Review: Improv for Gamers

Something that has always stuck with me is the observation that tabletop gaming is a rather unique medium because it is the player, a single person, that is simultaneously the creator, performer and the audience. These are a lot of hats to wear, and usually people don’t wear them all equally as well. What’s more, advice for gamers typically focuses on creation, such as design and use of mechanics or audience, appreciation and criticism, rather than performance. Often, the act of…well…acting as your character has been something that players either brought with them to the table or set aside like all those optional rules at the end of the chapter. I think this is because the sort of comfort with improvisation is something a lot of people see as an innate characteristic or something that requires a great deal of study and refinement to master. Fortunately, there is a resource to help demystify this practice that was once usually the practice of drama students and LARPers. In Improv for Gamers, Karen Twelves provides the reader with an inviting, approachable and fun way to see how you can bring characters to life.

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Review: Shadow of the Century

The very first example of Fate in play I ever heard was an absolutely over-the-top pulp melee recorded by Role Playing Public Radio. It’s hard to believe how long ago that was. Unfortunately, we’ve never managed to sit down and record any games of this work that’s cast such a long shadow, if you’ll pardon the pun, across the tabletop gaming landscape. We’ve played a lot of Fate over the years though, and loved it every time. So, it was with a fair measure of excitement and trepidation that we greeted the announcement of Shadow of the Century. Now, having sat down with the book and put a few hours into some very gonzo gameplay, I can say that the excitement was totally justified, and I think this game is a worthy descendant that captures an entirely new genre while remaining true to The Spirit of the Century.

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Review: Star Trek Adventures Operations Manual

Cover of the operationsdivision sourcebook shows two operations officers in gold uniforms in front of a burning shuttle

Section 31. One of the more recent additions to the Star Trek Universe is now a playable faction from Star Trek Adventures. The new Operations Manual, includes Section 31 along with other Starfleet organizations and technology. Also, the rules for Star Trek Adventures incorporate ‘Red Alert’ rules, which add a new a fun dimension to gameplay.

The Operations Manual’s main focus is to expand on Starfleet’s Intelligence and Engineering departments. There are suggested storylines for Starfleet Intelligence and Engineering. Star Trek Adventures is very much traditionally focused on actions. I don’t know how an engineering storyline would play. Gumshoe rules feel like a more appropriate fit for engineering story lines.

Starfleet Intelligence/Operations storylines are a much better fit for the Star Trek Adventure rules. I must admit its fanboy fantasy to play a security red shirt(TOS)/gold shirt(TNG). As we all know, Starfleet security can’t keep anything secure, so it would be interesting to play a story where Starfleet security is actually competent or has to bail themselves out of a situation they created. The Operations Manual gives a good set of rules for the ‘security protocols’ that Starfleet follows.

If the Starfleet rules are too constraining, then you might want to consider Section 31. This part of the Operations Manual was not as good as I had hoped. I’m a big fan of Section 31. I’ve watched every Section 31 episode on DS9. I’ve even read the Section 31 books. So, I had my own expectations. I was expecting a detailed description of the interaction of Section 31 with Starfleet and the rest of the alpha and beta quadrants. Instead, it was only a brief summary of what Section 31 is and only brief suggestions on how to weave them into a story. If some of these suggestions had been novel, then I probably would have enjoyed this more. In the end, this is okay, I’ll just fill in Section 31 details myself.

The last section of the Operations Manual is a favorite. It expands the Star Trek Adventure rules with what it calls ‘Red Alert’ rules. Basically, these are head to head combat rules between groups aka squads, where group may be an away party of 1 or an entire team. You still use the normal d6 and d20 dice, but there is the addition of tokens and markers. There are no real surprises here in the Red Alert rules. They are an expansion of the existing rules. And, like the existing rules, it’s something you have to study beforehand or you will be forever referring to the rulebook.

The Red Alert expansion rules are justification enough to purchase the Operations Manual. It would have been nice to have a more fleshed out Section 31, but perhaps that was by design.

Review: Star Trek Adventures Beta Quadrant Manual

Cover of the beta squadron book shows space ships around a planet

Modiphus has a new supplement to their ever growing Star Trek Adventures rules. The Beta Quadrant rule book contains additional species and ships missing from the core rulebook. Now, we have rules and information so we can play Klingons. In addition, there are more information on settings such as the Neutral Zone and Briar Patch.

One of the biggest disappointments of the core rule book was the omission of the Klingons. The Beta Quandrant fills this gaps with Klingon character creations rules, details on the operations of the Klingon Empire, and Klingon starship statistics.

The Klingons you are allowed to create appear to be the Next Generation Klingons. That’s fine and good if you just want to play in the TNG era. But, I’m a fan of the original series. I wanted to play as a Klingon augment, but there were no rules to address this aspect of the Klingon backstory. You are presented with a history of the Klingon empire. None of the Klingon history is going to be a surprise if you’re a fan and if you have seen all the shows and movies. But it’s nice to have the details spelled out.

Another nice detail is the addition of ships, including Klingon ships. It’s curious that the D7 Klingon battlecruiser was missing, but its predecessor the D5 was there and successor the K’T’inga cruiser was there. It’s like the persons who wrote this book never saw the original series. Like the other starships in the core rule book, the stats of a ship are specified by the systems group and department groups. You have rules to address the use of the Klingon use of cloaking devices.

In addition to the Klingons, there is information on the Romulans, Orions, and Gorns. The information on the Orions and Gorns is very light, so that leaves lots of room for customization. There are additional aliens to play but all from the Next Generation era.

If you’re interested in playing a Klingon in the Modiphus’ Star Trek universe, then you should get the Beta Quadrant manual. If you’re only interested in playing the Federation, then the Beta Quadrant manual is not a necessary purchase unless you are the GM.

Review: Star Trek Adventures The Command Division Rulebook

Cover of the Command Division book shows toe command officers on a burning field

I’ve always wanted to be Captain Kirk. With the additional rules in the Star Trek Adventures ‘The Command Division’ rulebook, you can play the same cowboy diplomat. This addition to the Star Trek Adventures fills in lots of details of the department where everyone wants to serve. In addition, the number of vessels available for your campaign or one shot in the Federation is expanded.

One of the best parts of these additional rulebooks are the scenario suggestions for a specific department. The Command Division has all the story prompts you would expect, such as first contact, exploration, show the flag, diplomacy, etc. One thing Modiphus does is suggest Star Trek episodes that match some of the story lines they suggest to GM’s. This is handy.

My favorite part of The Command Division is the additional ships. They add a significant number of ships that span everything from the Enterprise era to post-The Next Generation. I’m grateful that they added so many ships. One of the neat details is that it is indicated when a ship has an emergency medical hologram. Voyager proved that the EMH is good addition to possible crew. It would have been nice if they had included floor plans for the starships. I had to keep going to the memory alpha website to figure out the appearance and layout.

The additional ships provided are motivation enough to purchase the Command Division. But, if you are planning any bottle episodes on board a ship, you are going to have to work at providing details.

Review: Forthright Open Roleplay

Forthright Open Roleplay logo, blue with a circle angled to encompass the words

As the name suggests Forthright Open Roleplay is a system that is meant to be shared. That idea is suggestive in the mechanics which make the stakes clear before any roll takes place; the art selection, which is both beautiful and diverse; and even in the developer’s choice for licensing. While these things are not unique, it is a very rare combination even with more modern role-playing games. What I do find unique that really set Forthright apart is how the book is written. It forgoes the typical format of selling you on an image which more times than not the GM needs to provide independently of a ruleset. What it does do is presents a framework, supporting tools, and guidance on how to make use of the system using clear and precise language. Forthright takes the approach that is more like instruction manual like you would look for when developing a new skill like HTML, or using Git or some other set of a software tool.

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Review: Icons and Conditions Deck for 13th Age

Eaxamples of each of the condition cards and three of the icon cards

This past year, Dread Unicorn Games released Gods and Icons, which expands the Icons in the game, giving them names, organizations, relationships with over icons, and even variations to make them more unique for your game. Each Icon also has a list of gods associated with them, which I love because 13th Age doesn’t have any named gods. I reviewed this excellent supplement earlier this year, and now Dread Unicorn has released cards to make game play even easier.

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Review: Predation

Cover of predation shows a person on the back of a dinosaur fighting of three assailants with a flame thrower and spear

Like most kids, I loved dinosaurs when I was growing up. It was a few hours away, but I made several pilgrimages to the Dinosaur National Monument in Vernal, Utah to pretend to dig up dinosaur bones and learn about why the Utahraptor was the best raptor. (Don’t hold me to that, it’s just what they told me). So I think, like many, opening an RPG where you get to live alongside dinosaurs re-opens a lot of childlike glee.

Predation is the most recent addition to Monte Cook Game’s Cypher Systems line, an adaptation of the wonderfully flexible Cypher System to bring you dinosaurs and science. The setting is that a few hundred years in our future, the Space and Time, Intg. (SATI) corporation started sending ‘commuters’ back to the Cretaceous Period for some now unknown reason. Nine years after this time travel began, all of the machines on the Cretaceous side of the Gre-Vakian c trials malfunctioned, trapping the commuters in the past. Now we’re 100 years after The Last Commute, and Grevakc is its own society, made up of the descendants of the 20,000 people left to live with the dinosaurs. These people are the descendants of scientists and soldiers and have all kinds of advanced technology to build their communities. However, they all know that at some point they’re civilization is going to be wiped out by an asteroid, and many are desperate to find the secrets of time travel once more.

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Review: Book of Unremitting Horror

Cover of the book of unremitting horror. Shows a creepy creature with long arms grinning menacingly at the viewer

One of the toughest parts of running an investigative horror RPG can be creating interesting monsters to terrorize your players. Unlike adversaries in more combat-oriented RPGs, the baddies in a horror game are more than just stat blocks: they need to have a complete background with hooks to discover in order to complete the investigation. Creating these can often be the most entertaining part of GM-ing games like Fear Itself, but sometimes it’s nice to have something to weave a story around.

That’s where The Book of Unremitting Horror comes in. This book provides a collection of fearsome creatures from your worst nightmares. Each entry provides a background for the creature including a story about a haunting and advice on how to run them in a game. And of course, the book also has stats. These entries are more than just single page write-ups, and can easily form the core of a scenario by themselves. In fact, Megan did this to create the one on one session we released for Halloween in 2015.

The thing is, the monsters and demons on offer in Unremitting Horror aren’t just your run of the mill catalog of things that go bump in the night. There are very unique manifestations of common tropes and urban legends that make for genuinely creepy reading. They include things like the Kooks, creatures that retain their immortality by feeding on the essence of young children, the Blossomer, a demon summoned by angsty teenagers in a fit of sex and cannibalism, and Sisterides, basically an MRA’s fears given form.

This book is a treasure trove of the sorts of horrifying moments that make Fear Itself, Esoterrorists and games like them so memorable. Some of the creatures featured in the book are used in the scenario Invasive Procedures, which The Redacted Files played in two parts. Another is featured in the one on one session entitled Soliloquy.

The book comes in both Gumshoe and d20 variants. We plan on using several of the entries in this book to terrorize our cast in the near future. We highly recommend you check it out and pick up a copy to inflict on your unsuspecting friends. You can purchase it on DriveThruRPG for Gumshoe or d20. It’s also available for purchase from the Pelgrane Press website.

Review: FAITH: A Garden in Hell

FAITH: A Garden in Hell is a starter kit for playing FAITH from Burning Games. We’ve been watching the development of this game system over the last few years, and this starter set is a great place to get started with FAITH.

The Starter Set includes a rule book, an adventure book, four pre-generated characters, a deck for play, a deck with NPCs, gear, and robots, a deck with monsters, and some boss cards all neatly packed in an easy to transport box.

FAITH is set in a future where human civilization has fallen and the Earth is ruled by warlords. We would be fated to stay on earth, but an alien civilization arrived and offered a new option, to work for them as soldiers or laborers. These insectoid aliens are called Corvo, and need reinforcements to help in their fight against the Iz’kal, an aquatic race. I really like the touch that the Corvo required any humans that joined up with them be sterilized so that the Iz’kal couldn’t start a slave army of their own. The two societies were locked in something of a cold war, neither side gaining ground until the Ravagers showed up, a gene-stealing race intent on bringing new samples back to their Queen. The Iz’kal, Corvo, humans, and a fourth race called Raag are now tenuously united to fight against this new enemy. They also make up the four playable races in the game.

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