Inscribing the Core Runes

It’s been a little while since the core rules for the new edition of RuneQuest made landfall, and now the physical versions of the major core supplements – the Glorantha Bestiary and the Gamemaster Screen Pack – are out in the wild too (along with a handsome slipcase to hold the treats in).

In my review of the core rules I found them to be a credible return to RuneQuest‘s old stomping grounds – how do these first expansions stand up?

Continue reading “Inscribing the Core Runes”

Advertisements

Down Darker Outback Trails

Terror Australis was an early Call of Cthulhu supplement – it originally came out in 1987 – which has been left fallow for some years, only to now receive a major new rerelease for 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu. Both the original supplement and new edition involve significant amounts of work from Australia-based game designers including Penelope Love and Mark Morrison, whilst the new edition has been substantially enlarged and revised.

The supplement is a guide to Australia in the 1920s, and seeds the threat of the Cthulhu Mythos within the island continent – both in terms of homegrown horrors (such as the Great Race of Yith and their enemies, the flying polyps, thanks to Lovecraft setting the climax of The Shadow Out of Time in Australia) and nastiness brought to the continent by the settlers.

Continue reading “Down Darker Outback Trails”

Alone Against the Book-Keeping

Alone Against the Dark is a solo adventure for Call of Cthulhu – a valiant attempt to cram a globe-trotting campaign on the scale of Masks of Nyarlathotep into a thin gamebook which almost, but not quite, succeeds.

The gamebook deploys several clever innovations to add useful options in play without needlessly wasting paragraphs – like the scope to telephone places or the use of a single paragraph to describe the process of using medical facilities, whether the place in question is a world-class hospital or a lonely ship’s medical bay. The cleverest thing about it, however, is the way it incorporates an honest-to-good method of providing multiple “lives” in a gamebook adventure. Though you only play one character at a time, when your character dies that isn’t the end of the adventure – you instead go to the starting paragraph of the next pregenerated character, who it is assumed has been largely filled in on what has been going on by regular telegram and, with the flow of telegrams having stopped for some days, is prompted to spring into action themselves.

The pregens themselves have 150 unspent skill points each, so you can personalise them as you see fit, though they each have their specialties – you begin with an aged academic and end with a tough muscley sailor lad – presumably because the later in the investigation it is, the more you’re going to need to resort to violence. It’s only a full-fledged “game over, start again” situation if your fourth PC (the Tom of Finland pinup) dies. In principle, it’s possible to finish the investigation with your starting character still alive, though you’d need to be both clever and lucky to manage it.

The major downside of the adventure is the painstaking timekeeping it demands; it literally requires you to account for every single hour of every day, including 8 hours for sleep and 2 hours for eating, each meal hour suitably separated from the other one. Though there’s some important plot stuff which does hinge on timing, equally I feel like this level of bookkeeping and fiddling about amounts to overkill – far, far too much effort on the part of the player for the payoff it gives. It feels like Alone Against the Dark might be better off were it adapted to Cthulhu Chronicles as a result; then your mobile could handle the bookkeeping and as a player you wouldn’t spend half the playing time ticking off hours and planning meals.

The Delta Green Archives

With UFOs high in the zeitgeist in 1992, and shortly before The X-Files made the subject matter a full-blown pop culture phenomenon, Pagan Publishing’s Call of Cthulhu fanzine The Unspeakable Oath published a little adventure called Convergence, which introduced the concept of Delta Green – a top-secret, unsanctioned, off-the-books conspiracy within the US government to investigate and contain the threat of the Cthulhu Mythos.

In years to come, Convergence would begat a whole swathe of supplements. The original run of Delta Green material would provide an exciting model for modern-day Call of Cthulhu play. In more recent years, Arc Dream Publishing – consisting of many former Pagan personnel and generally speaking the inheritors of their illustrious mantle – has turned Delta Green into its own standalone RPG, though not with a system so radically divergent from 5E/6E Call of Cthulhu as to render the original supplements useless. In essence, the Delta Green RPG is a fork of Call of Cthulhu, with adaptations and changes made to better reflect the style of the Delta Green setting – substituting out the Call of Cthulhu sanity system for an adapted version of the Unknown Armies one being the most significant system deviation.

Sooner or later I’ll be doing Kickstopper articles covering the new Delta Green RPG, since the product line has been underwritten by crowdfunding efforts, but until then (and to avoid those articles getting even more absurdly big than they are already), here’s some reviews of the original run of supplements.

Continue reading “The Delta Green Archives”

Chivalrously Keeping It In the Family

One of the most fun aspects of character generation in 5th Edition Pendragon is the Family History tables in the core rulebook. Assuming your campaign will begin in the Uther period and will focus on knights based around Salisbury, these tables allowed players to work out what their first PC knights’ fathers and grandfathers had accomplished in the struggles against the Saxons in previous generations – both giving starting characters a small amount of glory based on those deeds and a sense of family history (with attendant Passions) that help give shape and depth to characters early on.

It’s rather lovely, but somewhat limited to PCs starting out at that point of the Great Pendragon Campaign, in that particular region. That’s in general sensible for a starting Pendragon group – Greg chose Salisbury as being reasonably close to much of the early action, and I suspect most groups would want to begin their story at the beginning of the narrative.

That said, it would be nice to have this option for a wider range of starting locations if a referee has decided that they want to focus the campaign somewhere else, or if they want to give their players the option of playing knights from further afield who’ve come to Salisbury (or whatever other starting location the referee has chosen) to seek their fortune. After all, a consequence of the feudal system as depicted in Pendragon would be that you’d expect knights who either didn’t inherit much from their fathers or, due to being younger sons or being driven off their homelands, didn’t inherit anything at all to try their luck further afield in the service of lords with lands to spare. Similarly, it would be nice to have the option of using the family history system but with a bit more freedom about campaign starting date.

The Book of Sires, the first Pendragon publication to be released after the passing of Greg Stafford (it’s penned by Robert G. Schroeder), is a comprehensive expansion and rethink of the Family History rules, designed to accommodate knights hailing from nine different regions. Though obviously focused on Logres, this can also include knights hailing from as far away as Aquitaine, from regions which give rise to interesting dilemmas like Cornwall (who do you side with when Uther comes for Ygraine?), and even a newly-introduced subfaction of the Saxons who decide to side with the Britons against their Saxon kinfolk. It’s a simple idea which requires a lot of hard work and cross-referencing to produce the actual tables for, and Schroeder’s done sterling work in producing such and providing clear guidelines on their use.

Particularly welcome is the appendix which allows you to extrapolate the Family History process forwards, based on The Great Pendragon Campaign, to allow for campaigns starting in the Anarchy following Uther’s death or the Boy King period when Arthur makes his presence felt, which also feels very useful to me – I can see the Uther and Anarchy periods as being the periods groups are most likely to skip, if they’re impatient to get to Arthur himself, but equally I wouldn’t want a Pendragon campaign to start much later than the Boy King period because you don’t want to hit the Grail Quest or the Battle of Camlann without having built your own personal histories to be invested in when the rise of Mordred and fall of Camelot brushes everything away into the stuff of myth.

As one of the first fruits of Chaosium’s new stewardship of the grand old game, The Book of Sires is an important and useful addition to 5th Edition Pendragon; as far as that game’s supplements go, I would put this on the same level of importance as The Book of Knights and Ladies, the supplement which allows for generation of knights from beyond Salisbury. If this is the quality we can expect out of future Pendragon releases, then rejoice. Greg Stafford has left us, and is doubtless refereeing a Pendragon campaign in Avalon for Arthur, Morgan, Nimue and the other Ladies of Avalon (and is doubtless being very careful about his answers when Morgan queries the role of women in the game); meanwhile in the mortal realms, the game remains in safe hands.

Old School Foundations, New School Tools

Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures is not a game whose core system will amaze or overly confuse anyone. It’s one of a plethora of fantasy RPGs out there riffing on Basic D&D; Ascending AC is the order of the day, a simple skill system based on ability score throws is presented, and there’s an option for using 3E-style saving throws, but we’re still dealing with a riff on Basic D&D here.

However, it’s quite an interesting riff, and a lot of that comes not from the foundations of the system but from the trappings offered around it. Beyond the Wall purports to offer a framework for running fantasy adventures based on the young adult/older kids’ fantasy of Ursula le Guin or Lloyd Alexander – stories of young people on the verge of coming into adulthood being called on to defend their communities, in which the roots they have with their home and their emotional connections to each other are of significant importance. On top of that, it provides an incredibly good framework for running games on a pick-up-and-play basis.

It accomplishes this latter goal with three different, interconnected design decisions:

  1. As noted above, it’s based off Basic D&D. This is a system most people with RPG experience will, even if they don’t know it exceptionally well, be able to tackle with a minimum of explanation, and is simple enough that those with no prior experience can get up to speed quickly.
  2. It utilises robust scenario generation tools of the sort used in OSR games like Stars Without Number and the like.
  3. It uses the decidedly modern concept of “playbooks” for character generation.

Continue reading “Old School Foundations, New School Tools”

Spreading the Virus

Demon: the Descent doesn’t seem to be one of the Chronicles of Darkness games which is getting that much love from Onyx Path. Whilst it’s had some material published for it in crossover books like the Dark Eras series, that’s pretty much true of all the Chronicles lines; the real measure of how much support a line’s going to get stems from the line-specific products it receives, and those have been thin on the ground. Since 2016 there has only been one Demon-specific product – the adversaries supplement Night Horrors: Enemy Action – and that came out in early 2018. Onyx Path’s Monday Meeting Notes on their blog includes a full breakdown of their upcoming product schedule, and there’s no Demon products on there at all.

That being the case, what supplements there are for Demon: the Descent become particularly important. Demon has, at least, received a Player’s Guide and a Storyteller’s Guide, in common with many Chronicles of Darkness lines. Personally, I recommend them both, because as you’ll see from my quick survey of their contents the Storyteller’s Guide takes the opportunity to plug a number of significant holes in the core book, whilst the Player’s Guide adds a bit of extra mayhem to the mix.

Continue reading “Spreading the Virus”