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Petri Wessman's weblog

Minireview: Stunning Eldritch Tales (Trail of Cthulhu)

Stunning Eldritch Tales is a pulp-themed collection of scenarios for Trail of Cthulhu. While only some of them are investigation-heavy, they all seem quite well suited for the ruleset and show how the designers see the rules being used (the text contains lots of help for the GM in that regard).

Devourers in the Mist opens up the collection, presenting a somewhat Lost-like scenario; the PCs are stranded on a mysterious island after a shipwreck, and must try to survive. While not the strongest scenario here, it’s somewhat unusual (in a good way) and would be a nice one-shot to run at a convention, for example.

Shanghai Bullets is more traditional, with the PCs trying to solve a murder in Shanghai and avoid getting murderized themselves. While it’s not a Shanghai sourcebook, it does offer some period info about the place in a compact fashion, probably enough for a GM to wing it. Since this is (also) a pulpish scenario, historical accuracy isn’t the most important element. It reads like a fun scenario, with lots of options in how the PCs approach things.

Death Laughs Last is also a murder mystery, but this one is set in New York and involves the death of a relatively wealthy philanthropist with a mysterious past. The pulp elements come from the presence of masked crimefighters on the city streets, which isn’t exactly Cthulhu as generally depicted. Regardless, these is a Mythos connection, and the scenario itself is good.

Lastly we get Dimension Y, my favorite of the bunch, in which the PCs get to witness a scientific experiment go awry and have to deal with the fallout. The characters are interesting, there is a tight timetable for the PCs (with bad repercussions if they just dawdle about), and the whole thing fits together quite nicely.

Overall, a fun collection of quality scenarios. The only connecting factor between them is the “pulp” motif, otherwise they are totally standalone and separate from each other.

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Minireview: Rough Magicks (Trail of Cthulhu)

Rought Magicks is a magic rules supplement for Trail of Cthulhu. Now, I haven’t actually read the ToC rules yet, but I have some familiarity with the Gumshoe system, so I could more or less understand what was going on here. Apparently the base magic rules given in the core book are either very minimal or completely missing, thus the need for this supplement.

Since it’s written by Ken Hite, there is a certain expectation of quality here, and I wasn’t disappointed. Ken examines the various ways in which magic is presented in Lovecraft’s work, and then gives the GM various tools to simulate those effects. Best of all, many of the “how does magic work?” systems and explanations given here are (intentionally) contradictory, the expectation is that the GM will mix and match to get something suitably mysterious and creepy for his/her game. I like this approach, since “deterministic magic” is a mood-killer for a game like Cthulhu. Here, the players really won’t know what to expect, with the small downside that the GM has to do a small bit of prepwork in advance.

It’s compact, well-written and useful. If you’re running Trail of Cthulhu, you almost certainly want a copy of this.

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Minireview: Maiden, Mother, Crone (Pathfinder "Reign of Winter" 3/6)

With Maiden, Mother, Crone, the “Reign of Winter” adventure path hits its midpoint. The adventure is a mix of good and… well, missed opportunities. The plot has the PCs arrive in farr-away Iobaria via the Tardis-like Dancing Hut (a very cool element), and on arrival they are surrounded by a threat they have no hope of vanquishing. It’s here that the PCs get a taste of the Hut’s extra capabilities, in the offensive department. That dealt with, the PCs meet up with a tribe of centaurs, which is assumed to be a somewhat friendly encounter but could fo course go horribly awry. From there, their quest to find a critically important “key” for the Hut leads them to a trio of vast statues carved into the mountainside, depicting the classic “maiden, mother and crone” trio of “Fates”. Lo and behold, these statues turn out to contain cavern networks, making the end portion of this outing into a dungeon crawl.

The first half is quite interesting, and provides multiple sorts of encounters for the PCs. The second half is a bit less so, even though for a dungeon crawl it’s a pretty good one – the “dungeon” consists of three interconnected parts, via teleports, and has the potential for totally confusing any explorers. The inhabitants are also quite interesting, with a detailed backstory. One the minus side, it’s not all that likely that the PCs will ever discover that backstory or the details of the somewhat intricate internal politics of the statue internal environments. That’s a pity, because here it’s quite well designed. Of course, the fact that over half of the adventure consists of this dungeon crawl takes away a bit from the initial “exploring alien location” vibe, since these caverns could basically be located anywhere.

Overall, pretty good.

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Minireview: Mummy the Curse

White Wolf (and now Onyx Path) have a long history of games called “Mummy”; what started out as just a weird little add-on for the first edition of the World of Darkness later spawned a second edition and even later grew into a separate (though small) game line called Mummy: the Resurrection. All of these games featured immortal beings, “mummies”, who are immortal in an interesting way. They can die, but they always come back. Spawned in ancient Egypt, they pursue their own agendas and (very rarely) interact with other WoD supernatural beings.

Mummy: the Curse is a new version of that base idea, for the “new” World of Darkness. Like many of the other new versions of old game titles, it takes the same basic idea but then goes into very different directions with it. Here, the results are quite excellent, though I cannot really compare with Mummy: the Resurrection since I don’t own that book.

Here, mummies are still ancient, immortal beings, originating in ancient Egypt. The origin story is different, but in basic terms the main idea is the same. The details, however, are very different, in an interesting way. The main innovation is the balanced forces of Memory and Sekhem. Memory is the “morality” stat here, while Sekhem measures raw magical power. Now, in more normal rpgs a new character would start off with a fairly high “morality” (i.e. Memory) and a low power level (Sekhem). Not so here, quite the opposite. A “new” character is assumed to be a Mummy who just woke up from potentially very lengthy slumber, and they start off with zero Memory and maximum (ten) Sekhem. As a result, new Mummy characters have no memory of who they are and what they should be doing, and very poor self-control… but they have vast amounts of power. In other words, they actually mirror the rampaging semi-mindless horrors from movies. A bit later, Memory starts to rise, giving the Mummy (and the player) some glimpses of the being’s past life and providing more stability – but on the flip-side, Sekhem starts to go down, slowly. When, usually much later, Sekhem hits zero, the Mummy needs to enter slumber again, to await the next trigger event.

What is that trigger event that wakes a Mummy up? It could be some looter stealing one of his/her artifacts (ancient artifacts play a big role in this game). If could be his/her cult, if one exists, enacting rituals means to wake the “master”; usually this means that the cult is in big trouble, which does not always combo well with a just-woken, potentially rampaging monster with no memories.

In game terms, all this is an awesome setup, and turns the old “zero-to-hero” trope on its head. The PCs start of at the height of their powers, and must do whatever it is that they were woken up to do before that power runs out. In other words, it also provides a “game clock” to keep the PCs moving. Memory and Sekhem aren’t tightly bound together, a drop of one point in one does no automatically mean a raise in the other. They just are hooked to mechanics which will, eventually, raise Memory and lower Sekhem. How fast? That depends on a lot of factors, some of them withing player control.

It’s a big book, and not exactly a light read (though it is quite well-written). There’s simply a lot fo stuff here to digest, and the fact that the writers chose to use Egyptian terminology and names doesn’t help. Don’t get me wrong, I very much like the use of Egyptian terminology here, it’s a nice touch, it’s just that since those words aren’t familiar to me I found myself constantly trying to remember what was what. Most of the page count goes towards describing the background story, character creation, and the rules mechanics, but there’s also a short intro scenario provided. It’s decent.

This is a very cool game. It’s also not for everyone, putting it in the same “very cool but difficult” category where Promethean sits. Some of the difficulty comes from the unusual basic setup, and some from the fact that the GM has a lot of control here and needs to provide a large part of who the PCs are. Remember, the PCs initially remember nothing of their origins, and it’s the GM’s job to figure that out and make sure that origin has lots of interesting stuff in it. Some players, and some GMs, may not be comfortable with this much GM control in the character design. The game is very much about memory, and about figuring out who you are, and what you want to do; ancient rituals bind each Mummy somewhat, but they all have a choice of what they want to be. A rebel, or a willing servant of ancient forces, cast in a world which bears no resemblance to their origins.

It should be noted that while there is an antagonist faction (of sorts) provided, these mummies are more than capable of being true monsters themselves. They initially have no memory and little control, leading to scenes possibly like Vampiric frenzy. Later, they regain some of what they were… but what they were usually has nothing to do with modern concepts of human rights or morals. Some may sacrifice children to ancient gods as a matter of course, as something all civilized beings do. Some may do worse. These are not modern people who just happen to be immortal, they are supernatural products of an ancient, long-vanished culture…. which brings us back to: “this game is not for everyone”. It’s probably somewhat challenging to run and play. That said, I was very impressed with this new resurrection of the ancient “Mummy” game line, it’s a very innovative game.

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Minireview: Mummy (World of Darkness)

Mummy is a (very) old World of Darkness book, actually published before the first Werewolf game. It gives us the first glimpse at mummies, later expanded into more substantial books and small game lines. While it’s old and quite thin, it’s not bad. Many details have changed since this book came out, but the core concepts behind classic World of Darkness mummies are here: mystic immortals, with their origins in ancient Egypt. While vampires are also immortal, this is immortality of a different and more substantial sort: these guys may die now and then, but they always come back. Often, angry.

The book details their origin story, or at least one version of it, as narrated by a possibly-unreliable narrator. The same ritual which created mummies also created their “evil” versions, the so-called “Bane Mummies”, giving the “true” mummies a natural antagonist group. There aren’t all that many mummies wandering around, which limits their use in rpg terms, especially as PCs. Yes, the book actually contains character creation rules for these, which surprised me a bit. In reality, the main use case for this book is providing a new set of weird NPCs (allies or antagonists) for a PC group consisting of vampires or werewolves. And as such, it’s quite decent. If you actually want to play as mummies, the later incarnations of this book are probably better bets (or the new Mummy: the Curse game which has a somewhat different take on things).

The only really weird bit here is the fiction surrounding the chapters, in which a vampire meets a mummy (with no prior knowledge of these beings), and said mummy proceeds to tell the narrator all about himself and his origins. “Yes, you are a vampire, how nice, sit down and let me tell you all about out ancient and secretive group!”. It’s all very artificial. I usually like the old-WoD style of doing in-character narrations on various subjects, I find it often works better than a dry “objective” text… but here, it all gets a bit silly.

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Minireview: The Shackled Hut (Pathfinder "Reign of Winter" 2/6)

The new “Reign of Winter” adventure path hits its stride with The Shackled Hut, the second installment. Here, the PCs have been transported to a far-off land via a magic portal, and their only hope of returning home is linked to solving the current threat of a perma-winter which is somehow linked to the Witch-Queen Baba Yaga. Stuff to do, people to kill, situation normal.

It’s a fairly strong adventure, with only the end portion being a bit muddled and railroady. Things start off with a wilderness section, where the PCs meet up with some potentially friendly NPCs. Assuming they make friends and don’t automatically attack everything that moves, they should be able to gain helpful information for the later stages, and maybe get some other help too. The problem being that Baba Yaga’s hut (yes, that famous one) is chained up in Whitethrone, the totalitarian-style capital of Irrisen, with Baba Yaga herself nowhere to be seen. So the PCs need to make their way to the hut and figure out how it works, despite heavy guard and being strangers in a strange land (which is under martial law, to boot).

The best part here is the hut itself. While it’s outwardly like the standard mythical thing (chicken legs, all that), inside it’s… very different. Think TARDIS, not “Russian peasant hut” (though it’s a bit of both). It will form the base for of the rest of the adventure path, and the PCs will get very used to it… to the extent that it’s possible to get used to it, due to its fluid nature. Fun stuff.

The worst part is the ending, which has a “boss fight” which seems a bit forced, along with railroady elements designed solely to stop alternate solutions by the PCs and to force said fight. It’s a bit stupid, but it’s easy enough to change, and the rest of the module makes up for the somewhat uneven ending.

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Minireview: Torchbearer

Torchbearer is an interesting and somewhat unusual game. Designed by Thor Olavsrud and Luke Crane (of Burning Wheel fame), it’s a “dungeon crawl roleplaying game and love letter to Basic D&D”, from the original Kickstarter blurb… and it really is that. On the other hand, thinking of it as a D&D clone is misleading. It starts off from the same premise as the original D&D: “dungeons” (i.e. caverns) filled with hostile creatures and deadly traps. From there, D&D slowly evolved into more of a super hero game, over each iteration, to the extent where nowadays “D&D” evokes images of hack’n’slash monster killing, then looting the corpses. The classic “murder hobos”, using an rpg.net -coined term. Sure, D&D had tons of rules for logistics and the environment itself: encumbrance rules, all sorts of environment variables, rules for light sources, etc etc. If you ran Basic D&D strictly by the book, it would be brutal. Thing is, pretty much nobody ran it that way, most people just skipped the logistics and proceeded to mash monsters. And that’s fine… but not what Torchbearer is about. In Torchbeaerer, logistics is what makes or breaks your expedition, and the environment is at least as dangerous as the monsters are. In other words, it takes the initial setup and tropes of D&D, and walks off in a completely different direction. This is both awesome and a potential source of problems.

The game actually has the PCs playing those “murder hobos”, people so poor and desperate that they will do anything, even venture into nasty, cold holes in the ground looking for loot. Because the alternative is starving, and that’s no fun. Initial characters have no resources other than a few basic supplies (plus weapon and such), and hope to strike it rich and retire to live the fancy life. Few do.

The system is complex. It says so right in the book, page 4:

“This is a hard game. It’s not a simple game. There are many moving parts and it’s not possible to experience the whole game in one or even two sessions. If you prefer lighter games, there are many other excellent choices available for you designed by our friends.”

so there’s that. It’s clearly a system meant for campaign play, which means that on the flipside it’s not ideal for one-shots. You could think of it as “Advanced Mouse Guard” in complexity, and while it is less complex than full Burning Wheel, it has the appearance of in-your-face complexity since it’s not modular like BW; you need to learn all the moving parts, at once. Well, most of them anyway.

Since it’s a Burning Wheel game, it’s very “gamist” and has subsystems and mechanics that strongly push for a certain type of play (and limit others). I’m fine with this, but some people, more used to freeform “the GM describes stuff, the players say what they do, and the GM comes up with something” sort of playstyle, may find the rules limitations hard to swallow. This is not a game that everyone will like, I think it’s safe to say… and the same goes for all of Luke Crane’s games, they are an acquired taste. I personally like them, quite a bit. With some caveats.

As an example of the rules, the main game loop has the concept of the Grind. After every four tests (by anyone), the PCs all get a Condition. The first one is “Hungry and Thirsty”, and it escalates from there. So yes, parties doing as lot of tests will need a lot of supplies. And yes, this may become a bit strange at times, but it’s important to put it in context: in Torchbearer, you only test if it’s something important. Looking for a secret door? The GM only asks for a test if there’s something there to be found. And so on. Also, many tests will take quite a bit of game time to perform, so “hungry / thirsty after 4 tests” isn’t actually all that strange most times, especially since just drinking some water gets rid of it. It’s the Conditions after that which start to be nasty and are harder to get rid of, but as long as you’re stocked with supplies, those don’t escalate so easily. But yes, supplies matter. Also, all take up a slot or slots on your character sheet, and there’s a very limited number of slots. It’s sort of like some computer rpg games, in that regard.

Also, you need some “checks” in order to make a camp, and you only get these by using your own Traits against yourself (example: “I take away one die from this sneak roll, since I’m so Proud that I have trouble remembering to hide”). Whether or not you succeed in the test, you get a “check”, which you can use to “buy” certain things while making camp (trying to heal, for example). Yes, there’s a separate Camp phase (and also Town phase, etc). This is mechanic that I’m split on: on one hand, I like the game mechanic, it forces you to roleplay your traits in negative ways, which is cool. On the other hand, there is no logical connection between it and what it enables. Why do I need to act in a certain (detrimental) way in order to be able to later heal myself? Makes no sense. So while I understand the need for the mechanic from the game viewpoint, I wish it was done via some other mechanism (no ideas on that front, though).

Anyway, those are just a few examples of how unconventional this game is. There are tons of unconventional (but, largely, very cool) mechanics here. For example, conflicts are handled as a group instead of character-by-character, but each character gets the spotlight and gets to use his/her special stuff. Also, the conflict mechanic is the same for armed conflict, arguments and even stuff like running away. It’s all a conflict, resolved via the same mechanism. This rocks, and it’s very fast in practice.

Having read the game, I wanted to try it out, so I got some players together and ran them through a one-shot (yes, I noted earlier that this game isn’t best at one-shots). The results were less than impressive: the players felt frustrated by the rules, and focused on minimizing the Grind… which led to all sorts of non-fun things, like optimization of tests and the “only the best skill in the group ever gets to try” syndrome. This was partly my fault, I over-explained the rules beforehand (instead of jumping to the action as fast as possible), and also over-emphasized the Grind (making the players wary of it). In addition, I didn’t know the rules well enough. There were some fun scenes in that game, but the result wasn’t too satisfying to anyone.

To their credit, the players said that they’d like to try again. So I read up on the rules a lot more, got a lot of great tips from the Burning Wheel forums, and tried another one-shot (the game from the core book, “Under the Inn of Three Squires”. The result, this time, was spectacularly different. The players (as agreed after our last game) didn’t fixate on the Grind too much and focused more on roleplaying, and the fact that this time around I knew the rules better helped a lot too. We had a lot of fun, and the PCs managed to save the day and walk away from that one without a scratch on them (I think they only had one Angry condition at the end). Plus, they got loot.

Things we liked, paraphrased from the player comments:

  • combats don’t dominate the game time, more gaming time was spent in camp logistics and roleplay
  • the same mechanic can handle a lot of stuff
  • the fact that character level advancement is strictly tied to roleplaying-related mechanics is nice, there is no “XP”
  • characters improve a small bit at a time, leading to a feel of character growth, which leads to nice campaign play support. Skills advance when you use them, so characters may change and improve in somewhat unexpected direction (since you can actually learn any skill).
  • after the initial steep learning curve, the base mechanics are actually quite lightweight

Things people were iffy about

  • there are lots of moving parts, are all of them really needed? (not sure on this myself… “maybe”?)
  • the fact that the cleric has zero player-chosen “spells” on first level was seen as a bit too weak by a player (they only have a “turn undead” style thingy)
  • managing what the characters are carrying is a bit cumbersome, could use some sort of helper system (whiteboard? tokens?)
  • the pre-generated Halfling character seemed semi-useless at first (“Cooking? Wtf?”), but second time around the player found him a lot less useless.

From a GM viewpoint:

  • the game offloads a lot of book-keeping to the players, making this one actually a relatively lightweight thing to run (after initial learning curve, which is steep)
  • monster stat boxes are nicely done, running combats and other conflicts is easy

In the end, I like this game quite a bit, and I’m thinking of maybe doing something more with it. I can recommend it, but please be aware that it’s not a D&D clone and that it has a ton of mechanics, many of them unusual. If you or your players are allergic to “gamist” systems, and are unwilling to narrate the gap between the rules and the game world (i.e. add color and improvisation to “why” and “how” something happens), you’ll probably end up hating this.

To people already familiar with and fond of Burning Wheel and/or Mouseguard: you’ll probably like this game, too. It’s a more complicated version of Mouseguard, tuned for gritty and grim dungeon exploration. There’s even a Mouseguard-inspired “Winter” phase, in addition to the semi-abstract Town phase.

It’s not a boring game. You’ll have an opinion about this one, after running or playing it.

Added: I also wrote about our experiences on the Burning Wheel forum, but be warned that that writeup contains spoilers for the scenario!

Added: Luke Crane posted the following on a related G+ comment thread, reposted here with permission:

“Let’s talk about checks being divorced from the fiction!

It seems like there’s no direct relationship between using a trait against yourself and camp activities.

I think the relationship is steel-linked, like mail. Using a trait against yourself makes your character more interesting to the audience. A character who is more interesting is rewarded with a little more screen time during the quieter moments of the game.

Using traits necessitates engaging with the fiction. They cause the spotlight to shine on you for a moment. That fiction then takes us, circuitously, to camp in which we get to see a little more about you.

So there’s no direct ‘drinking healing potion, regain HP’ link, but there is a strong connection written in the fiction.”

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Minireview: Fiasco and Fiasco Companion

Fiasco is an interesting and quite brilliant little game. It provides structure for building and playing short stories with themes inspired by movies from the Coen brothers (Fargo, Burn After Reading, etc): stories where plans, often bad ones to begin with, go disastrously wrong and one bad turn leads to another, which leads to a total fiasco. It’s meant purely for one-shots, with one game taking up 2-3 hours of time. No GM is needed, and no prepwork. Despite all this, it’s very much a role-playing game, though an unconventional one.

Game is structed in a fairly unique way. Each game in based on a “playset”, which contains a basic premise and a set of (very simple) tables which are used to generate the initial characters and things they interact with. The book comes with several playsets, and there are tons of them available via Drivethru and other sources. There’s even one which is set in the Paranoia game world, and another one set in the Dresden Files world (with the “tilt” being that Harry Dresden shows up and breaks everything). But I digress. Actual play proceeds with each player getting two turns, during which they can either set a scene (in which case the other players decide how it resolves) or resolve one (in which case the other players generate the initial scene). The scenes themselves are resolved via roleplay, there are no mechanics involved in this. The game does have mechanics, but they have to do with generating the initial setup and with determining what the final outcome is for each character.

After everyone has gone two rounds, we get the “tilt”… something which mixes things up, chosen by a certain player or players (as dictated by the game mechanics) from a table in the book. After this, we get a (rules-mandated!) snack break, during which everyone relaxes and (ideally) has an actual snack break. After this, play proceeds with another two rounds per player and an aftermath, where we resolve the final fate of the characters.

So yes, it’s very different from traditional roleplaying games; there’s a strict structure, and resolving each scene is done purely via roleplay and player group judgment instead of any sort of resolution mechanic. In many ways, it’s an organized form of doing improvisational story-telling… but at the core, you could say that that is at the core of many “traditional” rpgs, also. There is also a game element here, in the form of dice which are used to manipulate the final outcome, among other things.

Does it work? Hell, yes. Based on several different game sessions, it works amazingly well. You take a random group of people, allocate some hours for gameplay, and a weird and fun story emerges. Up to now we’ve only tried it out with people with prior (trad) rpg experience, but I don’t see why it couldn’t work with complete newbies, too. This game is so different to most others that prior rpg experience may even be a bit of a hindrance in the form of preconceptions about “what roleplaying games are like”.

It’s a fantastic little game. You should try it. Yes, you.

The Fiasco Companion is what you would expect from the title: extra stuff to help you with playing Fiasco games. It includes a bunch of new playsets, and lots of discussion on what works and how to troubleshoot things when they don’t. It also has notes on how to design your own playsets.

It’s an ok read, the playsets sound fun, and much of the advice sounds valid… but honestly, you don’t really need this book, There’s nothing here you actually need in the game, and some of the discussion comes off as a tiny bit pretentious (it talks about using rpgs in school classrooms as if this is a new idea, for example).

That said, I’d recommend this book if you intent to hack Fiasco in some direction or design your own playsets, I think the information here would be very helpful in that.

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Minireview: The Snows of Summer (Pathfinder "Reign of Winter" 1/6)

The Snows of Summer starts off the new winter-themed “Reign of Winter” adventure path. It promises to be an interesting romp, with Russian mythology mixed in with Tardis-like hops around the multiverse, featuring Baba Yaga (yes, that Baba Yaga). With those ingredients, it could also be a horrible mess.

Based on this first part, I’m optimistic. While it’s very linear and the initial hook is a bit weak, it’s otherwise a fine adventure and set in a type of locale not used all that often in these things. The tale has the Witch Queen Baba Yaga returning to the nation of Irrisen evert 100 years to place a (new) daughter of hers on the throne, and this time something has gone wrong; the old witch has not returned and an unnatural winter threatens to swallow neighboring nations, and perhaps the whole world. Enter the PCs, who discover a magic portal near a remote village, and get dumped in the middle of the action. There are some interesting NPCs, and more than a few dark secrets.

One of which is the truth behind what Baba Yaga has been up to, though the PCs are unlikely to get all the information on that, yet. The fact that one of the main drives of this adventure path is to go rescue a Bad Guy is… different. Not necessarily bad.

I liked the Russian folklore feel of much of this, and there’s potential here – though the adventure path’s intention to actually visit (our) Earth at a later point sounds like something that could be anything from “cool” to “ugh”. The thing to tweak here is the lack of real PC choices, they are just shoved through an extremely linear storyline with little say in the matter (or, more properly, no GM support for PCs refusing to follow the train tracks).

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Minireview: Nova Praxis

Nova Praxis is a new(ish) scifi roleplaying game, in the “post-cyberpunk / transhumanist” genre. I guess the closest comparison would be with Eclipse Phase, but where that game includes a strong horror element with humanity’s future survival as a species on the line, this one is more Mass Effect. The system is based on Strands of Fate (though modifed), and is thus a bit more crunchy than something like Fate Core. Not much, though, system-wise this is a fairly lightweight deal.

The game depicts a humanity forced to expand to the stars after Earth is destroyed in a “grey goo” scenario (runaway weaponized nanotech), which in turn was triggered by a Singularity (in the computational sense). An AI named “Mimir” becomes self-aware, and before shutting itself down for unspecified reasons it spews out a bunch of blueprints for ultra-advanced technologies (including stuff in the “star drive” category). Various factions scramble to gain (sole) possession of these, and the ensuing wars lead to Earth’s destruction. In the game’s “current day”, humanity is mainly ruled by “The Coalition”, a post-scarcity society composed of various Houses, remnants of old-Earth countries and megacorporations. Those unwilling to submit to the rule of the Coalition are called Apostates, some of which have a long-running guerilla war against the status quo. Player characters are expected to either be working for one of the Houses as “troubleshooters”, or to be Apostates “fighting the man”. Nothing strictly enforces this, of course, that’s just the default assumption.

On the organizational side, the book is very well put together, with information needed for (say) character creation being quite clearly outlined without too much need for page-flipping. The PDF is exceptional, with a massive amount of internal links; it’s probably the best example of what the PDF format can offer for tablet use. Well done, guys.

There is no default conflict in the game world, other than the Coalition vs Apostate one. The good point here is that neither of those is portrayed as the “good guy”, so there’s room for lots of types of stories. Just like Iain Banks’ “Culture” books, most of the interesting stuff tends to happen in the fringes of society. Emulating a “Culture”-type story (or “Mass Effect”) with this game would probably be quite easy.

All that said, I wasn’t totally thrilled with the game. There’s nothing wrong with it; it’s well-presented, has a solid game system, and allows for pretty much all current space opera / transhumanist tropes… but maybe that last bit is what bothered me a bit about this. The game copies ideas and concepts from all over (which is good), but in the end it’s just not very unique as a setting. Compared to, say, Eclipse Phase, this just feels a bit… bland. Of course, the GM will build his/her game on top of this base setting, and that game most probably won’t be bland at all. It’s a solid game, with much to recommend it, but a bit lacking in the “original ideas” department.

Regardless, I do recommend that you pick up a copy of the PDF. It’s extremely well presented.

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