Archive for the ‘Game Reviews’ Category

Deadzone 2nd Edition

January 27, 2019



Edit:  Deadzone 2.0 PDF rules available here for free.

I recently had a chance to play Mantic Game’s sci-fi skirmish game Deadzone (2nd edition).  It combines elements of board games and wargames to create a streamlined and intuitive system.

The two major innovations, as I see them, are the cube system and the dice pool mechanic for resolving conflicts.

A Deadzone board is divided into three inch spaces called “cubes” (because technically they’re 3D).  Deadzone terrain is designed to comport with these three inch cubes, creating “stacks.”  Distance and weapon range is tracked by counting cubes (as one would count spaces or squares in a board game) instead of measuring inches with a tape measure.  A model moving into a cube may be placed anywhere inside it, even slightly over the cube’s border (the center of the model determines which cube it actually occupies).


Thanks to my buddy Randy for taking this picture.

The cube system resolves many of the problems I have with more traditional skirmish games like Necromunda and Kill Team.  It combines the certainty of grids or spaces with the fluidity of measuring inches on an open board, while also encouraging maneuvering for advantage.  It’s bloody genius, as far as I’m concerned.

Deadzone uses an opposed dice pool mechanic to resolve most conflicts.  A standard roll is three 8-sided dice; each dice rolling a certain target number is a “success.”  Your opponent does the same, and then total successes are compared (ties usually go to the defender).  Dice rolls of 8 “explode,” allowing you to roll another dice, and keep doing so as long as you keep rolling 8’s.  Modifiers add or subtract dice, rather than changing the target number.

For example, shooting an opposing model requires a test where you’re trying to roll equal to or higher than the model’s Shooting stat (which may be 3+, 4+, 5+, and so on).  Your opponent then makes the same test, but using their model’s Survive stat.  If the shooter is higher, or if the target model is completely in the open, then the attacker adds bonus dice to their roll (I learned the hard way that controlling the high ground is very important in Deadzone).  The number of successes generated are compared to determine the potential damage inflicted on the target.


In close combat, the defender may choose to use their Fighting stat, thus having a chance to wound their assailant, or they may just use Survive to simply avoid the attack.  But otherwise the dicing mechanic is the same.

What I like about using a dice pool mechanic is instead of 3 or 4 separate dice rolls to resolve an attack, as in most Games Workshop games, everything is reduced to a single opposed dice roll, speeding up the game.  Also, the mechanic is just dead simple to remember.

One final note, Deadzone also uses an alternating activation sequence.  One player activates a model, then the other player activates a model, back and forth until all models have been activated.  I prefer alternating activations because it avoids the situation where one side can blow the other off the table before they can even move (like 8th edition WH40K), and it avoids many of the messy situations created by Kill Team’s hybrid IGOUGO/alternating shooting system.

On the down side, if you’re used to a weightier, crunchier wargame, then Deadzone may be a little too simplistic for your tastes.  Also, while Mantic’s models are decent, they still aren’t as nice as GW models.  And Mantic doesn’t include instructions for assembling the models, which can be frustrating if you don’t have any experience putting miniatures together.

However, on the whole I’m very impressed with Deadzone and prefer it slightly over Kill Team.  And while the rules may be simple (or even simplistic, depending on your point of view), I feel there’s enough complexity there for some nice tactical decision making.  And it would be relatively easy to house rule it to add more complexity, if that is what you prefer.  Deadzone is also an excellent gateway for first time wargamers.  Oh, and did I mention Deadzone is significantly less expensive than similar GW products?


Free Deadzone 2.0 PDF available here for download.


March 29, 2018


My friend Randy recently got me into Games Workshop’s new version of Necromunda.  It’s been decades since I’ve played a GW game (I fell heavily for 2E epic scale Space Marine back in college), so I wasn’t sure how I’d take to it.  I don’t have a lot of patience for fiddly rules any more.

Overall, I really like the game, to the point were I’m probably spending too much money on it.  But I love the setting and, for the most part, I love the components that come with the base game.  And while there are some fiddly rules, for the most part they aren’t too bad.

However, it’s not all wine and roses in the Underhive.  Necromunda has traditionally been a game that really emphasizes WYSIWYG modeling.  To that end, the sprues for the figures are insanely customizable.  As in way too customizable.



The Orlock sprue; note all the little individual heads.


Trying to glue a tiny Orlock head to its body is a very frustrating process.  It was almost enough to make me give up on the game.  The fact that I haven’t (yet) is a testament to how much I like it.  But I’d have been much (much) happier if they’d just included five or six standardized bodies and then let us glue on the appropriate weapons, because this level of minute customization really adds nothing to the game (imo).

And while the rules aren’t too bad, there are still a few fiddly things that set me off.  One is the Stray Shot rule, which is convoluted, easy to forget and exploitable.  Something else are the skills ganger’s can acquire through experience.  Most of them work well enough, but there are some that require a dice roll for something to happen.  More dice rolls just slow the game down, and when a ganger has a bunch skills it can be easy to forget about them in the heat of the action.  Frankly, they remind me somewhat of Pathfinder feats, and I’m not really a fan of complicated, situational feats to begin with.  It really feels like they layered on extra complexity to give some of these skills meaning.

Which leads to yet another annoyance.  Originally, Necromunda only had one “mental” stat, called Leadership.  The new version adds three new mental stats:  Cool, Willpower and Intelligence.  Of these, only Cool plays much of a role, to the point it now even diminishes the importance of the original Leadership stat.  But Willpower and Intelligence are barely used, and it feels like GW went out of its way to add more rules (and thus, complexity) to justify these new stats.  However, I imagine Willpower will play a bigger part in the game when they eventually get around to adding psykers.

One final, minor, gripe:  the game shipped with a beautiful set of map boards (called “Zone Mortalis”).  As you can see, the boards have a grid on them.  Unfortunately, the grid is 2″ instead of the standard 1″.  Which means it’s difficult to use them for other games, and makes it more difficult to use the boards for a converted version of Necromunda.  On that note, it might have been nice if a “basic” version of the rules was released that did indeed use those grids.  It just seems like a lost opportunity, and would have made the game more accessible to new players.


Also, if you’re a fan of the original Necromunda, this version does not come with 3D terrain.  The vanilla rules only include 2D battles on the aforementioned “Zone Mortalis” boards.  You need to purchase a separate supplement (Gang War) to get the campaign rules (which really make Necromunda shine) and the rules for 3D terrain (which GW calls “Sector Mechanicus”).

So, despite spending most of this write-up complaining about Necromunda, I actually really like the game.  The components are top notch, the models look great (once you assemble them) and it plays fairly quickly.  We’re still mastering the rules, so we often forget something, or get the rule wrong, but that’s really just a matter of playing more.  I can’t wait to play a campaign, though preferably a map-based strategic campaign rather than the abstract campaign rules that come in Gang War (but that’s easily house ruled).

And as for a “basic” version of the game, well that’s something else I can work on after I’ve had more time to master the rules.




White Star RPG Review

May 5, 2015

White Star Single Covers - FrontI’ve had a chance to read White Star cover-to-cover, and overall I really like what I see.  White Star, by James Spahn, is based upon Swords & Wizardry Whitebox, and the two games are fully compatible.

Like Whitebox, White Star is very rules light.  GM’s will be required to make rulings when situations inevitably arise that are not covered in the rules.  Such lighter rule sets also leave a lot of room for tweaking, modding and house ruling.  Both of these are good things, in my opinion.

While it’s clear that White Star is heavily influenced by Star Wars, the game pays homage to virtually every sci-fi setting on screen, from Dune to Firefly to Battlestar Galactica…even Doctor Who.  It just files the serial numbers off.

The four primary classes are Aristocrat (think Leia or Lando), Mercenary (Boba Fett or Jayne Cobb), Pilot (Han Solo or Wash) and Star Knight (i.e Jedi Knights or, conceivably, Time Lords).  In keeping with the toolbox nature of the game, alien racial classes are presented as archetypes: the Alien Brute (Chewbacca, Ookla or D’argo), Alien Mystic (Yoda, or Vulcans perhaps) and Robots.  I really like this approach to aliens, as it is infinitely expandable, works with any setting you come up with, and avoids the author putting their thumb in your game.  You could also have two Alien Brutes in your game, and yet they could be entirely different species.

Combat works pretty much like it does in most D&D variants, just with lasers and star swords.  And starship combat works just like personal combat, with the addition of Shields (which reduce incoming damage).

In keeping with old school D&D, White Star has no formal skill system.  This is one of the major differences between this game and other old school sci-fi RPGs, like Stars Without Number or X-Plorers.  However, if you desire a skill system, it would be fairly easy to bolt one on.  Say, steal the X-in-6 skill system from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or base it on the thief’s percentile rolls.  Personally, though, I feel White Star works just fine without formal skills.

White Star has “spells” in the form of Meditations and Gifts, used by Star Knights and Alien Mystics (respectively).  Both use D&D’s fire-and-forget spell mechanism.  Overall the system works well, and is keeping in full compatibility with S&W Whitebox.  However, considering Meditations and Gifts, and the classes that use them, are obviously inspired by Star Wars and The Force, I don’t understand the need to have two different sets powers.  All the more so considering the relative paucity of Meditations and Gifts included in the base game.  It’s an easy thing, though, to simply combine them into one group.

Many of the monsters included are inspired by science-fiction movies: Daleks, Cylons, Klingons, sand worms, and many more, make an appearance, though with different names.  It may seem a cheap and hokey addition, but as I was reading the game it felt like it somehow just works.  I can easily picture a space dungeon filled to the brim with screaming Cannicks (Obliterate!  OBLITERATE!), ridge-headed Qinlons seeking honorable combat, and relentless Assimilants droning on about the futility of resistance.

Advanced Technology details the “magic items” of the game.  There’s a nice selection to get you started, including a small section on cybernetics.  It’d be easy enough to add dozens more items inspired by sci-fi movies and books, or based on D&D magic items.  Some magic items, like Ioun stones, are sufficiently exotic they could probably be ported over directly.

White Star is rounded out by a GM’s section providing suggestions for various campaign styles drawn from common sci-fi tropes; for example, rebels vs. empire, space traders, planetary invasion, murder-hobos with a spaceship (aka Firefly), and more.  There’s also a sample space sector and a starting adventure.

It would be nice to see a few additions.  The game is missing a technical class (the pilot kinda-sorta fills this role, but not completely), and I think it could benefit from a thief-like ‘scoundrel’ class as well (again, the Aristocrat can fill this role, but that doesn’t feel like a good fit to me).  Tables and charts for random encounters, as well as randomly generating planets and star systems, would also be a nice addition.

In my opinion, White Star does a really good job of being Dungeons & Dragons in space.  If that’s not what you’re looking for, if you prefer hard sci-fi settings, then this probably isn’t the game for you.  But if you just want to pick up a star sword and kill Daleks and Cylons in the nearest derelict space hulk, White Star is the game for you.

Btw, as far as I know, the 20% discount for White Star is still going.

Edge of Space RPG

December 8, 2013


Edge of Space, by Matt Jackson, is a rules-light role-playing game heavily influenced by such movies as Aliens and Starship Troopers. The premise is that the players are Space Marines on the ass end of space killing Bugs to protect human colonies.

Characters don’t have ability scores as such.  Rather, each character is defined by their skill set, which is randomly determined depending on your starting profession (somewhat reminiscent of the Traveller RPG).  Your profession doesn’t lock in your skill set, so even if you’re say, a scientist, you can eventually pick up the Rifle skill and blast Bugs in the name of, well, science.  Surviving scenarios grants 1 to 3 XP, depending on role-playing, which may be used to improve existing skills, or acquire new ones.

Tasks are resolved by rolling 2d6 and adding the appropriate skill rating to the roll.  If the total exceeds the difficulty assigned by the GM, you succeed.  If you’re trying something in opposition to another character, each side rolls 2d6, adds the appropriate skill rating, with the side rolling the highest total winning the contest.  It’s a simple enough resolution system, though the game suggests six different levels of difficulty, which seems a bit excessive for such a light game.  In my view, three difficulty levels, maybe four, should be more than sufficient.  However, it’s a minor quibble considering how easy it is to adjust the rules to suit your tastes.

The equipment list is rather sparse, listing just six weapons and three pieces of equipment (including Trooper armor).  The weapons are clearly inspired by the Aliens movies, right down to Cpl. Hicks’ Ithaca pump-action shotgun.  Considering the nature of the game, however, the sparse equipment list is no detriment.  After all, the characters are government employees, using equipment issued to them; there’s no need to waste time playing Dungeons & Shopping when the Corps just hands you a pulse rifle and kicks your ass out the door.  And you don’t need an exhaustive equipment list to simply assume that characters have the gear they need to do their jobs.


Rather than using hit points, EoS uses a five-step health track, ranging from Healthy to Dead.  Most successful attacks move you one step down the health track, though a few may move you two, or even three, steps down the track.  Trooper armor absorbs the first point of damage you take.  This set up is fairly similar to the way 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars handles damage and, in my view, is a good representation of the cinematic combat style EoS (and 3:16) is trying to emulate.

Ranged combat is handled as a standard dice roll, while hand-to-hand combat is handled as an opposed dice roll.  My only quibble with combat is the hand-to-hand system, where combatants trade off turns as “attacker” and “defender.”  If the attacker rolls high, the defender takes damage, while if the defender rolls high they dodge the attack.  This seems like a lot of unnecessary dice rolling to me.  A simpler mechanic would be a single opposed roll with the high result winning the battle and inflicting damage on the loser; a tie would result in a stalemate, neither side injuring the other.  Though, again, the rules are easy enough to modify as desired, so it’s not the end of the world.

The Bugs are described in four broad categories or types: Grunts, Shooters, Scouts and Brains (recognizable, for the most part, to anyone who’s seen Starship Troopers), overseen by the Masters.  Each category has four random traits that further define them, determined by rolling a d6 and cross referencing the bug type.  For example, Grunts can have mandibles, fangs, can infect or have armored exoskeletons, whereas Scouts might have wings and Brains can use psionic attacks.  I’m assuming the bug’s abilities are rated like skills, but this isn’t made explicit in the rules.  Nor is it specified how many times you roll for each bug.  Just once, or four times as you would for a new character?  Or is it the GM’s discretion, depending on the difficulty of the scenario?  Just one additional sentence here giving a little guidance on the bug abilities would make a big difference.

Something else not specified is whether the Bugs use the same health track that player characters do.  The rules seem to imply this is the case, though it would be far more cinematic if most Bugs only took one hit to kill (just throw more of them at the players).  That way, the players can feel like badasses, blowing Bugs away left and right, but still need to be wary of being overrun by shear numbers.

EoS includes a sample adventure, and there are two additional free adventures available (Horus Adrift and Battle of Kaylen).  Each adventure follows the tried-and-true horror-action setup of Aliens and countless other movies: an isolated outpost, lost contact, possible alien involvement, and the PCs sent in blind to investigate, followed by lots of bug blasting and, sometimes, a desperate race against time before something blows up permanent-like.  Some of the adventures suffer from poor spelling and grammatical errors, but on the whole they are perfectly serviceable Bug Hunt style adventures, good for a night’s play.

If you’re looking for a simple, Beer & Pretzel game of ass-kicking, bug-stomping colonial marines, Edge of Space is probably the game for you.  There are a couple of areas that could be more clear, but nothing that a good GM couldn’t fix with a little judicious house-ruling.  EoS is less suited towards long term campaign play, at least not without a bit of work.  And if you like to house-rule and tweak games, EoS is perfect for you, for the rules leave plenty of room for customization.  The PDF is available for just $1; it’s hard to go wrong at that price.  Cheers.

Teratic Tome

July 15, 2013


Well, Lulu had a nice discount a couple of weeks ago so I went ahead and ordered the Teratic Tome by Rafael Chandler.  It’s an old school style monster manual designed for OSRIC, but shares more than a little resemblance to the 1E AD&D rulebooks of old.  In fact, the look and feel is amazingly close…so close that you could sit the TT right next to the MM on your bookshelf and, absent close inspection, most gamers probably wouldn’t be able to tell that the TT wasn’t part of 1st Edition AD&D.

However, these aren’t your old grognard’s monsters.  The teratoforms contained within have more in common with the monsters from the Fiend Folio than your typical orc or ogre.  More mind-twisting horrors than hack-and-slash brutes.  Fun stuff after slaying your 10,000th goblin, or when killing red dragons is old hat.

Even if you don’t play OSRIC/1E AD&D the monsters should be easy enough to convert to your OSR retroclone of choice.  And if you do still play 1st Edition, it might be a nice addition to your collection, mixing in some new monsters for your game and look right a home sitting next to your old 1E books.

If you’re interested you can order a hardcopy at, or pick up the PDF at (and it’s Pay What You Want, no less).

Lords of Waterdeep

July 7, 2013

lowdpicLast night I had a chance to play WotC’s new eurogame, Lords of Waterdeep and had a great time, finishing our game in about 2 hours.

The object is to score the most Victory Points within 8 rounds of gameplay, a fairly typical eurogame setup.

Each player represents one of the secret lords of waterdeep, represented by a card kept face down until the end of the game.  Lords enact their will through the use of ‘agent’ tokens.  Each round players take turns playing agent tokens on various buildings in the city.  Buildings grant resources which in turn are used to score Victory Points.  Agent tokens, in effect, limit the number of actions you can take each round.

There are a number of basic public buildings, but players may also purchase and own additional buildings drawn from a stack.  Anyone may place an agent on these privately owned buildings, but when an opponent does so the owner of the building gains a small benefit as well.

The primary resources are gold and adventures, of which there are four types (fighters, rogues, wizards and clerics) represented by colored wooden cubes.  Adventurers are ‘spent’ to complete various quests, which grant Victory Points (and sometimes other resources or ongoing benefits).

You can also play intrigue cards to either enhance your position or mess with your opponents.  It seemed that intrigue cards could provide a nice bonus, but rarely were powerful enough to dramatically change the course of the game in a single play.

The rules are well-written and clear; we had very few questions and when a question did come up, we were able to find an answer fairly quickly.  The back of the rule book contains a nice errata section covering various contingencies that could come up during gameplay, a nice touch demonstrating a well-tested game.

All-in-all LoW is a solid euro-style boardgame.  There’s nothing revolutionary here; if you’re a fan of eurogames you’ve probably seen most of the concepts and mechanics in one form or another in other eurogames.  LoW is probably a bit on the light side, as eurogames go.  But the rules are easy to learn, it has solid mechanics and you can finish a game in just an hour or two.


May 9, 2013

Neverwinter is Cryptic’s new free-to-play MMO based on the Neverwinter D&D franchise.  Open beta began about a week ago, so anyone can download the game and give it a go (it’s about a 3.5 Gigs).

The game is loosely modeled on 4th Edition D&D, but heavily MMO-ized.  It’s an action-oriented game, having more in common with, say, Diablo, than World of Warcraft.  The beta launched with 7 standard D&D races and 5 basic classes, though they promise to gradually release more races and classes over time.

For classes, you’ve got your basic fighters, clerics, rogues and wizards.  However, Neverwinter classes are structured more like 4E class builds, rather than as customizable templates.  For example, the magic-user class is called a ‘control wizard’ and specializes in crowd control.  This implies that in the future they’ll release different wizard ‘build’ classes, perhaps one that specializes in nuking.  This idea is further reflected in the two fighter classes, one using two-handed weapons and the other using sword-n-board.  Over time there will probably be many variations of ‘build’ classes, several for each core class.  Rumor is, one of the next classes to be released will be a Ranger Archer class.  Max level is 60.

Every class gets its own set of ‘powers,’ broken down into the 4E model of At-Will, Encounter and Daily.  You can equip up to two At-Will powers (activated using left/right mouse buttons), 3 Encounter powers (activated using Q, E and R buttons) and 2 Daily powers (activated by hitting 1 or 2).  Each class has several of each power to choose from, so you can swap them to suit your needs and/or play-style.  At-Wills can be used anytime, just by clicking your mouse buttons; Encounter powers operated on a standard MMO cool-down timer (usually 10-20 seconds); and the Daily power can be activated once you’ve built up enough Action Points.  Different classes build up Action Points in different ways, but it usually involves violence of some sort.

Another thing about the classes, they are extremely gear restricted.  For example, Great Weapon Fighters can only use two-handed swords.  There are no two-handed axes or two-handed polearms.  And you can’t equip a GWF with a longsword or a dagger.  I know that in other games this kind of limitation would have bothered the hell out of me,  but with NWO I was so engrossed in the action I hardly even noticed it.  And for what it’s worth, the game is very generous with the loot drops, so it’s generally not difficult to equip your character.

As you progress in levels you earn points to buy new powers, or to enhance existing powers.  You also earn ‘feat’ points, which work more or less like standard MMO talent trees.  Every 10 levels you can boost your ability scores.

Along the way you can pick up companions, which work very similar to companions from Star Wars: The Old Republic.  However, as the companions are sort of generic and interchangeable, they don’t have any personality and no back-story of their own (unlike SWTOR companions).  You can get companions to heal you, or tank for you.  You can get pet companions (even a honey badger!) or even use IOUN stones as companions.  Companions level as you play and they have a few equipping options, though not nearly to the same extent as your PC.

NWO also has a crafting system they call ‘Professions,’ which is basically getting hirelings to do menial work for you while you go out and have fun killing stuff (and taking their loot).  Professions are leveled by having your hirelings work a profession and, as you progress, you gain the ability to perform more (and better) tasks.  Eventually you can have up to 9 profession tasks going at once.  In my experience, professions seem to take a great deal of time to advance.  Even at level 3 some of my profession tasks take 4+ hours to complete.  There are ways to reduce the time required (including a ‘buy out’ option) but so far I haven’t acquired any means of doing so.

In terms of content, there are plenty of single player quests to keep you going.  The game is divided into level-appropriate zones (fairly standard fair in MMO design now).  Each zone has enough quests that you can solo to progress to the next area.  But in addition, most zones have 5-player skirmishes and dungeons you can qeue up for.  There’s also PvP and many areas have periodic contests that are open to everyone in the zone.

And that brings me to what is probably the most revolutionary aspect of NWO: The Foundry.  Paying homage to the origins of Neverwinter Nights, the game provides an option for players to create their own adventures and release them to the rest of the community.  Unfortunately, I don’t have much experience with the Foundry yet, as I’ve been having so much fun with the rest of the game, but it’s high on my list of things to do next in the game.  Also, Foundry adventures can be rated by players, so you can weed out the lame ones.

Fair warning, NWO makes its money from micro-transactions, and they hit that aspect of the game up pretty hard.  Zen is Cryptic’s special currency for buying special items, like mounts, companions (the aforementioned honey badger, for instance), apparel, respec tokens, additional character slots and more.  However, from what I’ve seen so far, it is entirely possibly to play the game just fine without ever spending a dime, if that’s what you want (though I’m seriously thinking about picking up that honey badger 🙂 Honey badgers are bad-assed!).  There’s even a mechanism for selling astral diamonds (the game’s primary currency) for Zen, though I gather it’d take a LOT of astral diamonds to get a decent amount of Zen.

I’ve encountered a few bugs so far, but nothing game breaking.  And the game could do with more variety in gear itemization (like, why can’t the Great Weapon Fighter use two-handed axes/polearms in addition to two-handed swords?)  However, this ‘beta’ game seems far more complete to me than many ‘finished’ MMOs I’ve played recently (looking at you, Defiance).  There’s plenty to do with a solid ‘actiony’ combat system.

If you’re a fan of MMO’s, you should check it out.  However, if you’re looking for a more authentic D&D experience, this probably isn’t the game for you (D&D Online may be what you’re looking for, though).

Weird Adventures

July 13, 2012

I’m a bit late to the party here, but I just finished reading Trey Causey’s Weird Adventures.  I don’t normally go in for setting or campaign sourcebooks, so I’d originally dismissed Weird Adventures as some kind of Indiana Jones-ish pulp adventure supplement set in the 1930’s/40’s of our world.  Boy was I wrong, and rarely so glad to be wrong.

It is heavily insipired by pulp adventure stories of the 30’s and 40’s, but it’s set in an alternate reality that has many similarities with our world, but is not our world.  Many locations and features of this alternate world are recognizable and yet different.  At the same time, the supplement is not a slave to real history or culture.  It mimics it where it works, and charts its own path where it makes sense to do so.

It’s a world where magic is an open and accepted part of modern society, as if your typical D&D campaign finally managed to not only advance technologically, but also incorporate, even exploit, magic industrially.  And it’s a world where adventuring (in the D&D sense) is considered a (mostly) legitimate profession.

Though the book is very light on rules crunch, it’s clearly written with D&D (or the many clones and varients) in mind.  However, it would not be too difficult to use the setting using another system, like Savage Worlds, GURPS or, as I was thinking, a modified version of Shadowrun…to me the setting feels much like 1930’s version of Shadowrun, replacing the ‘Net and cyberware with lots of supernatural weirdness.

In fact, I’d say there’s almost too much weirdness going on, particularly in the well detailed City of Empire (more commonly ‘The City,’ essentially a weird fantasy version of New York City).  Fortunately, many of the strange happenings are presented in the form of rumor and legend, so the GM is free to decide which weirdness is true and which is urban myth.

Weird Adventures provide plenty of setting material and adventure leads.  For example, there’s enough material on the surface locations of The City to run a campaign for years.  And that doesn’t count the often hinted (though not detailed) sub-levels of The City: the sewers, waterworks, subway tunnels and ancient burial complexes The City was built upon…basically endless dungeons to explore and loot.

Though it is meant to be a largely systemless sourcebook, it is clearly rooted in D&D.   I would have liked to have seen a few rules, or at least suggestions, on how to handle things like modern firearms (particularly machineguns) and car chases using D&D style mechanics.  And while some information is given for services (like hotel rooms and train tickets), a price list for adventuring equipment in 1930’s dollars would have been nice, too.

Likewise, more information on how adventurers operate in this industrial-fantasy world.  Do modern adventurers still wear platemail armor exploring The City’s sewers, or do they have more effective modern alternatives?  Is it better to use a Tommy Gun or a magic sword?  I suppose much of this kind of detail is meant to be sorted out by players and GM’s as the game progresses, a process of invention and discovery, so to speak.  But more fluff (i.e. hints) about adventurers would have been nice, especially considering how much other detail is provided on the setting.

None-the-less, Weird Adventures is one of the best setting sourcebooks I’ve ever read.  If you don’t mind mixing fanatasy and technology, and like pulpy adventure, you should check it out.  You can sort of preview the book by going to Mr. Causey’s blog, From the Sorcerer’s Skull (click on the Weird Adventures Index in the sidebar).  Cheers.

Diablo III – Initial Impressions

May 16, 2012

TDLR Version – If you liked Diablo II’s click-kill-n-loot model, you should like Diablo III.  If you don’t like that kind of game, you’re not going to like Diablo III.

Diablo III got off to a rough start yesterday, with the servers being down most of the day.  However, today I’ve had no problems playing.

The game plays more-or-less like Diablo II.  Click on a monster to kill it, then click on the loot to collect it.  It also keeps the same grim, dark atmosphere as the previous two games (definitely not for young kids).

There are, however, some changes to other mechanics.  Principle among them is the way you skill up a character.  The skill tree of Diablo II is gone.  Instead, you have six skill slots which unlock as you level your character.  As you level you also gradually unlock a number of skills for each slot, for a total of about 25-30 skills.  In addition, each skill has 5 or so different runes, which further modify that skill, allowing for a great deal of character customization.  You can re-spec your skills and runes at any time, without cost.

Another significant change is an emphasis on crafting.  As you play you can level up the Blacksmith and a Jeweler.  The blacksmith lets you craft weapons and armor, and salvage magic items, while the Jeweler cuts gem sockets into items, combines smaller gems into bigger ones, etc.  Leveling a crafter requires a fair amount of gold, though to get them to the final level you need tomes, which drop in the game (reportedly at the hardest level, Inferno).  You’ll also be able to loot plans to craft rare items.

The art style is slightly cartoony (though not as exaggerated as WoW or Torchlight); however, given the scale of the characters and the dark lighting it’s only really noticeable during cut scenes or if you look closely at the details.

Another minor change:  the game does away with the Town Portal and Identify scrolls.  Once you unlock Town Portal (fairly early in the game) you can teleport to town whenever you want.  And to identify a rare item, just left click on it…voila!

A more significant change is the inclusion of an online Auction House.  Currently only the Gold Auction House (GAH) is active, but sometime next week the Real Money Auction House (RMAH) will come online (which I posted on last week).  Lest you think you’ll become a millionaire playing Diablo III, Blizzard takes a hefty cut of your profits and imposes significant restrictions on auctions.  Plus, there are about 1.3 billion Chinese happy to undercut you anyways.  Still, the auction house is a nice feature, adding convenience and increased security (for real money transactions).  The auction houses are also completely optional…you can just ignore them if you don’t like them.

All-in-all, if you like Diablo style action RPG loot-fests, you’ll like Diablo III.  If you hate those kinds of games, you’ll probably hate D3, too.

Sword & Shield Skirmish

March 13, 2012

Anyone interested in the light RPG Sword & Shield might be interested to know there’s a skirmish version out now.  It’s a very rules-light wargame that could easily be converted to an RPG or even a Hero Quest style dungeon bashing boardgame.  One player controls the adventurers and the other controls the monsters.

Despite the similar name, it actually uses a different mechanic to resolve combat.  You simply roll a d6 (sometimes more than one) equal to or under a model’s ability score.  For example, if you character has a Fight score of 4, you need to roll a 4 or less on 1d6 to hit your target.  Targets get a similar armor save roll to avoid a grisly fate.

I’m not a fan of table top wargaming (other than epic Space Marine back in college), but I could be persuaded to give these rules a try.  As I mentioned, it’d be easy to tweak them a bit to turn it into a dungeon bashing boardgame.

You can dl them here for free, if you’re interested.  Cheers.

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