Kickstopper: Reigning Cats and Dogs

One of the aspects of Onyx Path that often gets overlooked is that it’s supposed to be a haven for creator-owned games, as well as White Wolf properties (whether still owned by White Wolf or now owned outright by Onyx Path). Part of the reason this aspect of their mission statement often gets overlooked is that it’s only been comparatively recently that they’ve been able to divert attention away from serving their various White Wolf-connected projects (including a bunch of highly time-sapping Kickstarter projects, like the morass that the 3rd Edition Exalted campaign turned into).

Among the first creators to use Onyx Path as the launchpad for an entirely new gaming franchises is Eddy Webb, old hand at White Wolf, and his Pugsteady studio. The studio is named not just for Webb’s pug Murray, but also its first in-house franchise – the Realms of Pugmire, a “future-fantasy” setting in which humans have disappeared and their pets have inherited the world.

Such a whimsical project is a great fit for Kickstarter – combining cute characters with a setting that’s well-suited to all sorts of traditional RPG action, and with a name like Eddy’s behind it which clued-in Onyx Path and White Wolf fans would recognise and trust to deliver solid content. So far, two RPGs in the Realms of Pugmire series have been delivered: the doggo-themed Pugmire (such dungeons, many treasure, wowe) and the cat-based Monarchies of Mau. Are they any good? That’s what this article’s here to tell you!

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The Arcane Top 50 – Where Are They Now?

Arcane, a short-lived British tabletop gaming magazine from Future Publishing which ran from December 1995 to June 1997, is a name to conjure by for many gamers of around my age. I came to the hobby after White Dwarf had become a Games Workshop in-house advertising platform, and just as Dragon was on the verge of dropping its coverage of non-TSR RPGs altogether; that meant I got a brief taster of TSR having a broader scope of coverage, and missed out on the golden age of White Dwarf altogether.

With other RPG-focused gaming magazines available in the UK only available on a decidedly variable basis (whatever did happen to ol’ Valkyrie?), the arrival of Arcane was immensely welcome. Sure, even by this early stage the Internet was already becoming an incomparable source of both homebrewed material and cutting-edge RPG news, but much of that was in the form of Usenet and forum discussions of variable quality or ASCII text files. To get something which was informative, read well, and looked nice, print media was still just about where it was at.

Truth be told, taking a look back at Arcane in more recent years I’m less impressed than I was at the time. It took largely the same approach to its own subject matter (primarily RPGs, with some secondary consideration to CCGs – because they were so hot at the time they really couldn’t be ignored – and perhaps a light sniff of board game content) that Future’s videogame magazines took to theirs, particularly the lighter-hearted PC Gamer/Amiga Power side of things rather than the likes of, say, Edge. That meant it focused more on brief news snippets, reviews, and fairly entry-level articles on subjects than it did on offering much in the way of in-depth treatment of matters.

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Castles Forlorn, Module’s Smedman’s

Hailing from 1993, Castles Forlorn‘s original form was as a boxed set adventure supplement for Ravenloft. In fact, it was one of the last products of the game line’s earliest version – making reference not to the 1994 revised boxed set, but to the original Realm of Terror box from 1990 and the 1992 Forbidden Lore box which expanded it somewhat. The other products extensively referenced therein are the Monstrous Compendium volumes (generally the core ones and the Ravenloft appendices) and Van Richten’s Guide to Ghosts.

Indeed, to a certain extent the adventure is a worked example of how you apply the Guide to Ghosts, since the castle which gives the module its title is absolutely stuffed with ghosts given extra depth using techniques and ideas along the lines of that book’s suggestions. Wait, though, isn’t the title Castles Forlorn? Why, yes it is -for the castle at the heart of the broken realm of Forlorn is three in one, existing as it does in three time periods at the same time, so characters venturing therein may, through their experiences in those time periods, have a shot at unpicking the terrible story underlying the fall of the realm to the Dark Powers.

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Interview: Emmy Allen On Engineering Esoteric Enterprises

If you asked me to do an elevator pitch for Esoteric Enterprises, it’d be “Unknown Armies gets the Kevin Crawford treatment”. Which is a shame, because that’d be almost entirely inaccurate. Yes, the game’s based around a party of player characters getting into shady shit as a result of their entanglement with the occult underground, but the cosmos of the game doesn’t have all that much directly in common with Unknown Armies beyond a “modern day setting, grimy magic” aesthetic. Yes, the game does have an extensive suite of refereeing tools and random tables and uses early editions of D&D as its main system inspiration, like Stars Without Number and its ilk, but it’s not actually a Kevin Crawford design – it’s by Emmy Allen, AKA cavegirl, whose Dying Stylishly Games products have paved the way for this, her most ambitious RPG release yet.

Luckily, I know Emmy in real life and she was nice enough to give me an interview, so maybe she can help me out here. Emmy, what would be your elevator pitch for the game?

This is a world basically like our own, except magic is real, and dangerous, and wildly illegal. Of course, plenty of things are dangerous and illegal – such as drugs and organ-legging and bank robberies – so the worlds of organised crime and the supernatural have become inexorably linked. Things are only like our familiar world on the surface; beneath every city there is a literal underworld, where strange things hide from scrutiny, and the reckless or desperate traffic in things humans really shouldn’t be meddling with.

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Eberron: Revision After the Edition War

I’ve found Wizards of the Coast’s official offerings this year for D&D to largely be of little interest to me. There was a new Essentials Kit which seems to provide a followup to the Starter Set with more character generation rules incorporated in it. There’s been the Baldur’s Gate and Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign adventures, but I haven’t been too interested in the official campaigns for 5E. And there’s been various tie-in materials – starter sets riffing on the popularity of Stranger Things and Rick & Morty, and a supplement covering the setting of Acquisitions Incorporated. None of this especially floats my boat.

However, the last major release of the year I find a real treat. This is Eberron: Rising From the Last War. With its main designers credited as Keith Baker (the creator of the Eberron setting) and Jeremy Crawford and James Wyatt, major 5E rules wranglers (Wyatt also worked on the original 3.5E release of the campaign setting), it updates the classic setting from its original presentation in 3.5E-era D&D to provide a basis for running games in it, including a fat stack of religions, cosmological details, races (including honest-to-goodness shapeshifters, dreams in human form, and of course the iconic Terminators Warforged, and even an entire character class (not just a subclass – a whole class, the Artificer) distinctive to Eberron.

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What Music They Make!

Some recent discussions on the Discord channel had prompted me to take a second look at Ravenloft, and as luck would have it I had a chance to pick up Children of the Night: Vampires at a very reasonable price. This was the first of the Children of the Night series, conceived as a sort of companion to the popular Van Richten’s Guides.

Indeed, the credits include a dedication to the late Nigel Findley, who wrote the classic Van Richten’s Guide to Vampires, both setting the format for the rest of a series and providing a classic examination of how to take a generic monster manual entry and extrapolate an interesting villain for it. The Children of the Night supplements carry that idea forwards by providing sets of “worked examples”, if you will, of distinctive characters of the relevant type, fleshed out into fully-developed NPCs. In a nice touch, each NPC writeup also has a mini-adventure associated with it, providing an instant hook for getting the character in question involved in your campaign. Whilst optimised for Ravenloft, as with Van Richten’s Guides themselves it’s no big burden to adapt the material here to other campaign settings, which was an aspect of the Ravenloft support line which I always thought TSR didn’t make enough of.

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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.