28 February 2007


This game is beautiful and compelling. There's no point in me reviewing it - go to the site and try the flash version.

27 February 2007

Death Masks by Jim Butcher

The next Dresden novel rocks along with a good plot, great action and some cool new characters. He's definitely hit his stride in this series, they seem to get better and better.

23 February 2007

The Scent of Betrayal by David Donachie

Next in the Privateersmen mysteries, they find themselves imprisoned in New Orleans (then under Spanish rule) for a piratical attack that they chanced upon the remnants of and told the authorities about.

The plot deals with their working out what the story behind the attack was while being (gently but firmly) kept under surveillance.

It's a good story, although perhaps a little wilder than some of the others. According to the author, one of the more outlandish aspects is true, however. So maybe this kind of thing did happen.

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Book number five in the Dresden Files sees Dresden caught up in an incipient war between the fay courts of summer and winter.

This is the book in the series I enjoyed most so far. It doesn't have as much setup as most of them do, getting to the action pretty quickly.

The story also rocks along without pause and has some neat stuff about the (wizard's) High Council on Harry's case (due to the fact he pretty much started a war between the wizards and vampires in the last book). The politics and mythology of the fairy courts is really well built up, too.

Actual Play Report: The Committee For The Exploration Of Mysteries #2

After a couple of game cancellations we finally got to play the second session of The Committee for the Exploration of Mysteries.

We had one player swap (one person who missed the first session, coupled with another who can't attend for a while), but that didn't seem to be an issue in any way.

We also had a new revision of the rules, which notably streamlined a few of the rules and led to a more fast-paced game. There are still a few areas to be addressed, but nothing as notable as in the previous version.

As is typical for us, things were still pretty silly, but the group found a good vibe very quickly and the game seemed to help keep everyone's jokes and crazy hazards in the same place.

The group escaped from Berlin by pitting the death cultists against the German army and making a run for it in the confusion (or something like that). We then took the prototype schwimwagen across the Atlantic and began our trek up the Amazon. Hazards along the river included:
  • Piranhas and anacondas
  • Nazi spies and death cultists found to be working together while we rested in a city.
  • A Nazi attack on a cup of tea (and, of course, the rest of the expedition).
  • A lost temple in the jungle, filled with death cultists, snakes and ancient traps.
  • A village of friendly natives, who were inadvertently insulted.
  • For the cliffhanger, the slalom of death - a dangerous gorge we had to drive the schwimwagen down while being assailed by death cultists and other difficulties.
This session we made more of an effort to add a reflective narration after each hazard. This was a good idea, and added a lot to the game. I can't recall if these are mandatory, but if not they should be. Even a quick witticism before the transition to the next hazard adds a nice closing element to the scene.

We still messed up a few rules (pointed out to me by the author via email afterwards), but none of them were serious.

We thought that hazards seemed a little easy. Even when you end up facing a moderate hazard with a weaker attribute, it's usually possible to work in some descriptors and give yourself a good chance of beating the opposition's roll. I'm not sure if this is just luck - we did have some failures and people running out of time this session - but it might be a problem.

Overall: Once Boyd has finished polishing this game, it's going to be a keeper.

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

Number four in the Dresden Files series deals with lots of ghosts and vampires. It's a decent novel, and begins to build up some of the bigger plots that come up in the next novel and are still going on in Dead Beat.

This one is decent, but the influence of the old World of Darkness games seemed especially pronounced here. This is not entirely bad, but it's not good either.

An Element of Chance by David Donachie

And here's number four in the Privateersmen mysteries. In this volume, the Ludlows find themselves in the Caribbean, dealing with some strange goings on (murder, piracy, spying).

They also make an enemy of a Royal Navy captain who illegally impresses many of their crew, and spend the book trying to get them back. Pender, Harry Ludlow's servant and the third protagonist in the series, is one of them. His story while he's away from the Ludlows is also a good one (mutiny, murder).

Medieval Lives by Terry Jones & Alan Ereira

A nice, quirky history book. It looks at people in medieval times and attempts to show how they were basically just like us in most ways. The authors also want to show us that the received view of the middle ages is not really representative of any time or place in history, and that things kept changing all through those centuries.

Each chapter picks a type of person and goes over their lives, illustrated with interesting individuals and events. The discussion generally also roams over various other topics related to monks, peasants (or whoever the chapter is about).

The book is companion to a TV series, which I may also have to look out for.

A Hanging Matter by David Donachie

Number 3 in the Ludlow naval adventure/mystery series, this one deals with various dodgy dealings involving smugglers in the English Channel.

They get caught up in some murderous events and then have to work out what the hell is going on as well as defend themselves from evil smuggling gangs.

Another good one.

22 February 2007

RL lessons from WoW

So this guy wrote a list of things that World of Warcraft teaches you about how to run the rest of your life. It is funny and kind of true.

19 February 2007

Read-through Review of Wild Talents by Dennis Detwiller et al.

I got my special preorder edition of this in the mail a couple of weeks back. It's a gorgeous full-colour book, great layout and fantastic art by Christopher Shy and Sam Araya.

The system is solid. It's the same One Roll Engine as Godlike and Nemesis, probably here in it's fullest and most polished form to date. It's basically a general superhero game, with an emphasis on fairly gritty superheroes in worlds with a lot of super powered people around.

The introduction states up front that they aren't providing any 'how to roleplay' advice, as they expect only experienced gamers to buy a copy.

After that, it dives right into the resolution system, character generation and power selection. All good stuff.

Next is a chapter by Ken Hite on building cool alternate super worlds. The discussion focuses on different aspects of superhero stories and how to design the game world to fit the ones you want to be important.

There's then a sample timeline for the default setting, one that builds on the world of Godlike and takes it through to 1992. It's a good setting, with cool stuff in history all the way and a interstellar threat and brand new world government forming in response. The Talents of World War Two have been superceded by 'Wild Talents': also humans with powers, but without the same limitations that the Talents had.

Finally, there's a sample adventure. It's set in the 1970's and has a cool street-level super-vigilante feel.

Overall, it's a good supers system for what it is. There's little beyond the effects of superpowers, combat and basic task resolution system in the book. The willpower rules give a little bit of psychological mechanics, but it's even simpler than the Call of Cthulhu sanity rules.

I'm looking forward to playing this, for the mayhem and danger of it. Nice.

04 February 2007

Read-through Review of Nemesis

I'm thinking of running a Lovecraftian horror game soon, so I grabbed the free Nemesis rules that Dennis Detwiller, Greg Stolze and Shane Ivey.

Essentially, the rules take the ORE mechanic from Godlike and Wild Talents, add the Madness Meters from Unknown Armies, and adjust them for roleplaying in a Lovecraftian mode.

The game is presented pretty much as a rules set alone. There's no 'how to play' section, no 'GM advice'. There's a brief introduction setting out the overall game, then you get dropped straight into the conflict resolution system, take detailed looks at stats, skills, madness, combat, guns and armor and some ways for stuff to kill characters.

Then the game details building characters, which is on a fairly simple point buy system. This chapter includes a few sample spells and supernatural abilities, suggesting that adversaries can also be built using the same system.

Finally there's a chapter that has stats for some critters out of Lovecraft. They're some old favorites: deep ones, ghouls, serpent men, shoggoths.

So there's not a whole lot to review. I've played enough Godlike to know that the system is solid, especially as this version takes account of the Wild Talents playtests and development, which I know smoothed out a few bumps.

The addition of the Madness Meters is great, I've thought from the moment I first read Unknown Armies that these are the way Call of Cthulhu's sanity loss rules ought to be. In Nemesis, the isolation gauge is omitted - a fair choice, as it is less relevant to this sort of story than it is to Unknown Armies (it's also the one that I remember being least obvious in play, even in that game).

How will it play? We're into the realms of speculation here, although I do have plans to run something soon. From my experience of Godlike, I can be assured that the action parts of the game will be fast paced and brutally dangerous. The madness meters really give a good roleplaying handle on mental breakdown, too. The more detailed view of what is happening to the psyche makes playing out these changes more organic than sanity loss in Call of Cthulhu ever seemed to be. The rules are lean, focused, and mean. They should create some good game.

Fugitives of Chaos by John C Wright

A very strange book. Part two in a series about a group of teenaged godlings who have been imprisoned in an English boarding school staffed with other mythological beings and gods. Apparently the first book was about them discovering their powers, and this one deals with them attempting to escape from the school/prison and discovering part of the role they were destined for (that the imprisonment was designed to prevent).

It's exciting and the world is interesting. It comes across as a lighter Gene Wolfe or more whimsical Tim Powers novel.