Dan

Oct 212010
 

I don’t know if you have noticed lately, but Fate really seems to have taken off in the last year or two. It doesn’t particularly surprise me. Evil Hat has certainly done a good job of releasing interesting and complete products. That, combined with a good game has been enough to spread the system into more than a few different games. I’ve yet to see a Fate-based game that didn’t deliver or look fantastic, which is a heck of a lot more than I can say about the d20 system or Savage Worlds. That isn’t to say that there aren’t lots of great d20 and Savage Worlds games/settings, just that there are some stinkers.

What I have noticed is that people seem to have started equating Fate with Fudge. That’s understandable in a way, Fate did grow out of Fudge after all. Still, every time I see it happen it makes me a little sad. Fudge has been my go to RPG system for years now, and I think that it is a disservice to both Fate and Fudge to call them the same thing. They aren’t, not by a long shot. I should note here, before I continue, that I’m mostly talking about Fate 3.0 games. The 2.0 rules aren’t quite as removed from Fudge as the newer ones are.

Fudge is almost more of an RPG toolbox than an RPG. It has all the pieces that you need to make and run a game, but it has multiple pieces that fit in the same spots. There is no set list of attributes, skills, archetypes, or anything else. Fudge presents, almost gleefully, different approaches and methods to just about everything. Character creation, skills, powers, even health have more than one way of dealing with it. Really, the only thing that seems consistent in Fudge is The Ladder. It’s always been a game that wants you to make it up as you go along. It’s designed for the purpose of mixing and matching to get what you need for any particular game night, setting, or campaign.

Fate isn’t quite so fluid. It’s refined. Everything has a purpose and that purpose is to drive character development and plot. It has an intensity and focus that is admirable. Everything about it is designed to make your characters and game be as solid and engaging as possible. If it has any faults it’s that actually wrapping your head around it all can be frustrating at first. It all works well. The Fate games that I have played have created detailed and interesting characters and the focus on dynamic characters is just really fun. There is a certain group of players that want a game that has a focus this kind of focus and narrative direction. It’s what has made Fate so successful. It’s also what makes a game of Fate so strikingly different from Fudge.

Fudge, out of the box, plays much closer to what I’d call traditional role playing. The make it up as you go attitude spawned rules that let players just create and go with it. Along with The Ladder, devil may care attitude, and community involvement it was actually a pretty exciting game back in the 90′s. It’s very much a game that bridges between the new school and the old school. That’s assuming you don’t twist and change it to suit your purposes, because over the years a lot of alternate options have spawned through the mailing list, forums, and game tables.

Don’t think the Fate games are the only ones out there with a little Fudge in their blood. Terra Incognita, The Collectors, Now Playing, and even HeartQuest contribute to the Fudge ecosystem and each of them are interesting and unique games in their own right.

Fate branched away from Fudge quite some time ago and became something new and unique. It became something focused and polished with specific goals and purpose. It’s a perfect example of the new school RPG. Give Fudge a try and see how different the two games actually are. Spend a night and just fudge it.

[tags]fudge, fate, rpg, tabletop, role playing[/tags]

Oct 152010
 

I was perusing www.rpg.net, as I tend to do, and I came across a thread where an artist was drawing superheroes on the cheap. I’m talking about a criminally good deal. I looked through the thread some more and discovered it was for something called Wave One, a supplemental product for the upcoming Icons RPG from Adamant. This is the thread that sold me on the game. Frankly, another superhero RPG interests me about as much as another high fantasy RPG interests me. There needs to be something there to spark my interest. The dozens of people commissioning characters for the game that would show up in its first supplement was that spark. I didn’t order a character, but I did pre-order the game.

Fast forward a few months and it still hadn’t come despite not being back ordered and now being freely available. That was unusual, but a quick email off to them and they sent me a second copy. That one came in a few weeks and I was ready to play. Unfortunately, I had other games on the go. Dresden Files and Pathfinder to be specific. So the game got put off for again, that is until we had our regular game of Pathfinder fall through. It was at this point I stepped in with Icons in all its heroic glory.

The book comes in a deceptively small package. It’s bright red and just a little bit larger than digest sized. It’s also about 125 pages long, give or take a few that are ads or character sheets and full color. The art is great. It’s not amazingly detailed, but it has that Silver  Age Comics quality that lends itself to the product. It fits the game perfectly with light hearted yet imaginative heroes lining the pages and cover of the book. The layout is clean and readable with the only thing that caused me any problems was the choice to list powers by group rather than alphabetically.

Icons, as a system, is incredibly fluid and simple. The basic mechanic use two differently colored d6. You roll them and subtract one from the other giving a result between -5 and +5. You add that result to the applicable power level and away you go. There is an outcome chart which rates your overall success between a failure and a massive success. These give guidelines for the players/GM on how to narrate the success. It all comes off as a tad complex here, but in practice it is quick and easy. There are rules that govern the different interactions that characters might have, everything from throwing a bus to searching an area. These aren’t so much additional rules as they are a paragraph or two about using the basic mechanic to accomplish them.Icons also pulls a few ideas from Fate, namely Aspects. They aren’t exactly the same though. Aspects in Icons are things like your character’s catch phrase or secret identity. They can be tagged and compelled for bonuses/penalties much like in Fate, but this is by no means the focus of the system. The Aspects also have a counterpart in Challenges. These are more negative aspects which might be called flaws or drawbacks in another game. They cover things like dependents or weaknesses. These Aspects are a good fit for the game, but they do feel a little bit tacked on to me.

The focus of Icons, rightly so, is that of your heroes and villains. On this end Icons accomplishes everything and more. You’ll find just about every power accounted for in the pages of Icons, in fact most of the book consists of these powers. While the tables may initially feel rather sparse, once you add your characters specific flavor to them you’ll find that you could potentially create almost every character in the Marvel and DC universes. Unusually, one of the best things about the game is the random character creation. Through rolling on a number of different charts you generate a complete character from origins through powers. It is up to you to decide what exactly a character who gets their powers from an alien source and is able to stretch their limbs and read minds is exactly. How do the powers fit together and what your back story are exactly are up to you. This is where the game shines. It is indescribably fun to sit down with your group and see what everyone gets. In our one-shot of the game we ended up with:

  • The House, a Russian wrestler whose powers come from a magical championship belt
  • Doctor Dick, the man with the healing stick and mind control helmet.
  • The Martial Arts Man, the lost disciple of Mr. Miyagi (he fell off the post, was knocked unconscious, and drifted out to sea)

As you might guess, we weren’t playing the most serious game around, and I don’t think Icons is a great fit for serious games. You’d be better off sticking with Mutants & Masterminds, Hero System, or Wild Talents for that.

Tucked in near the end of the book is my favorite section of Icons. It isn’t the biggest, weighing in at only two pages, but it is useful. It’s a random adventure generator. It doesn’t exist of more than two columns and the step of randomly generating a villain, but that’s all you need. It’s exactly what you need when you are running a spur of the moment pick-up game. We used it and I generated an Illusion using villain whose mind can’t be read. He was an intelligent character and I decided to call him The Suit, a faceless suit-wearing Lord of War type evil businessman type villain. This worked out pretty well because what did I roll for the random adventure? Steal Invention. That’s all I needed to get the game going. I had characters start out in Doctor Dick’s secret underground superhero hospital. We decided that’s where all the heroes in our metropolis go for medical care. It was here that they saw the breaking news of the theft of a prototype power source where it was being unveiled at a conference. From there the heroes followed the trail which ultimately lead to a secret auction and a showdown with The Suit at the ritzy Epsilon Hotel. It was a cheesy adventure in the best sense of the word. Lots of camp, lots of laughs, and more than a few double entendres courtesy of Dr. Dick. The adventure generator might not be sophisticated, but the superhero genre lends itself well to improvisation and a campy setting is also very forgiving on the improv front. It works perfectly with Icons and further cements itself as a great standby game.

The adventure generator isn’t the only tool for a GM thrust into an unexpected game. There are numerous sample villains and heroes along with an adventure that should be good for at least one game. It’s the small details like these that make the difference between a good RPG and a great one.

Icons is what you get if you take Spirit of the Century, Savage Worlds, and all your favorite comics and then toss them in a blender. It has charmed itself a place on my game shelf. I won’t be using it for a long term campaign anytime soon, but for one-off games it is now at the top of my list. I’d recommend it to people that want light-hearted supers games and for people that like to play fast and loose with the rules. It isn’t a game for crafting your ultimate hero and I don’t think it has tried to be. If you like camp and golden or silver age comics then you owe it yourself to try a game out.

PS: I couldn’t think of a way to work this link in to the review proper. So I’m putting it down here. Check out Sigils, the Fantasy setting to put over top of the Icons engine.  I certainly plan on taking it for a spin.

[Tags]Icons, RPG, Adamant, Superhero, Tabletop , Role Playing[/Tags]

Oct 142010
 

The postman arrived at my door a couple of months ago containing a rather heavy package from Hero Games. Turns out that this box contained the hard copies of the newly released Dresden Files RPG. What does this mean? Well you might remember that I had previously done an early review of The Dresden Files RPG based on the pre-order PDFs. I’d said that I would follow up once I’d got my hands on the physical copies and played a few games and, two story arcs later, this is that follow up.

The books are gorgeous. I haven’t seen such high quality RPG books since I got my hands on Pathfinder RPG last year. I’d earlier expressed some misgivings about the price tag on these things, but after holding them in my hands and inhaling that new book smell I’ve got to say that I may have been wrong. The pseudo book draft layout looks a lot nicer in a physical format than it ever did on a computer monitor and the full color pages go a long way towards saying that this is a Tier 1 RPG product.

I can’t say if anything has changed since the early PDF copies as far as actual content goes, but sitting down and playing the game has really highlighted some things that I didn’t appreciate so much my first time through. The first one of these things is the collaborative city creation. It’s great. My group had more fun giving our city the Dresden treatment than we did making characters. Delving into the history of your city and dropping gremlins and other supernatural beasties onto your landmarks is more fun than it has any right to be. City creation is simple enough, every player comes up with some locations and people and they give them a distinctly supernatural twist. The entire process is very much like creating Aspects for your character, only on a grander scale.

I have a love/hate relationship with the character creation. I find it to be very, very time consuming, but it is also very, very good. Luckily, you don’t need to do this too often and having the players work together to integrate each other’s characters into their own histories to generate aspects is a stroke of genius. It creates a cohesive group of characters with a reason to be together. One area I would have liked a few more options with is the archetypes. Looking through the options I felt more constrained than I would have liked. Most types of characters can be created with what is given, but I can’t help feeling that I would have liked more. Of course, I can’t think of what I would actually add, so it can’t be that bad.

I’m going to gloss over the mechanics for part 2 because I covered that in the last review. It’s Fate, plain and simple. The ladder works great, and the books even came with these handy bookmarks with the ladder printed on them for ease of use. Aspects work for the players and the GM. As a GM you can compel players to help move the story along and players will try and trigger their Aspects as much as possible. This means they need to accept more compels. It’s elegant to play. A concern raised by one of my players was that they didn’t like the metagame it creates. It’s a valid concern. A good part of character creation is manipulating and choosing aspects that are easy to activate and compel. This isn’t going to sit well with every player, especially ones that don’t like taking a step away from the first person. As a story creation mechanic it works great, but it does make for a game that is a half step removed from fully taking on the mantle of your character. I should note that after some initial chaffing this player got past it and into the game.

There have been some unexpected side effects of running this game. The first is that my GM style is much different when playing it. Part of this is because we are playing in the city we reside in. I don’t need to mark people, places, or things down as much because I already know them all. This makes improvising much easier. I’ve also noticed that each game is more fragmented with each player doing their own things throughout the story arc. A lot of our game revolves around the characters day jobs and various phenomena in the city coming together to give the full picture of the plot. I find myself regularly jumping between players as their paths crisscross throughout a story arc. It’s much different from my regular more focused approach. Finally, I’ve learned a lot about my city. I’ve been visiting the library to look up old newspapers, visited paranormal investigation websites, and looked at folklore oriented travel guides. According to local folklore there is a sea serpent, a two headed giant lake snake, a vampire (being watched by a secret Christian monks), many hauntings, satanic cults, and an extensive network of underground tunnels in my city. The tunnels are real by they way. No word yet on the serpents and vampire.

After having played DFRPG weekly for two months now I’ve got to say that I like it. There are some initial hurdles, but they are easily overcome. All of my players also play in other regular games and like the more story and role play oriented focus this game has. This is a strong entry into the supernatural/urban fantasy RPG landscape. I don’t believe it will be unseating WoD as the dominant game in the genre, but its lighter tone and excellent system are perfect for those that are have White Wolf fatigue.

[tags]RPG, Dresden Files, DFRPG, Fate, Fate RPG, tabletop[/tags]

Jul 142010
 

Two Saturdays ago, or thereabouts, I was waiting in queue at the local game shoppe. What I had gone that day to purchase seems inconsequential after the events following that fateful afternoon. Let it suffice to say that I had gone there to purchase something and whilst awaiting my turn to exchange coin for product something in the corner of my eye begged for my attention. With nothing else requiring my attention at the moment, I turned my focus to the steel rack just to the side of the queue.

There, nestled in between rows of metal teeth that pierced the packaging of so many other toys, sat something called Cthulhu Dice. As I lay my gaze upon the packet which had attracted it, I realized what had drawn my attention in the first place. Sitting atop the packet was the leering face of some ages old monster. I felt, even though I knew that it was not, could not, be alive I felt as if it were mocking me. Like it was daring me to buy it and pursue its dark mysteries. I tasted the name “Cthulhu” on my tongue as I looked at the little game. Each repetition of the word Cthulhu was like an arcane spell urging me to take this game.

I don’t know how long I stood there pondering the eerily green dice. It must have been quite some time as my thoughts were interrupted by a customer waiting behind me. Startled, I looked around and realized that the people waiting in front of me had long since made their transactions and left and that I was now holding everyone else up. Embarrassed as I was I picked up the Cthulhu Dice and bought them along with everyone else. I don’t remember ever consciously making the decision to buy the dice. To this day I think that some dark force guided actions that day, still, I thought nothing of it at the time. Woe that I hadn’t been stronger or more aware. Perhaps If I had been the events of that night would never have occurred.

Later that evening I, and some of my close companions, sat gathered around my large oaken table. A fire lay at one end of the room, the flames of which cast mysterious shadows on the faces of my friends. We had gathered that night, as we do every Saturday, to have a gentleman’s evening of games.We had just finished playing a German game of some kind. I never could get the hang of the names, but it was a thrilling game of power plant tycoonery. Since the game had ended it was time to select another one and the task lay upon me this round. I could almost hear the Cthulhu Dice calling to me from their place in the cabinet. Woodenly I walked towards them and with each step the shadows in the room seemed to deepen and the beckoning whispers grew louder and more urgent. The whispers turned to a roar as I grasped the dice, but when I set it down on the table and opened the package they turned silent. I should have recognized these events as an omen for what was to come, but instead I dismissed them as fantasies of an inebriated mind.

We read the rules aloud. Each player was to get several green stones to represent our sanity and we would then take turns rolling the Cthulhu dice and follow the directions it rolled upon. It was simple enough and were rolling away in no time.

With each roll time seemed to slow. I rolled a tentacle, the next play a yellow sign, and the one after that and elder sign. And so it continued, each roll making us further removed from the world, as if we were playing underwater and then within ice. Green beads passed between players and soon lost significance as the die rolled again and again. The faces of my companions became strained. Each of us trying to end this game that would not end, that dragged on for eternity.

I looked at the clock and found that the minute hand had not even moved since we began our game. I broke out into a cold sweat after seeing this. I knew that we had been at it for longer than that. At least a few hours by now. We had become trapped by the game. It had sucked us into its flow and bent time around us. I fantasied that I heard mocking laughter, otherworldly in its timbre, with each roll of the die. My vision began to blur and swirl and soon I felt as if I was trapped within the die. I cried out in fear and horror, but the tumbling and laughter would not end. The game would not end.

The die passed to me and, somehow despite the nauseous tumbling and slow motion movement, I changed my toss of the die so as it was flung into the crackling fire which warmed the room. I could not believe what I had done, I still do not know how I had the willpower remaining to do such a thing. John, one of my companions dived after it. He had been consumed by the game and he scrambled madly in the flames searching for the hellish polyhedral. It took all of us remaining to drag him to safety, but the scars from the flames will mark his hands for the rest of his life.

Even weeks later I can smell the acrid fumes which had filled the room as the Cthulhu dice burned. I may have survived the ordeal intact, unlike poor John, but my heart is gripped with icy fear each time I lay my eyes upon dice. An affliction which has ended our Saturday gatherings. Not that any of us want to set foot in that room again as long as we live. I’ve already put my home up for sale. I write this tale here as a warning to you and others like you. If a package of Cthulhu dice catches your eye whilst you are out at the game store I implore you not to pick them up. Even if you can survive the descent into madness caused by the game, you won’t want to play with dice ever again.

[tags]dice, games, board games, cthulhu, steve jackson, lovecraft[/tags]

Jun 252010
 

You’ve probably heard about D&D Encounters by now if you pay much attention to the events going on in the RPG world. D&D Encounters are Wizards latest attempt at reeling lapsed gamers back into the D&D world.  They are seeking to do this with short 1.5 hour encounters, which are basically mini adventures or an extended version of what would traditionally be called an encounter.

Earlier this year Wizards began the program by having FLGS become involved in the program, much like with Friday Night Magic or RPGA events. Now it looks like they are looking to expand the support for D&D Encounters. How do I know this? If you’ve been visiting this blog lately then you may remember that I happen to run a gaming club in my city. This week I was approached and asked if we would be interested in running one of these D&D Encounters. In exchange we were offered the standard welcome kit and materials that an FLGS would get as well as $150 to use at our discretion. Being the corporate sellout that I am, I readily accepted. Gaming clubs don’t pay for themselves and when all our expenses are paid by donation it is nice to get a bag of gold every now and then.

We weren’t the only club to be offered this deal. Not by a long shot. Wizards seems to be methodically contacting any large gaming organizations they can find with this offer. This appears to be part of a larger push by Wizards to get people involved with D&D Encounters and despite my metaphorical streetwalker status, I wouldn’t take the deal if I didn’t think the program was any good. It gets people in the stores, makes for a convenient meet up, and of course introduces people to the hobby. Don’t take my word for it though, Ars Technica as plenty of nice things to say as well.

D&D Encounters are a good idea. They offer a weekly chunk of time, no longer than a movie, that anyone can drop into and enjoy themselves. No need for books, dice, or anything but yourself. I think that a lot of ex-gamers that left the hobby from losing a regular group or because they didn’t have enough time for 4-8 hours or role playing are going to drop by one of these games. It would also be a good way to get the next generation of role players interested. A program like this is good for the entire gaming community. I’ll know first hand soon whether it is as successful as I think it should be, at least in my area anyway.

Note: Wizards did not pay me anything to write this and, as far as I know, aren’t even aware that I occasionally write for Troll in the Corner.

[tags]D&D, Encounters, RPG, FLGS, marketing[/tags]

Jun 182010
 

StoryCards are an intriguing product that I just happened to stumble across. Turns out they’ve been around for a while now, but let’s take a look at them anyway.

StoryCards are based on a very elegant idea. That we can use a deck of cards to generate and guide an entire role playing game off the cuff. I’ve been playing with them on and off for several months now and found that while the cards are brilliant, the overall execution is lacking.

The Product

Let’s talk about the actual cards briefly. A single deck consists of 60 cards which have been heavily influenced by tarot decks. The neat thing here is that each card is packed with information. They have attributes, number values, and even keywords. They are also designed to be viewed from only one direction which means, like tarot, an inverted card will appear differently and can have alternate meaning. This is excellent stuff and just thumbing through the deck I am hit by idea after idea.

They’re also quite attractive, at least as far as cards go. Each card has a sign on it front and center and everything is laid out in an easy to read way. Really, there isn’t too much to say. They are playing cards with role playing information on them.

The System

The cards also have an associated role playing system and this is where the product kind of falls flat. The system isn’t bad, in fact it is pretty solid. It covers how to use the cards to generate characters, settings, and even adventures just by flipping over a few cards. This is done through readings and can be likened to the fortune telling process of a Tarot Reader. The rules for resolving challenges (Feats), tasks, anything else that might get thrown at your character are also pretty good. These work by having all difficulties set with a target of 1 and modifying it up based on circumstances. You then get to draw a number of cards based on your character’s skills and attributes and depending on how many rank as a success your character’s results can be anywhere from downright awful to spectacular.

It is a pretty basic system and the real meat of it lies in the generation mechanics and not so much on the resolution side of things. The problem really comes down to it being 80 pages long. The actual StoryCards are easily tucked away in a pocket or stashed with your regular game books and can be a great accessory for whatever game you normally play. You can use it to quickly generate twists, npc disposition, or just for a spot of inspiration. The need for an 80 page rulebook just seems to run counter to everything the StoryCards are aiming for and render it a bit of a pain for pick up and play purposes.

How it Plays

There are really two sides to StoryCards. There is the system and then there is the generation and inspiration mechanics. In the months I’ve had the game only once have we used the system. We did a murder on a train. A typical whodunnit setup that was nonetheless a blast to play. We used the generation mechanics to create the setting and the process felt very natural. It was fun to see how everyone would interpret the cards and the work together to come up with some exciting. In play the system was quick to use, but we found ourselves using the single reading more often for resolution than we did the actual Feats. The single reading, since I didn’t explain it earlier, is a process where a card if flipped over to give a simple yes/no answer.

I really don’t have many complaints about the game, just that it doesn’t really have that magic spark to it that really good games have. I realize that’s vague, but I just didn’t find myself with a desire to run the system again despite having a pretty good time with it. What I did find myself doing was using the cards all of the time, to the point that they have become a standard piece of my GM toolkit. I can use them to generate NPCs or quick plot lines if my players go off in a direction I hadn’t planned for. For this purpose StoryCards are wonderful.

Verdict

I love the cards. They see frequent use both as a player and as a GM. The system, I don’t like so much. It’s a pretty solid shoulder shrug for me. I don’t dislike it but I certainly can’t say that I find it particularly interesting. The generation mechanics, on the other hand, are genius. They’re just a bit too involved to memorize. For my purposes I use a 3 card reading instead of the 9 card reading and this works well to supplement other games.

What StoryCard really needs is to be adopted by the role playing community as an alternative to dice or playing cards. There is a lot of potential here for someone to take the deck and use it a little differently for another game. Ideally, this person would make the rules small enough that they could be folded up and kept in the card box.

I’d recommend this deck to someone who likes to improvise their games, but can’t recommend it on the system alone (which you can get for free here). The price tag also seems a little high for a single deck of cards, but not prohibitively so. If you like the idea of tarot style role play mechanics then this is certainly something to take a look at. Same goes for if you need a little improvisational aid but don’t like the GameMastery style products. If you like the idea of using cards in your game but aren’t too crazy about the system I linked above, then I suggest you go take a look at what 6d6 Fireball is cooking up.

[tags]Cards, RPG, Indie RPGs, GMing, Gaming Accessories, Review [/tags]

May 192010
 

In the world of fantasy literature, well escape fiction anyway, there seems to be two schools of thought. On one end of the spectrum we have the Hero’s journey. A weaving story telling the rags to riches tale of a young hero and his band of stalwart companions. At the other, much more epic end, we have the deliciously machiavellian maneuverings of a grand army and all of the battles that result. One of these things tabletop fantasy has traditionally done very well. The other, not so much. I am speaking, of course, of warfare. Usually when a game goes this way we have to hack something together to make it work. Most of the time it ends up cumbersome. Well, Cubicle 7 and Adamant Entertainment reckon they have a solution in their latest product, Warpath.

The Product

I got my hands on the PDF version of the book. It’s 65 pages long in black and white and has a torn page background which looks a bit odd without color. To be honest, it’s pretty standard fair. We’ve got a mix of art, most of it is medium to high quality, but the variety in art styles prevents it from feeling particularly cohesive. The book also begins with several pages of fiction. I’ll be honest. I didn’t do more than skim it. I don’t mind little pieces of flash fiction in my RPG books, but I don’t want more than a few paragraphs at a time. It seemed well enough written but not so good that I actually felt the need to read it.

The book’s layout is done well. It is presented in a logical order and has a table of contents if you need to track down a particular section quickly. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t include internal links in the PDF, but the presence of an actual sample scenario more than made up for that.

The System/Rules

Warpath is a supplement for the Pathfinder Role Playing Game and makes ample reference to the core PFRPG rules. Even so, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use it with D&D 3.5. The only problem with that might be the lack of CMD or CMB in 3.5, which could potentially make things very annoying.

The basics of the system have players dividing their armies into units and representing those units on index cards (Hereon called recipe cards because I like food more than work.). On these cards you will lay out all of the stats for the unit. For the most part these are ripped directly out of regular PFRPG combat rules, although there are a few additions such as Unit Power and Unit Mass. You also draw an arrow so that you know which way the unit is facing.

Actual combat works the same way as in Pathfinder with a few differences. Positioning becomes very important, as do formations and overall tactics. Luckily this is all covered in detail in the book. The actual flow of combat is changed a bit as well. Commanders (that’s the players) roll initiative at the beginning and then move their units around. When a player attacks things are resolved in a specific order. First ranged attacks and then melee attacks. After each attack the overall unit stats are altered to reflect losses.

The presence of battlefield commanders can improve unit odds and also offer a nice target for the enemy. If all the commanders are killed/captured then the army is routed. Speaking of routing, that seems to be what you want to aim for. You can rout individual units (make them run away). If you can do it they suffer so many penalties that you can easily finish them off. Don’t think it is all just lining up in a field and running into each other though. Tactics and positioning are important in this game and the section covering siege warfare looks very promising.

There are a few other good bits and pieces in here, such as mass use of magic and a section on running a city. Both of which would be useful if you are playing through a military campaign. I also enjoyed the section on ransoming nobles. Of all the little extras, I’d say the quick battle resolution is probably the most useful. This little section offers up a few tables that a GM can use to determine the outcome of a pitched battle as well as the number of losses on each side. I expect this would see a lot of usage from me as I’d probably gloss over all but the most important battles.

How it Plays

I sat down with a friend and we used the point buy rules to build a couple of armies to bash each other with. This was actually much quicker to set up than your standard game of Warhammer. After you factor out all the furious scribbling on recipe cards that is. If we had already prepared units it would have been a matter of just a few minutes. The point buy rules are great. They are based strictly off of the CR of the base creature and a quick little formula involving HD and number of troops. It’s easier than that last sentence would have you believe. Easy enough for me to have an army of lizardmen face off against some goblins.

Things proceeded pretty much as you would suspect. We maneuvered our cards around for a bit and then the horde of goblins enveloped my lizardmen and the battle devolved into what I shall fondly refer to as mud-slinging. The superior goblin numbers gave my opponent a distinct advantage in flanking and other position related maneuvers. The lizardmen were taken out, but not without making a valiantly spartan attempt at holding off the horde.

In practice the battle wasn’t really anymore cumbersome than ordinary pathfinder combat. It was slower. Much slower. I can’t really blame the game for that though. Both of us spent far too much time staring at the table and trying to come up with the best plan. I can imagine this becoming even more involved when you have 5 players sitting at a table all with different opinions on what troops should be doing. I’d suggest an egg timer or something to help prevent this. I’d also recommend that you have a couple calculators as it is pretty easy to mess up troop recalculations after every attack.

If you’ve ever played a tabletop war game like Warhammer or Warmachine you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect, only with a distinctly D&D/PF feel to the rules. They even acknowledge this with a section on using point buy army creation if you want to play it as a traditional war game.

Verdict

Despite Warpath’s striking similarities to standard Pathfinder combat, I still found it enjoyable. This might have something to do with the shear numbers of characters involved in each fight. One thing I did have trouble with was shaking the feeling that I was just playing standard combat and was just calling each mini 200 of whatever it was. There are enough additional rules and little changes that make this not exactly the case, but it definitely sits back there nagging at you. Mind you, they advertise it as a Pathfinder supplement and not a standalone game, so it fits into PFRPG nicely.

I can see myself using this as a cheap war game when I get the hankering for one. I got out of the warhammer game a long time ago and I’m in no rush to get back into it, but I still enjoy the odd afternoon of pushing troops around. As far as seeing use in an actual role playing campaign? I’m not so sure. I might use the quick resolution rules once and a while and if my players ever end up in control of an army it might see some use. I can’t really see myself dropping it into a preexisting game. I think if I wanted to use this it would be if I wanted to do a Game of Thrones style campaign where troops, politics, and city management were the main focus.

At $10 and for the PDF I’d recommend it if you like wargames or are planning a game heavily focused on large scale military campaigning. If you don’t think you will be seeing many armies clash at your game table then you are probably better off home brewing up something a bit less comprehensive. The hard copy, at $18, is a solid skip if you ask me. There are only a few pages that you actually need for reference and you can print those. As an ex-wargamer I like the product, but it certainly isn’t for everyone.

[tags]wargaming,  roleplaying,  rpg,  tabletop, pathfinder,  PFRPG, Cubicle 7, Adamant Entertainment[/tags]

May 142010
 

Ever since I became the regular GM in my little slice of the gaming community there is something I’ve been trying to implement. Player and GM rotation.

What I mean by that is having regular game in a persistent setting that does not always feature the same characters, or even the same players. I envisioned a weekly game where different people would show up depending on schedule. As you might expect, this has always been met with much resistance. I’ve always thought this a bit curious, there just seems to be many benefits. Players can alter their schedules without disturbing the game for everyone else, nobody is stuck playing the same character over and over, and new people can drop in to test the waters.

I’d also tried implementing  a rotating GM on more than one occasion. The idea for this was that players would take turns as the GM which helped spread the prep around a bit. Again, there are similar drawbacks, such as the overall plot becomes more of a chain story and some people might just be better than others at GMing. I think the benefits are pretty strong as well. The regular GM gets to stretch his player muscles, everybody becomes more involved, and players get a chance to see how the GM seat fits.

As I mentioned, I’ve never actually been able to get this to work. I wouldn’t have enough players, others weren’t interested, or I just couldn’t get the commitments. No harm done. Some things just don’t work out. Nothing to be done for it but to move on and try something else. Imagine my surprise when, out of the blue, my players started doing it on their own.

Once I started messing around with the Doctor Who RPG this style of play organically emerged. Some of you might remember from my first post here at Troll in the Corner that I happen to run a local gaming organization. Thanks to this, I have around 100 gamers at my disposal and, when they aren’t busy training for my military coupe, they like to play a game or two. With my games I usually put out a call for whatever I’m interested in running and those interested sign up. It works well, and usually 3-6 players will sign up and we will run through a campaign together. With Doctor Who I got people interested in playing right away. What I didn’t expect was that the next week sign ups would double. It was more than I could seat, but no-one else was running a game. So I let the players switch up each week, and this worked well for the game.

I have finally managed to create a game with rotating players, and I had done it by accident. It is working great as well. Each week,  I am getting a different set of players and characters to adventure around with.and the lack of commitment is encouraging the busier members to come out for a game. It didn’t stop just there though. I’ve started getting requests from players who want to try running an adventure. Not a whole lot, but enough for me not have to plan the game each week. This works really well in the Doctor Who setting, but I imagine it would work well with games like Ars Magica just as well.

In summation:

Benefits

  • Meet new people and new play styles.
  • Flexible scheduling.
  • You get to try out various characters and playing styles.
  • GM gets a break every now and then.
  • Curious players get to try their hand at GMing.
  • Newbies can get their feet wet without commitment.

Pitfalls

  • Story can be disjointed.
  • Characters popping in and out needs explanation.
  • Mixed level of quality.
  • Meeting new people (You won’t like them all).
  • Requires a certain amount of organization.

So far, this has been everything I ever imagined it could be. Less prep, more people, and just generally a good time. I’d encourage others to give it a shot, but I realize not everyone has the same pool of gamers that I do. Even still, there isn’t any reason not to try out a few of these ideas, if just on a smaller scale. Try having a guest GM once every few games or open up a drop-in slot in your group. It creates a slightly different style of play, that, at least for me, refreshes my creativity and brings interesting characters to the table.

[tags]RPG, Role Playing, GMing, GM Advice, Tabletop[/tags]