Sharpe? No, Actually It’s Quite Blunt

Aaah, “Napoleonics”. The Napoleonic era holds a special place in wargaming circles. After all, before wargaming became a hobby, it was a serious training and contingency planning exercise, which first took on a form broadly familiar to modern wargamers in the Kriegsspiel engaged in by the Prussian High Command during the Napoleonic era itself. Moreover, it is well-documented that before Dungeons & Dragons not only kicked off the roleplaying game genre but also injected a new enthusiasm for fantasy and science fiction into the wargame scene, the dominant form of wargaming was historically-based, with the American Civil War and the Napoleonic eras being the most popular eras. (One suspects as well that the American Civil War era is somewhat less popular outside of the United States itself.)

Either way, perhaps undeservedly Napoleonic wargames have gained the reputation of being a particularly dry or stuffy niche of the hobby – “grognard” as a term, after all, is a slang term originating from Napoleon’s forces themselves. But there’s no reason why that has to be the case – and the Napoleonic era, whilst it has been extensively mined in fiction (as in Sharpe and Hornblower and other such series) and wargaming, has hardly been touched when it comes to tabletop RPGs.

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“I Am a Servant of the Secret Heartbreaker!”

George Strayton’s The Secret Fire is about as blatant a fantasy heartbreaker as you could hope to find in this day and age. The days of the classic fantasy heartbreaker, a game designed by someone who apparently has little to no exposure to game design ideas beyond Dungeons & Dragons and whatever weird idea they want to graft onto the Dungeons & Dragons chassis but for some reason believes they have created something absolutely revolutionary, have waned since the release of the Open Gaming Licence and the rise of the retroclones – now if you want to release your very own D&D-alike game or house rules for such, it’s easier to either put out your very own retroclone or release your ideas as a supplement for the retroclone closest to your heart.

The Secret Fire does not take this route; indeed, it shows little evidence that it’s even aware of retroclones, or the OGL (which it doesn’t use). At most, George Strayton seems to have a vague passing knowledge of some OSR talking points, which he throws out in an apparent attempt to gain OSR credibility but doesn’t deliver on in his actual design.

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A Diceless Picnic In the Zone

Penned by Ville Vuorela and put out through his Burger Games small press, Stalker is an officially licensed RPG adaptation of Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Vuorela having received permission from Boris. Roadside Picnic was, as cinephiles know, adapted for cinema under the Stalker title by Tarkovsky, resulting in one of his greatest accomplishments; the videogame series S.T.A.L.K.E.R., whilst riffing on many of the same themes, was not actually an authorised release. The RPG takes its primary inspiration from Roadside Picnic itself, but has a lot of time for the particular mood and aesthetic of Stalker, whilst not giving much time to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. at all. Released in Vuorela’s native Finland in 2008 and using his Flow system, an English translation was released in 2012.

The basic premise is this: at an unspecified point in the future, some sort of extraterrestrial and/or transdimensional event happened to Earth – the Visitation. At six points along the 43rd parallel, at locations in the United States, Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan, mysterious Zones appeared where the Visitation took place. Within the Zones the laws of physics are violated in bizarre, dangerous ways, strange artifacts and monuments with unusual powers can be obtained, terrestrial lifeforms are mutated and altered into strange forms or gain strange powers and various other oddness occurs.

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