Mini-Review: Deathwatch

Even though Space Marines are the poster boys of Warhammer 40K, I still remember the raised eyebrows when Fantasy Flight Games announced they’d be getting their own RPG.  Psycho-conditioned, fascistic, meathead superhumans don’t sound like the most fun characters to roleplay, unless you want every PC to sound exactly the same.  But I remained optimistic.  A military-themed RPG sounded interesting to me, and the different Chapters of Space Marines distinctive enough to present a variety of roleplaying options.  To be fair, Deathwatch makes a concerted effort to reflect these themes in the mechanics.  It’s a shame that those extra rules are the straw that breaks the camel’s back in an already overloaded and sluggish system. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Paranoia High Programmers

Power-fantasies are prevalent in roleplaying, but it’s not my cup of tea.  Maybe it’s a British thing, but if my character is showered in glory after triumphing against impossible odds, I’ll find no satisfaction unless I suffered through hell first.  Paranoia: High Programmers understands this.  It’s playable as a standalone game, sure, but it’s best enjoyed by those who’ve already suffered through the nightmarish hilarities of the Paranoia universe before.  Yet being in charge in Alpha Complex remains no insulation from jealous underlings, scheming rivals, or the insanity of your overlord Friend Computer. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Apocalypse World

Four years and countless adaptations later, the original is still the best. Quibbling over the extent of its innovation (or which gaming primogenitor deserves to be recognised as the “true innovator”) is fundamentally missing the point. This is a landmark achievement of game design, and one of the best RPG releases of the decade. When gaming historians look back at The Forge and the Naughties’ story gaming movement, Apocalypse World will stand out as its crowning accomplishment. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Fate Accelerated Edition

Is Fate Accelerated Edition an expansion?  A fresh system adaptation?  A quick-start guide?  Fred Hicks suggests that it and Fate Core are better viewed as points of a Fate spectrum than as standalone entities.  Maybe that’s true, but it’s awkward from a critical perspective, so I’ve chosen to review it as a separate entity.  Unfortunately, the problem with this approach is that comparisons to Fate Core are as inevitable as they are unfavourable. Continue reading

What’s My Line Again?: Difficulties with Taglines in The Gaean Reach

I pretty much knew what to expect when I picked up The Gaean Reach.  Unfamiliar as I was with Jack Vance’s work, I was extremely familiar with the Gumshoe system, having played in two Trail of Cthulhu campaigns and run games for Mutant City Blues and Night’s Black Agents.  I was looking forward to watching that rhythm of clue-finding and interpretation play out in a spacebound setting, and was neither surprised nor disappointed when The Gaean Reach’s contents were essentially the same-old Gumshoe with Vancian sci-fi thrown in for flavour.

But there is one feature of The Gaean Reach’s mechanics that distinguish it from all other Gumshoe products (except for The Dying Earth, which I haven’t played), and that is the tagline system. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Fate Core

When I first heard about Fate Core, I wasn’t interested. I’d played Spirit of the Century, I’d played Diaspora – why buy the same system again with all the setting content removed? How foolish that sentiment seems now. Consistency and clarity became the design goals of the new Fate edition, and combined with not-insubstantial tweaks made to gameplay both central and peripheral, they have transformed something promising into the best RPG release of the last four years. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Rogue Trader

When making an RPG adaptation of a miniatures wargame, nuance and crunch in combat is expected. You have to do the source material justice, and since “In the 41st Millennium there is Only War”, a 40K RPG is always going to put the violence centre stage. But there’s a difference between presenting tactical options and needlessly complicating things, and crunchy should not mean clunky. The sheer number of difficulty modifiers in Rogue Trader is impossible to remember, necessitating reference material at every gaming session. Combine that with incredibly long lists of skills, talents and wargear, and the “strategy” of Rogue Trader’s combat is more about knowing all the rules and remembering which apply than it is about skillful manipulation of your environment. Continue reading

“The Egg Must SING!”: Save Game Actual Play Report

So here’s something new – an actual play report of a game I ran last weekend.  Whilst I run a lot of Fate Core games, this session was also my first time trying out one of the Patreon settings that Evil Hat have been putting out for the system.  The one I chose was “Save Game“, and I downloaded the PDF for two reasons.  Firstly, because I was already familiar with Rob Wieland’s brand of Fate from “Camelot Trigger”, a spacebound mecha game of Arthurian legend from the Worlds In Shadow setting expansion, which I consider to be one of the most mechanically accomplished hacks for Fate Core that Evil Hat have released to date.  Secondly, I knew that Save Game’s fun set up of 8-bit heroes battling doomsday virus epidemics and jumping puzzles would be extremely relevant to the interests of many of my friends.  With a strong enough elevator pitch to enable one-shot play with minimal exposition, it was exactly what I needed to end the December drought of roleplaying campaigns triggered by my players’ seasonal responsibilities. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Diaspora

Two years ago, this might have gotten a rave review – a novel take on the emergent Fate engine, with diverse sub-systems to support many sessions of play. But now we live in the era of Fate Core, probably the most exciting RPG release of the last four years, which introduced so much clarity and consistency into the system as to make Fate-that-was feel woefully obsolete. Diaspora is not bad, but it’s not Fate Core, which lest we forget is available for free. Why indulge in the clunky eccentricities of Diaspora’s social conflict system, for example, when it’s managed so effortlessly by Fate Core? Continue reading