29 March 2014

Book Update

I'm tracking reading again, here's this year so far:


  • Of Dice and Men by David Ewalt. Another history of D&D, this from a more personal side than Playing At The World. Perhaps a little much of his own history with the game, although I expect that's aimed more at readers who don't have as much a history with roleplaying games as I do.
  • All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. I was interested enough by the trailers for the upcoming Tom Cruise-starring big movie adaptation to look for the original. It's short, but a really good piece of science fiction. The conceit is that the main character gets caught in a time loop while fighting to defend the planet from aliens. As you'd expect, each time through he learns a bit more to survive longer, but the story goes a few unexpected places. A great read.
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. Interesting space opera about a terrible empire that enforces peace an order by a variety of ruthless methods. Plays with some transhuman concepts - the narrator is a distributed intelligence - a warship mind with a large number of bodies at its disposal. 
  • Marbeck and the King-in-waiting by John Pilkington. Second in an Elizabethan spy/mystery series. Good, but not outstanding.
  • A Blind Goddess by James Benn. Latest in the Billy Boyle Second World War mystery series. Continues the same high standard.
  • He Drank, and Saw the Spider by Alex Bledsoe. The latest outing in the Eddie LaCrosse hard boiled fantasy series, which gets better and better as it goes. If hard-boiled fantasy mysteries sound the least bit interesting, you should read this whole series.
  • The Fell Sword by Miles Cameron. Second part in what is shaping up to be a big fantasy series. I didn't like this as much as the first - this opens up the world a lot, with more characters and more places, and I'm not a big fan of sprawling fantasy epics with lots of different point of view characters. That said, it's a good story so I'll be reading the next instalment.  


  • Libriomancer by Jim C Hines. Light, fun supernatural adventure story. Lots of nice ideas based on magic powered by ideas in fiction. 
  • Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson. Explores ice age life from the point of view of a young shaman's apprentice. A good story, focussed on the day to day life of a stone age group. 
  • All In Scarlet Uniform by Adrian Goldsworthy. Latest in the series about the Peninsular War. Not as compelling as the previous episodes, but solid.
  • The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones. Sword and sorcery in Haroun al-Rashid's Babylon. Absolutely fantastic, Jones really brings the world to life - both the historical and fantastical sides. The main characters are really great, too.
  • Nexus by Ramez Naam. Nearish future technothriller about a drug that creates telepathic links between users. A lot of outstanding ideas about how human enhancement technologies could go (and how they might be resisted). Warning: some of the bad things the bad guys do with these technologies are rather disturbing.
  • Measuring America by Andro Linklater. A history of the standardisation of measurements through the lens of the conquest (and measurement) of the United States. Interesting, but a bit unfocussed (I ended up reading it in pieces, in between other books).
  • The Bones of the Old Ones by Howard Andrew Jones. Follow-up to The Desert of Souls, and just as good.


  • The King in Yellow by Robert W Chambers. Inspired by True Detective, I read this. Well, re-read in some cases (I had read a couple of the stories before). Interesting, especially the way Chambers's King in Yellow is not much like the version I'd come to know via the Call of Cthulhu game.
  • Master of War by David Gilman. Medieval military adventure, following an archer who goes through the Battle of Crecy and the campaign around it. Very good.
  • Crux by Ramez Naam. Follow-up to Nexus. A bit less fresh as it's mainly developing the ideas he's already introduced. That said, I think his world is heading towards a singularity (or something like it), so these developments are interesting to watch. I'm looking forward to part three.
  • The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi. Follow-up to The Quantum Thief. Filled with just as many crazy trans- and post- human ideas and lifestyles. I found the plot a bit easier to follow than the first one, although it's another insane high tech heist story at heart.
  • Codex Born by Jime C Hines. Follow up to Libriomancer.

Game Update

I've been playing a bunch of Torchbearer with the Monday crew, which has been great fun. After a second session total party kill, they've got a second party adventuring to some success. We'll soon have someone at level three!

So far they've dealt with the introductory dungeon in the book, a bandit lair in a ruined dwarven hall, and looted an ancient magical library for one character's enemy (long story). Next up is a lead on a sealed tomb, which I am sure will go just fine.

What makes the game work is a very finely tuned approach to old school D&D. In particular, the rules for light, encumbrance, time, and deteriorating conditions manage to evoke the tension of exploring unknown caverns full of danger in the hope of loot. However, unlike the original, these are fun. It's some combination of the abstractions they use (and thus simplicity) and the fact that the whole system is well tuned, so these constraints matter quite a lot.

I also got in a game of Life on Mars when there were some absences. This is meditative, thoughtful game. It reminds me a lot of The Quiet Year, although many details differ. Life on Mars covers the first expedition to Mars, and we got to know our crew very well along the way. It manages to convey the close quarters with your crewmates, the loneliness and distance from Earth, and also the day to day operations and potential disasters of the mission as you go. I was pleased that our mission returned home safely, and that we in fact discovered life on mars in the last months there (which was my crew member's obsession). Great fun, recommended. Probably not that much replayability, although I expect that playing with a different group of people would be very different. The mission parameters and allowed actions remain the same (although there's some randomness in there too).

23 January 2014

Kapcon 2014 review

Kapcon this year was mainly games on demand for me, plus two rounds of adventure squad, the new family event run by me and another parent/gamer.

Round One: Torchbearer (Three Squires). Pitched as "D&D but with a focus on packing," I got a keen group. They got about halfway through the intro adventure, getting some decent loot and closure from the place. Everyone was interested and engaged, and it was a lot of fun.

Round Two: Black Stars Rise beta (Renovation). This was good. A little slow to start but once I had a handle on the weirdness and everyone had their character's sorted, it rocked. The slowly growing awareness of the alien weirdness that had targeted them really worked. Top marks for our doctor, who tried to burn down the building a couple of times in the middle of the game. Finally everyone else came around to his point of view and they blew the whole place up (they worked out that the place had been built as a beacon/summoning portal). Solid, but needs more GM advice - a bit of guidance about how to approach each set and also more about building interesting weirdness. Watch this one.

Round Three: The Quiet Year. This was not my first choice, but the game left for the final three people in games on demand. It was a quiet and thoughtful game, without any post-apocalyptic weirdness. Just people in a hard place trying to get along. I still love The Quiet Year.

Round Four: Torchbearer (Skogenby). One returning player, and a bunch of others keen to try it. It was a crazy ride as they managed to score a fair bit of loot until finally meeting their match with one the big bad under the hill. They left the dwarf underground, possessed. Still fun! I think I might be getting the hang of running it.

Rounds Five and Six: Adventure Squad. Games for families (specifically 5-12 year old kids with their parents present) was a bit of an experiment but went well on the day. I ran a homebrewed Hogwarts game in the first sub-round, then returned to it for the second half. Next I did a homebrew/streamlined D&D game with J V West's adventure Howler, which is short and admirably creepy and weird. The kids generally enjoyed themselves, and I hear that one wants to run his own games already, so the experiment was definitely a success. I did find that running games for kids was both different to what I'm used to and much more tiring! Also played were Hero Kids, Golden Sky Stories, Mice & Mystics, and King of Tokyo.

Round Seven: The Regiment (Mission Boston). An energetic final round as we played this awesome SNAFU of a mission. We didn't do too badly, destroying a few German positions and one bridge with the loss of only a few of our own squad (all the PCs survived, although separated at the end).

Overall, a fun and relaxed Kapcon this year, and I was pleased to get in some play of Black Stars Rise and Torchbearer. I would have liked to play Sagas of the Icelanders and Life On Mars (I got my copy from a group kickstarter at the con - looks lovely!).

30 August 2013

Oh, and Fate

One major omission from the previous list of games was the Fate Core kickstarter stuff. Fate Core itself is a great update of the system, but I'm especially interested in Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE). FAE strips the system down even further and looks like it will hit a sweet spot of simplicity to run and play.

Plus, the campaign generated a stupid amount of extra content.

I've been reading through the two volumes of worlds, and there are a few that look like great fun. Fight Fire, Jason Morningstar's firefighting drama setting has looked great right from his early development notes, and the finished version is full of cool stuff. There are a few more that also look neat, and they all bring some new ideas to inspire your games even if you don't use them as-is.

Green Ronin added a Fate Freeport book which includes a full Fate/D&D mash-up, as well as a bunch of fantasy pirate goodness.

And, as they have always done, Evil Hat have made the Fate Core system open content so you can look at the rules for free. Technically it's pay-what-you-like, but that still gives you the chance to try it for free.

28 August 2013


Time to write some stuff here again! I'll kick off with some quick reviews of all the games I've got since hollowpoint. There's quite a lot of them, especially with the Kickstarters from earlier.

Starting with the most recent and following in the order of me remembering them:

  • Owl Hoot Trail takes a stripped down D&D based system and applies it to a fantasy western setting. Lots of great flavour in the classes and the western-ified versions of hobbits, dwarves, elves, and goblins. A good chunk of the book is devoted to a meaty introductory adventure that looks to have a good two or three sessions to kick off your game. I haven't played this yet but I can't see anything that will break in play, and I intend to get some play arranged as soon as possible. 5/5 (provisional).
  • I got my pretty hardcover of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Rules & Magic book from the IndieGoGo campaign last year. It is very pretty and nicely bound. Still my favourite old school game, too. Note that it includes even more hardcore-shock imagery than previous versions I have seen; not for kids. 5/5
  • I've read the PDFs of Numenera, from the Kickstarter last year, but still awaiting the book (hopefully it is on the way). Basically cool, and the character generation is quick and very neat. Planning a one-shot for my regular crew's next game to see how it goes (the main book has a few introductory adventures, plus I have one funder extra; I'll play one of those). System is fairly simple but with a few knobs and levers. I like the setting, but it might have been a little better described in broad strokes and the rest inferred from the rules and gadgets. Worth a look if weird far-future science fantasy is appealing (especially Dying Earth or Book of the New Sun). 4/5  (provisional).
  • I got Carolina Death Crawl which is a lovely set of cards and great (if horrible) scenario. I played this with the regular crew when someone was absent (preventing regular The One Ring episode), and it fell a bit flat. The problem comes from having to set your own scenes and create your own opposition (although the cards help with both). Having a GM to do that might make things run better, for my tastes at least. 3/5.
  • Dungeon World is good! That said, I've mainly run the stripped down World of Dungeons instead (generously seasoned with things from the main DW book) using Planarch Codex: Dark Heart of the Dreamer (both may be found in the treasure trove). Also, let me give a shout out to Adventures on Dungeon Planet, which is a kick-ass sword and laser science fantasy supplement with a huge bag of awesome stuff. 5/5
  • And while we're on dungeon crawls, Torchbearer is also really cool and on the "to be played" list, as soon as the book is finished and shipped here. It's a spin on the Mouse Guard system which focuses on dungeon crawls as a primarily resource based problem: how do we do achieve our goal with the supplies and abilities we have available? 4/5 (provisional).
  • Dog Eat Dog is a really elegant, simple system that deals with colonialism, resistance, and assimilation in a (by default fictional) Pacific island nation. Although reading it through, it seems a super light system, in play there's just enough to make the story really work. I've only played the one game, but it quickly became emotionally hard-hitting. There weren't any simple answers for our people, and that was with a fairly black and white contrast between occupier and native cultures.  5+/5
  • Another Apocalypse World descendant, tremulus, takes on Lovecraft. There's a lot of great stuff here - in particular the Ebon Eaves setting, where the group answers a questionnaire and the answers allow the GM to look up what's really going on in the town based on the results. It looks like it will make a good setup for a one-shot, and has loads of great seeds for stories in the entries. Some of the other parts I'm not so keen on - I feel like the classes and basic moves didn't move far enough from the source: to really get a Lovecraftian game, the changes need to go a bit deeper. 3/5
  • Speaking of which, I have the PDF of Sagas of the Icelanders, which also uses the Apocalypse engine. This is a fantastic historical game, with a focus on 9-10th century Iceland. Bursting with cool stuff and with a really neat take on the moves (there aren't any general basic moves: men, women, and children each have their own sets). Looks great, but haven't had a chance to play yet. 5/5 (provisional).
  • I've now had a chance to play fellow-Wellingtonian Dale Elvy's EPOCH survival horror game. It's great, really gets a good survival horror vibe right away and the flashback mechanics to flesh out characters, as well as it being your own choice how badly you get hurt in each act of the story, work well. I've even written a scenario that's going to be in the upcoming war story-themed collection (it's set during the 1939-1940 Winter War, when the USSR invaded Finland). 5/5
  • Stalker is a great setting book, but I really didn't like the diceless system. I ran a one-shot with a World of Dungeons variant as the rules (inspired by Jason Morningstar's AP reports for a game doing this), and that went pretty well. Fair warning: the main text of the book is in Comic Sans, which is disconcerting and a little hard to read. 3/5
That's most of my games this year. I'll keep you posted when I run the provisionally rated ones.

18 May 2013

Game Chef 2013

It's on this week! Details: http://gamechef.wordpress.com/. Aspiring game designers, I recommend taking part as a way to stretch yourself a bit and try out some game design ideas. It's good fun.

It's crazy, the theme and ingredients are all pictures in a bold, iconic style from http://game-icons.net/.

My mind was pretty blank at first, but now I have a solid idea. I'll see how it goes!

13 April 2013

Monster of the Week: Year One

As I find reading about other game publishers' sales interesting, I thought I would give you a summary of how Monster of the Week has gone, now that it's been about a year (specifically, a little more than a year since the IndieGoGo campaign ended and a little less than a year since my first print run).

First up, the campaign gave me 50 electronic and 123 book orders). I put pre-order buttons on the website after the campaign was over, and got a few pre-orders a month.

The first print run was at the end of June, of 200 copies. Shipping out the funder copies and pre-orders took an evening of packing and a morning at the post office. The number of packages was too much for their receipt printer, causing some consternation.

I also set up the book to print on Lulu at this point, hoping that this would lead to more reasonable shipping than I could offer from the antipodes. I also made the PDF available on DrivethruRPG/RPGNow in November 2012.

As I was getting pretty low on copies, I had a second print run of 150 done in December.

Moving into just plain sales, I've had the following results since July 2012:

MonthDirect PDF SalesDrivethruRPG PDF SalesDirect Book SalesLulu Book Sales
July 201220N/A919
August 201220N/A1112
September 201226N/A119
October 201218N/A52
November 20121321512
December 2012634514
January 2013730143
February 201342160
March 201343444
Totals (including campaign and pre-orders)18414020075

That's total sales of 324 PDF and 275 print copies, making 599 all up as of the end of March (up to 608 as of today).

I'm not sure what conclusions to draw from such a small amount of data, but here are a couple of things:

  • DrivethruRPG/RPGNow adds a significant number of sales (I took part in the GM's Day sale, too, which gained a number of extra sales).
  • I noticed a few cases of a mention somewhere leading to a few extra sales, and also from some convention games.
  • There's definitely a big burst of sales followed by a slow dropoff. I had a couple of things (Christmas, DrivethruRPG sale) that bumped sales out of the dropoff temporarily.
In terms of money, the fundraiser just managed to cover the costs of all the stretch goals, editing and art, the first print run, and shipping. Since then, overall steady sales have led to a modest profit over the year (enough to buy me an Xbox 360 and XCOM to play on it, as well as paying some bills) but unfortunately not anything like enough to consider giving up my job as a software developer.

On top of my own sales, there's an Italian translation that's just been launched (via Narrativa) and a Russian translation on the way (via Studio 101). The Italian edition includes all new art, which looks very nice (although I haven't seen a copy in the flesh yet, just photos of them).

Overall, I'm very happy with the results! I was confident enough of the game that I knew it would sell, but I was expecting sales more in the range of one- or two-hundred in the first year. I've made contact with a number of fans over the course of it all, which is great - especially hearing about other people playing and enjoying themselves!

06 February 2013

hollowpoint review

I've played two games of hollowpoint recently - one at Kapcon games on demand, the other with my regular group.

It's a great system for one-shot action. Both games ran at a breakneck pace, with crazy action scenes quite naturally developing out of the conflict mechanics.

The games were fairly different in detail: at Kapcon, we had a mob revenge/reprisal scenario. This week, I had a team of anti-terror agents working for a mysterious organisation in 80s action movie style.

Despite the rather different feels (albeit both action), the system handled both with ease. For the anti-terror mission, I changed two of the skills from the default (which suggest 100 Bullets or Reservior Dogs in feel) to give the agents a more military edge. This is suggested in the book, with a fair range of examples to give you ideas.

The system is simple enough to explain quickly, but has a few emergent effects that mean there's rarely an obviously best choice about how to approach a conflict (for the agents, is it worth asking for help - with the possibility of rebuff?; for the GM, do I introduce a principal character and split up my dice pool?). That makes the mechanics of the dice a bit more interesting than many simple systems, especially those intended for ease of play as a one-shot.

Another nice feature is that players choose if and when their characters die. If your agent takes two hits, you can choose to "move on". If you take that option, you reinforce the shared teamwork dice pool, and make a new (higher ranked) agent to come in and fix up the (obviously screwed up) mission. It's very fun to have the new character come in with the explicit requirement that they take time to chew out the rest of the team for their failures!

Highly recommended for nasty, violent action games! If the slogan ("bad people killing bad people for bad reasons") can fit the action scenario you have in mind, hollowpoint will almost certainly fit the bill. I'm sure I'll be taking to conventions as a reliably fun, easy to run option.

Additionally, I made myself some reference sheets to cope with the rules in these first games, which you are welcome to grab if you think they'll be useful. There's a GM summary, an agent summary, and cards with the agents' special abilities by rank.