Classic RPG Review #10: The Palladium Role Playing Game

softcover, revised edition
by Kevin Siembieda
1983/1991 Palladium Books, Detroit MI, USA

Palladium Fantasy as this game is also called, is very much a one man effort. Both the rules, descriptions and the very crafty grey pencil artwork are all made by Kevin Siembieda. As such it's a laudable piece of work. Twohundred seventyfive pages of work. In small font.

But it leaves you pretty much in the dark how the game is played. In the introduction Kevin says he's “not going to bore you with some lengthy explanation or history of role playing”. But I wish he would have. Without this statement one might have suspected this book was not a game, but a bundle of stencils from an old style, classic Dungeons & Dragons home brew set of rules. Then again, maybe that's exactly what it is. Old style home brew.

If you assume it's like D&D, then it's indeed possible to make something of it. Then it's another dungeon delving, hack and slay, search and destroy, loot and loot type of game. Old style. Home brew. And this book features a complete different set of tables, classes, races, specific rules, and monsters. And more even, a big collection of spells and wards.

The spell lists are probably the best of the whole thing. They are so colourful, the descriptions sometimes so gross, and the pages of runic drawings so intriguing that you'd think to be holding an actual magical tome. You could get scared that some of the spells actually work. Someone else must have thought so too, because a special note on one of the fist pages says: “ALL of us at Palladium Books condemn the belief and practice of the occult”. That's a relief then. The next sentence says “Dedicated to the Defilers”. That does not help.

But the Defilers are just a gaming group whose imaginary characters imaginarily wrecked some imaginary evil temple. Nothing occult or demonic. That's just the old style thing again. Old style where undiluted evil, tough monsters, powerful items, and combat tables and statistics are more important than story. Because the story is mostly the same. The evils locked themselves up in some underearth tunnel system, and the heroes break in to slay them and steal their ill gained treasures. In passing they also save the local townsfolk or the universe, but that's just secondary.

Palladium does have a game master section with a sample adventure, but that starts only at page 250. After the full seven pages of world information. And the other twohundredforty something pages are for monsters, races, classes, spells and combat rules. So it is clear what's deemed important.

If old style is your thing, you might want to scrounge the book for ideas. You might even give the rule set a try if you are bold. If it's not, you may enjoy the drawings, the feel, and especially the almost real looking spell book sections. You could even use it as a spell book mock up in one of your games. It's just as good looking, cryptic and intriguing as it should be for that purpose.

(rules are old style D&D like, suited to dungeon delving and experience point collecting, but with little flexibility in character design, and little realism, finding specific rules can be a nuisance in the big book)
(especially the art work and the look of the spell books are very inspiring, but most descriptions are too brief and just suited to old style search and destroy gaming, less to real role playing)
(if you know old school D&D the playability may actually be better, but if you don't it may be far less. You might not even be able to start)
(occult looking spell books with 290 spells, 60 wards, 50 magic circles, excellent artwork, 20 classic D&D like character classes, lots of monsters, demons, devils, gods, and practical interpretations of alignment – evils do not always torture for pleasure for example, according to these lists. Lots of look up tables, and lots of percentage dice rolling)


october 2009


Pick #23: Princess Bride RPG?

Liked the movie? Haven't got the book? Still not up to playing such a complex player character as Fezzik the Giant? Nobody to role play with because everyone's having Christmas with family? Everyone except you?

You might be wishing for a role playing game suited to play something with the feel of the Princess Bride. But there is no official game I could find. Others also wondered, and they suggested games like Wushu or Swashbuckler. Either would do, but actually most fast games would do, if you allow for good fencing and wittyness. One forum visitor stated that there in fact was a special Princess Bride game in the making, but the Morgenstern Estate stopped it.

Maybe I'll have a go at writing one too.

But I guess if you're reading this you are on your own, all alone, right?
So there's no time for face to face rpg anyway, is there?

No worries. You can play the game – a truly syndicated Princess Bride game. Okay, it's just a video game. It's not all that special, I guess. Probably wouldn't buy it. Guess. But it has a charm, and you can play some of it online. Check it out. You might even find it addictive.

Or go get a life. Merry Christmas!

Now, let's try and get Westley and Buttercup across the swamp one more time... ah, darn.


RPG News #6: Superstar closes in 7 days

Not sure if you're a Pathfinder fan, or an old style gamer with a wish to be published by Paizo. But maybe you'd like to see your name printed as the author of a brand new fantasy module. And possibly start your run of fame from there onward as a game designer or writer of game modules. You could, by entering the running RPG Superstar 2011 competition.

Since I bought something from the Paizo site, they keep on sending me updates, and I  guess they did at least something right for not ending up on my spam list. So have a look if you dare. Your first round challenge: design a wondrous item in 300 words or less, and send in your idea before the new year. Your entry will become sole property of Paizo of course. I wonder, would that mean they'd sue you if you publish your own idea elsewhere? Here for example? Would be weird.

Well, you have plenty ideas, don't you? One to pay for potential fame is a small price.


Movies for Gamers #7: The Princess Bride

This is part of a series of reviews of movies particularly interesting or inspiring for role playing. Because of their setting, style, characters, editing or story. Read the introduction here or here if you are new to this series.

An absolute classic of classics. The Princess Bride was made in 1987, but it's still fresh, silly, full of witty lines and humour, and sweet and romantic at the same time. Well, kind of romantic. It's a fairy tale about true love, TRUE LOVE, Trooo... Luv... And yet it's for all ages. All ages that understand English.

The Princess Bride was masterfully filmed by Rob Reiner, who also did When Harry met Sally (another classic you should see). The book and script were written by William Goldman, who also did classics like All the President's Men. Yes, he's old, I know. I'd say classic. Did I say classic? I'm overdoing.

The film is a frame story – told as a story within a story. We see how Peter Falk reads the book to his grandson, who at first is not interested in it because it does not contain sports. But as the story develops, he wants to know more and more – just like we do. Even about the kiss. The kiss that surpassed all kisses since 1642 BC. Now is this silly? Yes it is. And it gets better.

The Princess Bride book is about farm boy Westley, and Princess Buttercup, who are in true love with eachother. But of course they can't tell each other, for she is a princess and he is... well. Westley and Buttercup are separated, and the rest of the story is how they find eachother again. And on their quests they meet Fezzik the Giant, who was once "unemployed in Greenland" (you should use a nasal voice while saying this). And Inigo Montoya – “my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die”. Vizzini, whose brain will match anyone, Rodents of Unusual Size, the Dread Pirate Roberts...

Perhaps the movie is too witty to make into an average adventure. It will be a feat to play like this – although it would be a great trip. Quotes galore – have a look here and here if you already saw the movie. Otherwise see it first. And think about it, could you do an adventure session like this? This silly, this fast, this witty? Maybe you can, can't you?

Whether it would work or not would mostly depend on your playing style. And whether at least some of your players are good at thinking up silly quotes. And the game system - or the way you use it! - should be simple and fast to allow for it. It will be easier to use say - Risus, or Fudge, than Role Master or d20. Too much realism would also be crippling. Actually I think my own "Santiago Joe" would be pretty good for it, as it has the pace built in, and needs no dice whatsoever. You'd only have to adapt it for fairy tales. Maybe I'll do that too for a later free game. Keep you posted.

Another thing you might consider is to actually fit such a zany story into your regular campaign as a framed story. Just like the Princess Bride is a story within a story, you could do a role playing game in a role playing game.

Imagine the player characters come to storyteller wizard Goldman. They need him to help them. But he wants them to do something first. He is sitting at the fire, and he begins to tell them... a story. Then, as the story develops, the player characters (and their players) are engaged in the story, role playing new characters made up on the spot (in Risus, or Santiago Joe). These new characters then have to solve this story within the story first, before Goldman will do what they want.

So the player characters would have to play... second tier player characters! Lost already? Go watch Inception, that's six tiers - or was it five?

Anyway. Just get the Princess Bride (off the shelf again). And have a Merry Christmas.


Pick #22: Dark Dungeons... differently

The Dark Dungeon(s) name seems to be a favorite for games. Not just for SM sites. Unbelievable, but here's another one. And it's a paper and pen role playing game! Now, I do wonder if all these people using the Dark Dungeon(s) label are aware of us?

This is not just a new game. It's a retro-clone. Dark Dungeons emulates the original Dungeons & Dragons rules, completely rewritten for copyright reasons. It's not the only in it's kind, but this one looks fairly good. Over 300 pages in three columns, under the WotC open gaming license. There is quite some (now public domain) artwork from Gustave Dore. All the more confusing, because our own blog header is also a small strip of Dore art.

And such a following! The forum is already full of posts, and it's only from his year. It must be the game name. Then again, they used the same evangelic booklet as inspiration (see pick #4). The writers even named one of the example characters Black Leaf, played by Marcy - just as in the Chick tract. Oooh. Otherwise the game looks pretty harmless.

Have a look. Even if only out of curiosity.


Classic RPG Review #9: Warhammer Fantasy Role Play

by Richard Halliwell, Graeme Davis, a.o.
1986 GamesWorkshop Ltd., Nottingham UK

To be honest, I never played this game, even if I loved the setting and I had a group nearby that revelled in it. At the time I was heavily promoting my own new role playing game, and a good friend used my rules for the Warhammer adventures instead. So I guess the dark, gunpowder flooded, warpstone infected, mutated dwarven, undead gothic horror, demonic magic version of Germany that Warhammer introduced was pretty good.

And the artwork is still pretty good too. Lots of black ink, chaos, axes and beards everywhere. Quite much like your average role playing group. No wonder it sits well with us chaotic and bearded nerds. Except that I did not have a beard nor an axe then. I never realized at the time, but the sprawling battle scenes, and the 16th century feel of the artwork are surely inspired by the 16th century artist Albrecht Altdorfer. If you don't know him, look him up and be surprised at the similarities to the whole Warhammer “raaah. Battle!” concept. And the Warhammer capital of the old Reich (“Reik”) is named Altdorf. That should be a clue.

So, the setting is inspiring and the artwork is dark and cool. How about the game itself? Well, that's based firmly in the miniature war gaming camp. Not the realistic wargame sort, but the quick and dirty, yet fun sort. Player characters have statistics as if they are soldiers of a tin men army too. Yes, they also have skills, and might even grow personalities as the game progresses. But they basically start out as a line of statistics, more than in other role playing games.

I suspect that the designers of Warhammer FRP like to play large fantasy battles. And one day they thought, hey, wouldn't it be cool to give our tiny heroes some specials? That's what it looks like. Personalised miniatures. Okay in itself, yet a different school of thought than say, radio theatre.

That the player doesn't have to be to close to his (or her) hero, you can also feel in other rules. If a hero has a mandatory hatred for another race for example (like dwarves hate orks), then you have to check your cool to avoid fighting. Sorry guys, couldn't help it! I just happened to split my axe in his head and now we are in big trouble... In many other games the player has to decide for himself, here the rules force you to proceed to combat. I guess the designers love combat. Chaotic combat.

Perhaps this game is best enjoyed with meticulously painted tin men in a huge chaotic diorama like you can see in the Games Workshop stores nowadays. Citadel Miniatures, sponsor and probably now owner of the game would like you to think so. And it sure may be fun if you have lots of money and time to spare. Otherwise imagination works wonders too.

Other than that, the hardcover is over 350 pages thick with practical rules, scores of monsters, spells, skills and careers, and best of all a fleshed out world guide and a first adventure. Artwork abounds, the font is readable (that's more than many current games can say), and the lay out gives the tome a magical feel. If you can lay your hands on an old copy it may well be worthwile. Even if you don't play the game, you'll find a lot of inspiration in it.

(rules are practical, detailed, and fairly easy to learn, but they lean much to the war game side)
(the worked out dark fantasy setting, and the rich career, skill, spell and monster templates make you want to play)
(if you like fun war gaming, this may be the game for you bridging war gaming and role playing, if not you may feel your heroes remain somewhat cardboard)
(dark medieval fantasy, with Teutonic-Moorcock-esque religion, lots of gunpowder, bombs, chaotic dwarves and horrific mutations, rules encourage militaristic, somewhat detached play, but with humour)



Pick #21: Grognardia

One of the most proliferous bloggers on role playing is James Maliszewski on Grognardia. He got infected with the role playing virus in 1979 - two years before me - so he's the senior one here. This Canadian's blog is huge... and good in fact.

I suspect James either secretly is a writing machine, a team, a wizard, or... he has no other life (nah). He started Grognardia in 2008, and since produced well over 1500 posts. Several daily. He even apologizes if "there aren't many posts today". But then I guess, he has over 600 followers to keep happy, so that's quite a family.

Why? I guess because James is a long time insider of the hobby. He has written for quite a few games too, and knows many people of at least the second hour. Grognardia shares a lot of his knowledge and nostalgia. You can browse and get lost on the blog for days. It's wonderful if you want to just muse or let your thoughts wander about the hobby. Have a look.

I just wish he'd use a tag cloud to sort the subjects.


Movies for Gamers ##: Inspiration for Role Playing Games

Why on earth review movies on a role playing blog? Because they're inspiration. Because they're a trove of ideas, not just for stories, characters, monsters, items, and locations. But often a trove of ideas for story telling techniques too.

Recently the first reaction to my application for the RPG Bloggers came in. Unfortunately (at that time rightfully) the reviewer attended me that he could not understand from the feeds that this is in fact a paper and pen role playing blog. Should you wonder too – let's say it again. Movies are a great inspiration source. Don't be afraid to plunder them for ideas, for feel, for soundtracks to play during your game – or planning for your game.

Afraid that players will recognize where you got your ideas from? Don't worry. Mix and match ideas from different movies, combine as you see fit. As long as you don't expect players to act out a whole movie in detail and follow its plot slavishly – you're fine. Better even, the players might be flattered to play alongside movie greats, or at least proud that they recognized where you got some ideas from.

Movies are a fine way to get your imagination started. And some are very good at it. That's why I bring these movies up here – in a paper & pen role playing blog.


News #5: Free Traveller Starter Set

I have The Traveller Starter Set on my shelves. Reviewed it a few months ago. So I don't need the free pdf. But you might want it. It's really a great game. Still is. And DriveThru is giving it away for free. This december only.

So, go get Traveller Starter if you dare. It will cost you... your life? No.
It will cost you... your Soul? Maybe. But not likely.
It will cost you... lots of Credits? No, t will cost you nothing really.
Just your clicks and time.


Movies for Gamers #6: The Brothers Grimm

This is part of a series of reviews of movies particularly interesting or inspiring for role playing. Because of their setting, style, characters, editing or story. Read the introduction here or here if you are new to this series.

The Brothers Grimm is another of those underrated movies. Even when it's one made by Terry Gilliam, former Monty Python member and director of such classics as Brazil and Baron Munchhausen. Haven't seen these either? You're in for a treat. Gilliams movies tend to be lavish in art direction, full of understated humour, and overall they're plainly bizarre.

In lead role is Heath Ledger – the one who died mysteriously after playing his last role as the Joker in Batman Returns. He plays Jakob Grimm, a kind of ghost buster in medieval Germany. Together with his brother Will played by Matt Damon, he sets out to rid the country of ghosts. Or rather dupe the townsfolk into believing they do so, while the ghosts are impersonated by their accomplices.

But one day our heroes stumble into our movie and find a real witch. And a real ghostly forest. There theey have to prove to be more than charlatans. The witch is played by Monica Belluci – of uncanny beauty and unexpected role choices such as in Irreversible and Malena. And she gives whole new meaning to the tale of Rapunzel. Fortunately they have tough woodswoman Lena Headey to help them out. Even if she doesn't trust them one bit, rightfully.

The Brothers Grimm is a joy to watch, and a trove of ideas to use in your games. Almost all of the characters in the movie would make cool player characters, and the ones that don't are good antagonists.

Just figure, the player characters travelling around to dupe townspeople into believing they can take care of ghosts, and then they have to take care of a real one! Very good for inventive players who play thieves for example, but have to face undead - without a cleric who can turn these undead at hand.

The evil forest quickly featured in a few adventures I did. Horrifying... displacing trees. Changing forest exits...

Best of all, The Brothers Grimm shows how you can twist any fairy tale into a grim story excellent for more grown up role playing. Imagine the sleeping beauty as a horrible vampyre. Have a look.


Pick #20: Indiana in Atlantis

Actually I don't have the time to play old games all the time. Not even adventure games. I have a family. I have work. But from time to time I also have nostalgia.

One game I loved during my roleplaying heyday in the 90-ies was this one. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. It runs like a true Indiana Jones movie, with humour, twists, mystic science, and Nazis. The engine is simple, with lots of point and click. Puzzles, not arcade. I wonder why the story has never found its way into any of our regular pen and paper games. It's sure good enough!

Recently the game has been rereleased by Steam - the guys that also run your Left4Dead games. Last time I checked they asked about 4 euros for it. Worth it. Although you could have a peek if it's still here too. Yes, it will probably run on a webbook. Enjoy!


Classic RPG Review #8: Fantasy Wargaming

by Bruce Galloway, a.o.
1981 Patrick Stevens Ltd, Cambridge

First edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons looked like something you could delve from an antique bookshop. Fantasy Wargaming I actually did find among the occult books in a dusty corner of a second hand book store. And that's not all that strange. The small hardcover depicts an annoyed devil materializing from a spellbook, behind a hapless wizard doing some innocent research. And inside the book there are many entries about astrological signs, religion and the use of magic. So no wonder the bookseller placed it next to silly books like “the satanic bible”.

Fantasy Wargaming is not an occult book. But the game does try to approach medieval life as it was for real, or how it could have been for real. The first ninety pages or so are actually devoted to a description of medieval life, medieval warfare, theories of magic and religion and a medieval view of creatures. There is room for favorite fantasy authors and game mastering advice too. It's a treasure trove of information and inspiration. If you want to understand medieval life without earning a degree in history, then this is one of the best books to start with.

Only after this long “introduction” the game system is described. And its an intricate system, again aimed at simulating medieval life and medieval mores. A medieval life with magic, monsters and unholy temptations that is. It's still fantasy you know.

But the system is a tiny bit complex. The astrological birth sign of your hero influences his or her abilities and demeanor, for example. And each hero has statistics for strength, intelligence and piety, but also for lust, greed and selfishness. And these latter stats you don't want to be too high if you want to avoid the numerous temptations you'll face in adventures. All heroes also have one or more “bogeys”. These are uncommon good or bad quirks, whatever the dice decide: deafness, shyness, alcoholism, keen eyesight, bisexuality (yep), clairvoyance... Sometimes playable, sometimes not.

Combat rules actually are less complex than they seem. But they are written down in a complex way. All bonusses and penalties are hidden in paragraphs of text, and not shown in a few simple tables. It's a wargame, too. There are lists of typical medieval troops and rules for whole armies engaging in battle. Superfluous? Maybe. Not if you play an army commander.

The magic system is a beauty. It is written down in an inaccessible manner though, so I wonder what the writers tried to hide. Maybe it's the part where you can gain magic powers from sacrificing animals or even humans. You can also gain power from meditation, but hey. Once you have collected your power, called mana, you can cast your spell. And here you are almost totally free. You may make up effects of conjuration, evocation, protection, command, illusion, transmutation, divination – you name it.

Of course you have to take into account the astrological controllers. Aye, there's the rub. Crossindexing the right date and time, gemstones, herbs, metals and all what for your magic effect may be a bit cumbersome. It does look a lot more like alchemy and magic in the book. But in practice a game master may be too busy to take notice of your long study of the tables.
“So, you want a rhino bone wrapped in copper dowsed in full moonlight and virgin's blood?
Er... okay.” It takes effort to make this work.

Not only your physical constitution is important for survival. Certainly if you are a member of the clergy, you also have to watch your piety. Piety is lost for sinning, and some may be gained for resisting temptation. If your piety goes below zero, you may be excommunicated by the church, or worse: visited by the devil. The idea offers intriguing options for role playing, but the system unfortunately invites even more bookkeeping. And as you do not want to play Papers & Paychecks, that is not good.

Long lists of saints, demons, devils and pagan gods are provided, together with their areas of influence and areas of disfavor. This game dares to take a Christian stand – and the opposite stand too. Maybe that is why this game was hidden between the occult books.

In practice I found the rules too inaccessible to actually play. As a group we never tried to make heroes for this game and try an adventure. None is provided, so we would have had to make one up anyway. After the bestiary section the book just ends. Maybe that's a pity, as the book offers a huge amount of beautiful innovations.

Then again, to be honest, I took quite a few from its ideas and transformed them to my own game of Dark Dungeon. Playable or not, Fantasy Wargaming presents a milestone in fantasy role playing. Few games dare to use the Christian religion this boldly. And few games dare to leave magic effects so open to player creativity.

(rules are innovative, detailed, surprising and fairly realistic, but quite inaccessible)
(the first ninety pages present a good crash course in real medieval society, and the many tables of saints and magic tickle the creative soul)
(the game is more of a suggestion how fantasy role playing could be, than a playable game in its own right)
(“realistic” medieval fantasy, human based with Christianity and social standing taking a very central place, percentile based checks but with many modifiers based on many different factors, battle rules, a free form magic system allowing great freedom for magi, extensive rules for piety and temptation)



Pick #19: PDF Booklets

Have you ever downloaded a PDF, and wanted to print it like a real booklet? And then you found out the page order made no sense? And then you ended up cutting and pasting the whole thing or even worse, you gave up?

Wouldn't it be easy if there were a re-shuffle program, that re-ordered the pages in such a way that you could staple the pages in an A5-booklet?

Bookletcreator used to have an online service that did just that. And maybe they'll return it to us. In the meanwhile you can either buy their offline program (which is good). Or you can try this free program. Which also works well, even if it's less sophisticated. You'll need the microsoft .NET libraries to run either.

There, now you can finally print Santiago Joe as it was meant to be!


Movies for Gamers #5: Stardust

This is part of a series of reviews of movies particularly interesting or inspiring for role playing. Because of their setting, style, characters, editing or story. Read the introduction here or here if you are new to this series.

What happens when you let Neil Gaiman think up the story for a movie? Be sure it's dark, comical, and packed with surprises. And that's what Stardust is. It's also packed with special effects. Gaiman felt a bit guilty when he saw what he brought about by just imagining some odd things. It's quite different to dream up a skyship, or to actually have to build one. Even if it's only a mockup!

I'm not sure how it did worldwide, but in the Netherlands it was kind of lost between seasons. When it came out on DVD, it was straight into the low priced category.

Stardust deserved better, because it's magical, sweet and fun. Matthew Vaughn, who also was a producer on Snatch and Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels did a snappy job.

Yes, maybe lead player Charlie Cox isn't Brad Pitt – which may explain the lack of box office effect . His father in the film, Nathaniel Parker, surely has more sex appeal. But Cox plays his part with verve, and his transformation from newbie to a veteran adventurer is believable.

Claire Danes, who plays the literal Star Yvaine the movie Stardust is all about, plays beautifully. Especially her grimaces of disdain and disgust are a joy to watch. Evil prince Septimus played by Mark Strong is a wonderful bastard. And Michelle Pfeiffer is a great witch, enjoying her new found youth, which she hopes to prolong by sacrificing Yvaine. Hey, there even is a part for Peter O'Toole!

But the show is definitely stolen by Captain Shakespeare of the skies Robert De Niro. You have to see him do his thing in the mirror to believe it. And no, he isn't saying “are you talking to me?”

Stardust may be a bit too much of a straight fairy tale to be used in role playing. But you could tweak it a little and use quite a few of the characters and objects in the movie to enrich your campaign. Skyships, tubes with canned lightning, snakelike silver chains to bind people, magic candles to travel with, animated dead bodies, stardust...

And if your players saw it too, they'll know what you're talking about. Maybe they'll even smile, again. Like they did when watching.


Pick #18: Darths & Droids

If you have ever played Dungeons & Dragons - or Dark Dungeon 2nd Ed. - and at least have a working understanding of the Star Wars saga... then this webcomic is for you. Darths & Droids follows two players who play... Jedi knights - a young Obi Wan Kenobi and his master. Except - the players are obviously not aware of the Star Wars saga, but they are instead hard-core dungeon bashers. What the players say is put in text baloons above the photo's of the heroes - and what the hard pressed GM says is put in yellow baloons and squares.

Jedi Master: "All right! So who do we kill?"
GM: " You're first level. You're just here to negotiate."
Jedi Master: "I can't negotiate with a sword! I need a blaster!"

The players are real nerdy - like real life ones, sorry guys - and they help make up the universe as it goes along. Who'd have guessed that you could parry plasma bolts with your laser sabre because the players outgeeked the GM?

The seven makers of this parody are not as of yet affiliated with Lucasfilm, so they don't earn money with it - but they are at it for well over 400 strips. And they plan to do all of the movies - their way. The comic appears three times weekly - sunday, tuesday, thursday.

You don't even have to really like Star Wars - though it helps. How come I missed this? Just found it. And just had a lot of great snorts.


Pick #17: Star Wars Cops

Now I have had a look at the Star Wars RPG, I might also alert you to another golden oldy. Maybe you know it, but I'll chance that. It's really good.

Have you ever wondered how the first Star Wars story (I mean episode IV) looked from the Storm Trooper perspective? Have a look at Troops, and you'll know. It's like a reality show that follows the local police force (the Storm Troopers), who have to solve all sorts of trouble on the street. Or in the desert. See how they handle the Jawas that stole R2D2 and C3PO, or Luke Skywalkers godparents.

Director Kevin Rubio made so much fame with the parody that Lucasfilm asked him to do a comic for them. Lets just hope our boys in Iraq and Afghanistan weren't too much like the “everyday heroes” in his spoof...

And if you liked this... have a look at this list.


Classic RPG Review #7: Star Wars RPG

Star Wars, The Roleplaying Game
first edition hardcover
by Greg Costikyan
1987 West End Games

What Tolkien did for Fantasy, Star Wars in a way did for Science Fiction. Or Science Fantasy, more properly, because Star Wars is not exactly hard core Sci Fi, with it's religious Jedi knights waving their light sabres driven by the mystic “Force”. It's a special kind of Science, obviously. And maybe that is partly why the movies became such a phenomenon.

Ten years after the first movie (named part IV), the official Star Wars Roleplaying Game was a fact. A letter-sized hardcover, pleasant to hold, well bound with sixteen extra glossy pages in colour. It's made to be used, and to last nonetheless. And believe it or not, that also goes for the content of the game. It's a good game. And it even managed to keep the feel of the movies.

The book wastes little time on complex rules or exposees. Instead you are quickly invited to choose a hero template and modify it as you wish. You can choose to be a young Jedi, a smuggler, a native, or even a Wookie – although you have to say “ooaarggh” like a wookie and not sound lame. And there are plenty of other options. Statistics are already filled in, and all you have to do is choose a name, and distribute seven dice among your skills. And then you have to decide, together with the other players and the game master how your heroes know eachother. Player interaction is at least as important as statistics.

This game wastes no time on rules. The focus is on story telling and on role playing. Role playing as in play acting and “being” someone else for a while. Game master advice starts on page 29, and not somewhere as an afterthought. This game is closer to theater than to war gaming, and if you ask me that's good. Game introductions are adviced to be scripted in advance by the game master. Each hero is to say a line which conveys where we are and why. And then the game can start. My players are not too keen on having their lines written for them, but I've seen it work well for others. Its innovative at the very least.

The Force and the Dark Side are represented too, in the form of points. Force points allow you to do heroic things or save your ass. Dark side points you get for doing evil things. If you have too many dark side points your hero reverts to the game master. Playing evil heroes or villains is strictly verboten. It's a clear and moralistic choice. But to me it also feels chicken.

What I missed most though is the feel that you can really make a difference as a hero. It seems as if you may only move in the shadows of the demigod Skywalker and his father Vader. You can't do anything big, because that might change the big Star Wars story. And the Star Wars story is holy. So at best you can play the non-influential nephew of the sidekick of the sidekick of Han Solo, and nag endlessly about your insignificance. And since this is not a game about ants but about heroes, that feeling annoys me. So far it even kept me from actually playing more than a scene.

If you ignore the Star Wars canon, maybe. If you spin off your own version of its universe where your players can be the ultimate heroes. Where they can be the last of the last of the Jedi and change the walk of the universe, maybe then. Or maybe if they could play the Dark Side too. Then this good game could be a great game.

(rules are elegant, mostly simple, easy to learn, fairly realistic and fairly balanced, but detail sometimes lacks and many extra rolls are needed)
(the game is true to the Star Wars universe, which is a strong backdrop, and its advice to game masters and tips for role playing are abundant)
(the game is easy to learn, and fun to play, but you can't play Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader or make a real difference in the universe)
(science fantasy true to the earlier Star Wars movies, with humans, wookies and weird creatures, limited skill based with small pools of sixsided dice and bonusses, heroes made from modified templates, “the force” - a sort of magic – is available to some but bound to strict codes, if these codes are broken your hero reverts to “the dark side”)


Pick #16: The Eleventh Hour

As today is the day of the Armistice, the end of the Great War - the war that was supposed to end all wars and thus ended up as World War I - since it's today 102 years ago that it ended... I thought it would be interesting to see if there is a World War I role playing game.

Some searching does deliver quite a few wargames, an iPhone app that "features some rpg elements" (called 1951 - World War One, which looks cool), and some silly skills for WWI characters on a web forum. And there's this effort at online writing... at the Second Great War RPG. But I'm not even sure if it's the right war. That's how inside this looks to me. Or you could try this shockwave game Warfare 1917.

But it's still not what I mean. I mean a full fledged, paper and pen RPG. One where you could relive history as a fighter pilot, or in the trenches, or as a spy like Mata Hari. And maybe, just maybe, there would be ghosts there too. A friend once did a series of Call of Cthulhu games set in the trenches, and is was a wild succes. Imagine ghouls and Shoggoths crawling through the subterranean tunnels. The players even visisted some real Great War sites afterwards, because they were both intrigued and horrrified by what they learned in researching their games. It was a gruesome war. Like any war. But worse.

And still, the setting keeps calling. Maybe... just maybe, I should write a WWI RPG for myself. Someday. Beat me to it.

-  Pictures are part from the Imperial War Museum collection and Flickr Commons. Both are in the public domain and gratefully borrowed throughWikipedia.


Movies for Gamers #4: Blake's 7

Another favorite science fiction series of mine is Blake's 7. Made in the late 1970's and early 1980's by the BBC – by some of the same people who also did Dr. Who then. It follows the adventures of a group of rebels led by the escaped political prisoner Roj Blake, who by chance get hold of a very advanced alien ship: “The Liberator”. Four seasons long they try to stay ahead of the Federation, which much resembles a Thatcherite Imperial England gone haywire.

In fact, the very evil Federation is led by a woman (“Servalan”) who has more than a passing resemblance of the Iron Lady. Only her hairdo is a lot better. Short and black. Her one-eyed aide Travis, with his death-ray artificial hand, less caught my fancy, but he's okay too.

The special effects of Blake's 7 were below standard in its own day already. And so were the movie sets with wobbly chairs. Montage may also be to slow for today, and in the earlier episodes you can see how actors and writers are still searching for the right tone and tempo. So maybe as a modern viewer one needs to take a few steps back.

But many of the stories I think are still very good. Especially the cynical Avon, played by Paul Darrow, still impresses. He develops from Blake's most direct rival into his most fanatical disciple once Blake has gone in series three and four. It makes for a beautiful and gritty storyline. With lots of twists. Such as the one where Avon might throw his best friend Villa off the ship as excess weight. Or where a spark flies over between him and President Servalan.

All seasons are now available boxed in DVD. In my experience they are a good inspiration source for role playing adventures or even campaigns. Even if it's not science fiction. I even incorporated the secret base “Star One” from the series in my own fantasy universe. My players keep quoting Avon.

And maybe you just loved the series when you were a teenager, like me.


Pick #15: Free RPG Blog

Surely this is not the only role playing blog. There are quite a few others around. And very good ones too.

The Free RPG Blog of Rob Lang is one of those good ones. Rob used to be a proliferous writer, and I guess he will be again once his newborn start to sleep full nights. Figuring from the again increasing frequency of his posts, the kid sleeps better and better.

Rob has launched himself as a main protagonist of free role playing games on the internet. To help others write and publish more role playing games and stuff, and release these for free. He set himself to the task of reviewing as many free rpg's as he can. He did this on a weekly basis for well over a year – and now slightly less frequently. So he reviewed quite some.

The reviews are sweet, positive, inspiring, fun to read, and most of the time I end up downloading the games he picked. When Rob looks at the world there is a lot of good free stuff to be found. I am glad to say he also found Dark Dungeon.

And if that is not enough: Rob also organises competitions to write your own 24-hour role playing game. He administrates forae for a role play community. He writes the Icar RPG. And he's a father.

The only qualm I may have is that Rob does not actually play (most or any) of the games he reviews. He just reads the rules. He does that very well, and fair I think. But one still has to guess how playable a game really is in practice. Then again, if he really had to playtest, we'd have to pay and support the man to do this job full time!

Have a look at the Free RPG Blog. Browse it a bit. And be inspired to write your own game. Or test something you wouldn't have dreamed of.


Pick #14: I hit the Escapist with my Axe

Well, I hit on the Escapist by mouseclick, really. It's a web magazine for the gaming community, full of forums, columns, pro-gaming articles, movie reviews, game reviews, adds, more adds, and... gaming videos. And I don't mean game trailers. I mean true web movies. Weekly web movies. And another one every day of the week.

I already browsed over Doraleous in pick #12, but there are more. Many more. Not all as good, or as interesting. But worth a look. And that's probably the idea for the Escapist. To get as much traffic and public as possible. For the adds. For the industry. For the gamers. For the lobby groups. For the fun of it. Not necessarily in that order.

You know what? It works. The movie reviews are silly and zany, and ok. The Extra Credits video column about meta-gaming subjects, such as new laws coming up, or about the future of MMO's are quite informed, if not quite good. Rebecca Mayes is cute, musical and a bit weird. And so on.

But possible the strangest critter amongst the web movies is "I hit it with my axe". Which seems to be no more than a video log of a weekly role playing session. Which it is. But the players are female porn stars. No kidding. Sounds like marketing. Which it is. Sounds like "hey this is great, all those guys that can't find girls for their games - and here they are. And they're porn stars too! They'll watch that and drool all over the screen. Yeah.". Which it probably is.

Well... guys, these girls are just girls too. And it's just gaming sessions. So, you'll end up just watching someone else's slightly nerdy game. Which is... not your own game. So it's hard to follow and potentially boring. But hey, maybe there is hope, if even pretty adult movie actresses try to find an escape in some good ole role playin'.

Have a stroll at the Escapist. Just be back here before dinner.

Pictures borrowed under fair use policy from the Escapist magazine.


Avignon #3: The Napolis Connection

If you are new to this series, read this first. Play date: October 23 2010.

Lito looks at the graves in the crypt once more. Three virtually empty chests. Robbed quite recently by someone with a taste for holy bones. And a fourth chest with the body of St. Agneta. Agneta whose spirit is speaking to him. Lito decides to take the bones, and keep them safe. He collects them in his robe and leaves. Before someone else takes them.

Meanwhile Hieronimus and Colonel Eline hear how Peters from the secret service appear in the church above. They call down, to ask what they're doing there. “Will you come up, or do we go down to arrest you?” they shout. “Er, I was just helping out my client. He has kinky wishes, you see!” The Peters seem at a loss for words for a moment, but then they come down anyway. So, our three grave robbing heroes Lito, Eline and Hieronimus flee into the maze of catacombs for another way out. The Peters follow closely.

Not far from there, Schwartzburg and the Pope have another secret conversation. They talk about the problem of compound interest, and how compound interest now grows much faster than the real economy can grow. Which means that more and more people will drown in debt. Which may lead to war. The Pope actually listens. But also explains that the former Pope has borrowed a huge sum of money to build the Cathedral St.Peter, and that he cannot escape the interest on that loan without risking war with the Bishop of Mecklenburg and friends, who lent him the money. A tough situation.

You may find it strange that I run adventures with such diplomatic, economic talks. Sometimes my players wonder too. But the talks actually work. At least some of the players enjoy playing them – and are as intrigued as I am. Intrigued, because these are – simplified – real world situations. Real world now, and historic real world. The real life pope that built the Saint Peter actually did borrow money at interest, and he tried to raise it back by levying indulgences. Worse, he let real banker Fugger do the levying, at a 100% interest rate. While at the same time it was forbidden for Christians to ask interest. That's what real Martin Luther got so angry about.

Hieronimus falls down a shaft, and lands in the mud. And a dead body. It looks like a nun, with quite some money, and a ring of the Order of the Silver Dragon. Wasn't this order killed by the Witchmasters many years ago? This nun looks like she was alive a few days ago. The Peters close in and Hieronimus, Eline annd Lito have to leave. But they'll come back. Eventually they find a way out of the catacombs. Through the same church of Saint Mark where they freed Aster hours ago [see last episode].

So it looks like some Peters of Nicolas' secret service robbed the tomb of Saint Agneta and her friends – and killed a Silver Dragon nun in the process. The question is, whether Nicolas ordered this, or whether the Peters work for someone else on the side.

Our heroes hide from the Peters all night – and finally meet up the next day with a new contact. Notary Fritz Leiter. Right under the unsuspecting noses of the Peters, Schwartzburg, Eline, Hieronimus and Lito try to figure out with Leiter who is the real enemy. They decide to do three things.

The first is to try and smoke out the enemy. Hieronimus former contact James mysteriously died, so they'll have a look who is going to contact Hieronimus now. That might be the wrongdoer. A short comedy of errors follows, and Hieronimus is told he should contact agent Peter XIII. Suspect number one...

The second is that Schwartzburg is going for a long prayer. His patron saint Anthony may provide some knowledge. Schwartzburg has a vision of two candles leaning against eachother. The big candle is Nicolas, who is told things by the smaller one, who has something to do with Saint Francis. [As a game master you have to give visions a bit of colour, and a bit of mysticism.]

And the third – and I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the courage of Hieronimus' player – is that they would contact and confront Nicolas directly. They'd go and tell exactly what happened. How Hieronimus accidentally killed a fellow secret agent (a Peter), how they freed Aster, and that the Peters seemed to be robbing holy bones from a hidden tomb under the city. Holy bones one can use against Doomstone infections. Holy bones that are being stolen a whole campaign long.

So what has Nicolas to say for himself? Or for his Peters? Naturally I made it slightly hard on the players too, playing an annoyed Nicolas with a letter opener shaped as a dagger – for effect. But the players did very well. They actually made a case to Nicolas that his secret service was compromised, and that Cardinal Francisco Montecci – from Napolis – and Peter XIII might be running a private operation within the service. Nicolas will help them, for the time being, and run an internal affairs investigation on his own men.

To me, this kind of play is a quantum leap from the typical game. In a typical party the players would have run away by now, hiding from both the secret police and the criminals. Shooting both orcs and police on sight. Admittedly, in a typical game up to a few years ago, I wouldn't have done my best to embed the player characters in the society. Now I do. Hieronimus is a Papal secret agent – Nicolas is his ultimate chief. Lito is a Paladyn, so the Order of Paladyns would help him. Schwartzburg is the special envoy of the Bishop of Lorrach. Eline owns one of the few Doomstone mines. All players have their social stakes in the game, not just physical hit points or gold pieces to look out for. That makes a difference.

But I'm still very pleasantly surprised. Thanks Hieronimus!


Pick #13: DM of the Rings

Probably you will have seen at least one of the Lord of the Rings movies. Maybe you appreciated the Leni Riefenstahl like filming, and maybe you thought the movie captured the spirit of the books much better than could be expected. Or maybe you had to show you really liked the book better, and had to nag.

No matter what, if you kind of know the idea of Lord of the Rings - and have role played a fantasy game at least once or twice - you may recognize this. DM of the Rings is a comic series - about 150 parts long - which follows Lord of the Rings as if it's an adventure played by role players and their GM. It's pretty silly. And great fun.

Sam: "I'm not a hobbit either"
Frodo: "Don't be daft, of course you are"
Sam: "No Sir. It says right on my character sheet. I'm a halfling."
Frodo: "It also says you rolled a 5 for intelligence."

The series was created by Shamus Young, who is a self acclaimed nerd and programmer. He's also a prolific blog writer. Have a look... after you work is done. Or you may be stuck.


Avignon #2: Pres du Pont d'Avignon

If you are new to this series, read this first. Play date: October 16 2010.

Colonel Eline de Boullion woke only slowly. She was in a hospital bed. Pope Gregorius was there the last time she woke, and asked her what happened. She was confused then, because the Pope was there when they were attacked by a swarm of vampyres, right in the crypt of St. Peter, in the Basilica of the Holy See. The holiest of the holiest, contaminated by vampyres! That alone was disturbing enough. But now the Pope did not remember – not even the doomstone bomb that paladyn Aster used to blow a hole into the vampyre ranks.

But now she woke again the speckled Peter said that the Pope had never been there. And that there never were any vampyres in St. Peter's crypt. How could there be? Maybe she was suffering from a Doomstone infection? Delirium was one of the first symptoms. She protested. Why did her fellow emissaries rember the same things as she then? All of them? Hieronimus the Papal agent returning home, Lito the Paladyn to be reinstated, and Schwartzburg the diplomat for world debt relief. [If this sounds a bit real world to you, it very much is, because the Nirdday world has a similar problem with bank debts as our own.] And where is Aster, their companion [npc]? The secret agent Peter explains they probably all have delirium. And Aster tried to use a Doomstone bomb, not against non-existent vampyres he says, but against the Pope. That is why she was arrested.

Talking to the Pope will become difficult this way. Eline is frustrated. And so is her player. One player who happens to be there, but isn't playing – my wife – makes a remark: “Convenient, isn't it? As if someone tries to keep you away from discussing matters with the Pope.” I tell Eline's player that she really hears this comment, as a voice in her head. And the voice starts to tell them more and more to think about. Not just to Eline, but later to Lito and Hieronimus too. Its some sort of spirit, a female spirit, but who was she when she was alive?

Naturally my wife and I planned that she would play this disembodied guiding NPC spirit. She was stranded at home because of a changed appointment, and her normal character was bound up elsewhere. But she wanted to help out to make the party more coherent again, and pesker her fellow players at the same time. It worked like a charm. They were surprised, and grinning too.

Sylvia, their guide in Avignon also remembers the vampyres and thinks they were real. No delirium. And even if some of the heroes may be infected with doomstone, it seems to much that the secret service is trying to thwart the peace talks between heroes and Pope. She helps arange an appointment with Nicolas, the head of the secret service. Lito meanwhile tries to contact Aster and the Paladyn headquarters. But his courier takes a long while to return, and tells he was stopped short by a Peter. A secret agent of Nicolas again.

I couldn't resist the pun. Nicolas and his Peters. In the Netherlands we have a childrens feast every year on St. Nicolas eve. As a prototypical Santa Claus he comes with his Peters on a Spanish steamboat and brings lots of presents. As long as you were sweet during the year. Because the Peters know everything you have done. Obviously they are very efficient spies, these Peters, crawling through chimneys and hiding in the dark as blacker than black negro henchmen. I ditched the steamboat so far, but the Peters – all named Peter – are the secret agents and Nicolas the Cardinal is their boss – in red robes like our Saint.

However, Cardinal Nicolas is also an elf – a very old elf with huge ears – and is used to work from a disposition of distrust. That's his business. Like any powerful secret service or intelligence agent. Being distrustful. The heroes have a very hard time to talk sense with him. He says he is there to defend the Pope, and if Aster starts swinging bombs in his holyness' vicinity, he has to take tough measures. But with help of the female spirit they eventually find an edge. Nicolas also wants to avoid war, and also hates the poisonous doomstone used as a basis for the economy. He will let them talk with the Pope as long as his agents are near enough.

First though, while outside, the spirit talks again to Eline, and to Lito and Hieronimus too. She guides them to a church of St. Mark near Avignon bridge, where she says Aster is held prisoner. That appears to be correct, when our heroes break in and find she is guarded by Peters. Black Peters officially working for Nicolas' secret service. In the fight that ensues one of the Peters is killed, but Aster and two unnamed men are freed.

But the voice is not done. While Aster is helped by Schwartzburg to find shelter at the Paladyn HQ, the spirit leads the others to a huge church of St. Michael. Below this church, under the crypt, is another older church, and under this other church, protected by gratings, is yet another temple. It is into this temple that they need to go. And so they do. There they discover a recently blown up wall. And behind it is an altar with an intimate image of a dragon and an elf, and four graves. Three are recently plundered. But the fourth, of Saint Agneta still contains the bones of a woman, and a perfect golden ring. This was once the spirit lady. And the spirit is shocked.

Avignon Minicampaign: Read First

I've game mastered for about thirty years now, and every once in a while I try to seek out new ways of storytelling, new ways of constructing stories, new story arcs, new worlds, new ways of letting players interact, new ways of cooperating with other game masters. And telling about what I'm doing now is a way to share what I learned – and still am learning.
The Avignon series is another spin-off of the main Nirdday campaign, which revolves around Doomstone, and a failing economy. And a special thing in this campaign is, that the players are actually playing political confrontations and diplomatic talks – in between slug outs, assassination attempts, and some mystical grave robbing. All while trying to figure out what happened long ago before the date of “Arrival” and why it is so important now.

And now the heroes will have to talk with the pope. About quiting mining doomstone and at the same time changing the economic system. Because world debts grow so large that the economy can no longer bear the compound interest. Because everyone will have to help clearing this mess. Including the Crosstians who forbade asking interest in the first place - and then asked it under another name, such as indulgences.

Writing on this miniseries starts at session #2, also to be up to date as I start. The first episode will appear some other day. Hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think!


Classic RPG Review #6: Middle-Earth Role Playing

boxed set, Games Workshop UK edition
by S. Coleman Charlton
1985 Iron Crown Enterprises

Although fantasy role playing would probably not have existed if it were not for Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels, role players had to wait some ten years before a game could actually use this setting wholesale. This has to do of course, with the rights to the possible multi-million dollar profits such a game might generate. They would wish.

No, maybe the Tolkien heritage just wanted to be sure that their father's creation would not be distorted. That the game would be worthy of the Tolkien name. Or at least of the Middle-Earth name. And that is indeed the only part in which the developers of MERP (Middle Earth Role Playing) seem to have succeeded. With painstaking detail and with painfully small print a good deal of the hundred plus pages of rulebook have been dedicated to description of Silvan Elves, Numenorians, Haradrim, Hobbits and a host of other races unique to the world where Sauron also hides. A Tolkien fan confided to me that the writers may not have been experts, but they know what they write about. So far, so good.

The game system is a simplified version of the ICE (Iron Crown Enterprises) system. Simplified? It seems hard to believe once you flip through the many lists and tables in rather minuscule print. There are tables for encumbrance, encumbrance calculation by profession and race, moving maneuvers, bolt damage, critical hits by fire, bonuses, poisons and diseases, stat deterioration after death, and so on. You name it. It's probably there. The critical hits tables are fun to read if you're in an aggressive mood, but you wouldn't want these hits to ever happen to your heroes.

Reading through the rules I got the impression that the game was devised by miniature war gamers. I don't mean small people playing war games, although that would explain the small print, but war gamers that play with miniatures. War game rules are often also this complex, and the detail always seems more important than game flow. Rummaging through the box and looking at the typical adventure in MERP strengthens this impression. Precise hex sheets (maps) of many locations are provided, and so are cardboard figures of creatures and heroes. And most telling, a typical MERP adventure is a detailed skirmish or a hit and run military mission. Or it's a series of these.

There is little wrong with war gaming. It's better than fighting out wars for real. But role playing evolved away from war gaming. And this game is quite a few steps back towards the war game. Maybe that MERP appeals to hard core war gamers who love this kind of rule detail while they enjoy their beer and pretzels. But my players decided that we should try another game next session, after we spent a complete afternoon trying to make a hero. And we still weren't quite ready to play.

(rules are complex, complicated, extremely detailed and possibly overly realistic)
(the game is fairly true to Tolkien's world, in detail, albeit limited to the Third Era, and this is a strong backdrop)
(even a computer will find the bookkeeping of this game a tough cookie, creating a hero takes longer than the average life expectancy of that hero)
(fantasy true to Tolkien's Middle-Earth, humans, elves, orcs and hobbits, skill based, combat and tasks percentile based with extended critical hit tables, races and professions, magic accessible to some, with spells grouped in lists)



News #4: JustLawfulChaotic Blog

My fellow blogger JLC (Just Lawful Chaotic, Jesus Loves C..., John Lawrence C.) has dared the lonely jump into internet space. His new blog can be found here. As may be expected with such a name, you may find it a completely confusing mix of English, Dutch and a smattering of Franglais, with subjects varying from insider campaign views to deep philosophy. Or you may love it for just the same reasons. Way to go, JLC!

Pick #12: Doraleous & Ass.

Doraleous - not Dolores, although the mistake is an understandable one - is a knight. Not the brightest, but he is a brave, commanding, realistic (euh...) and a slight bit grumpy knight. An animated knight, to be exact.

Not animated as in undead, but as in an animated web based series of short movies. Together with his associates Mirdon the mage, Neebs the elf, and Drak the almost naked dwarf,  he goes where no... animated knight has gone before. Or something like that. It's really a bit silly.

And that's where it gets funny, once it's really silly. Sometimes it's a bit slow, but when it's getting steam there are quite a few laughs. Like when they're hanging shackled in a dungeon and start singing "I see a grub...". Or when the blue version of the lady of the lake tries to convince Doraleous that a twig is really the powerful Zephyr blade he's looking for. Which it is probably not. Or... well, you catch the drift.

Doraleous & Associates have a solid fanbase, and are well into their second zany season.You can find them at The Escapist, here.


Pick #11: Firefly RPG

Believe it or not, I just stumbled upon the Firefly RPG. It's published by Margaret Weis. And one of the writers is Tracy Hickman. You may know this writer duo from the AD&D Dragonlance Chronicles, published in the 80-ies.

Firefly, or rather the Serenity RPG, is an over 200 page stand alone set of rules based on the Cortex engine. That's the system used in all Weis products, where you can throw bigger dice if your skill is better. It looks solid, thorough, hardcover - and slightly too full of layout artwork like most current RPGs. But it also does look like the real thing.

The content listing is exhaustive enough - with an emphasis on playing rather than rules. Which is an approach I like - less rules, more play. The main heroes of the series are also provided as characters, if you wish to use them. And there is an appendix on Gorram Chinese. That's the language that's used to swear in in the Firefly 'verse. Very convenient if you don't want to be rude in English!

The game and its expansions are available as pdf's (to read on your e-book reader or pc) here for example, on DriveThruRPG. Or you may try to order the more expensive hardcover at the main site. By the time you read this I may have bought the game, so if you don't hold your breath too long, a review may follow.


Movies for Gamers #3: Firefly

This is part of a series of reviews of movies particularly interesting or inspiring for role playing. Because of their setting, style, characters, editing or story. Read the introduction here or here if you are new to this series.

Actually Firefly is a science fiction series, and not a movie. But it's worth watching it like one. The series follows a group of mercenary heroes, who fly from one almost legal job to another to pay for fueal and food, and stay ahead of real trouble. Their ship is a Firefly class freighter, falling apart all the time in true Han Solo fashion. Firefly was created by Joss Whedon, who also did the tremendously succesful Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. So, quality guaranteed, you'd say. Indeed so.

But after airing the episodes out of sequence, the network decided to pull the plug before half a season had passed. Why? Officially the series didn't do well enough. Yet a growing fanbase contradicts this argument. Then what?

Personally I suspect the series was politically problematic. The series does play in a future far away, but it also is a kind of wild west series. A wild west series where the heroes are former officers of a Confederate Army. Like the Confederate Army that lost the American Civil War. Like the Confederate Army that couldn't be right even a hundred and fifty years later, because their enemies won, and were supposed to be morally right, because they were against slavery. It's still a moot point, no matter that blacks still have to fight for true equal rights and chances.

Slavery is no issue in the Firefly series (yet). But as one of the lead characters is a stunning dark skinned woman who can also fight very well... I guess there's no problem. The other characters, including captain Mal are also very likeable. I'm not sure which one is my favorite, as they are all well fleshed out and all have their own mysteries, nightmares and secrets.

Well, maybe it's Jayne, the tall no nonsense, slightly dumb looking, always in for more weapons and violence guy. Every episode you'll have to guess iff he's going to backstab the captain or stay on his side after all. Or maybe it's the Ninja like shepherd Book, who with his soft appearance resembles my brother. Or maybe its the psychic girl River, who can do dance martial arts with improbable grace. All are good enough to be full fledged player characters.

Firefly was never continued. But Whedon made a film, Serenity, with the same cast. It shows how the series might have developed, stuffed into a few hours. Make sure you see it after the series, if you still can. It makes it a much better show.

No matter what, Firefly is immensily inspirational for science fiction role playing. Once I have a go at a Sci-Fi campaign again, this will be it's starting point. Gritty, scary, unexpected, but sweet and likeable too. And there's (the start of) a wiki.


Brugghes #7: For a Fistful of Doomstone

If you're new to this column, read the read this first. Play date: october 8, 2010

Serapha really wants to infiltrate the vampyre chain of command, but to prove that she is with the vampyres, she feels she has to betray the hunters. And she also has to let it look like she's betraying Francesco. And he has to believe it. So, she sends out the order to capture, and possibly execute Francesco's favorite adopted niece. And tell him about it. Naturally he is not amused at all.

Yes, indeed. This adventure I let something dreaded happen as a GM. I allowed a player to play a basically chaotic and evil character. Or, that is surely what it looks like. And worse, Serapha, who fits the description, now confronts the other player characters in direct conflict. This gives incredible tension and excitement – like, is she really gonna kill this innocent NPC, is she really turning on us? – but it's also walking a thin line. If Serapha does not come up with a sensible explanation – which she does have, but she'll still have to tell in time – it will become unplayable. Player character killing player character is just not an option – we tried in the past, and hated it.

So, Francesco and Will find themselves on the streets at midnight to send a message out to set up a rescue of the niece. Through the priests of St. Gabriel, who can send messages with godspeed. But the church is strangely padlocked, and full of cobwebs. Creepy. In the next building, where they know the Paladyns have their secret base a strange couple enters. They don't look like Paladyns, and the bearded Paladyn that always waved so friendly at them now acts as if he doesn't know them. Weird.

Francois, a fourth PC who missed last week's episode, is just across the square. As second man of the shadowcouncil, and recently also second in command to the mayor, he has his own problems. One of them is mayor Richard himself, who rightfully suspects Francois of foul play. Another is that Francois has hired the Paladyn order to raid the vampyres that hide in the factory of the influential mr. Thyssen. And Thyssen is friends with both the vampyres... and the mayor. Richard will of course play the game along, and now chat and drink with the Bishop of Cluny, the boss of the Paladyns. But will Richard drop his friend Thyssen?

An earthshattering explosion across the square gives him the answer. Doomstone grinder bombs. Will and Francesco stood next to it and try to evade the debris. Serapha, watching from a house nearby is hit by shattering windowpanes. The safehouse of the Paladyn order has been blown to bits. And so are all left inside. It looks like there will be no Paladyn left to do a raid tomorrow. More explosions follow under the street, close to the cathedral.

Francois realizes: “That's where the bone relics are”. The relics they worked hard to take from the vampyres. The relics they handed to the Paladyns, to help prevent Doomstone plagues. To help prevent war. While he shouts and commands as many people he can to fight the fires, his brain fevers. How to save the bones? There is hardly a Paladyn left! Then he spots Francesco and Will. They will help him.

When I GM, I now like to work on many different levels at once. Each character has its own goals, its own edge, its own conflicts. And all these personal stories I try to weave together into one whole, which hopefully is enjoyed by all. The good thing is that you can tell a complex story and motivate everyone personally. The tough thing is to get all characters heading the same way.

Serapha is on her own now. But she sees how the couple that entered the exploded building of the Paladyns, are walking away unscathed! She burns some of the blood she sucked – she is a vampyre, too – and follows them to an inn on the edge of town.

Francesco has a smart plan. He will create a diversion. He'll take the wrong bones from the crypt of the cathedral, and bring them to the safehouse mayor Richard suggested. And Francois will tell Richard and others that these are the real relics – to keep away from the vampyres underground. But the real relics are instead secretly taken into the bell tower.

And then a mysterious knight drops a note to Will. It turns out to be Aster, the Paladyn. And most other Paladyns are still alive too. They were already out to do the raid one night earlier than planned. So they have not been blown up after all. Will, Francesco and Francois should join them.

And that's where the party wants to split up demon kicked in again – it took another threat from Aster to get him to join. A realistic one, but still. “If you don't join, I'll tell them about your dirty ops.” Serapha meanwhile drifts by the other heroes in a boat, together with the couple. It's not quite clear if she is the hostage or they are. But, all are at least heading for the same goal. The Thyssen mansion and factory.

Approaching the estate from different sides, the heroes break in, climb the walls, and join the Paladyns. Will and Francesco go for the mansion, Francois and the main force storm the factory. Quickly both parties dispose of the guards, and with the use of grenades they make diversions. They're in. But why are the cellars so empty? Where are the coffins? Where are the doomstone containers? Where are the people experimented upon, that Francois saw in a vision? A greenish light shimmers in a corner. “It's a trap!” Francois and the Paladyns dive for cover. But for most of them it's too late.

The explosion breaks all windows in the mansion too, where Will, Francesco and Aster are. They too have to conclude that the vampyres have fled, and Thyssen too. It's just the guards and servants that are left. And a horrible creature – a kind of huge eyeless fish – which lies in a bed. In horror they find themselves displaced in the house. GM-ing a bit of delirium again.

As you see, a lot of twists and double turns. But it's not over. The heroes manage to rescue the dragon rider, and reunite her with her mount. Soon enough, it appears that both may be dragons! One in human form. In the city another surprise awaits. The bones have been stolen... just as Francois feared. Mayor Richard is said to be very sorry. Yet it seems to Francois that Richard made a trade with Thyssen and the vampyres. They left town but took the bones. The messenger tells they were taken right from the safehouse. Francois lightens up – those were the false bones! The ones in the tower are still safe. But for how long? And now for sure he cannot enter town without fearing for his life.

As a last scene, Serapha's threat still stands. She betrayed Francesco, and her vampyre blood boils too much – no matter how much he likes, or loves her. And no matter that she is a PC. Will, Francesco and Aster have bound and gagged Serapha. But what next? Well, that's to be continued...