The Ludonarrative Dissonance of the Late, Late, Late Show

Stellar Games are by and large one of the great also-rans of the gaming industry, putting out a few products which have gained some attention but with none of their game lines ever quite catching fire to the extent necessary to sustain them in the long term. You may have heard about their Nightlife RPG, which rolled out the whole “vampires and wizards and werewoofles kicking about in the modern day” concept before Vampire: the Masquerade and its kin did, but not in any way which really captured people’s imaginations. (I don’t see people getting anywhere near as excited about that game’s setting lore as I do about the finer points of the Camarilla vs. Sabbat feud, for instance.)

Out of the whole Stellar Games roster, the game which seems to have prompted the most discussion over the years – not much, at least in the Anglosphere (apparently the Japanese translation was a minor hit over there), but at least it’s been namedropped here and there – is It Came From the Late, Late, Late Show. This came out in 1989, the same year that saw the nationwide cable debut of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and there must have been something in the water at the time promoting geekdom’s already well-ingrained love of cheesy movies – for Late, Late, Late Show is an RPG of playing through crappy Z-movies.

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Devil’s Gulch, Amateur’s Layout

So the new regime at Chaosium are still purging their storage space of old product which was stacked up under Charlie Krank’s watch. (For a full breakdown of how Chaosium’s leadership has changed, who Charlie Krank was, and why it’s probably kind of a good thing that Charlie’s no longer running Chaosium, see the first part of my overview of the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter.) The upshot of this is that sometimes when you’re purchasing from their website – say, to get your shiny hardcover copy of the brand new edition of RuneQuest – you’ll notice that they’re selling, say, back catalogue items from their fiction line for less than $5 a pop.

Thus, when I got my RuneQuest I also bought a bunch of old Chaosium products I’d semi-had my eye on which were going for a reasonable rate. Devil’s Gulch was not discounted, but it did jump out at me since it’s meant to offer a complete Western town with an eye to using it with the generic Basic Roleplaying Big Yellow Book system for Weird West, Deadlands-style adventures. Obviously, this is a product which may well have useful synergy with, say, Down Darker Trails, but whereas that product showed professional, modern production values and a thoughtful take on its subject matter which was well worth the praise it won, Devil’s Gulch is… not.

Continue reading “Devil’s Gulch, Amateur’s Layout”

Kickstopper: Turning the Lights Out On Those Who Most Need Them

This article was previously published on Ferretbrain; due to the imminent closure of that site, I’m moving it over here so that it can remain available.

Cthulhu gets into everything these days; it’s become an unfortunate nerd culture cliche that almost anything can potentially get some sort of Lovecraftian-themed special edition, and some addled fan will be fool enough to buy it. The descent into kitsch and cliche has not yet prevented the Call of Cthulhu RPG from continuing to be a major success; nor has it prevented Pelgrane Press’s Trail of Cthulhu from providing an alternative which has become a significant success in the RPG market in its own right, and nor has it prevented other hands from trying to pen RPGs intended to support their personal vision of what a purist Lovecraftian game should be like.

One such game is Cthulhu Dark by Graham Walmsley, who ran a Kickstarter to fund the production of a full-sized rulebook after a prototype version of the game gained traction through free distribution online. That basic version, whilst a little rough around the edge as you might expect for an early draft, is really remarkably rules-light – the question remains as to whether such a light, simple prospect can really justify a full-sized RPG rulebook by itself.

As it turned out, though, the full-fat version of Cthulhu Dark isn’t just an extremely lean, mean, rules-light delivery mechanism for quick and easy horror gaming. Walmsley also has a number of laudable aims he wishes to pursue with it – aims which I find entirely worthy of support in general, but which give rise to a number of serious problems when you combine it with the rules system presented.

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Kickstopper: Punch Nazis and Feed Them To Cthulhu

This article was previously published on Ferretbrain; due to the imminent closure of that site, I’m moving it over here so that it can remain available.

The controversy over the latest Wolfenstein game is absurd and illustrative of a wider absurdity: it’s startling how quickly violent opposition to a Nazi regime has gone from being entirely uncontroversial (to the point of being a bit tired and cliched) to being regarded as somehow politically controversial.

Thus, in the service of supporting games where you fight Nazis, I’m going to cover a game line blending the action of the Call of Cthulhu RPG with all the Nazi-shooting goodness of World War II. Hang on to your Indiana Jones hat, we’re going to cover Achtung! Cthulhu.

Usual Note On Terminology

Just in case this is the first Kickstopper article you’ve read, there’s a few things I should establish first. As always, different backers on a Kickstarter will often have very different experiences and I make no guarantee that my experience with this Kickstarter is representative of everyone else’s. In particular, I’m only able to review these things based on the tier I actually backed at, and I can’t review rewards I didn’t actually receive.

The format of a Kickstopper goes like this: first, I talk about the crowdfunding campaign period itself, then I note what level I backed at and give the lowdown on how the actual delivery process went. Then, I review what I’ve received as a result of the Kickstarter and see if I like what my money has enabled. Lots of Kickstarters present a list of backers as part of the final product; where this is the case, the “Name, DNA and Fingerprints” section notes whether I’m embarrassed by my association with the product.

Towards the end of the review, I’ll be giving a judgement based on my personal rating system for Kickstarters. Higher means that I wish I’d bid at a higher reward level, a sign that I loved more or less everything I got from the campaign and regret not getting more stuff. Lower means that whilst I did get stuff that I liked out of the campaign, I would have probably been satisfied with one of the lower reward levels. Just Right means I feel that I backed at just the right level to get everything I wanted, whilst Just Wrong means that I regret being entangled in this mess and wish I’d never backed the project in the first place. After that, I give my judgement on whether I’d back another project run by the same parties involved, and give final thoughts on the whole deal.

Continue reading “Kickstopper: Punch Nazis and Feed Them To Cthulhu”

Kickstopper: First as Farce, Then as Tragedy

This article was previously published on Ferretbrain; due to the imminent closure of that site, I’m moving it over here so that it can remain available.

Strap yourself in, folks. Whereas some Kickstopper articles document a fairly simple interaction, this is one of those which documents a rough and bumpy ride – and unlike the saga of the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition Kickstarter, this time the delivered goods are a bit too disappointing to justify the rough journey.

On one level, it’s hard to justify declaring a Kickstarter a failure when it actually delivers the tangible product it originally promised. However, the saga of Mongoose Publishing’s new edition of Paranoia reveals a development process in which the interests of rights holders, publishers, game designers and Kickstarter backers ended up at odds with each other, with the inevitable dysfunction that arises from such a situation. It also reveals a tabletop RPG whose previous editions have (mostly) been widely loved reduced into a cheap and tatty-feeling product which doesn’t feel like it lives up to its heritage.

Usual Note On Methodology

Just in case this is the first Kickstopper article you’ve read, there’s a few things I should establish first. As always, different backers on a Kickstarter will often have very different experiences and I make no guarantee that my experience with this Kickstarter is representative of everyone else’s. In particular, I’m only able to review these things based on the tier I actually backed at, and I can’t review rewards I didn’t actually receive.

The format of a Kickstopper goes like this: first, I talk about the crowdfunding campaign period itself, then I note what level I backed at and give the lowdown on how the actual delivery process went. Then, I review what I’ve received as a result of the Kickstarter and see if I like what my money has enabled. Lots of Kickstarters present a list of backers as part of the final product; where this is the case, the “Name, DNA and Fingerprints” section notes whether I’m embarrassed by my association with the product.

Towards the end of the review, I’ll be giving a judgement based on my personal rating system for Kickstarters. Higher means that I wish I’d bid at a higher reward level, a sign that I loved more or less everything I got from the campaign and regret not getting more stuff. Lower means that whilst I did get stuff that I liked out of the campaign, I would have probably been satisfied with one of the lower reward levels. Just Right means I feel that I backed at just the right level to get everything I wanted, whilst Just Wrong means that I regret being entangled in this mess and wish I’d never backed the project in the first place. After that, I give my judgement on whether I’d back another project run by the same parties involved, and give final thoughts on the whole deal.

Continue reading “Kickstopper: First as Farce, Then as Tragedy”

Kickstopper: Retconned Schemes

This article was previously published on Ferretbrain; due to the imminent closure of that site, I’m moving it over here so that it can remain available.

This is going to be a bit of an odd article. I initially thought it’d just be yet another supplement for the rather hit-and-miss Werewolf 20th Anniversary line. However, new wrinkles have arisen over the course of this Kickstarter, wrinkles which have a bearing on a story already partly told in previous Kickstopper articles, with the result that although there’s still a supplement to review here, there’s also a broader story to tell

Specifically, this is a story about the twists and turns of the Onyx Path, and that company’s relationship with White Wolf Publishing.

Usual Note On Methodology

Just in case this is the first Kickstopper article you’ve read, there’s a few things I should establish first. As always, different backers on a Kickstarter will often have very different experiences and I make no guarantee that my experience with this Kickstarter is representative of everyone else’s. In particular, I’m only able to review these things based on the tier I actually backed at, and I can’t review rewards I didn’t actually receive.

The format of a Kickstopper goes like this: first, I talk about the crowdfunding campaign period itself, then I note what level I backed at and give the lowdown on how the actual delivery process went. Then, I review what I’ve received as a result of the Kickstarter and see if I like what my money has enabled. Lots of Kickstarters present a list of backers as part of the final product; where this is the case, the “Name, DNA and Fingerprints” section notes whether I’m embarrassed by my association with the product.

Towards the end of the review, I’ll be giving a judgement based on my personal rating system for Kickstarters. Higher means that I wish I’d bid at a higher reward level, a sign that I loved more or less everything I got from the campaign and regret not getting more stuff. Lower means that whilst I did get stuff that I liked out of the campaign, I would have probably been satisfied with one of the lower reward levels. Just Right means I feel that I backed at just the right level to get everything I wanted, whilst Just Wrong means that I regret being entangled in this mess and wish I’d never backed the project in the first place. After that, I give my judgement on whether I’d back another project run by the same parties involved, and give final thoughts on the whole deal.

Continue reading “Kickstopper: Retconned Schemes”