Battlestar Galactica keeps you on edge

Even for people who aren’t fans of the show, the Battlestar Galactica board game provides a very fun and suspenseful gaming experience. It’s a cooperative game revolving around the players trying to escape the robotic Cylons and get the Galactica to Earth. The twist is that some of the players may secretly be Cylons themselves, and they can sabotage the humans’ efforts while attempting to remain hidden, or reveal themselves and take direct action against the humans.

At the start of the game, each player chooses a character from the show, from William Adama to Tom Zarek. Each character has different skills, special abilities, and weaknesses. The most political character becomes the president, and the highest ranking player becomes the admiral, each of which offers a further special ability and some decision-making power. These titles can change hands over the course of the game, and are dangerous to leave in the hands of a Cylon. In addition, each player is dealt a loyalty card (which is kept secret) that tells them if they are a human or a cylon. It’s quite possible that there will be no Cylons at the beginning of the game, but halfway through each player is given another loyalty card, so players who thought they were human might suddenly turn out to be sleeper agents. One player may turn out to be a sympathizer, who either becomes a cylon if the humans are doing well, or just gets put in the brig if the humans are doing poorly.

After setup, players each take turns drawing skill cards (based on their character’s skills), moving about the ship and using actions. These actions can range from using a special ability, playing a skill card, or using the character’s current location, such as launching fighters, firing the Galactica’s guns, or putting characters in the brig.

After each player’s turn, a crisis card is drawn, which will cause negative effects such as the humans losing resources, putting characters in the brig, or encountering a Cylon fleet. These cards might also activate some of the Cylon fleet currently on the board, and/or push the humans closer to being able to “jump” the ship, furthering them towards their destination, and thus the end of the game.

Some actions crisis cards involve skill checks, a mechanic that really makes the game shine. The card or action in question will specify a target number, as well as which skills (colors) may be applied to the check. Each player may then add a number of skill cards face down to a pile, along with two cards randomly drawn from a set of cards put aside earlier. The pile is shuffled (to hide which cards were played by which player), and then all the cards are revealed.

Each skill card has a color and a number, and the goal is to have the total values of the appropriately colored skills add up to greater than the check’s target number, thereby gaining a benefit or avoiding negative consequences. Here’s where the cylon players can really cause problems for the humans, as they can choose to insert cards of the wrong colour, which are subtracted from the check. They have to be careful, though, because if they play too many cards, it may become apparent that there’s a cylon player. It might even be possible to deduce who it is. Cylons who have chosen to reveal themselves may still contribute to skill checks, but are limited to contributing only one card.

The game continues as such until one side or the other achieves their goal. The humans do this by reaching Earth, having jumped the Galactica a certain number of times. The cylons, on the other hand, win by destroying or invading the ship, or by running the humans out of fuel, food, morale, or population.

I’ve played this game only a few times now, but I already feel that it’s one of my favourites. It helps that I’m a fan of the show, but the game is still quite good based on it’s own merits. It takes three to six players, plays in about two hours, and will definitely be on my shelf one day.

Fantasy Flight Games first published Battlestar Galactica in 2008, and also published an expansion in 2009, that adds further complications to the game, such as open Cylon characters (Caprica Six, Cavil, etc.), as well as the Pegasus, and New Caprica.  I’ve never played with the expansion, so I can’t quite review it, but the main game definitely stands up perfectly well on it’s own.

[tags]board games, Battlestar Galactica, cooperative[/tags]

Stories with Meaning

There are a lot of sources of inspiration out there for DM’s. Knowing what makes for a fun adventure is often a matter of experience, but being able to create an adventure or campaign with a meaningful plot or message can often be difficult when there is the ever-present challenge of making a balanced and sufficiently challenging encounter. And in order to create a believable world, in which characters do more than simply hack and slash, some study and research will always be needed. In fact, to create the most effective game world possible, as much effort could be required as penning a novel.

Penning a novel, however, need not be done from scratch – authors do tend to have a “toolbox” of useful story elements handy to make their jobs easier. This toolbox can be filled with ideas from anywhere – the works of other authors, things the author saw in the news – anything can do, although generally, the best ideas are the ones people can relate to the most. And though recognizing a useful idea may require an act of intuition on the part of the author, its effectiveness can be immediately judged by the reactions of other people. Take, for example, the earthquakes that struck Haiti and Chile recently. As a DM, you might introduce an earthquake to a populated city of Tolkien-inspired Dwarves, for example. Certainly a civilization that digs its homes into mountains would be heavily hit by an earthquake.

The key to making this event believable is to judge people’s reactions to the actual event – there will always be crime and disorder in the aftermath of such a disaster, but there will also be people willing to help, and authorities will be compelled to try and restore order. An event in your game world like this offers many options for the party – will they assist the authorities in trying to restore order? Will they provide assistance to the victims? Will they attempt to profit from the desperate survivors? Will they work to prevent the authorities from regaining control? A whole campaign can be created just on the options presented by these moral dilemmas. And by simulating the behavior of survivors of real natural disasters, your fictional survivors can lend the situation a much greater sense of urgency, and valuable opportunities for your characters to play their roles – a character who seeks to do good would be compelled to lend aid, and be horrified to learn of any profiteering. The most meaningful stories are ones that people can relate the most to, and providing an opportunity for a person who is naturally good to see real injustice (though simulated) and actively combat it will go a long way towards giving that person an attachment to his/her character and the game world as a whole.

Heavy moral decisions are a quick way to engage players and create immersion by forcing them to have their own emotional responses and interactions with one another, but it isn’t the only way to create immersion, and it may not be sufficient for a great experience. The morals and ethics of your players’ characters, is a huge part of the game, but they must have a connection to the world too. DM’s traditionally task the characters with quests, and offer rewards for their completion as an incentive. This scheme works for shallow worlds where the game mechanics are what takes center stage, but ultimately it is shallow all around, because the game mechanics exist to simulate reality, even if it is a heavily altered, magical reality. If the mechanics are all the players have to simulate reality with, then it stands to reason that these mechanics are the group’s primary, perhaps even the only, connection to this alternate reality. If you want the world outside of the battlefield to matter, then, the players should have some way of interacting with it that is simulated by different mechanics. By far the most common way this would occur is through the economy. This doesn’t mean that you should have to create a working economy, but it does require the illusion that there is one that they could interact with, if they had reason to.

One way to manage that illusion is to make them a part of it – they should have jobs! This makes sense from an immersion standpoint, and only makes more sense the more one critiques the idea of an “adventurer.” Though it makes sense to abstract their income and expenses (due to the tedium that would be involved), they should exist – players need clothes, food, water, and a roof over their heads at least, so why shouldn’t their characters? Although it does place more of a burden on the DM to manage these expenses versus the income from their jobs or “adventures,” it pays off not just in giving characters a stronger connection to the world, but allows characters to have real justifications for more real actions. After all, a character who needs money simply to stave off starvation can understand the extreme importance of money without coming off as greedy, and a shady character can seem much more human if he/she will need the money for more than just shiny new armor and weapons, or yet another ritual scroll.

Having a place (one that is not clichéd) in the order of your world, and giving players the opportunity to try out their characters’ moral compasses is almost everything you need. You don’t need to create an entire world to do this, either, as in both cases, cues can be taken from the real world as to the kinds of jobs that would subject characters to combat on a regular basis, and the kinds of events that would require players to decide their courses of action carefully. The finishing touches on your world must fill in the last remaining blanks – now that you’ve created a world that is both ordered and changing, you must populate it! This is another case where looking to the real world for cues is by far the best option. If you took the descriptions of “races” from a common player’s guide, you’d get the impression that all members of each of these races adhered to one set of personality traits and traditions, which is absurd. If you decide to keep your game world’s races or player species distinct, it had better be because they haven’t had any contact with one another. A look at world history is a look at the mixing and moving of people, and the ethnicity of a character should be second to the culture in which he/she was raised, which should itself be second to the player’s decisions regarding the character’s personality, ethics, and morals. Basically, character race, and perhaps even “class,” depending on what that word means in your setting, should be superficial. If you want to have race or ethnicity distinct for each civilization or entity, there are two mistakes not to make – don’t go with the clichéd stereotypes like the stout dwarves, floaty elves, savage orcs, or anything like that. Moreover, don’t give them stereotypes of any kind – instead give them cultures. A kingdom of dwarves might have a Russian sort of culture, but they could just as easily have an Arabic one – it may actually make more sense, given the popular connotations of repression of women, and the dearth of dwarven women in popular fantasy stories. What attaching a culture to a civilization is meant to do is not to make all the NPCs or player characters try to live up to the popular stereotype of that culture, but rather to allow the player to fill in the gaps of the world with his/her own ideas about what people in the culture do with their time – culture doesn’t describe people’s personalities as it does describe things like popular food, music, architecture, literature, philosophy, and politics. This is not a paradigm in which characters must fit, then, but a phenomenon to which characters can react during the time they are exposed to it.

That’s what it comes down to – the world doesn’t have to be realistic, as long as people in it can respond to the world realistically. That’s what makes a fantasy setting worth creating in the first place – if the people in it are simply caricatures, what is its relevance? It may be that you’re simply trying to have a fun time playing with the new mechanics of a game, and all this seems unnecessary to the experience. While that may be right, that isn’t a role-playing game, and a game consisting solely of mechanics is better handled by a computer. Good literature describes something about the human condition, whether it be fantasy, science fiction, or drama. There is no reason to expect that a campaign can’t be just as effective for the same reasons.

[tags]role playing games, rpg, literature, geek, world building[/tags]

Of Orcs and Empire

For thousands of summers we have fought each other and laid our souls under the feet of others.  When they first set on us, we had no War Leader and we died.  For a hundred summers we’ve died.  Now – now you’ve chosen me as your War Leader and we live!  We rip our own gold out of our hills!  We forge our own steel with which to slay!  Our bards sing songs of glory and of learning now!  Our builders have learned the art of stone and our cities prosper!  You have chosen me as I have chosen you and we will never more lay under the feet of another race!  We will forge our empire with our steel, build our cities with our own gold and become a mighty, mighty race!  A race who fears no enemy, living or dead!

Transcription – Clan Moot at Highpass, 97 AA, War Leader Garak in a speech to the gathered clans.  Transcribed by Tuena Olchi (deceased).

Note: If you want to follow the development of the Aruneus world, just click this. Bookmarking that will bring you back to the latest news.

Since their introduction to Aruneus, the Orcs have congregated in the tundras and northern reaches of the world.  A once great kingdom which stretched most of the span of Aruneus’ northern continent, the Orcs were beaten by the League of the Ring and their empire collapsed into a series of small city states and clan holdings.  Over time even these city states faded, unable to support a larger, stable population and the Orcs became a semi-nomadic, clannish race.

They persisted in this state with multiple clans occasionally joining behind a War Leader to fight other clans in land grabs or launch semi-organized raids into Human, Dwarven or Elven territories.

One hundred years ago when the dead rose, the Orcs found themselves in a unique position.  Living in cold, arid areas – sometimes sub-arctic, they experienced six to ten months of relative freedom from human zombies, which freeze solid after prolonged exposure to cold temperatures.  The Orcs still suffered massive casualties during the first decades of the zombie apocalypse but their semi-nomadic lifestyle, small population centers and their abilities to thrive in cold, hostile environments gave them immediate advantages.  Of all the sentient races, they were the first to recover.

Sometime between 30 and 50 AA smaller clans began banding together under regional War Leaders who instituted a new tradition – the Clan Moot.  Once every other year these War Leaders and a few chosen warriors and priests and bards would meet at a previously determined location which was declared a sacred space.  The ground was consecrated in a great right and all present were bound under sacred law to directly or indirectly cause harm to another Orc while within the sacred space.  Lasting several weeks, the Clan Moot gave the Orcs several valuable political tools.  For the first time in several thousand years, they had a meeting of their leaders in circumstances where war and killing were strictly taboo.

Ideas began to be exchanged, alliances formed and the Orcish political machine was born.  Bards, who are held more sacred than even priests and sacrosanct from violence began congregating at Clan Moots in great numbers.  War Leaders found themselves as political figures using bards as a method of communicating policies and programs throughout their race.  Good policies and new ideas easily crossed clan boundaries thanks to the bards, while poor ideas were not.

In 89 AA at the largest Clan Moot held, a particularly savvy War Leader called Garak was chosen to lead the entirety of the Orcish peoples.  He immediately set forth a number of mandates with the aim to abolish blood feuds, spread new knowledge to all Orcs and formalize the political system that had become the Clan Moot.

Garak was not only politically savvy but shrewdly intelligent.  He realized the forming a new empire with the goal of conquest over the other races, as decimated as they were at this time, would only give the other races an excuse to begin a second campaign of extermination.  Rather than launch a war, he cajoled, bargained and threatened the clan War Leaders below him until raids into the other races territories were ceased.  After several years without raids, he then dispatched a select few bards, acting as diplomats, to the surviving moderately sized Human, Dwarven and Elven cities in the north, where he establish embassies and began the delicate process of challenging almost 3000 years of bad press.

While establishing embassies and offering real help in the form of gold, steel and trade, the Orcs under Garak’s direction also quietly began expanding into the now empty border lands between the frozen north and the lower continent of Aruneus.  It has only recently been acknowledge that the Orcs have managed to increase their territory by almost 10% in size while the other races were simply struggling for survival.

[tags]orcs, role playing games, rpg, aruneus[/tags]

Old-School Gaming with OSRIC (Review – Races and Classes)

OSRIC (Old School Reference & Index Compilation), is something that I just recently found out about. A buddy of mine asked me if I wanted to play in an old-school campaign that he was going to start. I agreed, downloaded the OSRIC PDF and got to work on my character.

For those of you who are not familiar, OSRIC is a re-packaging of the 1st Ed D&D rules under the OGL. That means that anyone with a hankerin’ for some old-school goodness has free access to the rules, and can create new content for the system without any licensing fees. (I had heard that the creator of OSRIC was being sued by WotC over this, but a quick Google search didn’t turn up anything). Also, since it’s pretty much the same as 1st Ed D&D, any of the old modules you might have sitting around are fully compatible.

As an aside, this run-down of the ORSIC book assumes that you know little to nothing about 1st Edition D&D. If you’ve never given up your original books and you never will, then I encourage you to offer your comments on the review, below.

There is a lot to cover when it comes to a product like this, so I am going to start with the Races and Classes sections.


All of the old standards are here, in full force. Humans, Elves, Half-Elves, Halflings, Dwarves, Gnomes and Half-Orcs are all present and accounted for. Something that a modern gamer might find awkward is that certain races are not able to take levels of specific classes. Want to be a Dwarven Magic-User? No dice. Elven Druid? Sorry, pointy-ears.  All joking aside, even though OSRIC doesn’t list any justifications for why these restrictions exist, it’s not hard to use your imagination to come up with reasons why.

As you might expect, each race has certain benefits that make it attractive to play. Dwarves, for example, have percentage chances to detect their depth underground, find secret doors in stonework, all things that have become staples of playing a dwarf as the years have gone on. One thing that is decidedly different from modern games is that all classes, except for humans, have hard level caps that they cannot exceed for certain classes. The justification for this is that the demi-humans have so many built-in advantages that they really shouldn’t be allowed to get as powerful as humans.

The races are all the old standards, as as such, seem to cover all of the necessary bases. One interesting note is that Half-Orcs in OSRIC are not the brutish, pig-like Half-Orcs we’re used to. They’re more like throwbacks to their human side, and look much like humans do. It’s the only way they could pass in human society. It’s a difference that I find unique and interesting. Of course, they hide their lineage because Orcs are looked down upon, but that is largely true for any setting in which Orcs are found. It’s a small thing, but I enjoy that twist.


Just as with the Races, you will find a lot of familiarity in the Classes section. Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, Thief, Druid, Ranger, Paladin and… Assassin? You read that correctly, the OSRIC rules have Assassin as a core class. All of the classes have abilities similar to those we have come to know and love, but the power progression is much, much slower than in a modern RPG. If you’re leveling up in 3rd or 4th Edition D&D, you can almost expect to have something besides HP improve with each level. That is not necessarily the case here.

Take the Assassin as an example. At 1st level, the Assassin has the ability to assume a disguise, use Thief abilities (albeit at a lower level), has knowledge of poisons and their uses, and of course, to Assassinate an opponent. They get a set of saving throws (vs Aimed Magical Items (Rods, Staffs, Wands, etc), Breath Weapons, Death/Paralysis/Poison, Petrification/Polymorph, and Spells), and they get a THAC0 table.

A word on THAC0

When I have heard people decrying the older systems of D&D, one of the arguments that I have heard often is that THAC0 is one of the things that desperately needed to be replaced. For those who aren’t aware, THAC0 stands for “To Hit AC 0,” and is how you figure out if you can hit someone in combat, or not. Roll a d20, add mods, check the results on the table and tell the DM what AC you can hit. I used to hate the system, too. But OSRIC gives you a nice, neat table, and a spot for that table on your character sheet. It’s neat and clean and simpler than trying to figure out all of the pluses and minuses that come into play in 3e, for example, so I’m happy to use it here.

Back to the Assassin example. As you level, your THAC0 and your saves will go down (making it easier for you to hit, and easier to make your saving throws). The thing is, the first lowering of those numbers does not come until 4th level for the Assassin. That pace is different for all of the classes (a Fighter’s THAC0 goes up every level), but it’s vastly different from a modern RPG.

Overall, I found the classes to cover all of the bases that I felt necessary. Your mileage may vary. If you cannot conscience a game system with no Monks, Bards or Psionics, then you’ll find no succor in OSRIC.


When talking about OSRIC and old-school gaming, I feel like I sometimes feel like I should be summing up the features and end every other paragraph with “and you darn kids need to stay off my lawn!” The rules are weird sometimes, and things are most definitely not balanced, but still… there is something about them. Maybe I’m just feeling nostalgia, but I am comfortable with those quirks. I think I feel like they more accurately mirror a world where things are not fair and even, where all the classes and races are not created equal and sometimes, someone is just better than you.

What does that mean for the playing of the system? Well, you will just have to wait until I continue my write-up to find out. In my next article, I’ll be covering combat and the actual playing of the game, and I’ll be including a recap of the session in which I played. Until then, keep those dice rolling.

[tags]rpg, old-school, classic, OSRIC, geek[/tags]

Voices and Verisimilitude

“Listen up, berk, because I’m only going to say this once. A body can only put up with so much stupidity from one person, so watch your step or I’ll put you in the deadbook, right quick.”

Notice anything about the sentences above? If you identified it as a possible snippet of conversation from a Planescape campaign, then you’d be right. But how did you know? What clues tipped you off? I’d lay a wager that it was the slang used, the vocabulary, and the phrasing. I got to thinking about this a while ago, and realized that, more than an accent or a vivid description, what makes a character in a specific setting come alive is the vocabulary and the slang they use.

Slang might be something that you overlook when you’re creating a setting or scenario. But stop for a moment and give it some thought. When you’re talking with your friends, I’m sure there are words you use that help identify you of a member of your social group. The same should be true for a person in a campaign setting, be they PC or NPC.  A socially codified set of slang can take an interesting, intriguing setting and change it into something far more memorable.

Planescape is a prime example. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Planescape is a setting that TSR published near the end of the life of 2nd Edition D&D. It let players travel the various planes of existence, and one of its most memorable places (in my opinion) was the city of Sigil. Sigil was the (figurative) “center” of the planes and was riddled with portals to nearly any place one could think of. What made Sigil unique was not just its super-cosmopolitan makeup (where else could you see an angel arguing with a devil over a couple of pints at a bar?), but they way its inhabitants spoke. There was an entire vocabulary  associated with the residents of Sigil, and not using it marked you as non-native to the city in a big way.

That level of detail is something that many campaign settings are missing. The same can even be true of many NPCs, but I think it might be easier to come up with a distinguishing set of speech patterns for one NPC than it would be to do the same for an entire culture. If you can take the time to try and create something like that, though, then you might find your players interacting with your world and the people in it in a more concrete way. Give it a shot.

After all, a cutter’s got to have some tricks up his sleeve, don’t he?

[tags]rpg, settings, running the game, roleplaying games[/tags]

Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks

by Ethan Gilsdorf

336 Pages

Published by the Lyons Press, September 2009

When I saw this book in my library, I immediately picked it up, and proceeded to blast through it in about two days. Though the book is not primarily about “gaming geeks” in a way that I was originally hoping for, it still offers an interesting trip through many avenues of fantasy fandom.

Gilsdorf begins the book recounting his own experiences as a D&D player in middle and high school, and the subsequent abandoning of the hobby in college. What the book is, in essence, is a travelogue through fantasy as the author tries to understand why it still has such a grip on him.

Though it starts at Dungeons and Dragons, the book quickly moves through LARP, onto Society for Creative Anachronism, and into a Lord of the Rings tour of New Zealand, stopping along the way at the Tolkien society in England, a few World of Warcraft servers, and a gaming con. Along the way, Gilsdorf profiles many people involved in each of these different scenes. Of course, the most detailed and engaging “character” of the story is Gilsdorf himself, whose stories from his role playing days were heavily intertwined with the retelling of experiences of living with his mother, who had suffered from a brain injury during his childhood.

Needless to say, I found the book engaging, given that I finished it so quickly. It is a very entertaining travelogue through many different pastimes that fall under the category of “fantasy”, and from the perspective of someone not involved with these, is at certain points quite eye-opening. However, it’s not really aimed at insiders, and anyone who is actually involved in one of these hobbies will find the book erring on the side of summary. Reading the sections where Gilsdorf plays D&D were in my opinion some of the least interesting sections, not because of the writing, but rather because reading about the goings-on of a game table is distinctly redundant for anyone who actually spends time at a game table every weekend.

The only issue I take with the book is the conclusion that the author seems to drive at. In the end, the idea of “fantasy as escapism” seems to be promoted above all else, and this is usually a simplification. From within the role playing community, I can say that I do not play role playing games to identify with my characters. I’m certain that SCA participants devote their time and energy for more reasons than simply pretending to be a medieval knight for a weekend. Gilsdorf doesn’t make the direct claim that these activities are escapism exclusively, but the idea is brought front and center throughout the book.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. Though I was clearly already familiar with D&D as Gilsdorf described it, I was entertained and felt like I learned something about the other areas I wasn’t so familiar with; the chapters on LARP and Society for Creative Anachronism in particular stand out in my mind. I would recommend the book, though urge any gamers to remember that reading about people playing a role playing game is not as interesting as actually playing a roleplaying game. For someone less familiar with fantasy subcultures, I’d recommend it wholeheartedly.

[tags]review, literature, role playing games[/tags]

Why I’m Glad 4e Exists, Even Though I Don’t Use It

Photo by: Juliana Coutinho

Since the launch of the new D&D rules, I have seen a lot of talk online (and heard a lot of talk in person) about the Pros and Cons of 4e. Some people are in love with the system and are super-excited for each new book release that WotC has planned. Some would rather eat glass than try and figure out when to use their Daily Powers. I don’t use 4e for a variety of reasons, but I am ecstatic that WotC made changes to the game that I love. Let me explain.

It gets more people playing table-top RPGs

Whether you love or hate the new rules, I think it is undeniable: more people are playing D&D than ever before. The aspects of the new rules that make D&D feel more like an MMO are some of the same things that are drawing in new players. In today’s most common type of gaming (video games), players are used to having a lot of choice when it comes to how they structure their characters, they seem to want defined roles for those characters, and they want to feel like there is always something that they can do. It makes no sense to them that there might be level restrictions for certain races, or that an Elf can’t be a Druid or a Ranger (old-school reference, I know, but the point stands). The 4e rules appeal to the video game aesthetic that so many of us enjoy on our computers and consoles, and brings it to the tabletop. That makes D&D appeal to a wider based of potential players, and I will never complain about more people playing tabletop RPGs.

It’s polarizing, and all gamers have an opinion about it

Nothing makes a person work hard on something than a set of passionate feelings. For those that love 4e, the game market is beginning to see a nearly staggering array of materials for 4e. WotC is supporting the product line with 2-3 books a month, the revival of classing settings and a plethora of options for everyone who who relishes the changes that have been wrought in D&D. When people love something, they spend money on it, they talk about it, and they get more people to play and that… well, see my first point.

If you’re part of the group who can’t stand the new changes, then you rant and rave against them. You talk negatively the new product and when you find a different product that you like more, you spend money on it, talk about it, and you get more people to play and that… wait, see what I did there? Maybe you even go out and design your own game system and a whole bunch of new players come to the hobby. If that happens because you were motivated by your dislike of 4e, then take a moment and thank WotC for giving you a push.

No matter what side of the “4e argument” a gamer comes down on, most of us feel very strongly about the game system we like the most. If that causes us to support Pathfinder, Palladium, Savage Worlds, Shadowrun, Storyteller, 1e, 2e, 3e, 3.5e, or the new 4e, what really matters, what is the most important thing is that people are playing RPGs. I am sure that I speak for many gamers when I say that, for a good long while, I hesitated when people asked what I was doing on Saturday night and the answer was D&D. Now, not so much. More people are playing than ever before, and the broad spread of 4e has helped that. No matter what system is being used, I call that a good thing.

[tags]Dungeons and Dragons, geek, geeks, Role Playing Games, rpg[/tags]

Shotgun Diaries: Lightweight Zombie Roleplaying

Shotgun Diaries is a little RPG from the award winning game designer John Wick which appeared last fall. It features all your classic zombie tropes in a small, incredibly lightweight package. I came across it when I was looking to do a zombie themed horror game and at $5 I just couldn’t resist giving it a shot.

The Product:

The game is only about 15 pages long and is written in a kind of journal style with blood droplets and a handwritten font. Unfortunately the book has no pictures and is available as a PDF only. The lack of art does add to the feeling that the book is a journal that some survivors picked up somewhere, although it is not written in the narrative style of White Wolf products. Definitely nothing call home about here but at least it doesn’t take much ink to print a copy out.

The System:

Shotgun Diaries features an incredibly simple system that essentially boils down to “If there are zombies you must roll a d6. If you get a 6 you describe how things go, otherwise the GM does. If there are no zombies anyone can freely narrate the story.”

Character creation consists of picking an archetype which fits the roles seen in traditional zombie movies (The helpless survivor, the sneaky survivor, etc.) and giving your character a name. This makes character creation quick and easy. Advancement is also interesting. Anyone who survives the day gets to write in their journal. This consists of a paragraph or two and the player may underline one sentence and this becomes true for the story. This could be something you learned from another character, a memory, or something that occurred during the day.

A couple of other nifty features are The Zombie Clock, which increases every 10 minutes and represents the growing horde, and the fear system. The Zombie Clock adds suspense as well as giving the GM points to spend on story complications (An intelligent zombie, a broken weapon, power outage, etc.). The fear system affects the players when they see something horrific, like having their buddy turn into a zombie. It looks good on paper but I found we were constantly forgetting about it during the game.

A final thing I should mention is that the rules specifically cover players turning into zombies. The great thing about this is that it ties into the zombie clock. After a player has been bitten the GM can spend some of his Zombie Clock points to turn them at any time. This is great for two reasons. First the players know that they could turn at any time but the GM decides when. This is a great way to use the meta game to affect the tension and mood. The second thing is that the turned player gets to play as the zombie. How fun is that?

How it Plays:

I sat down to play SD with 2 players and myself as the GM for a total of 3. This was a little less than we were expecting but the game still went over smoothly. It took a little while for the players to adjust to being able to affect the plot and even define what they discover in empty rooms. Another problem was the player’s tendency to find firearms everywhere. Both of these problems could be easily fixed with further plays, and the second requires the players to get out of the combative mindset of other systems.

Actually GMing the game was a bit different as well. It is nice to not have to prep for a game but at the same time it can be tough to come up with good descriptions, names, etc. on the fly. I did sit down and prepare a number of possible events, however because the players could define things they ran into it didn’t see much use. The Zombie Clock was absolute blast to use. The aspect of increasing the number as the players are discussing their options really adds an element of suspense to the game and the ability to add complications to things is absolutely necessary in a game where the players can call so many of the shots. One thing I wish I had was a stack of zombie miniatures to use as counters for the clock rather than a d20. I think the visual element would have added a lot.

Our game lasted about 3 hours, not counting the time it took to go over the rules and just generally get settled. During that time the players escaped a cabin they took refuge in, traveled across America while fighting off zombies left and right, and became entangled with an evil corporation called Gencorp. Eventually the players stole a small airplane and headed to West Coast to escape the continent. The plot may have been a bit cliché, but the collaborative nature of the storytelling meant that none of us new what was coming next and the game really felt like we were playing through a zombie film.


Shotgun Diaries is fun. It is great to just pick up and play, especially if you don’t have time to prepare for a full blown adventure for another game. I’ll certainly be pulling this game out a few more times at least, preferably after watching a zombie movie or two. If you like zombies and the idea of a more collaborative style RPG then it certainly won’t hurt you to try out this game. If you aren’t a zombie fan or don’t like the idea of a more improvised game you might want to stay away. All things said, definitely worth $5.

You can download a copy of Shotgun Diaries up at either or

[tags]Role Playing Games,Zombies,Indie RPGs,Review[/tags]

Scribblenauts 2 announced as I buy a new stylus

My all time favorite game for the DS is just about to get a new installment.  Scribblenauts was one of the few games that ate up more than three or four hours on my DS and actually caused a bit of ire between my wife and I as we made desperate run/jumps for it after the kids went to bed.

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment announces plans to create the next Scribblenauts for Nintendo DS, a follow-up to the revolutionary hit videogame where players use their imagination to write any word, bring that object to life and use it to solve puzzles. Available in fall 2010, the follow-up game expands the innovative elements from the acclaimed first title with many inventive new features, including an adjectives system that allows players to push the limits of their imagination to create their own experience.

In this new game created and developed by 5TH Cell, players use the stylus and touch screen to help Maxwell, the game’s hero, acquire the “Starite,” the prize earned from solving the puzzle in even more robust challenges and redesigned levels. Players now have the ability to write any object that comes to mind and modify it in any way they desire using adjectives to reach the goal in each level. Adjectives can change the colour, size, elements, behaviours and many other aspects of the object they are describing. Multiple adjectives can be combined together to produce incredibly creative objects, allowing the player’s imagination to run wild for a truly unique and individualistic experience.

“The Scribblenauts sequel gives all players an enhanced game experience they will love and new challenges where they can use their imaginations even more,” said Samantha Ryan, Senior Vice President, Development and Production, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. “5TH Cell is a very talented and creative developer and we are excited to add to the Scribblenauts franchise with this new game.”

“The next Scribblenauts broadens the players’ experience from the first Scribblenauts through more creativity, innovation and in-depth gameplay,” said Jeremiah Slaczka, Creative Director and Co-Founder of 5TH Cell. “All of these enhancements give players even greater control over how they want to play the game.”

The new Scribblenauts game will offer more words, more creativity and limitless possibilities for gamers of all ages.

[tags]scribblenauts, video games, nintendo, ds[/tags]

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