Pounded In the Butt By An Alphabetised Bestiary

Chuck Tingle’s famously rapid pace of production evidently applies to RPG material as much as it does to his unique “Tingler” brand of erotica. Hot on the heels of the core rulebook to his The Tingleverse RPG comes The Tingleverse Monster Guide, covering monsters ranging from “Abracadaver” (an undead stage magician) to “Zombie Bicycle” (a zombie bicycle).

A small bestiary is presented in the core Tingleverse rulebook, but Tingle evidently understands the joy of monster books. Of all the original AD&D hardbacks, it seems to my anecdotal experience that people have more fond memories of leafing through the Monster Manual than any other book.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide is often praised for being a dense pile of both useful refereeing tools and Gygax’s extended explanation of why the game is structured the way it is, but is organised so strangely and hops between those two different modes of writing so randomly and is generally so dense that it doesn’t lend itself to idle browsing very well. The Player’s Handbook is rather lightweight, especially when compared to the Player’s Handbooks of subsequent editions, partially because both TSR and Wizards would dial back on Gygax’s philosophy of keeping as much of the system opaque to players as possible and because Wizards-era editions would include substantially more character customisation options than core 1E AD&D did.

The Monster Manual, however, was endless fun to dip into. You had those charming (if rudimentary) illustrations of the monsters, you had those fun descriptions of them, what’s not to love? In general, this has remained true for subsequent editions too, with 2E in particular going the extra distance in terms of rooting the monsters in their ecosystem and the setting, an approach which Tingle takes here.

By and large, then, we have here a conventional monster book – each NPC or creature depicted here has a jolly little illustration by Chuck, and each entry provides the creature’s stats, physical description, combat techniques and lifestyle. The make or break question when it comes to this sort of thing is the imagination of the contributors and their ability to come up with interesting and unique monsters, or distinctive variations on existing themes (like the various flavours of dragons in D&D, or the various types of Reverse Twins or physically embodied abstract concepts or living objects in The Tingleverse). Fortunately, the imagination you are dealing with here is Chuck Tingle’s. ’nuff said.

SAN Loss At House On the Hill…

Mansions of Madness is a collection of Call of Cthulhu scenarios put out by Chaosium in 1990 (a reprint over a decade later would tack on an extra scenario), based around the loose common theme of having a significant building (if not several) at the hub of the investigation. Though fairly elderly by the standards of the game line’s entire lifetime – Call of Cthulhu was a mere 9 years old when the book came out, the game is now some 38 years old – it’s still widely recommended to this day, with players and Keepers still finding much to enjoy in it.

Indeed, I’ve played through some of the scenarios in it myself in the past, enough that I think it’s safe enough for me to look at it for myself to see if it’s worth the hype. I liked the parts of it I’ve played through, but was it merely down to the unquestionable talents of the Keepers involved?

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Interview: Jay Iles Takes Us To the Heart of the Void

As I mentioned in my Kickstopper article on Legacy: Life Among the Ruins and its associated Kickstarters, I happen to know lead designer Jay Iles in real life, so when I heard she’d developed a new game inspired by the Persona CRPGs and was planning to do a Kickstarter for it I decided I wanted to get in touch and see if she wanted to do an interview. Luckily enough, she did!

The new game, Voidheart Symphony, you can actually check out now in a rough early draft which, to my eye, seems to capture the intended style extremely well. It’s a standalone sequel to Rhapsody of Blood, a Legacy supplement that focused on hereditary bloodlines sworn to protect the world against the machinations of a decidedly vania-like Castle – the sort of place which would be the abode of loners who consider human beings miserable piles of secrets, perhaps – but with the hereditary angle taken out (since Legacy‘s focus on campaigns unfolding over multiple generations of PCs don’t quite fit here) and set in a version of the modern day where the Castle and its agents lurk behind the scenes of everyday existence.

As a big Persona/Shin Megami Tensei fan, I personally think it’s another great UFO Press product which showcases Jay’s ability to find new ways to interestingly adapt and alter the Powered By The Apocalypse system. But why take my word for it? Scroll on down and let’s start the interview…

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The Limits of Authenticity

Authentic Thaumaturgy by Isaac Bonewits is a system-agnostic RPG supplement with a long heritage; its original edition came out in the 1970s from Chaosium, whilst Steve Jackson Games put out an extensively revised version in 1998. Though it’s available in an e-book edition from Steve Jackson Games’ e23 storefront, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a reprint: not only did Bonewits die in 2010, but in 2018 Moira Greyland, daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley, implicated Bonewits as having a peripheral role in the abuse that she suffered at Bradley’s hands.

Either edition purports to offer more or less the same thing: an analysis of tabletop RPG magic, a discussion of what real-world magical practitioners believe and do, and a proposal for a magic system based on real-world practices and the sort of effects people claim to get out of them. The whole thing is written from the perspective that the point of an RPG is to be a realistic simulation, and therefore Bonewits has little time for magic systems which don’t resemble real-life magical practices, even though such systems might be more suitable for, say, presenting a challenging and exciting game, or for providing an interesting feature or metaphor in a story. I, a highly trained scientist, can enjoy science fiction stories can be enjoyed even when the science involved has been discredited or was never that realistic to begin with: why can’t Bonewits do the same for fantasy stories whose treatment of magic doesn’t match his worldview?

And the thing is, that worldview is decidedly central to the book, and it’s rooted in the late-1960s/early 1970s neopagan scene that Bonewits emerged in. The thing is that Bonewits clearly has a highly developed personal ideology of what magic is and isn’t and how it works, and he seems to be personally offended by different ideas in the field.

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De Weimar Mysteriis

Cthulhu in R’lyeh eternally lies
Somewhere in the depths of the sea
But soon, says the cultist
“Iä! Iä!
Tomorrow Belongs To Thee!”

So, Chaosium has turned its attention to Weimar-era Berlin in Berlin: The Wicked City, a 7th edition supplement primarily written as a passion project by David Larkins (with assistance from product line gurus Mike Mason and Lynne Hardy). This is a chunky supplement which provides a rich level of detail on Berlin as it existed in the span shortly after World War I – in which street violence and radical politics rubbed shoulders with a rich nightlife that included unprecedented freedom to explore drugs, sexuality, gender, and identity – to the period just before the Nazi takeover, at which point street violence and radical politics rather rubbed out said nightlife, save for those sections saved by NSDAP patronage.

Despite my little filk above, however, this isn’t just H.P. Lovecraft’s Cabaret – though there’s inevitably a major overlap of themes. Yes, the bars and cabarets and theatres of Weimar-era Berlin do get a close examination – as does the underworld of drugs and the unprecedented freedoms enjoyed by the LGBT+ community at the time, though in the latter case the text does offer sufficient depth to note that the community wasn’t a monolith; there, as in so many areas of German life, an extreme fringe of proto-fascists existed, and the community had a social pecking order in which crossdressers and those cultivating an androgynous presentation tended to be looked down on a little by everyone else.

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Breaking News: The Confederacy Falls Again In Deadlands

So, Pinnacle have kicked off a significant spring-cleaning of the Deadlands setting, and as part of this they’ve kicked off a metaplot event called the Morgana Effect, which has provided them with an excuse to go back and retcon some aspects of the setting. The big news, as extensively explained by game creator Shane Hensley, is that whereas in the previous version of the setting the Confederacy survived the Civil War, in the new version of the setting it fell.

Given that the continuation of the Confederacy – in an unfortunately sanitised non-slaveowning form that made an absolute mockery of the Confederacy’s cause, at that – was one of the main problems I’d previously had with the game, obviously I find this development very welcome, and this decision makes me markedly more likely to both play/run Deadlands in the future and take a look at the revised game line, even if I prefer the old system to Savage Worlds.

Hensley, I think, does a good job in his Facebook post of explaining why the Confederacy was there in the game in the first place, and why he’s made the call to remove it now. Initially it was meant to be a pawn for the Reckoners to use, but with the intervening time the setting’s been developed to the point where the CSA is redundant – there’s other factions that can play its role just as handily. Game materials directly dealing with the Confederacy were actually thinner on the ground than you’d expect, and so it doesn’t actually do that much damage to the setting to have the Confederacy defeated, particularly when one notes that nothing stops tensions between North and South continuing to be a thing in the setting, just as they were in the Reconstruction era – it’s just that the South doesn’t have its own government and army any more.

And most importantly, Hensley has recognised – perhaps late, but still recognised – that there’s been an ongoing cost to having the reformed CSA as part of the game. And as he puts it, “it’s one I don’t have to pay…someone else does. And I don’t want that.” As long as it remained an option in the game to play a dyed-in-the-wool CSA loyalist – even one loyal to an anti-slavery CSA which stands in jarring contradiction to the CSA’s actual values – that’d make some uncomfortable at the gaming table, inevitably and with good reason. Removing the option makes the game more fun for those who don’t want a loud and proud Confederate being one of the “heroes” – and I think Hensley has realised that if denying someone the opportunity to use the game as neo-Confederate wish-fulfillment loses him customers, those are customers that he’s entirely happy to lose.

As it stands, the Civil War is still a bit counterfactual in Deadlands; the CSA lasts longer than it did historically, dragging on another 7 years until a brutal defeat in 1871’s Battle of Washington in the Deadlands timeline. Post-Morgana Effect, the Battle of Washington is now the point where the CSA collapsed entirely. Frankly, I have no problem with this treatment of it, even if they retain the point about the CSA abandoning slavery in the mid-1860s. In this setup it’s possible to spin that as a feint – a cheap trick to get some motivated fighters to the front line as things got increasingly desperate, with the CSA leaders planning to reimpose slavery should circumstances permit.

What’s most important about it is that it means the Confederacy is out of the picture as of the assumed starting date for Deadlands campaigns. It’s one thing to say “The Confederates abolished slavery, but too late to turn things around for them, and so the CSA collapsed.” It’s a beast of a whole different stripe to say “The Confederates abolished slavery, and as a result they survived the Civil War and forced a stalemate with the Union”, and a whole other thing to have that Confederacy present as a feature of the setting, and a whole other thing still to have it be a viable faction for player characters to support.

Ultimately, none of the great Western stories we still love today – conventional, spaghetti, or Weird – ask us to accept ideological loyalists to the Confederacy as heroes, so not offering that as a player character option in Deadlands is no great loss – and if anything, throwing that bit of politics out there just confuses discussion of the game and distracts from the supernatural horror and mayhem which is the game’s stock in trade. So let’s raise a glass at the saloon to Pinnacle, for finally correcting course on what’s been a long-standing point of contention with the game line.

Kickstopper: The Legacy of Three Kickstarters

Accountability disclaimer! This Kickstopper article’s going to be about a trio of projects run by UFO Press, owned by Liz and Jay Iles (with Jay being the lead designer on most of the material I’m about to discuss). These are friends of mine I know in real life, so if that makes you want to apply a grain of salt to my opinions and question my objectivity on the subject… don’t care, writing article anyway.

Anyway! This Kickstopper article’s going to be a little different from the usual one because I’m going to be reviewing a series of three linked Kickstarters – the first one being for the original edition of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins, the second for the 2nd edition of that game, and the third for The Next World – a set of additional settings for Legacy. These three Kickstarters chart the birth and rise of UFO Press from one small indie publisher among many to one which, to my admittedly biased eyes, seems to be punching above its weight in the industry, with Legacy getting widespread critical recognition – there’s currently a Bundle of Holding offer dedicated to the 2nd edition – as well as a crucial commercial leg up thanks to a distribution deal with Modiphius.

Jay’s been able to shepherd her game from a passion project reliant on DriveThruRPG’s print-on-demand arrangements to deliver hard copies to a series which gets traditional print runs and wide distribution via one of the industry’s current major players, and hopefully this article might highlight how that’s possible thanks to the combination of interesting content, delightful presentation, and excellent Kickstarter management that UFO Press has been able to bring to the table.

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