Resurgent Wrath & Renewed Glory, Or Reheated Ruin?

The physical copies of Cubicle 7’s new Wrath & Glory rulebook have now emerged. For those who aren’t up on the backstory here, a quick summary: after Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop’s licensing arrangement died a death, the RPG rights to the various Warhammer settings were up for grabs. Cubicle 7 took the fantasy-based ones, and as well as Soulbound, their new Age of Sigmar RPG, they have brought out a delightfully flavourful 4th Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

Ulisses Spiele, however, took the Warhammer 40,000 RPG licence, and rather than keeping the lights on for the mass of different 40K-themed RPGs that Fantasy Flight had supported – Dark HeresyRogue TraderDeathwatchBlack Crusade, and Only War – they decided to put out an all-new game, Wrath & Glory, with a system intended to cover as many aspects of the Warhammer 40,000 universe as possible rather than going for a series of more focused games as Fantasy Flight had done.

With the design and development process handled by Ulisses North America, the first version of Wrath & Glory offered a promising start. The basic concept of tiered archetypes corresponding to different iconic Warhammer 40,000 character concepts, with the different tiers spanning power levels from low-grade chumps to top-tier superheroes, was basically sensible; furthermore, the designers made the sensible decision to not continue with the WFRP-derived system of the previous Warhammer 40,000 RPGs, which had always struggled a little to handle more powerful characters (WFRP having very much catered to the low-power end of the scale).

The perspective on the cover of the new core book never quite looked right to me.

That said, the Ulisses Spiele release of the game had its issues. The production values – particularly compared to both Fantasy Flight’s previous offerings and Cubicle 7’s WFRP material – felt a little lacklustre, a couple of ribbon bookmarks not quite hiding the slightly thin paper quality. Some of the art looked a little off; some of the game mechanics seemed either poorly explained, poorly tested, or outright poorly understood by the designers. (Dark Tides, the sole adventure pack released for the game, seemed to assume that characters would be advancing in Tier at a much faster pace than suggested in the core book.) A number of card decks were issued alongside the core book, which seemed to strongly hope you would make extensive use of them, despite some of them being a little half-baked.

In general, a lot of small things seemed to be a bit off, which added up bit by bit to give the impression of a product rush-released in a hurry. In addition, the core rules felt rather bland and thinly stretched-out, with not much meat in terms of setting material – an annoyance to many fans, since the plan had apparently been for the game to be a significant way to showcase what’s going on in the Dark Imperium (the chunk of the Imperium now cut off from the Astronomican’s light) but a bunch of the material developed by the Black Library’s authors for the book didn’t make the cut.

A mixed reception was followed by an abrupt disappearance – after the initial slate of products was released, there was a dearth of announcements of new material, previously-announced supplements didn’t seem to materialise, and everything got ominously quiet at Ulisses’ end. Fans noted that references to the game seemed to be disappearing from Ulisses’ website, and Ulisses didn’t show up with the rest of the Games Workshop licensees at 2019’s Warhammer Fest.

Finally, the hammer dropped: all material for Wrath & Glory and other Warhammer 40,000 RPGs abruptly disappeared from the DriveThruRPG storefront. A day or so later, carefully co-ordinated press releases were made by Ulisses North America and Cubicle 7; Ulisses North America was stepping away from Warhammer 40,000, Ulisses Spiele (their parent company) was going to content themselves with handling German language translations of the game, and design and development of the product line would now be lead by Cubicle 7, who’d also be publishing the English-language books.

I suspected at the time that Ulisses North America had overextended itself, taking on a product it wasn’t ready to do justice to, and had decided to prune things back. This may be correct, though I note that since then UNA are planning to put out a new edition of Fading Suns, and I wonder whether there might be an issue there. Whatever the behind-the-scenes story is behind UNA, Cubicle 7, and Games Workshop agreeing to rearrange things like this – as the IP owners there is simply no way this switcheroo happened without Games Workshop’s approval at the very least, and it’s very possible they initiated the process in the first place – the fact of the matter is that Cubicle 7 has how consolidated all the Warhammer RPG licences into their hands, and with the release of the printed version of their revised core book, the game is effectively getting a second edition.

Note how the update gives them the chance to bring in the new Warhammer 40,000 logo.

The new book is not just a spruced-up reprint of the original; the game has had a root-and-branch rewrite and reorganisation. The system is broadly the same – you can take any of the (extremely limited) amount of support material that Ulisses produced and use it with this edition of the game no problem – but a lot of the criticism of the original release has been accounted for, and further rounds of feedback from the initial PDF of this revision was taken into account in the print run. Some terminology has been changed to better reflect the underlying intention, some sections have been expanded and clarified, other bits have been yanked outright.

Continue reading “Resurgent Wrath & Renewed Glory, Or Reheated Ruin?”

RuneQuest Classic: the Solo Adventures

In 1982 Chaosium would publish a clutch of solo adventures for the 2nd Edition of RuneQuest – the SoloQuest collection of three mini-adventures, Scorpion Hall, and The Snow King’s Brides, all penned by Alan LaVergne, who along with his wife Debra had been a participant in Steve Perrin’s RuneQuest campaign. As Chaosium’s first foray into solo adventures, the SoloQuest series – now reprinted in one volume as the SoloQuest Classic Collection – is a rather interesting early pass at the concept, and also one which raises the question of what solo adventures are for and how they fit in with more traditional referee-implemented RPG gameplay.

One thing which is especially interesting about the SoloQuest adventures is that they are very much designed to be played using a player character that you have fully rolled up for yourself. This is in contrast to solo adventures produced for Call of Cthulhu like Alone Against the Dark or Alone Against the Frost, which both gave you control of pregenerated characters (with some level of customisation possible).

It’s also something of a burden, because RuneQuest 2nd Edition character generation could be a bit fiddly, as well as having various options (such as rolling up five years’ worth of pre-game experience, which was often a very sensible option if available) which could be a bit laborious to work through if it’s just for the sake of a short solo adventure. By comparison, the more streamlined Basic Roleplaying framework that Call of Cthulhu was built on made it easier to take Alone Against the Flames and incorporate a simplified stat-up-as-you-go method of developing your character attributes into the adventure itself, as was done for the version published in the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set.

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RuneQuest Classic: Six Years That Changed Gaming

After the infamous corporate drama which saw a new regime take over at Chaosium in order to save the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter from disaster, Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen arranged for the operators of Moon Design Publications, creators of the QuestWorlds RPG (AKA the RPG formerly known as HeroQuest), to take control of day-to-day operations at the company.

Moon Design began as RuneQuest fan publishers before, impressed by their work, Greg Stafford teamed up with them and they became the official custodians of Glorantha. It’s no surprise, then, that one of their first priorities when they took over was to bring RuneQuest home – both home to Chaosium as a publisher, and home to Glorantha as a setting.

In fact, so keen were they to bring a distinctively, inherently Gloranthan-flavoured RuneQuest back, they did it twice. Not only did they serve up a freshly-cooked new edition of the game, but they also ran a Kickstarter to put out RuneQuest Classic – a rerelease of the core rulebook for the 2nd Edition RuneQuest rules which were the primary inspiration for the new edition. Stretch goals funded PDF reissues of the majority of the 1st and 2nd Edition product lines, and now print-on-demand copies of the reissues have been made available via Lulu.

RuneQuest may well be the most influential RPG since the original white box release of Dungeons & Dragons, so for this article I’m going to cover the entire line, taking a look at how it evolved from a scrappy 1978 fantasy RPG with an eccentric setting to the rich mythic tapestry it was offering by the end of the run of the “classic” line.

The Rulebooks

One reason why it is appropriate to treat the RuneQuest Classic line as, in effect, one single game line (rather than a first edition line and a second edition one) is that the first edition of the game was only available for a small window of time, in comparatively limited numbers, rushed out to allow for a release at the 1978 Origins convention. With a monochrome version of what would later be the iconic colour version of the second edition cover, and much text in common with second edition, it was essentially an “early access” version of the game decades before Early Access was a thing. Various tweaks were applied between the two – including the revision of the name of the campaign setting from “Glorontha” to the more familiar “Glorantha” – but the systems are sufficiently close that material for one can be used for the other more or less as-is.

RuneQuest Classic is not quite a perfect reprint of the second edition of RuneQuest – the layout has been spruced out and cleaned up, the various pieces of errata that had previously been printed on the inside front and back covers have been incorporated into the text along with a range of other tweaks, various useful reference sheets that in the original had been presented as a pull-out section are instead provided as a separate booklet, some setting description sections (writeups of various cults) have been updated to match the expanded, definitive descriptions presented in later supplements, additional text boxes with relevant snippets from sources like Wyrm’s Footnotes that further clarify things are added in, and alongside the existing appendices various additional articles of general use have been added.

But despite being an improved reprint, RuneQuest Classic is still basically a reprint, and so its quality hinges on the quality of the original. Fortunately, that quality is extremely high. Within a substantial faction of the game’s fandom, RuneQuest 2 is held to be one of the best versions of the game – and it’s no surprise that the Moon Design crew who now run Chaosium are of that school of thought, seeing how they put out Glorantha Classics in the first place. Whereas the 3rd edition worked in various extra wrinkles that many (including the main developers at Chaosium these days) consider to have added too much complexity for too little benefit (especially when it comes to modern tastes in RPGs), RuneQuest 2 hit a sweet spot, polishing the original game’s presentation sufficiently to better implement and communicate its ideas without needlessly cluttering it.

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A Severn Valley Holiday

Ramsey Campbell is one of the best horror authors of recent decades, and has sustained an amazingly high standard in his work from the 1960s to the present day. His body of work extends well beyond Cthulhu Mythos material, but the Mythos represents an important component of his portfolio and he retains a lot of affection for it – in fact, he just completed a full-length trilogy of Mythos novels that may represent some of his best work.

In particular, it’s with Mythos material that Campbell got his big break, after sending some stories to August Derleth. I’ve gone on before ad nauseum about how little I care for Derleth’s work as a Mythos author, and I have major reservations about some of his conduct as Lovecraft’s self-appointed literary executor (shoving R.H. Barlow out of the role, running promising Mythos authors like C. Hall Thompson off his turf, and passing off stories wholly written by himself as Lovecraft stories). However, as an editor it’s undeniable that he played an important role in keeping the whole Mythos thing going, and Campbell (alongside Brian Lumley) represents one of his successes in terms of providing the encouragement and advice a new author needed to develop their work.

Campbell’s earliest published Mythos stories (as gathered in The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants) were basically well-polished pastiches – the sort of stuff that riffs heavily on over-familiar Lovecraftian tropes, but was about as good an example of that sort of thing as exists. His even earlier stories that he first sent to Derleth were even rougher and even more dependent on Lovecraft, to the point of being based in “Lovecraft country” locales like Arkham. Derleth advised Campbell to instead exploit local knowledge and set his stories closer to home to give them more of an individual flavour; thus Campbell’s accursed region of the Severn Valley was born, incorporating a range of small and out-of-the-way communities in the general vicinity of the fictional town of Brichester along with a distinct set of Lovecraftian entities that originally hailed from this neck of the woods.

Campbell would continue to develop the region as time went by. Realising that absolutely nothing requires you to write a cosmic story using an imitation of Lovecraft’s prose style style, with pieces like Cold Print and The Franklyn Paragraphs, he would develop an authorial voice of his own, and with later stories like The Faces At Pine Dunes and The Voice of the Beach he demonstrated that strong characterisation, social and political issues, and deeper emotional themes don’t need to be incompatible with cosmic horror, and can in fact help it: after all, the more you create the impression that these are real people existing in a real place and time, the more impact it has when something Mythosy insinuates itself into that. In keeping with this, Brichester and its cursed environs kept up with changing times, because Campbell realised that you don’t need to set Lovecraftian stuff in the 1920s (after all, Lovecraft set his stories in what were for him the present day); that recent trilogy I mention depicts a saga ranging from the 1950s to the late 2010s.

Campbell is not into Call of Cthulhu, or tabletop RPGs in general, but he’s not unsympathetic to the medium: he just finds that since his day job involves devising scenarios or imagining the inner lives of characters, refereeing or playing RPGs during his leisure time would feel too much like work. He has also been fairly generous about allowing the use of his creations in the game – indeed, Glaaki stars in one of the introductory adventures in the current core rulebook – so it’s no surprise that Chaosium eventually got around to producing an entire sourcebook themed around “Campbell Country” as a UK equivalent to their “Lovecraft Country” releases.

That book is Ramsey Campbell’s Goatswood and Less Pleasant Places, a project credited to various hands. The main driving force behind the project was Scott David Aniolowski; after a brief introduction by Ramsey Campbell explaining the origin of “Campbell Country” and generally being about as nice about the project as you can expect a non-roleplayer to be about an RPG book, Scott spends his introduction giving a potted history of the project, which ground on for about a decade and faced various delays until Chaosium finally released it in 2001, after it began as a pitch to Chaosium, almost got farmed out to Pagan Publishing, before finally being finished for Chaosium.

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Refurbished Mansions

Mansions of Madness Volume I: Behind Closed Doors is the first part of Chaosium’s expansive revision of the well-regarded Mansions of Madness scenario collection. As the “Volume I” bit implies, it looks like this will end up being a multi-volume series, and presumably each volume will follow the same format of this one in terms of including both updates of some adventures from the original collection and brand-new scenarios in a similar vein. As the Behind Closed Doors bit of the title suggests, the scenarios in this one all strongly feature situations where something super-dodgy is being done, well, behind closed doors by a figure in the scenario, a secret shame, a hidden obsession, or a furtive project inviting Mythos-flavoured disaster.

In fact, perhaps to make this a tastier offering to people who already have the original material, there’s actually more new adventures here than old. The new offerings – The CodeThe House of Memphis, and The Nineteenth Hole can tend towards the pulpier side of the game, but this will very much depend on presentation (even the pulpiest could end up having an atmosphere more akin to Lovecraft’s From Beyond) and presents a useful counterbalance to the older adventures, which tend towards less pulpy elements (and one of which is outright grim in some of its subject matter).

When it comes to the updates of the old adventures – Mister Corbitt and The Crack’d and Crook’d Manse – these are pretty decent, largely concentrating on presenting information more clearly and adding some quality of life features (many of the NPCs previously left unnamed now have names, for instance, sparing the referee of the need to think up a name on the spot). I wasn’t sure about The Crack’d and Crook’d Manse in the previous revision, but to my eyes the version here manages to swing things around to be less about dangling red herrings and deliberately misleading the players and more about establishing atmosphere. (The bit with the shed, in particular, is made substantially fairer, with the stuff I objected to previously now only happening if a PC ventures in without an adequate light source – so it’s gone from a pointless gotcha to actually a kind of fair enough incident to happen if you go poking around under those circumstances without taking sensible safety precautions.)

The supplement continues the new Chaosium practice of, where viable, pitching adventure collections as being playable with the 7th edition core rules or the Starter Set; in particular, it suggests that the adventures here are “an ideal next step” for people who followed up the Starter Set with Doors to Darkness and Gateways to Terror. The introduction notes that there’s less Keeper advice here than for those scenarios, though to be honest that’s fair enough since novice referees who’ve gone through those should already have been trained in the basics of best practice, and old hands don’t need the support anyway. The commitment to making the Call of Cthulhu range approachable for those beginning with the Starter Set is admirable, and probably plays dividends considering the massive sales of the Starter Set following it being featured on Critical Role.

Arkham? No

Arkham Now is a Call of Cthulhu supplement first published in late 2009. Primarily written by Brian Courtemanche and Matt Sanborn, the declared intention of the book is to provide a modern-day equivalent to the 1920s-set Arkham Unveiled supplement, in terms of providing a sourcebook profiling good ol’ Arkham for the modern era. The authors are upfront about it being a “labour of love”, and it sits among their first credits in the game line, but it is decidedly rough around the edges and clearly needs further development in several respects.

In terms of the publishing timeframe, it’s a product of that window of time when Charlie Krank was pretty much running Chaosium as he saw fit: Lynn Willis had left in 2008 due to ill health, but it was only after his death in 2013 that his stake in the company got redistributed to Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen, which allowed them to exert somewhat more supervision over things until they decided to take back control, remove Krank, and put Moon Design in charge.

One of the more disappointing things which happened during that span of time between Willis leaving and Stafford and Petersen stepping in was a decline in the quality of presentation of Chaosium products, especially their interiors. In the mid-2000s, during the last years of Willis’ tenure, the interior layout of Chaosium books could most kindly be described as “vintage”: it was hardly cutting-edge stuff, but it wasn’t outrageously sub-par by wider industry standards, especially if one considers that Chaosium by this point was a small press punching above its weight rather than a major company in the industry.

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Mini-Review: The Pegasus Plateau and Other Stories

Chaosium have put out another adventure supplement for the new edition of RuneQuest – The Pegasus Plateau & Other Stories, which has a fairly similar form factor to The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories, though packing in seven adventures where that book collected three (with both books also including overviews of regions and communities).

As one might expect from that disparity, the adventures here tend towards shorter jaunts than the longer and more intricate offerings in The Smoking Ruin, as well as focusing on a somewhat different and more diffuse geographical region; the material here spans the northern parts of Sartar, a dip into Prax, and the border region between Sartar and Lunar Tarsh. Though the centre of gravity is still Dragon Pass, this selection takes the scope of adventuring a little bit outside that – with the dip into Prax, the other most-developed section of Glorantha, being the obvious next step in fleshing out the world within the context of the new edition. (Prax, home to Pavis and the Big Rubble, was the focus of Steve Perrin’s own RuneQuest campaign, just as Dragon Pass was Greg Stafford’s stomping gorund.)

The titular Pegasus Plateau is a fun little adventure which gives a distinctive Gloranthan flavour to the ol’ “get yourself a flying mount” quest; it also has some links to the Locaem, a newly-described tribe that gets its own mini-writeup here. It sets the tone for the adventures in this book – short and sweet, good either for a one-off game, or an interlude in an ongoing campaign, or as something to kick off a longer campaign.

The Grey Crane has the adventurers caught up in a tussle over some old adventuring artifacts; it has some editing issues, most particularly with the maps of one location simply not matching the descriptions, and with said descriptions not agreeing on whether a particular undead entity has been bound in the basement of the place in question for “centuries” or merely a dozen years or so. Textual evidence suggests the latter, so it’s not a huge issue, but it’s pretty clear that an older text was left only half-revised here.

Editing issues also strike in Helena Nash’s The Rattling Wind, an otherwise pretty good adventure about a community haunted by an arguably-justified crime from its recent past. Here, the page numbers are off, probably as a result of the adventure originally being put out as a free standalone PDF release to commemorate the first anniversary of Greg Stafford’s death. Crimson Petals is another “community haunted by an unacknowledged crime” story, though a different enough spin that if it’s run distant enough from Rattling Wind it shouldn’t feel too much like a do-over; it has some extensive fertility themes, what with the offences in question having outraged a fertility goddess this is to be expected, so referees should probably make sure their players are cool with this before going ahead.

The most substantial adventure here is Gloomwillow’s Hollow – mostly because in addition to the child-saving adventure itself, it also provides a mini-gazeteer of the Woods of the Dead, a place of great peril which could be the focus of an entire campaign following on from the action of the adventure if the PCs try to tackle the mystery of the Gloom that overshadows it and the corrupt ruler who exists at its heart.

The last two adventures are The Pairing Stones – the aforementioned dip into Prax and a potentially more light-hearted affair – and The Ruin On the Stream. This latter one could potentially give your PCs a real cognitive hand grenade – an insight into the secret knowledge of the Empire of Wyrm’s Friends which could have major ramifications however they use it – or be a total dud, depending on your PCs’ interests; it’s structured enough around a particular set of activities that I suspect that, without extensive referee additions and improvisation, PCs who simply do not have that much investment in the relevant skills will find it frustrating. The book is rounded off with Renekot’s Hope, a description of a small village in the border region between Tarsh and Dragon Pass, and therefore a great place to start your PCs off at if you want them to be torn between the Lunar and Sartarite causes right away.

On the whole, the collection feels like a more approachable version of The Smoking Ruin, and indeed I suspect this supplement was supposed to come out first – based on the catalogue numbers, and based on the fact that The Smoking Ruin‘s adventures tend to be substantially longer and complex, whereas The Pegasus Plateau errs towards adventures which are nicely bite-sized, and more approachable for new players and referees.

The editing issues I’ve highlighted above do seem like a black mark against Chaosium at this point. OK, I realise that proofreading your own material can be difficult, I realise that it’s become almost an industry standard at this point to put out the PDF first, use customer feedback to catch the last few typos, then send to print. But come on – the disparities here are the sort of thing which should have been caught trivially, on a first read-over of the complete text, and it falls well short of the standards Chaosium show on, say, their Call of Cthulhu products. Pull your socks up, do better, and actually do some professional editing work on your stuff rather than crowd-sourcing it, Chaosium.

Moon Design/Chaosium and Hasbro Reach Deal Over HeroQuest

Nostalgic boardgamers of a certain age have been cheered by Hasbro announcing the return of HeroQuest through their Avalon Hill subsidiary (and gnashing their teeth with annoyance at only US and Canada release plans being in the offing so far). As has been announced by Chaosium, this coincides with them striking a deal with Hasbro, permitting purchase of the trademark, which will result in the HeroQuest RPG – which has nothing to do with the boardgame – being renamed QuestWorlds, which has previously been established as the name of their HeroQuest fan publication licence.

The history behind this is a bit of a tangled one. As far back as 2nd edition RuneQuest, Chaosium had been pushing the idea that they’d bring out a product called HeroQuest which would deal with high-powered Gloranthan characters engaged in the process of “heroquesting” – an in-setting concept in which Gloranthan characters take on the roles of mythic figures in order to enact significant changes in the world. (Unless Chaosium have been extremely short-sighted in the way the transfer has been negotiated, they probably have some reassurances that using the term “heroquest” as an in-setting term for this in Glorantha-related products is still legit.)

However, the product never saw the line of day, and eventually the HeroQuest name was used (and the trademark registered) by Hasbro for the boardgame. Hasbro didn’t keep up the trademark renewals when the game went out of print, however, so Moon Design were able to register the trademark and use it for new editions of the RPG formerly known as Hero Wars.

Evidently, Hasbro’s desire to rerelease the game was strong enough to bring them to the negotiating table, leading us to the deal announced this week – Moon Design having since become the leadership of Chaosium, having been set up in that role by Greg Stafford after he and Sandy Petersen took control back from the Charlie Krank-helmed regime (as I chronicled during my account of the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter and its associated drama).

As with many intellectual property transfers, there’s probably a bunch of clauses which aren’t being publicly aired and it’s not as simple as Hasbro giving Chaosium/Moon Design money and Moon Design handing over the trademark. There’s currently a sale on at Chaosium’s website of existing books using the HeroQuest brand name, which will all be repackaged as QuestWorlds books on their next printing, much as happened to RuneQuest 6 when it became Mythras.

My hunch is that Moon Design probably don’t have that much in the way of stock to clear in the first place. Remember, one of the first things they did when they took control of Chaosium was to do a fire sale at the warehouse, selling off a bunch of stock which the old regime had been paying to store more or less completely pointlessly. (It is ludicrous that they had significant stock of the entire English language Nephilim product line some two decades after it crashed and burned, for instance.) That and the subsequent closure of the warehouse suggests to me that Moon Design understand how modern publishing trends in the RPG industry point away from warehousing large amounts of stock and more towards running smaller print runs and keeping lower amounts of material in stock.

In addition, it may well be that the deal reached with Hasbro also included some form of deal when it came to unsold stock – clearly, it includes at the very least a window of time to allow for the sale of the remaining materials, it’s not impossible that it also includes some form of payment to cover the losses involved in pulping anything which can’t be sold. That doesn’t mean it’s not preferable to sell those products at a profit, but either way I don’t think Moon Design are going to be too troubled by pulping the remaining copies using the HeroQuest trade dress.

Using QuestWorlds for the game line is also a canny move as well. The fact is that HeroQuest is a term with specific Gloranthan connotations, but a system which had become genericised (with a Glorantha-specific version available), and the QuestWorlds branding is already used for community content. Questworld was an old RuneQuest 2nd edition boxed set which described an “open” campaign world for the game, which was intended to act as a setting subject to less canon oversight than Glorantha, but in subsequent years both the system-neutral editions of RuneQuest and the fantasy implementations of Basic Roleplaying have rather displaced that when it comes to fantasy, and the BRP licensing setup and SRD already provide a basis for people making new non-Gloranthan fantasy material inspired by the system. (Fan-made Gloranthan material also has a home in the form of the Jonstown Compendium storefront.)

Chaosium/Moon Design have already, for quite some time, bedded in QuestWorlds as a generic synonym for the HeroQuest system, complete with licence and SRD, which is both an apt use of the term and an indication of how long negotiations have probably been progressing on this.

In short, though it is hard to judge without sight of the actual deal struck between Hasbro and Moon Design, in general it sounds like sensible minds have prevailed to achieve a solution beneficial to everyone. Hasbro gets to bring back HeroQuest (the board game); Chaosium/Moon Design do have the inconvenience of renaming the HeroQuest RPG, but since it debuted as Hero Wars anyway it’s not like the game line hasn’t been subject to this confusion anyway, and the HeroQuest name has always given rise to some confusion with the boardgame anyway so perhaps it is for the best in the long run – most importantly, nobody is losing any stuff, it’s just that the stuff currently put out will need to be renamed. Hasbro have given Chaosium/Moon Design some form of payout which made Moon Design decide it was worth the inconvenience of the rebrand – an injection of money which will surely help them advance other projects and endeavours going forwards, and so will have a positive knock-on effect not just on QuestWorlds but all of Chaosium’s product lines. There’s no losers here, which is what makes this a good deal all told.

Mini-Kickstopper: Rowan, Rook & Decard Bare Their Hearts

I’ve previously covered how Rowan, Rook & Decard are pretty dang reliable when it comes to delivering on their Kickstarters, and this has remained true of their latest, so I won’t be giving their new RPG Heart the full Kickstopper treatment – there just isn’t that interesting a story to tell there. Instead, I’m just going to review the swag I got. Here goes!

Heart

Where Spire focused on political intrigue and scheming, freedom fighter heists, social pitfalls and all that jazz, Heart is based more on the traditional exploration-and-dungeoneering type of play that very old school tabletop RPGs often focused on, but given a decidedly new school twist. The titular Heart is a region below Spire itself – an oozing wound in reality itself, that’s been leaking in strange ways ever since the high elf occupiers of the Spire tried to use it as the hub of a railway network that went wrong.

Whereas the aboveground world of the Spire is rife with racial tensions, the strange communities which make their home in the Heart and the no-elf’s-land between Heart and Spire tend to be a bit more egalitarian in that respect, consisting of individuals bound together by common agendas rather than cultural or ethnic affiliation. The Heart reshapes those who plumb its depths into the shape of their desires… but it’s clumsy at it. And in its fractured depths, it is even possible to reach entire other worlds.

Continue reading “Mini-Kickstopper: Rowan, Rook & Decard Bare Their Hearts”

Mini-Kickstopper: Lancer

Pity Mekton. After Mekton II managed to gain traction despite its flaws (due, perhaps, to having very little in the way of competition beyond Palladium’s Robotech RPG), Mekton Zeta provided a somewhat tidied up and debugged (albeit at some points quite crunchy) take on the game. Still, you’re talking about a 1994 design there, and there’s an appetite for further refinement and polishing. That appetite drove a Kickstarter for Mekton Zero, a new edition of the game, which raised some $50,000 in 2013.

However, the development and writing process for the game bogged down, and in 2018 Mike Pondsmith made the decision that, rather than allowing it to be another Far West situation, he was going to refund everyone’s pledges rather than making any promises about if and when the game would eventually come out. Since then, when it comes to new material R. Talsorian Games has had more success in getting out the starter set for Cyberpunk Red, their new edition of Cyberpunk (putting the Cyberpunk 3.0 timeline aside and acting as a bridge between Cyberpunk 2020 and the Cyberpunk 2077 videogame), with the core book delayed at first to ensure lore consistency with the videogame and then due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Perhaps Pondsmith will, one day, come back to Mekton Zero – but if he does, he’ll find there’s new competition. Massif Press’s chunky new Lancer RPG takes the same general gameplay breakdown of Mekton – rules-light, largely freeform play for when your characters are out of your mechs shifting into crunchy, tactically rich combat when you get into a mecha fight – and applies fresh eyes to the concept, yielding a much more modern system for delivering the same general deal.

Continue reading “Mini-Kickstopper: Lancer”