Since it’s my birthday today, I’m going to be a little indulgent on the blog and review the last twelve games (or sets of games) I actually picked up. This is kind of a cheat-- a way to push myself to assess what I've actually picked up and what I might do with it. While this list doesn’t include things I’ve recently backed on Kickstarter, it does include a few Kickstarter items I’ve actually received in pdf or print format. These aren’t in any order
I’m a Rolemaster gamer from way back. I even ran a few sessions of it on The Gauntlet Calendar, if only to make the eyes of new players roll up into their heads. AtD is a Middle Earth Roleplaying retro-clone, with MERP being Rolemaster's lighter, more streamlined cousin I got this as a review copy because I was curious. And it is a beast.
The hardcover clocks in at over 500+ pages. My two initial impressions. One, it’s striking to read these rules with a clean and open text design. Everything from ICE, especially the early supplements, had a tiny font & wall of text approach. This gives room to breathe. Two, this game doubles down on the idea of races with physical and mental differences. This, combined with the oddness of some of the illustrations, made me flinch a little. I may try to run a series or even just a couple of sessions just to try it out.
I’m a big fan of the Glorantha fantasy setting (which I’ve talked about before), but I’m also pretty aware that the setting material is waaaaaay over the top and even the most simplified explanations of the material remain overwhelming for new people. But I love that weird detail, in the same way that people argue about crop rotations in Harn or chronologies of events in Forgotten Realms.
I saw a new community content release, Citizens of the Lunar Empire, a guide to everyday life in the capital city of the setting's big mystical empire. After picking that up I tumbled down a rabbit hole of other pdfs which I've spent the last couple of weeks burning through a guide to the Armies of Dragon Pass, a book on Heroquesting, several guides to the Malkioni of the West, and more. That led me to finally break down and order the two volume Guide to Glorantha, which is ludicrously huge and details.
I really want to play Glorantha, I wish any of the three available versions appealed to me.
I’m really glad I backed this KS collection of three survival centered zine rpgs: Screams Amongst the Stars (sci-fi), The Dead are Coming (zombie), and Running Out of Time (cyberpunk). Each uses the same basic core mechanics, but tweaks them and has the PCs operating with different resources. The zines are really well done—I've been more inclined to get zines in just pdf form, but the physical version's dynamite for these and I have no regrets spending the extra money. If you’ve liked Noguiera’s other work, you should really check out these simple, easy to get into, survival games. If I had to pick one, it’s probably be Running Out of Time in which your lifespan is literally your currency.
The main rulebook for this was a deal of the day last week—but I couldn’t tell from the blurb and sample how detailed the rules would be. I like the concept of a game where you play your character and an avatar (ala Persona or Jojo). I won’t say it's heavy, but the density and emphasis on combat look a little much for me. OOH I don’t know what I was expecting, these games are all about the clashes which means you probably want a sequenced combat system with tons of ability options.
Alice is Missing
Picked this up because I wanted to see how hard it will be to run online. I like the form factor and the game looks cool, but I keep bouncing off the rules. I need to give them another try—it’s not complicated but for some reason I’m not grokking it. I wonder if its something about having to mentally translate a tactile game for online play. This may be one of those cares where I really need to watch an actual play. Lots of folks love it so it will be worth the investment of time.
Goodman Games has done revised and expanded versions of some of the earliest D&D modules. Of them only ever really read through Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and this one, and I only played the former. But I had fond memories of Castle Amber, with its Fall of the House of Usher feel. And I’d loved how the whole d’Ambreville family saga had connected with the great later Known World stuff.
GG has done an amazing job with the material—adapting it to 5e, cleaning bits up, adding material. These are massive labors of love. Originally I thought maybe I’d take this and run it with 13th Age or Thousand Worlds. But I’d forgotten how much the dungeon/castle portion of it is a massive funhouse labyrinth with little reason or sense. The material for outside the castle’s more coherent, but I’d have a hard time doing the main piece without it feeling like a parody.
Armor Astir Advent
An interesting looking PbtA game about fantasy magical mecha. I downloaded the free playtest version of this from itch.io. It’s strong and interesting enough that the full version will be the next thing I pick up after I’ve caught my breath from all of the Zine Quest Kickstarters. The artwork for the full game looks great.
A good, fun, and cooperative Swiss Family Robinson-style rpg remains one of my white whale games. There are several interesting board games which do this well (Castaways, Robinson Crusoe). And the old Avalon Hill game Wilderness Survival influenced early D&D. But in real outdoor survival genre rpgs, there aren’t that many. Do Not Let Us Die In The Dark Night Of This Cold Winter comes to mind but I’m pressed to think of others.
So I had hopes for Cast Away. It’s interesting—highly mechanical but rules light. It feels like a skeleton which could hold more, But it’s clearly built for a one-shot, with the tension and focus of the game being on the death spiral. In that sense its more the movie Alive than Swiss Family Robinson.
Opera House (and Cabal)
A Kickstarter delivery—I backed for Opera House and got the earlier Cabal game with my backer level. I haven’t looked at the latter yet, but I’m digging Opera House. It’s a game where you play the backstage staff and workers for a massive theatre. There’s a fairly simple system, which could easily be tweaked or swapped over to something else. The real joy of the book is the material on what it’s like to do this kind of work.
That makes it a great resource for anyone wanting to do a theater-based adventure. But I also dig the possibility of a campaign where you’re desperately trying to get a production running in a world of weirdness. The book suggests under-levels where props and settings for old shows lie waiting to be excavated—and even lower than that where gremlins and other monsters live and sometimes make their way up to sabotage the PCs efforts. I want to do a Final Fantasy-style game with the players in a massive skyship theatre.
Star Trek Adventures Community Content
It’s been interesting to see multiple major companies open their doors to community content. On the one hand, I worry about authors signing away their rights to the material. I know some of the agreements in the past have felt predatory. On the other hand, it’s great to see new voices and ideas out there. On the other, other hand, it’s difficult to figure out what material’s actually useful and good.
There’s a surprising number of community adventures out there for STA. I picked up a bunch of these. Many are free. They’ve uneven, but several have great ideas. They generally follow Modiphius’ approach for scenarios—linearly written, lots of rolls. Some have very specific frame for play. But that aside you can find some good ideas to lift and rework for your own games if you get stuck.
Code & Dagger Revised
I continue to love Cryptomancer and I’m still anxiously awaiting the second edition of this underrated rpg. Last Year Chad Walker did a 1.5 version of the core book. Code & Dagger takes material from the two free 1.0 supplements he released in pdf form, revises it, and puts it out in a larger, PoD format. It’s good stuff and makes me want to run this again.
I spent many years playing Cyberpunk. Most of that time being done in fits and starts from my late friend Barry’s campaigns. He loved Cyberpunk 2020 and would start a campaign based on the latest supplement and then switch to something else when another came out. We bounded back and forth between R Talsorian and Ianus settings for a long time.
I had all the books but never ran it, except as adapted for a near future superhero game. I found the crunch of the equipment, combat, and netrunning too much for me as a GM, even in the 1990s. But I wanted to see what CP RED would be like—would it be a more modern take on the system, stick with old mechanics, or something else.
It’s thick—but more clearly laid out and better organized than the older material. There’s a real emphasis on clarity and usability. I love how much it offers for tools to create quick characters. I also dig the lifepath system presented here—it feels cleaner and more integrated than before. I haven’t had a chance to go through the updated background to see how that’s come along.
But I have looked through the mechanics and it way more granular, detailed, and equipment-listy than I want these days. In the 90s I would have loved this. The organization and presentation might have even gotten over my aversion to tech-number-crunching systems and gun-chrome-equipment fetishizing. But it’s not an rpg for the kind of player I am these days. And that’s OK—maybe I need to really learn to let go of this nostalgia or at least convert it into the kinds of games that are my speed these days.
There’s some irony to starting this post talking about a MERP retroclone and ending on that note.
Do you have a stack of rpgs you've bought but haven't read yet? What's on your list?