Mini-Review: Magister Lor

I’ve said before that I don’t really “get” John Harper’s Lady Blackbird, but it’s more accurate to say I don’t “get” the evangelism. Undoubtedly, it triumphs in conveying depth of setting in few words, with a simple system that compels decisive action, from an explosive inciting event. That’s not nothing, but it’s not the best game of the decade either. I thought it was fun, but that the system didn’t translate well outside Blackbird’s controlled environment, and felt no more inclined to replay one scenario than I would any other published adventure.

Released six years later, Magister Lor was precisely the next step I wanted. But like Lasers and Feelings, the shelf-life is limited. If you’re looking for a way to extend your Tales of the Wild Blue Yonder, I wouldn’t set aside longer than another four hours. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Dread

There’s no shortage of roleplaying games with horror settings. If the book is well written, and the players are receptive, they provide a compelling horror experience. But a horror roleplaying game – where the mechanics themselves exist to scare players, not characters – that’s much rarer. In my perhaps limited experience, only two games come to mind: Ten Candles, the candle-lit tragedy I reviewed last year; and Dread, the one with the Jenga tower. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Leverage Roleplaying Game

The first mini-review I ever wrote, Smallville, was published a year after the game went out of print, because that’s how behind the curve I am. Margaret Weis haven’t produced new Leverage content for years, but the Cortex system is alive and kicking, with a new design studio at the helm, a successful Kickstarter, and a resourceful fan community (including yours truly). As 2017 ends, nostalgia moves me to re-examine where the seeds of Cortex Prime were first planted, and in a way, this blog too. Seven years later, Leverage still holds up. Continue reading

Mini-Review: The One Ring

Licensed RPGs are a tricky thing. It’s not always easy to capture the spirit of a property in a format that’s enjoyable to roleplay. Particularly egregious failures tend to linger in memory – the 1984 release “Middle-earth Role Playing”, for example, had most high level player characters flinging thunderbolts with nary a care for Tolkien’s subtle, low-magic mythology. Cubicle 7’s take on the Lord of the Rings phenomenon is equally distinctive, but in a good way. In this game, journeys are arduous, evil is insidious, magic rarely seen but powerful, and companionship amongst friends a greater power still. This is as Tolkien as fantasy roleplaying gets, right down to the exclusive use of masculine pronouns throughout the game text. (Perhaps authenticity isn’t always desirable when adapting something 70 years old.) Continue reading

Mini-Review: Ten Candles

Horror RPGs are difficult to run because they live and die on strength of tone. The suffocating dread of an excellent horror game delivers a cathartic thrill unlike anything else in the hobby… but when mishandled, it’s fodder for unintentional comedy. Ten Candles is a fantastic game because generating atmosphere is its first priority – it’s dark, thematically and literally. Best of all, it’s a game where you get to set things on fire. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Atomic Robo

Atomic Robo is a great webcomic. Fate Core is a great RPG system. A Fate adaptation of Atomic Robo should be a slam-dunk, but the result is somehow less than the sum of its parts. Most of the Robo-specific rules innovations don’t work properly, and whilst the core system at its heart works just fine, I couldn’t really recommend this product over Fate Core vanilla even if someone was specifically running an Atomic Robo game. Which is a shame. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Swords Without Master

There’s a dichotomy in the range of RPGs: if combat is important to a game, it must be tactically deep, and therefore long and complicated; alternately, if combat is resolved quickly and without fuss, then it can’t be a game where combat is important or satisfying. In an age where even the most action-packed movie blockbusters are still 75% “talky bits”, rarely is it considered that games about violence should resolve that action with a fast pace that matches the narration.

Swords Without Master is an exception. Continue reading