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: 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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Review: Story, Please! – An Adventure-Building Deck for No, Thank You Evil!

I finally got my copy of Story, Please – An Adventure-Building Deck for No, Thank You Evil! last week. I never got any alert to redeem my copy from the Kickstarter and because of the craziness of life didn’t realize it until around Christmas. But emailing any company during the holidays is pointless, so it was a bit before Monte Cook Games had time to solve my issue which they did with much graciousness. Then even longer for me to get around to redeeming it once I got my redemption codes all worked out.

But this weekend, my daughter, age 6, and I got to take out the expansion for a test drive. We loved it. For her, she could look at the pictures and pick places and stories that looked cool or cute or whatever metric a 6 year old uses to pick things. While I the parent had simple guides to help narrate a story. One of the problems I found with playing No, Thank You Evil! with such a young kid is that they need lots of guides and prompts, and that is hard for me as an adult to remember to give them. I have spent so many years working towards collaborative storytelling, that it’s hard to go back to basics and run a game where you need to give the player(s) more information and options. Add this to the enthusiasm of a kid who has dragged me out of bed before I’ve even had coffee to play, and it’s rough to give her the best experience I can. So I was ultra excited when I heard about these cards and story prompts, and even happier now that I’ve seen them in action.

Picture of the story cards laid out in play

In the box you get 100 cards of various types: Story cards that give you dilemmas and problems to solve, Place cards that give you three locations based on a picture, People cards that have many of the characters from Storia, Map cards, Handout cards, Stuff cards, and Twist cards. I’m most impressed with the Story and Place cards because those are the tools I needed the most as the GM. Each comes with a beautifully illustrated pictures and three options of either story or place based on that picture from simple to detailed. My daughter absolutely loved the People cards because she knew them from the stories and some of the adventures from the base game that we’ve ran. For her they were almost like old friends.

So on a grading scale of 1 to 5 dice – Story, Please is hands down a 5 dice product. It enhances the main game without distracting from the fun, which is rare in a supplement and I really needed them to help run the game smoothly and quickly. My only experience with the game is for running it for a young child, but I can totally see new gamers (10-12 years old) using these cards to help create their own stories. So if you own No, Thank You Evil! this is a must buy supplement!

Review: Gods and Icons

Gods and Icons cover showing several of the Icons contained within

The Icon mechanic in 13th Age is one of the more interesting additions to a system that builds on your standard d20 game. The Icons can help, or hurt you, depending on the relationship you build with them. Each have different priorities and strong suits, and of course allies and enemies. Gods and Icons, from Dread Unicorn Games, builds on the existing world to add more flavor to the Icons.

The Icons are well fleshed out in the 13th Age core book, but Gods and Icons goes even further, giving the players and the GM the option to incorporate alternative icons that have clear analogues in the core book, but provides names and a much more expanded history for each. For example, The Dwarf King analogue is King Thorbal of the Glittering Gem. There are then examples of his politics, and a list of organizations operating under his purview. It also details his relationships with each of the other icons, and gives some ideas of variants that you could use to make King Thorbal slightly more unique in your game.

The one thing I like with each Icon page is that it also provides a list of gods that the Icon is associated with. I play a cleric in 13th Age, and I wanted a solid list of gods to grab onto and explore for building up my character. I’m incredibly bad at coming up with names on my own. So, the gods aspect of Gods and Icons is particularly useful for me.

Gods and Icons introduces three pantheons of gods, the Bright Gods, the Thirsty Gods, and the Old Gods. Each pantheon is based more on geography, though certain races are more likely to follow one pantheon then another. The book describes the gods in each pantheon, including the cults that follow them and their cultural impact. I think these small details can flesh out the world, and helps you build a believable culture in the game that your character is a part of. There’s also alternative names and variant rules for the gods, which also helps you make your world your own.

In addition to the new gods, there’s new domains for Clerics and new talents for Druids, Paladins, and Rangers to go along with the new pantheons. For example, your Druid can take Blessing of the Sparrow, giving you a bit of mischief to your magic. There is also a list of new locations, holy sites and unhallowed grounds related to the gods for your players to explore.

In addition to expanding the world of 13th Age with both gods and Icons, this supplement lists new items to give to your players based on Icon rolls. What’s really cool is they include tables, that are divided up by class for you to roll on to decide what items to hand out. And even more, you can decide if you want to give a useful item, in which case only a few items in the table will be in the pool you roll for. If instead you want to truly randomly hand out the loot more options are available. The tables you end up with include loot from the core book, 13 True Ways, and the Gods and Icons book.

The last additional worldbuilding included in the book are new races and NPC appearance tables. These tables can help you randomly decide on a race, gender, icon, and quirk for each of your NPCs. The new races give your players a lot more options on what they want to play – I didn’t even know half-owlbear was a thing. A few of the other options include Dhampir, Goblin, and of course, Gelatinous Troglodyte. I want to see an adventuring part with one of those guys!

Gods and Icons also has a Player’s Guide version that you can give to your group. This includes most of the same information, excluding the loot tables and the locations. There is also an introductory adventure available, called Towers in the Mist, which includes pre-generated characters and helpful hints to GMs running 13th Age for the first time. This includes suggestions on boons from Icon Relationship rolls and how to present them, which should give the GM an idea of ways to frame such interactions in the future. Like with Sleeping Lady, another Dread Unicorn release, the adventure gives the GM ideas on how to alter it depending the number of players and experience they have with RPGs, something even somewhat experienced GMs can lack confidence in doing for the first time.

Overall, if you’re looking to make your campaign of 13th Age a little more expansive, I would highly recommend picking up Gods and Icons. Even if you’re not quite at that stage yet, I think Tower in the Mist is a great introductory adventure, for both the players and the GM.

Gods and Icons is available on DriveThruRPG for $14.95 as a PDF, or $29.95 as a softcovered book. The Players Guide is $9.95, and The Tower in the Mist is $4.95. If you want all three, you can purchase them as a bundle for only $18.45.

*The Redacted Files received a free copies of these supplements for review purposes.

Review: Dungeon Crate

I decided to try out another RPG-themed subscription box, so this month I received my first box from Dungeon Crate! Dungeon Crate has been going since about the beginning of the year, and they have pictures of what was in the previous boxes which gave me a better idea of what I could expect in my box. Each box has a theme, and the one I received was Elementally Speaking, with lots of elemental-related items.

Shows the box before and immediately after opening. Box looks like a small chest with the logo on the top. The box is filled with prown paper packing, a sheet about the contents, and the loot!

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