shame they are so small when you have to handle them all of the time.The fighter ships were nice to look at and "fiddle" with.

So all in all the components were nice and suited the game play very well.

But how did it play?

I'll be more than happy to play again, I really enjoyed the game. Yet... There is a real feeling of overwhelming pressure to do something, but the something isn't something I could achieve.

I tried firing the guns a few times, but that was very ineffective. I tried to save cards to put someone in the brig, but couldn't do it in time. It kind of felt like the game was playing me. So much went on between my turns, and my actions seemed so pitiful, that I was never able to effect a stratergy, it was just reactive moves.

I haven't played the game without cylons, but I suspect the game would still kick butt.  Add them in and suddenly its a wild chaotic ride!

I can compare the game to two other cooperative games (both without traitors) , Lord of the Rings and Red November.  In those two games there are similar constant complications and at times they are overpowering in the same way, yet I don't get the same feeling of hopelessness from them.

In LOTR you often don't have the cards to do what you want, in RN the same thing, but you can co-operate with the other players. You can make a plan. Perhaps that's what is missing, there's no planning stage.

Well if this all sounds negative, don't read too much into it. It was only one game (which I lost) and I'm really looking forward to playing again.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Play Adaman in your browser.

There is deck of cards called the "Decktet" which was invented by P.D. Magnus.  It's an unusal deck of cards, not only does it have a great art but each card may have more than one suit! There are any number of games that can be played with the Decktet, one of which is called "Adaman". Adaman was likewise invented by P.D. Magnus.

It's a challenging solo game and peaked my interest enough for me to create a version of it you can play in your browser.

If you want to try it out CLICK HERE

Sunday, March 03, 2013

What's on the boil

I've got three gaming related things on the boil at present.

I'm close to finishing a web based version of the card game "Adaman" which uses the beautiful Decktet cards.  This is written entirely in HTML and Javascipt.  As a programmer, it's been of quite a lot of use, with regards to refreshing my Javascript skills. 

I have taken the liberty of changing the score system from the published rules.  I don't think the standard score rules work too well on a computer version where you can play so quickly.

I've yet to get in touch with the Decktet designer to see if he will allow me to publish the game on the web.

The next "boiler" is a card game I've been prototyping.  It has a Gandalf/Lord of the Rings theme, which will of course prevent me publishing unless I can interest Fantasy Flight.  It's a solo game using bespoke cards and a few pennies for tokens.  This has been in progress for a month or so now, and I feel it's nearing completion.

The last "boiler" is an RPG designed for one-shot games. I don't want to give away too much about the plot, lest someone with more time on their hands beats me to it.  It will be formatted  using the cool "pocket mod".  Cops vs bad guys... now I've said too much!