Wednesday, February 27, 2019

River Horse Announces FILLY SIZED FOLLIES, New Adventures for the TAILS OF EQUESTRIA Role Playing Game.

When I first read that Hasbro had licensed a role playing game based on the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic television series, my mood wavered between excitement and skepticism. Hasbro had already created one role playing game in an attempt to provide a gateway into the hobby for younger gamers. That game, Pokemon Jr. Adventure Game, was a fun game with a very simple design by Bill Slavicek and Stan!, but it never fulfilled its potential because Hasbro quickly abandoned the game line after sales didn't meet expectations.

My skepticism faded when I found out that the game would be produced by River Horse Ltd., a British game company started as a way for Alessio Cavatore to publish his own gaming material. Alessio was one of Games Workshop's key designers in the late 1990s and is one of the better war game designers in the industry. His past work includes Mordheim, Bolt Action, Kings of War, and several other excellent games. His past work in the Grim Dark alleys of Warhammer and the bloody fields of World War II, may not make him seem the best candidate for a My Little Pony game, but all of these games share one simple quality. They are all clearly written and free from cumbersome rules that can lead to analysis paralysis.

In short, he's exactly the kind of game designer who could create a set of rules that were simple enough for kids to understand while being deep enough for adults to enjoy. If you don't believe me, you really should check out Kings of War. It's a miniature war game that plays quickly and with almost no need to go back to the rulebook once you've read through them once. They are also complex enough that the game has come to fill the niche left behind by the absence of Warhammer Fantasy Battle pretty seamlessly.

Unlike the old Pokemon Jr. Adventure Game, which was published by Hasbro, the Tails of Equestria game has been extremely well supported by River Horse who is now publishing their fifth adventure for the game.

Filly Sized Follies contains three different stories for young gamers to play through, with adventures aimed at ponies of levels 2-5.

All around Equestria there are ponies in need, and only the player's ponies can help them!

In this book you will find:

Three brand new adventure stories that can easily fit into any ongoing game or be played by themselves.

A range of challenges for fresh-faced characters, through to experienced adventurers.

A whole host of new characters, each with brand new original artwork!

Past adventures in the game have focused on teaching players the value of kindness, teamwork, and friendship. This adventure is likely more of the same.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Find Room in Your Pocket Book for Steve Jackson's Pocket Box Games

What is old is new again because Steve Jackson Games is republishing their classic Pocket Box Games from the 1980s. Do yourself a favor and check them out.

Way back in the before times that are the not now (1977), a young game designer named Steve Jackson created an entirely new genre of games when Metagaming Concepts published a small game called OGRE. The game was deceptively simple to play and remarkably deep for its price and size. This combination of low price and small components were the central features of what came to be called "Microgames." Metagaming Concepts published a significant number of Microgames during their tenure, including OGRE, G.E.V. a sequel to OGRE,  and the MELEE/WIZARD games to name a few. These games were a huge financial success for Metagaming, but creative differences led to Steve Jackson leaving that company to form his own company Steve Jackson Games.

When Jackson left Metagaming, he took a couple of things with him that he used to launch his company. These were the SPACE GAMER magazine that Metagaming had been publishing and his OGRE and GEV designs. For a variety of reasons, he was unable to take MELEE/WIZARD with him and would not be able to publish those under the Steve Jackson brand until approximately 30 years later. As a Steve Jackson publication, SPACE GAMER went from a journeyman publication that had a significant "house" focus, to one of the leading hobby gaming news magazines of its era. Though it had its share of house content, the pages of the Jackson published SPACE GAMER were filled with articles about games like D&D and TRAVELLER and its coverage of the CHAMPIONS role playing game contributed to that game's larger success.

But the magazine was only a small part of what would help to transform Steve Jackson Games from a small game company to one of the most successful privately owned game companies in the business. To be sure, it's no Hasbro or Asmodee, but it is a company with gross incomes around $5.5 million. It's still classified as a small business, but it's a cornerstone in the gaming hobby. One of the key reasons the company was able to grow was its swift publication of the OGRE game and a series of new games based on the microgame model, games that came in sturdier plastic pocket boxes.

While there are several games in the pocket box series, the two best known are OGRE and CAR WARS and these are the games that helped to secure Steve Jackson Games' future success. Both of these games, in their early print runs, had short and easy to understand rulebooks, counter sheets, and maps to be used for play. They contained months of deep game play for a very inexpensive price. Both OGRE and CAR WARS became individual product lines, but some of my favorite pocket games are lesser know and equally robust games that cover a variety of themes. These themes ranged from a post-apocalyptic future where a kung fu death cult fought against the evil clone masters to to hunting for Dracula in London, and from the small tactical operations of a Raid in Iran to the massive strategic challenge that is the Battle of the Bulge (simulated with only one page of rules in ONE PAGE BULGE). The games were fun and inexpensive when they were published.

A typical example of a Pocket Box game is UNDEAD. The game was published in 1981 and recreates the battle between Van Helsing's vampire hunters and the dread Count Dracula. The game also includes the ability to expand play by including the possibility of playing a certain consulting detective in a variant scenario. It can be played as either a two player game, or as a mini-role playing game. The box for the game was a medium hardness plastic that had the ability to hang in a store display. 

Inside the box was a double printed poster sized sheet that contained the rules and two maps that could be used in play. The first was a map of the city and the second was a tactical map. In addition to the poster sheet, there was a counter sheet that included all of the counters one needed for play. Players would have to carefully cut out the counters, but they featured engaging and colorful artwork.

Until recently, the only way to get these games was to track them down on eBay and pay a potentially exorbitant price. That all changed this month with Steve Jackson Games' launch of a Pocket Box project on Kickstarter. Now you can get them for $20 a piece, less if you take advantage of some of the pledge levels. Most of these games are absolute gems, and it's nice to see them in print again...this time with upgraded components.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

David Drake's THE SPARK is an Entertaining Re-Imagining of Arthurian Tales

The Spark by David Drake


Though David Drake is probably best known for his Military Science fiction, with the exception of REDLINERS, I'm of the opinion that it is his Fantasy writing that truly highlights his literary talents. This is because David often writes against existing trends in the genre. While other writers of Epic Fantasy were mining the Nibelungenleid, Tolkien, and European history to form the foundations of their tales, David used Sumerian mythology as the foundation of his Lord of the Isle series.

With THE SPARK, David breaks even further from the current trends in Fantasy writing. The current market is filled with a wonderful collection of door stopper thick Epic Fantasies, picaresque tales, and urban fantasy. It's a golden age for each of these genre. The Game of Thrones series, The Licanius Trilogy, and the Kingkiller Chronicles are but three wonderful Epic Fantasies in the current market. The Greatcoats and Gentlemen Bastard books are exciting tales of swordsmen and rogues. The list of popular urban fantasy is too long to even consider, though The Dresden Files, Iron Druid Chronicles, and Monster Hunter Incorporated would all be among the most fun. None of this even considers the mountain of Steampunk books out there. These are well walked trails in the modern fantasy market and it takes a talented writer to find what is overlooked. David Drake is that writer and the overlooked source he found is one that is surprising.

It's surprising because one wouldn't think that a story based on the tales of King Arthur could be considered overlooked. The sheer volume of fiction inspired by Arthurian tales includes over 11,000 works ( But it is overlooked in the modern market. Not because bildungsroman about boys who would be king are rare. Those are still common. What is lacking, or rare, are tales based on the storytelling techniques of Arthurian Legends. The Romances, rather than the Cycle, are where the rich untapped vein of stories lays. This is where David Drake found his inspiration for THE SPARK.

THE SPARK was inspired by both the PROSE LANCELOT and THE IDYLLS OF THE KING, the first for the narratives and the hopeful tone from Tennyson. The resulting book is a delight, but one that might take some getting used to for modern readers. The Romance is an interesting genre. Yes, it is filled with "romance" in the modern understanding, but literary romances are tales of heroes. They are often disjointed tales of heroes where a Knight goes from one quest to another with no transition or overarching narrative. There is just the heroic theme and the tales. There is also very little world building as these tales expect you to fill in the gaps with your knowledge of the time and place. This is the kind of tale David tells in THE SPARK.

THE SPARK focuses on several of the adventures of the heroic character Pal and his faithful dog Buck as he transitions from Aspirant to Knight Arrant. The world(s) in which Pal lives had some major cataclysm centuries ago that led to humankind becoming fractured and in a state of technological decline. It's similar to what happens to some places in Asimov's FOUNDATION series, or at least what was feared would happen. These fractured and scattered human communities are connected by The Road. What The Road is in actuality is never revealed. It could be an actual road between scattered cities or it could be walkable wormholes between scattered communities on distant planets. What it is though is the means by which one makes it from one to another of the communities located in what is called Here. As with The Road, we are never told exactly what Here, only that Here is what is not Not Here. We also know that The Road is surrounded by The Wastes, a place of danger and chaos, that may or may not be Not Here. Our protagonist doesn't know, so neither do we. One can travel through The Wastes either using an animal to see within them (not recommended and likely lethal) or using a Boat, a vehicle of some sort that can travel through The Wastes.

In my version of THE SPARK, and one of the wonderful things about THE SPARK is that different readers will experience different worlds, Here is comprised of communities on distant planets where the collective consciousness of mankind has enforced stability on the locale. The Wastes are unexplored, ill understood, areas where that collective consciousness has not taken root. My Not Here is comprised of areas where the collective consciousness of "beasts" (David's truly inhuman version of Faerie) has taken root. In my version, unoccupied places are as unknown and unstable as the empty space on a map. David leaves all of these details up to MY imagination to fill, and I deeply appreciate that.

As for Pal's tales, they are inspired by the tales of Percival, Galahad, Gawain, and Bors. He's a delightfully GOOD and forthright character. His forthrightness is a virtue, but it does lead to complications and challenges. He is a capable warrior who has talents most warriors lack, but he is not "the greatest" at any of the things he does. Like the knights who inspired his creation, he is heroic without being a Larry Stu. Okay, Galahad is a Larry Stu, but the others aren't and that's why their stories are so appealing.

What was most striking to me was how well David wrote a character who could be strongly morally forthright without being preachy or judgemental. He leads by moral example and exemplifies the ability to forgive and through that forgiveness potentially redeem others. Not everyone is redeemed by him, because not everyone wants to be redeemed, but he provides inspiration for those who want to become better people. To use D&D terms for a minute, if you wanted to read a perfect example of why I think Paladins should always be Lawful Good and how that isn't limiting, then you should read THE SPARK.

Heck, if you want to read a wonderful work of Science Fantasy that trusts its readers ability to fill in the gaps and be co creators with the author, then this is your book.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Look at the First Flash Gordon Role Playing Game

I recently received my copy of the Flash Gordon Role Playing Game for the Savage Worlds system. I cannot be more excited to crack it open and try to convince my players to game in this wonderful setting. Like Shane Hensley (the creator of the Savage Worlds rpg), I am a huge Flash Gordon fan from serials to comics to 80s cult-classic, and am eager to see the setting emulated in a game system designed with this setting (among others) in mind.

Before I review the new game though, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on the first Flash Gordon role playing game, a game that was among the first licensed role playing games ever published.

In the nascent days of role playing game yore -- 1977 to be exact -- Fantasy Games Unlimited published one of the first Science Fiction role playing games to hit the market with Flash Gordon & the Warriors of Mongo. The first two science fiction role playing games were TSR's Metamorphosis Alpha (1976) and Ken St. Andre's Starfaring (1976). Flash Gordon was one of a couple of games Fantasy Games Unlimited published that was co-written by Lin Carter -- yes that Lin Carter, the one who is responsible for most of Appendix N being in print -- with another being Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age.

Where Royal Armies was a set of miniature warfare rules set in the Hyborian Age, the Flash Gordon role playing game was an attempt to create an entirely self contained role playing game complete with campaign setting and campaign in one 48 page volume. That's quite a thing to attempt and I have been surprised at how well Flash Gordon accomplishes its goal -- especially given the low esteem in which the review holds the game.

The book has its flaws, but it also has its brilliance. The flaws lie within the underlying rules for the conflict resolution system. The brilliance lies within the freeform campaign implementation system, a system remarkably similar to the Plot Point and Encounter Generation system mastered by Pinnacle Entertainment Group in their Savage Worlds series of games. More on this later. It's time to look at Flash Gordon & the Warriors of Mongo.

System Mechanics

In a brief note at the beginning of the book Lin Carter sets out his chief objective in the drafting of Flash Gordon. "My own personal debt to Alex Raymond, and my enduring fondness and admiration for Flash Gordon made this set of rules a labor of love. I was dead set against Scott's [Scott Bizar] first idea of doing a book of wargame rules and held out for adventure-scenarios, instead."

Carter wanted a game that was able to capture the excitement of the old Flash Gordon serial through the use of a collection of adventure-scenarios bound by a single rules set. Rules that were intended to "provide a simple and schematic system for recreating the adventures of Flash Gordon on the planet Mongo." With regard to their goals, Carter and Bizar both succeeded extremely well and failed monumentally.

The system is simple...and the same time.

Characters roll three "average" dice for the following four statistics -- Physical Skill & Stamina, Combat Skill, Charisma/Attractiveness, and Scientific Aptitude. It's an interesting grouping of statistics that demonstrated FGU's willingness to look beyond the "obligatory 6" statistics created by TSR. The inclusion of Combat Skill as a rated statistic is in and of itself an interesting choice.

At no point is it explained what an "average" die is. Is an "average" die a typical six-sided die that you can find in almost every board game ever published, or is it one of those obscure and hard to find "averaging" mentioned in the Dungeon Master's Guide? The rules aren't clear regarding this, but the fact that "rolls of over 12 indicate an extremely high ability in the specific category" [emphasis mine] hints that it is the "averaging" die to which they are referring -- later difficulty numbers hint that it might be the regular dice that are used. The new gamer would have only this clue, but wargamers of the era would know that an "average" die was a sis-sided die with the numbers 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5 printed on it instead of 1 through 6. This die was used to reduce the influence of uncertainty on outcomes in wargames at the time. More recent games, like Warhammer, rely on regression to the mean and buckets of dice to reduce uncertainty. It may seem counter intuitive, but the more often you roll the less uncertainty influences outcomes because the likelihood that the total distribution of the rolls is normal increases.

Not that it matters much, as you will soon see.

After rolling statistics, players choose from one of the following roles -- Warrior, Leader, and the Scientist. This leads one to wonder which group Dale Arden fits, but that is another conversation entirely. The primary effect of choosing a particular roll is to add one point to the statistic most related to the profession.

These attributes are later used to determine success based on a very simple mechanic. Stat + d6 > TN. For example, if the players are in the Domain of the Cliff Dwellers it is possible that they will encounter the deadly Dactyl-Bats.

If the players decide that they want to fight off the Dactyl-Bats the success or failure of the action will "depend upon the military skill of the most skilled member of your group. Roll one die and add the result to your military skill. A final total of fourteen or greater is needed to drive off the Dactyl-Bats." Failure indicates the character is wounded and that the party must rest. It's a simple resolution, but one that lacks any significant cinematic quality. It feels awkward, and other mechanical resolutions in the game are similarly weak. Typical punishment for failure on an action is a loss of a certain number of turns. These turns are valuable as players need to recruit enough allies to defeat Ming before he has time to become powerful enough to squash any rebellion. While the statistics of the game are firmly rooted in roleplaying concepts, the resolution and consequence system still echoes board game resolutions. This is a weakness in this game, as is the inconsistency of resolution techniques. Fighting a Snow Dragon is resolved in a different manner than the encounter just discussed.

I imagine one could build a good game conflict resolution system built around the statistics highlighted in Flash Gordon, but this book lacks that system. I think it might be interesting to try to use a modified version of the Dragon Age pen and paper rpg system as a substitute for the mechanics in the Flash Gordon rpg. They are simple enough that it wouldn't require a lot of work. One could also use the OctaNe system if one wants to stick to the "narrative" feel that Bizar and Carter seem to have been attempting here. OctaNe succeeds where this game fails mechanically -- and OctaNe's system is ridiculously easy to learn and use.

Game Campaign System

This is where Flash Gordon really shines. The game's basic structure is that of a "recruitment" campaign where the players must journey from land to land -- based on how they are connected on an abstract schematic and not based on actual geography though the schematic takes those into account -- where they encounter various challenges and face various foes. For example, let's say our stalwart heroes find themselves in the Fiery Desert of Mongo. If they are mounted on Gryphs he journey will be easier than if they are not. It is possible, though not guaranteed, that the players will encounter Gundar's Gandits who will attempt to capture the players and sell them into slavery. The players may also encounter a Tropican Desert Patrol made up of troops loyal to Ming. The end goal of the area is for the group to recruit Gundar and his men, but that requires role playing and/or defeating the Tropican Desert Patrol. The description of the Desert and the possible encounters are abstract enough that they could easily inspire several sessions of roleplaying -- with a robust system like Savage Worlds -- all it lacks is a nice random encounter generator like the one found in The Day After Ragnarok to fill in the holes.

In essence, the Flash Gordon role playing game includes one or more major encounters for each geographical region of Mongo. As they players wander from place to place, they can/will face these challenges. What is inspired, and ahead of its time, about this structure is that the encounters are "story plot points" that must be achieved but can be achieved in the order of the player's choosing. There is room for exploration of the world at the same time that the players are succeeding at mandatory plot points. It is a narrative campaign without the railroading. Pinnacle Entertainment Group uses a similar structure in their Rippers, Slipstream, and Necessary Evil campaigns. It is a system that allows for narratively meaningful and fun play without the need for extraordinary planning on the part of the Game Master. All it lacks is a method, like the random encounter generator I mentioned above that is used by most plot point campaign systems, to fill in the scenes between the set pieces. Though it should be noted that there is sufficient information within the Flash Gordon rpg to easily construct a set of encounter generators with very little work.


Criticisms regarding the underlying conflict mechanical system, or lack thereof, are spot on when it comes to Flash Gordon. Character generation and conflict resolution lack any feeling of consequence or depth. BUT...If you want a campaign road map to use with another game system, preferably a fast-furious-and-fun one or a "narrativist" one, then this product is a deep resource. It will save you from having to read pages and pages of the old Alex Raymond strip in order to get an understanding of all of the minor details necessary for the creation of a campaign. You should certainly read the Alex Raymond strips, they are wonderful, but reading them should never be made to feel anything remotely like work. Bizar and Carter have done the work in presenting the campaign setting, all you have to do is adapt it to your favorite quick and dirty rpg mechanical set.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Coming to Kickstarter Next Week: Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid

Renegade Game Studios (CLANK!, Kids on Bikes, Overlight) has teamed up with Hasbro and will be launching a new Power Rangers board game on August 14th. The release comes just in time for Power Morphicon, which takes place in Anaheim the week after the game launches. Renegade will be attending the con and there will be playable demos there

The game, Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid, is a co-operative board game designed by Jonathan Ying (Star Wars: Imperial Assault, Doom: The Boardgame) that challenges 2-5 players to save Angel Grove from Rita Repulsa’s evil army of monsters. The game features the classic line up of Rangers and like many games launched on Kickstarter features over-sized plastic miniatures.

The preliminary digital renderings of the miniatures look fantastic, so this game is following the trend set by Cool Mini or Not, IDW, and other publishers who use the platform. The game is scheduled for release in the Spring of 2019 and is designed to play in 45 minutes to an hour.

I look forward to watching the Kickstarter proceed and seeing the full array of miniatures and expansions that Renegade Game Studios will be offering.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Is it Explosively Good? A Review of Brian McClellan's POWDER MAGE Role Playing Game.

Readers of my posts here at Advanced Dungeons and Parenting know that I am a big fan of the Savage Worlds role playing game. It's an easy to learn and simple to play game that is remarkably flexible. This flexibility allows the Savage Worlds rules set to be used as the basis of games set in a wide range of genres. The system can handle everything from gritty low magic fantasy to cosmic powered super heroes without missing a beat. The characters from each campaign may not fit well in the other campaign due to scaling issues, but the mechanics work seemlessly in each setting.

I am also a fan of Brian McClellan's Powder Mage trilogy and was hooked from the first few pages of The Promise of Blood (link goes to the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore, one of the best independent book stores out there). McClellan manages in the trilogy, and later books in the setting, to achieve something rare in fantasy fiction. He is able to tell stories of "regular folk" in addition to the epic heroes at the center of the tale. From a role playing game point of view The Powder Mage trilogy alternates point of view characters between characters at vastly different power levels, but the lower powered characters are as important to the resolution of the conflict as the most powerful characters. It is one of the most impressive things about this inventive series, and it is something that makes it perfect for the Savage Worlds system.

The Powder Mage's Challenge to Game Design

Before I get too deep into a review of Brian McClellan's role playing game adaptation, I'd like to take a moment to discuss the particular challenge anyone adapting The Powder Mage trilogy into a game faces due to the varying power levels in the tales. As I mentioned above, McClellan has characters in his book that operate on at least three levels of power. I would classify these tiers in the following way.

1) "Normal" Skilled Characters.
2) Experienced Characters with Minor Boon/Ability.
3) Characters with Extraordinary Powers.
4) Characters with Extraordinary Powers at Super Heroic Levels.
5) Gods.

With the exception of the God tier, more on that later, there are characters of deep narrative importance at every tier. In other words, there are characters I would classify as Player Character worthy at each of these tiers and McClellan does a great job of balancing them narratively. Interestingly, this dilemma is one of the things that makes Savage Worlds the perfect system for the game.

At the first tier of power are characters like SouSmith and Ricard Tumblar. SouSmith is a boxer who gets hired as a bodyguard for someone at tier 2 and Tumblar is one of the most politically powerful characters in the world. These would be standard characters in a picaresque low-magic fantasy campaign. Adamat and Sergeant (later higher rank) Olem are paragons of the tier two characters. Experience wise, and skill wise, these characters are similar to tier 1, but they have something that sets them apart called a knack. For Adamat it's a perfect memory and for Olem it's the fact that he doesn't need to sleep. These characters can also use their "third eye" to see magic. Most of the "knacked" of the books are at tier 2, but there are some who are higher.

Tier's 1 and 2 are the low fantasy tiers and tier 3 is where you really begin to see people separate in power. All "privileged" mages and many Powder Mages fall into this group. There are some Powder Mages at tier 2 and some at tier 4 to 5, but most are in the mid-tier 3 range. These are characters who have the same number of skills as other characters, but who also possess magic abilities that allow them to destroy buildings with the wave of a hand. I initially wondered whether Savage Worlds' basic magic system could emulate "privileged" mages, but after comparing the dice of damage from a cannon blast (3d6+1 HW on pg 65 of the Deluxe Explorer's Edition) with that of Burst (2d10 HW) and Blast (2d6 or 3d6 HW), those concerns went away. The Burst spell has destructive power slightly less than a modern 20mm cannon and Blast has slightly less power than a medieval cannon. While neither is going to tear apart a modern Abrams tank, they both will make quick work of a Jeep or medieval building. There are a number of characters at this level of power in the book.

Tier 4 characters are like tier 3 characters on steroids. Where a standard "privileged" mage can make short work of the facade of a house, a "predeii" can lay waste to the entire building and bullets bounce of their skin without the aid of a magic shield. Similarly, the Powder Mage Taniel can withstand the assaults of a predeii and amplify his strength and agility to levels beyond that of mere mortals.

The Gods themselves come in at tier 5. I won't go into detail about the Gods of The Powder Mage trilogy, but I will say that they are a key focus of the conflicts in the books and that they are not so far removed from tier 4 as to make them uninteresting. Whether some other characters fall in at tier 5 I'll leave for you to discover.

The Powder Mage Roleplaying Game as Sourcebook

One of the things that becomes immediately clear as one reads Brian McClellan's Powder Mage Roleplaying Game is that the author himself has written much of the content. As a sourcebook discussing the history of the world and giving you a rich sense of place in order to set your games, this book is invaluable. Based on this content alone, I would recommend this book as a purchase for gamers and non-gamers who are fans of the series. McClellan's presentation of the setting is as readable as the fiction and the team has selected some excellent artists to capture The Powder Mage setting. If you want to know the state of the world after The Powder Mage trilogy, then this is the place for you.

But How is It as a Game

If there is any place where Powder Mage fails, it is as a role playing game book. While the lore is all there to inspire play, there aren't enough mechanics to make this book as useful as it could be. Alan Bahr, who is a very good designer and who is on an absolute tear when it comes to putting out good books lately, dropped the ball a little bit here. While he does provide some of the new rules one expects in a Savage Worlds rpg setting, new Background Edges for example, there are some weaknesses in these examples and some major holes in the book.
After a very strong beginning, a discussion of the goals of good gaming and how to use the X-card in your games, the character creation session begins to peter out in the background edges section as it tries to adapt the Powder Mage archetype to the Savage Worlds rules. In doing so it attempted to create a new subsystem rather than fit the archetype within the existing subsystems Savage Worlds had to offer. In this particular case, the character reads more like the Gunslinger from Pathfinder/Critical Role and less like a Powder Mage. Bahr and McClellan might have been better served to use the Super Powers Companion or see how the standard magic system fit with the archetype. Given the power tiers above, I think that most Powder Mages are easily represented by the standard magic system and that outliers like Taniel are better represented using the Super Powers Companion. The same would be said of predeii and the Gods.

That is a mere disagreement of design, and is a minor one at that. Bahr and McClellan's point system for Powder Mages does work, and well, even if it's not how I would do it. If that was the largest failing of the book, I wouldn't have mentioned it in the first place. Since it is actually the smallest flaw, I did choose to point it out.

If that's the smallest flaw, then what is the biggest one? The biggest flaw is that as useful as the book is for players and book fans, having rules for character creation and a detailed gazetteer, it isn't as useful as it needs to be for game masters. One of the things that Savage Worlds game masters have been spoiled by is how the game's Fast, Furious, and Fun mantra has influenced how useful the books are to GMs with only small windows of prep time. Pick up any official Savage Worlds world book and you'll find quick and dirty adventure generators, a short adventure made of linked events, and enough NPCs to make a short campaign. This is what Brian McClellan's Powder Mage Roleplaying Game lacks entirely.

While the game does include a couple of very fun, and easy to start a campaign, short adventures, it completely lacks a bestiary or the quick and dirty adventure generators one would find in The Goon, Necessary Evil, 50 Fathoms, etc. Worst of all, the book entirely lacks statistics for "Wardens" of either the standard or "black powder" variety. Given how ubiquitous Wardens are as opponents in the books, and the fact that there is a Warden on the cover of the role playing game, this is a pretty large drop of the ball. I had high hopes for this game, and backed it at the $65 level, but it did not live up to those expectations.
Final Assessment

Does this mean that it's not worth a purchase? Not at all. For the setting material alone, this book is well worth the price of at least the pdf. What this book needs is a couple of pdf supplements written just for GMs. They don't have to be long and could be limited to a bestiary and adventure generator, but they would really fill out the holes in the initial release. It's 85% of were it needs to be as a game and 110% of where it needs to be as a sourcebook.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Remembering RPG Campaigns Past -- Meet The Crusaders

When I was and undergraduate at the University of Nevada, Reno I ran a DC Heroes campaign that lasted for a couple of years. It is the most successful superhero campaign I've ever run. I had the luck to have a great group of gamers who were willing to cut loose and have a great time with the genre and who felt free to push the limits of the DC Heroes game system. This campaign is one of the reasons that I think DC Heroes is the best set of rules to play a superhero game, though Marvel Saga System comes in a close second.

The premise of the campaign was pretty simple. I wanted to run a game where the characters were on the same power level as the Justice League, minus Superman and Wonder Woman, and I wanted the game play to have a touch of the feel generated by the Giffen/Maguire/DeMatteis run in the Justice League books. I wanted a mix of action and comedy. To be honest, based on my experience in running RPGs, I knew the comedy would come whether I wanted it or not. It's is the DM's Lament to want to run a game that captures the epic tales of the Eddas and Beowulf only to end up with Monte Python's Holy Grail. Instead of fighting that tendency, I decided to roll with it. The title of the campaign was Justice League: Auxiliary. The premise being that the characters were members of the Justice League, as then managed by Maxwell Lord, but where the second string of the team.

What a team it was too. The membership included an interesting mix of characters about whom my wife (girlfriend at the time) drew a couple of cartoon strips that ran in the school paper The Sagebrush. That brief strip was called "Meet the Crusaders" for obvious copyright reasons.  Over the next few days, I'll be presenting the Crusaders to you and will be including statistics for them for a number of role playing games. The primary games I'll be using to emulate the characters are Wizards of the Coast's excellent 4e based Gamma World game and Pinnacle Entertainment Group's Savage Worlds.

First, let me introduced the team to you.


Gabriel was character who believed himself to be the Archangel Gabriel and who exacted swift justice on any he viewed to be in violation of his very strict code of morality. During a battle with the god Ares, he attempted to use his Aura of Fear power and ended up not only succeeding at cowing Ares but in causing the entire continent of Europe to quiver in fear as his pushing of the power extended the aura over the entire geographic area. The character was played by my good friend, and best man at my wedding, Matt.


One of the great things about the DC Heroes system was it's ability to make almost any superhero and my friend Robert's character Aquarius was one that really demonstrated the strength of the rules. Robert wanted to play a super strong character who was a living water elemental and who could transform his hands into any weapon he imagined. In this particular case, the powers were called Omni-Arm, Density Increase, Dispersal, and Water Control powers. Robert was a relatively new gamer at the time, and had never played a superhero game before, so in the early sessions he tended to limit his use of Omni-Arm to turning his hands into sledge hammers. That changed soon enough.

This is just a glimpse at two of the members of the team. I want to save the other strips for when I present each member's statistics, so you will be seeing these strips again as well as those for Jynx, Vanguard, Spirit, and perhaps the most bizarre superhero ever made...Jody's beloved "Less" who was a character inspired by John Carpenter's THE THING and Larry Cohen's THE STUFF. Who is Less? Why is Less called Less? You'll have to wait for his entry.

To bide you over until the next entry, and I promise it will be soon, here is a glimpse at what the Gamma World statistics sheet (page 1) will look like.