Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New Years Resolutions - More Updates

So it's coming to the time of year where we look back and figure out if we met our New Years resolutions. For those that can't recall mine were listed back here in January.

I'd always tagged this year as the year I get back into role-playing properly. So how'd I do on my scorecard?

Well I didn't make any of them for the timelines I set myself. It was May before I got involved in a game. Starting in May I got myself into a Pathfinder Society group and played. It was enjoyable. I did I think about 8 sessions before getting ill and stopping. Keep thinking about going back, but I haven't done so yet for some unknown reason.

I have however started running a game myself. A few weeks I ran a session of Star Wars: Edge of Empire Beginners Game. And you know what, despite it being the first game I've run in 7 years we all had a blast. Great game and system (ignore the comments on the proprietary dice, they work fabulously.) In fact it ran so well we've all agreed to do a campaign of it. As a result the first session of the campaign begins this Friday the 29th. So looking forward to it.

So did I make my resolutions? Not as written no. Have I been successful in this being the year I get back into role-playing? Yes. Not as successful as I'd have liked, but it's getting there and the future is bright.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Limited Roleplaying

For many of us we gather roleplaying games simply for the gaming. A new core book comes out, we grab it and game with it. The same with some of the supplements. There are also a lot of people out there that collect roleplaying games in order to read them as they find them fascinating, often I fall directly into this category. The third category that I've talked about before is the collector and all too often I fall squarely into this category as well.

Now not all collections are equal. Some collect complete game lines, some samples of everything and some rare and limited editions. Now I am a bit of a collector, but I don't have a huge range of the limited and rare editions. However I would like to share with you those that I do have.

Dune RPG

First up is possibly the greatest pride of my RPG collection, a copy of the Dune RPG from the late Last Unicorn Games. This was produced in a limited run of only 3,000 of which most were sold at GenCon 33 in 2000. A few hundred copies made their way overseas and were sold in conventions in Europe and Asia, but in very limited numbers. No one knows exactly how many for sure, but it's estimated that 150-200 copies made it to the UK (where I used to live) and were sold at the UK GenCon while it still existed.

Now I didn't get my copy there, I picked mine up about six months later on eBay for a sum that, well lets say it was squarely in the middle of the number Shannon Applecline quotes in his wonderful reference work Designers and Dragons. The funny thing about it is that I lived in Canterbury at the time, a small city of about 60,000 people, many of which are students. Despite being a small city representing maybe 1/1000th of the UK population, I knew of about 18 copies in that one city among the role-players there. It must have been some kind of Dune RPG nexus.

Shadowrun

Those who frequent this blog are probably quite aware that Shadowrun is a particular favourite game of mine. I've been playing it since it's first release and though I once sold my entire collection of it, have managed to rebuild to have an approximately 98% complete set. A couple of titles still elude me. 

Within Shadowrun I have the hard to come by and usually pretty expensive Universal Brotherhood. In addition I have four limited edition rulebooks;
  1. Shadowrun 4 Limited Edition
  2. Shadowrun 25th Anniversary Limited Edition
  3. Shadowrun 5 Limited Edition
  4. Shadowrun 5 Deluxe Limited Edition
And no, you can't have any of them.

Traveller

Traveller is one of those games where most of the books appear relatively cheaply in the usual places, eBay, Abe Books etc, and generally most of them aren't that hard to get hold of. The real rarities of the collection, the ones that go for the highest price and are most treasured by Traveller fans simply because of their sheer amazingness (yes it is a word, see it's written right there) are those produced by Digest Group Publications (DGP.) Yes, pretty much all of them. DGP were to Traveller what Pagan Published are to Call of Cthulhu, their products supplemented and exceeded the original publications they intended to support.

Now I don't have them all (if you have a copy of Solomani and Aslan you're willing to sell, I'm willing to talk) but I do have a few. I have a complete set of the Traveller's Digest and am missing only 1 Megatraveller Journal. However the pride and joy have to be Vilani and Vargr and especially Starship Operator's Manual Vol 1. If you ever get a chance to read Starship Operator's Manual, take it, it's one of the best supplements ever written for an RPG. Added to this are 101 Vehicles, World Builder's Handbook and The Flaming Eye campaign.

Rogue Trader

Rogue Trader, not to be mistaken for Rouge Trader the game of makeup sales, was the second of the Warhammer 40,000 RPGs produced by Fantasy Flight Games. When it became available I remember refreshing the site to see when the limited edition would go on sale and managed to snag a copy. They sold out pretty quickly, within 2 hours I believe it was which was slower than the limited edition Dark Heresy. 

Anyway I managed to get a copy of this and it's a great collectors item. It comes in a rather large box covered in star charts and sealed with some nice ribbon and metal clasps. Upon opening the box you are presented on one side with a section containing your personalized Warrant of Trade authorizing you as a trader in nice calligraphy (printed obviously,) complete with a fake resin seal of the double headed eagle from the High Lords of Terra.

On the other side in the main section of the box is a set of airlock doors, that are kept closed with small magnets (nice touch,) is a massive leather bound copy of the Rogue Trader rulebook with a printed silver Navigators symbol on the cover. The book contents (other than being numbered out of 1,000) are identical to the regular rulebook but is printed on much heavier stock, is silver edged and comes with a nice bound ribbon bookmark. Unfortunately the box is slightly damaged, one lower edge split a little in shipping, but it's slightly fragile and by all accounts none of them made it through the postal system intact. Fantasy Flight did offer to replace boxes for people, but I didn't see the point as I thought the same thing would just happen again and the damage is minor. It's not like I collect them to sell on at a later date.

Call of Cthulhu

Call of Cthulhu has it's share of rare items and sadly I have very few of them. I do have the original Horror on the Orient Express which has never been read and is in great condition (box slightly knocked) but the bottom dropped out of that market when they announced the new version. 

The best items in my CoC collection are probably some of those produced by Pagan Publishing, publishers of the best RPG supplements ever (even better than Starship Operator's Manual mentioned above by DGP.) Unfortunately I don't have a copy of the Golden Dawn (again if you have one you're willing to sell for less than the price of a new Aston Martin, let me know) but I do have a good if incomplete collection of original run The Unspeakable Oath's. None of the magical original 4 unfortunately, but from 6 onward my collection is almost complete (missing 11 for some odd reason.) 

The other nice items are copies of the original Eyes Only chapbooks for Machinations of the Mi-Go and The Fate. I've talked about these in my review of the collected Eyes Only book. Delta Green, the best RPG line I've ever read, and I have it complete. Mwahahahahahaha. 

Additional items are the self published small press Tales of Terror collection of 48 scenario ideas from Steve Haterley. A copy of the Japanese version of Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhu D20, Beyond the Mountains of Madness plus the Antarctic Expedition Kit. 

Others

Other less notable items in the collection include the original hardback edition of Aces and Eights, a copy of the Aliens Adventure Game by Leading Edge Games, the old Chameleon Eclectic (most people haven't heard of them) Babylon Project the first Babylon 5 game. Additionally I have a full set of Orpheus (which I must get around to reading at some point.) 

I have a reasonably decent collection of the original West End Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game, perhaps 70% complete. One of the most unpretentious and sheer fun RPGs I've ever played in my life. Also a pretty (80%) complete set of the FASA Star Trek RPG. 

Not really RPG games, but really relevant and quite sought after are the two original Games Workshop Realms of Chaos books. Superb books from before the days when GW started to turn its attention to making their games suitable for young kids and back when they were still partially a roleplaying games company. They're probably my other main pride and joys. 

So come on, boast away, what rare and/or limited items are in your collection?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Kickstarter - The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits

Some of you may recall my review of The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons, a book on Japanese yokai and it's use in Legend of the Five Rings games. Well I'd just like to give a shout out to Matthew Meyer and his new Kickstarter, a follow up volume entitled The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits.

If the product is anything like the original volume, it'll be a delight with great inspiration for any fantasy game, especially an eastern themed game. So go on, pitch in a dig deep. Matthew is a very talented individual (no I've never met him but I really like his work.)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Shadowrun 5th: Oh She is a Thing of Beauty

During the week my Deluxe Limited Edition copy of Shadowrun 5th Edition arrived, and she is beautiful. Comes in a lovely bonded leather slipcase embossed with a Mayan Shadowrun symbol. The book itself is covered in dragonskin (probably actually leather, you know how these megacorps like to cheap out) with a scale texture. The Shadowrun title is embossed on the front in gold, and the Shadowrun S on the back cover also so embossed. The pages themselves are very heavy weight and gold edged. Gorgeous.

I can now add this to the Limited Edition that I picked up in store.
That I never noticed before but has a really cool embossed dragon on the cover.
They can now go with my other Shadowrun Limited Editions, the 4th Edition and the 25th Anniversary Limited Edition.
Thank you Catalyst for the newest and best version of the Shadowrun ruleset.

For those who missed it, you can find my review of the 5th edition over here.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Bundle of Gumshoe

For those of you out there who like the Gumshoe system, or are interested in trying it, there is a new Bundle of Holding available. At the time of writing you can get, for a minimum purchase of $4, these fine products

  • Ashen Stars
  • An annual subscription to the great Ken Writes About Stuff
  • The first collection volume of See Page XX
  • Mutant City Blues
If you pay more than the average (currently $10.92) you also get 
  • Nights Black Agents
  • The Zalozhniy Quartet for Nights Black Agents
The Bundle of Holding has become a great RPG version of the Humble Bundle and is often full of great games. Generally also as the deal continues additional books will be added to the bundle that are available to all making it even greater value. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour now available

The new Call of Cthulhu supplement from Cubicle 7, World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour, is now available from DriveThru. So head over and pick up a copy. I've personally been waiting for this for a long time since it was a web supplement. Look out for a review soon, or buy it now.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Call of Cthulhu: The Sense of the Sleight of Hand Man Released

For those who missed it the new Call of Cthulhu campaign by possibly the finest writer in the industry is now available for purchase on DriveThru. The Sense of the Sleight of Hand Man is a campaign set in the Dreamlands and is the result of a Kickstarter from last year. At 294 pages this is considerably greater than the 128 pages originally planned.

I have a rule when it comes to RPG books, if Dennis Detwiller writes it, I buy it. This book hasn't changed that rule. I haven't made it the entire way through as yet, but I definitely like what I see.

So go and pick it up, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Shadowrun 5 released

So Shadowrun 5th edition was released in PDF format today and you can grab it over here at DriveThruRPG.com

For those who missed it, here are links to my extensive reviews of the new edition
Enjoy, it's a great edition.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Review: Shadowrun 5th Edition (Part II)

(Update: The PDF of the game is now out. You can grab it over at DriveThruRPG.com. Highly recommended.)

Welcome to Part II of my Shadowrun 5th edition review. If you missed Part I you can find it over here.

In the previous review I gave a brief overview of the book and went through the first 5 chapters as far as the combat rules. In this review I'll cover the remaining sections as well as my overall thoughts on the product.
  1. The Matrix
  2. Riggers
  3. Magic
  4. Gamemaster Advice
  5. Helps and Hindrances
  6. Streetgear

The Matrix

The Matrix, as we all know, is the information systems that surround metahumanity on a daily basis. The Matrix chapters goes about explaining what it is and the people who can manipulate it for their purposes. Enter the Hackers. 

In Fourth Edition we had two types of people who could manipulate the Matrix, Hackers and Technomancers. In SR5 these are grouped under the Hacker descriptor and split into Technomancers and Deckers. Yes deckers are back. (Does a little dance.) There's a small party going on here. Seriously, there's cake and everything (Editor's note: The cake is a lie.)

With 4th edition the changes from wired decking to the wireless world was one of the most controversial of the game. Yes it made sense to increase the technology to accommodate a logical extension of connectivity but a lot of people disliked it. Well with SR5 the hacking/decking/Matrix has been almost completely rewritten. Wireless is still there, items are still connected to the matrix wirelessly and it's still a major function of the setting but the hacking itself has changed along with the Matrix.

Not having read the setting books for 4th edition for the metaplot I'm not entirely sure of the reasonings but the corps have taken back control of the Matrix from the free for all it was in 4th edition. The Matrix is now organized into grids, think of them like your cellphone providers network. You want to hack into an Ares facility but you get your access from Shiawase, then you'll need to change grids to gain access if you want to go in wirelessly. There are public and local operated grids as well.

With the changes in the Matrix the corps have cracked down on security heavily. Now each grid is monitored by a division of the Grid Overwatch Division (GOD) of the Corporate Court (we all know them, they're the big guns of the corporate matrix world.) The division in charge of each grid are known as demiGODs. Basically it is their job to monitor their assigned grid for illegal activity. If you play nice there isn't any problems, but as soon as you start doing something illegal you begin to build an Overwatch Score (OS.) This score represents the traces you're leaving in the Matrix and allows the demiGODs to track you down and attack and dumpshock your decker ass. Anything you attack something you will gain a score, if you fail to sleaze your way past a barrier your score will increase. If you hack someone's commlink to access their files you'll gain a score. Hit 40 and they're all over you.

With all the changes to the hacking rules, and believe me from 4th edition they're practically rewritten everything, it flows in a much more general manner. The disadvantages you get from working wirelessly through static and noise encourages the groups decker to join the rest of the team in getting close to the target, or if possible, physical contact for that elusive hardwire connection that is the best.

The decker can also help bolster the groups defenses against wireless attack on their own personal devices since most things connect to the Matrix for one reason or another. Smartguns connect to download up to the millisecond wind conditions, vehicles connect to determine traffic patterns etc.

Oh and decks are back. With the increased security the average commlink just isn't up to the task of performing the illegal activities required by the average groups hacker. And yes, there is a Fairlight Excaliber for a large fee if you want it.

Most of the actions in the Matrix are more generalized in order to make the system flow smoother but the core dynamic now is the application of MARKs (Matrix Authentication Recognition Keys) to a target. Basically a mark is like an authorization code. The more of them you can apply to an icon/device/file etc the more access you can attempt to get. However they've also played up brute force as a way to get things done. If you don't have authorization, and don't want to spend the time trying to sleaze your way into it, you can go the full frontal attack option. Noisy but effective.

Lets not forget the technomancers now. Another controversial part of the SR4+ world they are definitely here to stay, rare as they may be. In previous editions technomancers seemed overly powerful but here they've toned them down a bit. Yes they have huge advantages but their disadvantages are also played up a bit more. They've basically balanced them in with deckers in the new hacking rules and for the better.

If I have one criticism of the Matrix chapter it is the art. Don't get me wrong, the art is good, but I would have liked to have seen some actual images of what the Matrix looks like in standard iconography to give the players and the GM an idea of what to imagine. Granted a lot of it is a lot more abstracted than it was, gone are the days of the massive host maps from 1st edition, but it would still have been nice to visualize it a bit more.

Riggers

The Riggers section isn't very long, only 9 pages, but it means it's concise and to the point. Basic rules for those who wish to take complete direct control their vehicles and drones (and even buildings) as an extension of their own body. No real surprises or differences from previous versions here, just a simple set of rules for this area.

Magic

Ah magic, that one place where Shadowrun stands different from the other cyberpunk style RPGs out there. Well that and the orks, trolls, dragons, you know what I mean.

Magic has always been a complicated set of rules in Shadowrun. SR4 and SR20A made an attempt to unify the systems and simplify the magic rules that had gotten out of control over three previous editions and numerous sourcebooks. SR5 does the same thing.

Not a huge amount has changed over the previous editions. Some drain has been tweaked in the spellbook to balance the mana and physical spells out a bit more, some spells have been tidied a little but not much has altered.

The main spellcasting flow seems to have been simplified from earlier editions and it now consistent for all spells. This means no more trying to remember sub rules for different spells.

The biggest change is what seems at first a very minor one. Reckless Spellcasting. It's only briefly mentioned but the impacts of it are huge for any combat spellslinger. In previous editions (as with SR5) casting a spell is a complex action, so you can only do one per action phase. What Reckless Spellcasting does is allow you to cast a spell as a simple action instead of a complex one. This add +3 to the drain value of the spell. Unlike with regular ranged combat (I'm assuming most of this will be due to combat and a single gun can only fire once per action phase) you can attack/cast twice in your round. In that case you would get +3 drain to each spell.

This is one paragraph under the Sorcery section that mentions this, blink and you'll miss it, but it will definitely change the way you think about your spells and will like make people bold the old adage "geek the mage first."

The traditions, that practically disappeared in SR4 and SR20A, have re-emerged. While not as defining as they were in earlier editions (1-3) they're definitely brought back in and acknowledging that strong history and setting element.

Watchers are now not straight spirits but creatures created from a (short) ritual and therefore brought into being with Ritual Spellcasting rather than Conjuring as previously. Although Watchers do now have the manifest power whereas previously they were confined to the astral plane alone (though now entirely sure if this is a typo or not especially now that rituals can animate an inanimate object as a homunculus as well.)

One other big change is to spirits and edge. Catalyst have already spoken about this one on their blog so I won't go into it too much, but basically a bound spirit can now no longer use their edge while bound or during a service. The summoner can allow them to use their own edge pool. This does prevent massive spirit edge spamming that could result when spirits could use their own edge while bound. It does make conjurers a little less powerful (if they took advantage of this previously,) but in a good way.

Spirit summoning, binding and banishing works pretty much as I can recall it working before just with a bit more attachment to the types of spirit based on the conjurers tradition.

Alchemy is called out as a separate skill now in order to encourage the use of preparations, and has been incorporated into the core rules. This allows the alchemist to create single use items (want to put a fireball spell on that doorknob, well you can.) Also allows you to have healing stones or items in your pocket in case they're needed (I had sudden visions of it merging with D&D there.) Useful stuff, if you've got the skill, even if the items don't retain their potency for more than a matter of hours.

Adepts, nothing really new here. Metahumans who instead of casting can use the mana to enhance their physical attributes and abilities. Perfect for those who want to play a ninja, or perhaps Chuck Norris. Useful people to have around especially if the fighting gets up close and personal.

The chapter rounds out with details on the astral plane, nothing new here for old timers but a decent overview of what it is and how it interacts with the physical world, details on mentor spirits for the traditions (this is a little more detailed than in SR20A), a pretty good section on using reagents in spellcasting and rituals, and the good old Initiation. Initiation is a short section (only 2 pages) but it's something that usually gets expanded upon greatly in later supplements.

Gamemaster Advice

A 46 page section geared towards giving advice to the gamemaster. We've all read these sections before yes? Right? No, not like this. My favourite GM advice book/section is definitely "Listen Up You Primitive Screwheads" for Cyberpunk 2020. This is now my second. It's not so much about fragging the players over as Listen Up, but more about giving the players a challenge, presenting the world in a suitable manner etc. It also handles general everyday interactions between the world and the characters including the best description and details about SINs since the gameline came out (seriously how has it taken this long to examine SINs in any detail?)

The focus shifts around quite a bit covering designing a run, interaction and motivation of NPCs, running and managing sessions and campaigns, reputations and other areas for the character interaction, but it does it all in a very detailed and yet concise way with good writing that is a joy to read. It's a general grab bag of what doesn't fit in the other sections that a GM should know with a large section on how a High Threat Response team would act and an extremely useful bit on various types of security and how different threats are dealt with. Excellent work.

There are also a collection of small location templates and maps that seem to have been taken from the Sprawl Sites series of products released over the last year. It's a good idea to have them in here for reference and to help the GM.

Helps and Hindrances

I love the name of this chapter, it sets the tone perfectly. This is where you find the meat of the information on NPCs from a rules perspective, grunt rules and the like. A good number of pages are devoted to contacts, the rules for them and how a player would interact with them. 

 It's also where we get the critters, the big nasties of the sixth world. Also included are rules for drugs, toxins and the substance abuse and addictions that can come from them. It's a shame more of the great information from the excellent Sim Dreams and Nightmares couldn't have been included here, but you can't include everything in a core book. 

Streetgear

50 pages of toys and guns. Everything from things that go boom to vehicles to get you away from things that go boom. Cyberweare, biotech, magical equipment, drones all of the fun stuff. No point going into details here, it's a collection of everything a team (or a GM) needs to make a run. 

The only real flaw with this chapter is that there isn't enough art. Really there is art of some guns, but almost nothing else. This is a great place to illustrate the style and look of Shadowrun in the equipment used by those in the setting, but the quantity is slim. Yes there's plenty of art through the rest of the book but I like to see more pictures of cool stuff. Personal preference.

Remaining Pages

Closing out the PDF, along with the obligatory character sheet is a one sheet Random Run Generator. Basically a series of tables to randomly roll and generator a run on the lines of "The runners go to a meet at XXXXX, are hired by YYYYY for ZZZZZ targeting AAAAA and is complicated by BBBBB (because we know it always gets complicated.) Fun for those writers block moments.

At the very end are two massive pieces of art of cityscapes that we've seen online before, one of Berlin and one for Tenochtitlan. Some nice high resolution copies of the art for all Shadowrun rulebook covers (1-5, 1 & 2 used the same art.) And four other art pieces from various other books, of which I only recognize one from the PDF book Elven Blood.

Conclusion

This is a hefty PDF, and will make a hefty book when it arrives. Sometimes size isn't everything but I believe the decision to increase the page count was a good one for one particular reason.

I can envision that during the SR5 production meetings someone put up their hand to make a suggestion to their megacorporate boss to meekly suggest that they increase the page count by 30-40 pages or so and fill that extra space with examples of the rules. To whomever made that suggestion in the face of corporate greed and risk their metahuman hide, I salute you. I'd like to come round and shake your hand. 

Every major rule is detailed with an example in this book. Every time I'd read a rule or section and think "I didn't quite understand that," I'd turn a page and there would be an example going through that rule in a gaming situation that made everything perfectly clear. Every. Single. Time. If there was anything someone thought could potentially be confusing or would be useful to clarify, there's an example. This may seem like a small thing, but it was something SR4 and SR20A suffered from, and it's great to see that having being taken into account. So bravo, I can't thank you enough.

The layout is much better than the previous two editions. SR4 had a completely uninspiring layout with the colour scheme causing things to not register in the mind so well and making it hard to reference. SR20A was too cluttered and while beautiful made referencing difficult as well. With SR5 they've cleaned it out, cut down the clutter from SR20A and made it very standardized for easy referencing. Good job guys.

The artwork is generally of very high quality and, good news for older fans of the game, there has been a conscious attempt to head back to its roots in the art with lots of tribal motifs, feathers, tasselled leather and the like. Not sure I saw a mohawk though.

All in all Shadowrun 5th edition is well worth it if you're a fan of the game. It improves on 4th and SR20A in almost every way and some smart design decisions have ironed out some of the issues of the new system from SR4. I wasn't the world's biggest fan of SR4, but I could see what they were aiming at. It's taken a couple of iterations but I think SR5 has finally hit the target that Catalyst wanted.

I will say the book may not win any new fans though. If you hated the world and rules of SR4, you'll not like this. Also unfortunately due to it's lack of background material it may be too intimidating for a new player to get into at this point, but for people who like SR4 & SR20A but thought the rules weren't quite there then this is the product for you.

Did I mention yet that I love the examples?

(Update: The PDF of the game is now out. You can grab it over at DriveThruRPG.com. Highly recommended.)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Review: Shadowrun 5th Edition (Part I)

(Update: The PDF of the game is now out. You can grab it over at DriveThruRPG.com. Highly recommended.)

Shadowrun 5th edition, a new edition of the classic RPG. If you're a frequent reader you'll know it's one of my favourite settings and I'm a massive collector. Catalyst were kind enough to give me an advance copy of the PDF so I could review it for you all. So here we are.

It's a sizable review, for a sizable book, so I've split this review into two separate posts. This is part 1 and will concern itself with the first half or so of the book.

(Caveat: While I've been collecting and reading Shadowrun since it was first published and own almost everything in print, I have never run 4th edition. I also never finished reading the entirety of the 4th edition line despite owning them all. Therefore any rule comparisons to 4th and 20th Anniversary editions may be shaky. I've read the rules, but not run them.)

First off it's a big PDF. The copy I have is 489 pages and weighs in at 42.8mb. I've definitely seen larger filesize core rulebooks (Legend of the Five Rings I'm looking in your direction.) However for all it's size this PDF is well designed. It has bookmarks and the pages are very responsive, even on my tablet. Which is great as this is a full colour book.

The artwork in the book is mostly new. I noticed some reuse (the header art from the Combat chapter for instance is from the cover of Feral Cities, and a full page shot in the Matrix chapter is the cover of the fourth edition Matrix supplement. The art is mainly full colour though there are a few black and white line drawings through in for variety.

From a layout perspective the book is definitely more Shadowrun 20th Anniversary Edition than the relatively plain Shadowrun 4. It is mostly a two column style with consistent looking red bold for major headers and black bold in a smaller font for sub-headers. There is additionally white text on red sidebars and callout boxes. Tabular data is presented cleanly in grey boxes with yellow headers and white text with the rows consistently identified with alternating grey shades just like many spreadsheets. The predominant colour scheme is red, black and white, and it works. I like the layout, it's clean and the text doesn't bleed into the background at any point I noticed.
Layout example with subheaders, callout boxes, tables and example styles (note this is an abnormally busy page)
The same background image seems to be used for each white background page, seems to be a cityscape shot of Seattle, and the image is subtle and never interferes with the text. It's mainly there to provide some texture to the pages and works well as a backdrop.

The material of the book is split into 11 numbered sections, most preceded by a 4 page short story.
  1. Life in the Sixth World
  2. Shadowrun Concepts
  3. Creating a Shadowrunner
  4. Skills
  5. Combat
  6. The Matrix
  7. Riggers
  8. Magic
  9. Gamemaster Advice
  10. Helps and Hindrances
  11. Streetgear

1- Life in the Sixth World

The first chapter gives an overview of the Shadowrun world as told by a fellow running set in the present. It covers the Shadowrun world in incredibly broad strokes covering topics such as Where to Run (incredibly brief overview of the entire geopolitical world), day to day life of a runner, analysis of a run, details on money, brief talk on the Matrix and the like. The section is well written but, it has to be said, it feels very short and lacking in any depth.

Surprisingly to me, doesn't include any real history. No mention of the Great Ghost Dance, Lone Eagle Incident or the like. It gives brief mention to UGE, date of the Awakening and mentions Dunklezhan was elected president, and then assassinated, but it fails to give real context to these items. I understand that the Shadowrun history has gotten very complex but the exclusion of any real discussion on the Native American uprising resulting in the NAN I'd imagine would leave a new player or GM scratching their head trying to figure how the world works. It's mentioned that Seattle is on its own in a sea of NAN, but no talk as to why.

What material is there however is well written. It's not dry and is presented in a pretty good, and sometimes amusing, manner. I guess it's a very brief overview and the setting would be explored more in later books, but it feels that this could have been meatier. However the game is likely being aimed at people who have more than a passing familiarity with the setting so for a rulebook it's not a great loss, though a couple pages of timeline would have been useful even if they weren't expanded upon.

2. Shadowrun Concepts

This is the section that gives an overview of the core dice mechanics and introduces you to the character attributes. It isn't a full exploration of the rules, you won't find any details on combat in here, just a concise description of the core mechanic.

And that core mechanic has changed a little from the 4th and 20th Anniversary editions. It's still a D6 system with 5 or 6s counted as hits. It's still a threshold based system with X successes needed. Glitches seem to be the same as 4th edition from what I can recall, or at least not changed significantly.

What has changed and is new if the concept of Limits. A limit is basically a rule that prevents someone from having too many successes in circumstances where something may limit them. For instance if you're firing a gun you will be limited to the number of successes (hits) you can have based on the accuracy of the weapon you're using. If your cheap gun only has an accuracy of 4, even if you're the best shot in the world you cannot under normal circumstances get more than 4 hits on a shot due to the equipment bring you down.

There are ways around these Limits using edge, buying better equipment etc but they do add a limiting factor into the mechanic, possibly to avoid the ridiculous successes that are possible when dice pools get large. They're what stops a weakling elf from benchpressing a Mitsubishi Jackrabbit just because he rolled well.

As mentioned the limits can be imposed by the equipment you're using, or in the case of a basic skill test, by your Physical, Mental or Social limit scores. These scores aren't really handled in this chapter but are calculated based on your stats and other factors (such as essence being a factor in the social limit score.)

I can understand that some may not like this new mechanic, and I'm sure it would be easy to ignore, but I quite like it. It adds more differences to equipment and characters.

They also introduce the concept of a standardized notation for tests that I can't help but be reminded of the Universal Task Profile from Megatraveller when I look at it. A sample of the general skill based success test given in the section to spot a detail is;

PERCEPTION + INTUITION [MENTAL] (2) TEST

How this breaks down is the Skill + Attribute being used, followed by the Limit (in this case your Mental limit score) then the number of hits required to pass. The final TEST indicates that this is a straight forward success test and not an opposed test which would look like;

SNEAKING + AGILITY [PHYSICAL] OPPOSED TEST

If they keep to this standard it will make published adventures and the like easy to determine the tests required (not that it was every really that difficult.)

The extended tests follow a similar format and the rules for these seem simple and elegant. The mechanic behind this doesn't seem to have changed from 20th Anniversary other than to add the Limit into the equation.

Teamwork tests again are similar to SR20A but the successfully helping player also raised the new Limit score by 1 in addition to the extra die they provide.

Edge makes a return as well with very similar rules. Again it seems possible for a high Edge character to dominate, especially on the Push the Edge use. This allows them to add their Edge rating into the dice pool, initiate the Rule of Six (which allows each 6 to generate an extra die roll) and ignore all limits. However while it's powerful I suppose a GM could be more discerning on when they allow such a player to regain Edge to prevent them dominating. I'd have to see how it plays out on the table.

Generally speaking I like the base rules presented here. The changes from SR20A and 4th are really around the Limits which again some people will love or hate.

3. Creating a Shadowrunner

First off Priority Purchase is back!!!! Yay. 

So in Shadowrun 4 and SR20A character generation was a points based system, well now it's gone back to the priority system we all know and love where you assign one of five slots to Race, Attributes, Skills, Magic/Technomancer ability and Resources. I'm going to reproduce the table here because this conversation will be easier (I hope Catalyst don't mind.) It's the same as that in Preview #3. Forgive the size and that it breaks my formatting but it's more important that you see it all.


So for priority generation for those who don't know, you allocate a single priority level to each of the five purchases. Some explanation is needed here as it differs from the previous versions in a couple of respects.

The number by the Metatype is the number of points you initially have to spend on Special Attributes. Special Attributes are Magic, Resonance and Edge. These points can only be spent on Magic or Resonance if you pick a priority for Magic or Resonance that grants you that in the first place. This actually leads to an interesting situation whereby if someone choose A as priority for a human and didn't want to be a Magician or Technomancer then they end up with more Special Attribute points than they can possibly spend on Edge alone. Edge (basically your luck skill) starts at 2 for humans and can go to 7 (8 with a quality picked later.) This means you can only use 6. Obviously you wouldn't pick that, but you can get into a strange situation if you're not careful.

The rest is relatively straightforward if you have any experience of Shadowrun. Attributes are how many points you get to spend on attributes, Skills are how many you get to spend on Skills with the number after the / indicating how many you get to spend on Skill Groups. It's not entirely clear from the text if the number to be spent on Skill Groups comes out of the former number or not, however the character generation examples clear this up.

Resources are the amount of nuyen (the cash in Shadowrun) you character gets to buy gear with before the game starts.

Magic or Resonance is where you pick if you are going to be a Technomancer (someone who can access the Matrix without any gear just the power of his/her mind) or some flavour of magic user. This splits down into full magician, mystic adept (someone who can cast spells and use magic to enhance their natural abilities), Adept (someone who uses magic to solely enhance their abilities) or Aspected Magician (a magic user who can only use one type of spell from Sorcery, Conjuration or Enchanting.) It's too complex to go into all the magic rules here, but this priority selection allows you to customize how powerful you wish your character to be in their area.

So the character generation chapter takes you the whole way through the generation process one step at a time in a relatively logical manner. Having a quick play through it myself I will say that because of the stepped approach, and the return to the priority system, character generation is much more rapid than in 4 or SR20A.  It's also much more focused. It's easy to pick qualities from the list in the chapter, determine your stats and follow the examples.

Ah the examples. During the character generation chapter you are guided through on each step the character generation of not one but three different characters. A Technomancer, a Street Samurai and a Mystic Adept. Every single step of the process ends with these three characters going through it and showing the results. This makes it much easier to follow than previous character gen examples in almost any game. They even show you the character sheets filled out at the end.

The unfortunate thing about the chapter however is there are a few mistakes in the tables and examples. Dwarves have lost thermgraphic vision, some of the examples are missing items either from the text or the resulting tables and the increase in lifestyle and equipment costs for a troll changes between 50 & 100% throughout the chapter. I've picked up from other forums that they are aware of these issues and a day 1 release errata PDF will be available to cover these issues. I'd imagine this PDF will be updated for the core book at some point in the near future.

The chapter ends with 16 sample characters that you could just pick from if you liked. These consist of the usual range of Shadowrun archtypes; Street Samurai, Covert Ops Specialist, Occult Investigator, Street Shaman, Combat Mage, Brawling Adept, Weapons Specialist, Face, Tank, Decker, Technomancer, Gunslinger Adept, Drone Rigger, Smuggler, Sprawl Ganger and Bounty Hunter. I must say though, I miss the Burnt Out Mage from previous editions.

All in all it's one of the best character generation chapters I've come across in a while in any RPG. There's nothing strange or particularly new in it from previous core rulebooks that I noticed, some qualities have changed (qualities are advantages and disadvantages you can pick) and I do like that having a valid SIN (System Identification Number) is actually considered a negative quality due to the tracking that comes with it.

4. Skills

The skills chapter is all about, well, skills. As expected it's mainly a list of all the official skills in the game, what they're used for and more information on each one. It goes into more detail on Skill Groups, using specializations in skills and the substitution system for if you don't have a particular skill you need. 

It details uses of certain skills, how to incorporate their use into games and introduces specific rules attached to some skills like Stealth, Swimming, Tracking, Survival, Social Influence skills etc. Also includes more details on languages

There's not much point going into much detail on this chapter, you know what to expect. Useful and highly referencable chapter, but not exactly the world's most exciting prose. It does the job though and the text is clear and not confusing. 

5. Combat

At first glance the combat system doesn't seem to have changed a huge deal. Combat still starts with a roll of initiative and characters acting in initiative order. At the end of the phase 10 is taken off all the Initiative scores and those with +ve scores left get to go again. Rinse and repeat.

Actions in combat are split into Free, Simple and Complex actions with a character getting a free and either two simple or one complex action in each initiative pass. Nothing new to see here.

Attacks consist of a roll to hit, a roll to avoid and then a roll for resisting the damage, just like SR20A. I wonder if there is any way to houserule that down to two rolls, one on each side as it feels like one roll too much to me. However this is the way it was previously and it seems to have worked out so I'll defer to those who've managed to play with the 4th and SR20A rulesets. 

Other than the occasional modifier change and the introduction of limits not a huge amount has been altered as far as the general flow of combat goes. There are obviously some changes though.

For burst fire instead of adding 2 damage to the damage dealt bursts reduce the defender's pool by 2 dice to avoid the attack.

Recoil has been to have more options and a greater range of progressive recoil through multiple shots. Recoil  continues to build action phase after action phase, turn to turn, until the character stops firing the weapon for a phase to bring it back under control (note this is for an individual action phase of the character, not a combat turn.)

Related to the recoil, semi-automatic weapons can only fire once in an action phase. In SR20A they could be fired twice, one for each possible simple action. As a result though SA weapons don't build recoil over time.

Grenade scatter has been made more granular with much less chance of them coming back towards the thrower. Previously if you missed there was a 50% chance it would come back in the thrower's general direction as it was a simple scatter based on a single die. Now it is a 2D6 roll with only a 1 in 6 chance of it coming back (2, 3, 11 or 12 on the roll) and the possibility of it now going sideways instead of past (4 & 10.)

Also speaking of grenades the "chunky salsa" effect, a grenade going off in tight confines, appears to have been increased considerably. This is due to the fact that grenade damage has been dialled up in general considerably. In SR20A a Frag grenade did 12P damage, in 5th it's 18P.

Onto armour, most of the rules are the same as previously but the big big change is gone are the differences between Ballistic and Impact armour. Now it's just a single armour rating. All previous versions of Shadowrun have featured this distinction but now they've simplified it down. Make of it what you will, but it can serve to make the system slightly simpler (though only slightly.)

If someone shoots at you you have two choices. You choose to just take it and get a Reaction + Intuition roll to try and avoid it (unless you couldn't see it coming) or you can take the option of taking a Full Defense. Full Defense however has changed considerably from SR20A rules.

In SR20A Full Defense was a complex action you could take if you were expecting to get shot at, and that was your action. In SR5 it's more reactionary. You can choose Full Defense at any point in the round as long as you still have an action to come. Under Full Defense you roll Reaction + Intuition + Willpower as your defense roll (bonus of Willpower.) You also get the Willpower bonus for the rest of the round. The cost, you immediately lose 10 points off your initiative. The effect of this is you don't always have to anticipate the need for a Full Defense, but you'll forgo some of your later actions as a result of the reduced initiative.

Some more options have been added for Called Shots and as a Called Shot you can now
  • Knock an object out of someone's hands
  • Perform a dirty trick combat manoeuvre
  • Make a harder knock (turning a stun damage into a physical damage)
  • Perform a melee knock down
  • Trick shot (shoot a cigarette out of their mouth for instance) to increase intimidation checks afterwards
  • Split damage between damage tracks (physical and stun,) only for physical attacks
  • Shake the opponent by shooting past the ear, shoot by their foot etc
  • Aim for the vitals to increase damage
One big change in the combat chapter however is examples. Yes there were examples in previous editions, but not to the extent that there is in SR5. In fact for the entire book their use of examples is fabulous. Almost every significant rule in the combat chapter either has its own example or is involved in one of the examples. I cannot stress enough how much of an improvement these are. While much of the actual rules text in the combat chapter is copy and paste from SR20A with some alterations, the examples are where you're happy they spent the extra effort in clarification.

Overall I like how combat is structured and it seems that after a few tries it should flow relatively smoothly. If you've played SR4 and SR20A it seems it will run more or less the same, just a few minor tweaks. Are they good tweaks? My instinct says yes, but as always not everyone will agree on that one.

So that ends part I of my 5th edition review. Come back for Part II shortly.

EDIT: Part II can be found here.

(Update: The PDF of the game is now out. You can grab it over at DriveThruRPG.com. Highly recommended.)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kickstarter: Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition

This is just a heads up that the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter has 67 hours to go (at time of writing.) They've more then exceeded their original goal of $40,000 and are closing rapidly on $400,000. In that time they've added a huge array of stretch goals that makes some of the packages phenomenal value.

Currently the two most popular are the Slobbering Shoggoth level for $100 plus postage which gets you the hardcovers of both rulebooks plus a load of extra books and items (it's insanely good value especially with the insanely low postage costs which makes me think Chaosium isn't going to make anything on this Kickstarter once everything is fulfilled) and the Nictitating Nyarlathotep level for $333 which has limited edition leatherette bound copies along with soft cover versions and a shed load of extras.

So head over to the Kickstarter and pledge. You can check the graphics on the main page for a good overview of what is in each of the pledge levels.

Friday, June 14, 2013

History: Challenge Magazine

Those of you who have been gaming longer than 15 years will probably have come across the magazine Challenge that was put out by Game Designer's Workshop. Started in 1986 the title was intended by GDW to be their in-house magazine to support their own game lines.
Challenge #26 Incorporating the Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society
At the point that Challenge was being set up, GDW only had magazine style support for the Traveller line in the form of the Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society. The JTAS (as it was known) was a digest sized magazine that fitted the format of the rest of the Traveller line but there was a desire for something larger that could provide larger deck plans, world maps, better illustrations and cover more than one game. With Twilight 2000 having been released in 1984 there was a growing need for greater coverage and rather than having a separate magazine for each line a combined format was a better solution. The format arrived at was a standard magazine format of 8.5" by 11".

Originally discussed and then announced formally in JTAS 22's From the Management column the magazine was supposed to be released in 1985 but was delayed until 1986. When released in 1986 it started at issue number 25 (huh? I hear you say.)

When initially released it was Challenge Magazine: GDW's Magazine of Adventure Gaming Incorporating the Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society. Since the last issue of JTAS published before the new format was #24 the decision was made to continue the numbering scheme.

Issue 25's 48 pages covered both Traveller and Twilight 2000 articles, with the Traveller JTAS sectioned off in the magazine for those who were only interested in that setting. A highlight of the issue was a draft of minatures rules for Twilight 2000 and, amusing to look back on it now, a page of code in Applesoft Basic for the Apple II for a sector generator. Cutely it even had you type in remarks to indicate that it was copyright GDW. Oh the days, well it was 27 years ago.

The magazine continued to support solely Traveller and Twilight 2000 until issue 27 where support for their new title Traveller: 2300 (it was a while before they dropped the Traveller from the name) was added. In these days the title increased from it's initial 48 pages for #25 to 52 pages from #26 onwards.

Issue 30 was the first time they published articles on non-GDW house titles, in this case it was an article on Building the Perfect 'Mech for FASA's Battletech game. It was at this point that the magazine size increased to 68 pages.

Over the rest of the run the magazine added more and more articles on other games and began to become more of a general RPG magazine for science-fiction gaming (incidentally something in the original JTAS #22 announcement they stated wouldn't happen.) Over the years to follow the size of the magazine would fluctuate usually between 84 to 100 pages in size with non-GDW game lines taking up more and more space. It proved to be very popular with the fans and print numbers increased steadily through it's lifespan.

The tagline Incorporating the Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society was dropped with issue 34.

Occasionally they would have themed issues, such as #46's Horror Issue, #52's Bestiary Issue or #59 Mysteries Issue.
Challenge #52, Special Bestiary Issue
Over the years it would cover such games as

  • Traveller in all it's incarnations
  • Twilight 2000 and follow up
  • 2300 AD
  • Command Decision (GDW's WWII miniatures game, though this wasn't heavily covered)
  • Dark Conspiracy
  • Cyberpunk
  • Shadowrun
  • Call of Cthulhu 
  • Space 1889
  • Star Wars
  • Various settings for GURPS
  • Star Trek
  • High Colonies
  • Battletech
  • Cyberspace
  • Ghostbusters International
  • Nightlife
  • Tales from the Floating Vagabond
  • Torg
  • It Came from the Late, Late Show
  • Renegade Legion
  • Paranoia
  • Cadillacs & Dinosaurs (yes this was a real RPG)
  • Warhammer 40,000
  • Albedo
Unfortunately production of the magazine ceased with the closing of GDW in 1996 after issue 77 was distributed. The closure was claimed as financial difficulties by designers and freelancers but Marc Miller attributed a lot of it to burnout of too much pace sustained over too long a period of time.
Challenge #77, the final issue
All in all it was a great run for a great magazine. Varied and generally of very high quality I recommend you check it out if you ever get the chance to pick up some hard copies. They generally circulate on eBay for relatively low prices, usually cover price or less.

If PDF is more your thing then they are all available on DriveThruRPG.com for $2.44 or $3.00 each. Alternatively if you want them all then for the excellent price of $34.00 (that's 64c each) you can get the entire collection.

And if you're interested in seeing more of what is in Challenge, a very handy index can be found on DriveThruRPG.com


Exciting Arrival: Challenge Magazines

So today I got the delivery of some items I won off eBay, three vintage Challenge magazines. More specifically issues 31, 34 & 39 of the classic title. I used to love the Challenge Magazine and to my mind it stands alone as an RPG magazine in comparison to the older (pre-100) White Dwarf issues.

This nostalgia trip has made me start to put together an article on the history of the magazine, so for those interested check back over the next few days.

Edit: Here is the link to the article.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Kickstarter: Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition

The Kickstarter for the 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu is now live. If you're interested in pushing the game to print and getting in on the books, or just supporting the game line, then head over to the Kickstarter and pledge your shoggoths.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New Years Update: Gaming Again

So its been a couple of weeks since I last posted, that has mainly been due to travel commitments and a couple of other items. I have managed in that time however to start gaming again. Huzzah!!!!

I've signed up for a local game in Toronto of the Pathfinder Society. It's been about 15 years since I played Dungeons and Dragons of any flavour and I must say, I'm enjoying it. The Pathfinder Society allows you to use the same character around multiple GMs at any organised game and has rules around what is and isn't allowed along with regulations on what can be purchased etc.

So still, I'm enjoying it and I've started gaming again. Now to plot some GMing of another game at some point.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Shadowrun: Preview of 5th Edition Up

So as some of you will know by now there is a new 5th edition of Shadowrun coming out later this year. And as some may also know I'm quite a Shadowrun fan. That being said I haven't been following the development of this edition too closely so far as I've been trying to catch up on reading of the 4th edition metaplot books so I can read Storm Front.

Anyway Catalyst have just released the first proper preview of the game, the first 12 pages (minus contents page unfortunately,) so head over to DriveThruRPG and pick it up. It's free, obviously.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Creepiness in Delta Green

Okay not one of my writing here, but more of a shoutout to Dennis Detwiller's writing. At the beginning of the year he posted a short article to his blog (see link on the right hand side) about how to be creepy in Delta Green, and he recently reposted it on Google+. So here's a link to the article. Read it and absorb it, Detwiller is one of the masters.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Steve Jackson Games: Report to the Stakeholders

So Steve Jackson Games has posted this year's Stakeholder's Report. As every Steve is very open about what is going on in the company, what the challenges and successes are and financials. Many of us wish more gaming companies would do things like this (Mongoose does to a more limited extent) as it helps gauge  what is actually going on in the industry instead of the rumour and doom mongering that we all seem fond of.

So anyway, even though RPGs aren't their top line items any longer it's still good to read through even if a bit Munchkin focused. Read it here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

New Years Resolution Updates

So as some of you may remember I made some resolutions back in January to get me back into roleplaying again after too long a drought. Attend or run one game in each of January and February and two games in March. So it's three months into the year, how am I doing?

Not well. I haven't attended a single roleplaying session this year. Tried to run but never got around to actually scheduling and looking for players beyond some initial exploration.

So the question is why? Why didn't I meet any of my goals? Answer of course is me. Apathy? Procrastination? Laziness? Fear? Probably all four. The worst two offenders are actually procrastination and fear.

Procrastination because I keep saying "I'll do it after I get X out of the way" or "Y is happening soon so I can't do it until after that." A dangerous thing to do, and I've done it for five years now.

Fear because I don't actually have a group. Part of me doesn't want to try running my first game in six years with a group of strangers and making a fool out of myself. Assuming I can get a group in the first place.

Five and a half years ago I moved from England to Canada and lost my group there. I've never been able to get into the right circles over here to get a group together so everything conspires (in my mind) to stop me running a game.

I need to get off my ass and run something, even if I do make a fool of myself. I have an evening course that finishes next week, and then I'm away on vacation for a week (and the in-laws are now over,) so I can try something at the end of the month or May (see how procrastination easily sneaks up on you?)

Still, I hereby make the promise in front of the internet ( :) )that by the end of May I'll have run at least one session.

Promise this time.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Review: Shadowrun - Sim Dreams and Nightmares

It's been a little while since I last did a review, but I've been reading a bit more again lately so I'll have more coming in the near future.

For this review we have the newest PDF only Shadowrun release, Sim Dreams and Nightmares (available as usual from DriveThruRPG.) Following in the lines of many of the other PDF only releases, Sim Dreams and Nightmares takes a single topic and gives it a nice expansion to flesh it out in the world. In this case we have the topic of Simsense, more specifically in the terms of simsense chips and related uses.

For those who aren't completely up on their Shadowrun technologies, Simsense is a tech that at it's most basic allows a person to live the experiences and sensory input of another in a situation. Mostly used in the entertainment area, simsense is popular in movies in that it can put you right in the action. Obviously it has also found a lot of popularity in the pornography industry as well.

Simsense at a basic level is completely legal throughout the Shadowrun world and is used by billions as part of their normal entertainment. However this supplement isn't dealing with that legal simsense. It's dealing with the darker side. Addictive sims, mood enhancers, BTLs (Better Than Life), persona chips and the like.

So what do we get in our PDF this time? Well we have 17 pages. These pages are broken down into

  • Cover page - 1 page
  • Obligatory JackPoint login page detailing upcoming files and some news from the setting (incidentally the date on this file is for 27 Dec 2074) - 1 page
  • Two short stories - 2 pages
  • Sinsense: The Ultimate Opiate (the meat of the supplement) - 9 pages
  • Game rules and prices - 4 pages
So onto the content of each part. The cover I quite like, and it illustrates the subject relatively well. On one half you have a well to do ork in his finest snow ensemble skiing down a slope in some lovely mountains. His ski outfit appears to be partially a white suit, with bowtie and it looks like there are some people chasing him lending the suggestion that he could be a Bondesque character. The other half of the images is of a down and out ork with a cable running to his datajack, making skiing motions while dressed in a garbage bag in among dumspters in some dark alleyway. It's pretty well executed and I'm quite fond of it.

The JackPoint is pretty much as standard. Two callouts for upcoming products (Parazoology 2 & Storm Front) and a couple of in universe news items. Also a mention long time JackPoint contributor Turbo Bunny who is trying to clean up from doing chips (which is relevant to the meat of the PDF.)

The two short stories are appropriate to the topic at hand, but in all honesty I had a little trouble figuring out quite what they were referring to. I'm not sure why, maybe I'm missing something. I'll have to read them again.

For the main bulk of the book the information is presented, as usual, as a file uploaded to JackPoint and commented on by regulars. The file this time is being presented by Turbo Bunny who is going through the cleanup process after her fall into addiction and back out, and doesn't get the easiest time of it from the other posters. (For more information on Turbo Bunny check out 10 JackPointers, another of the PDF only releases.)

It delves into how governments and corporations can use simsense to help control the populace. There is discussion on how some forms of simsense can contain mental massagers to try and subconsciously influence people, and also discussion on how simsense can help people for rehabilitation and to assist with psychological issues.

Then we get into the types of chips, the ones that can be abused more by individuals.

First up is Moodchips, chips that you can slot to help set your mood level. Next is more discussion on the most common BTL type of chip, Dreamchips (where you can live someone else's life effectively) and tripchips (moodchips with other programming enhancements such as slowing down your perception, introducing other sensations and the like.)

Personasofts are another of the chips touched upon, where you can overlay another personality onto someone. Want to pick what personality your girl has in that Yakuza run Bunraku parlour? Well pick your girl, pick the personality from the menu, slot and go.

The text also touches on the dangers of the common skillsoft, including addiction and the inability to use your own skills even if they are better than the skills you can slot.

All in all this section could be expanded a little more, but the shadowtalk really helps to flesh it out and drops enough ideas that most GMs will get something from it.

For the rules pages we are presented with a selection of new advantages and disadvantages for character creation related to drugs, addiction and the like. This is followed up with advance addiction rules and the rules for going cold turkey. Following that are the addiction ratings and thresholds for the various drugs in the Shadowrun world, from chemical and Bio-Awakened Drugs (BAD) to simsense and magical fetish related items. Finally we have a list of the prices for the various simsense drugs.

Overall I really enjoyed this supplement. The subject matter is an interesting exploration of a small part of the Shadowrun world and it is well written. The shadowtalk within the articles is actually of a higher standard than usual and overall very entertaining, even if we never find out what happened to the sheep (you'll have to read it to find out, but /dev/grrl can be single minded sometimes.)

All in all I think it's a buy for the flavour it can add to your games and some great background for the setting. 4/5 chipheads. (Available from DriveThruRPG.)



Saturday, March 9, 2013

Review: Delta Green Eyes Only

Delta Green: Eyes Only, is a book that has been out for a few years, but given that it has just been released in PDF format alongside the rest of the Delta Green books, I figured it was time to dig it out and give it a proper review.

Eyes Only is a collection of the original three Delta Green chapbooks released previously that were available only from Pagan Publishing themselves (see my other posting Delta Green Overview for more details on their release) plus a couple of adventures and a few appendices articles.

The three chapbooks that are reproduced here were all originally written by the excellent Dennis Detwiller.

  1. Machinations of the Mi-Go: this gives an excellent overview of what the Mi-Go are like in the Delta Green setting expanding considerably on the information presented in the main rulebook. (30 pages)
  2. The Fate: very detailed coverage on The Fate, a network/organization based on New York city that is intertwined with the worship and works of Nyarlathotep. This section of the book gives the keeper more than enough information to use The Fate in any game, on either side (because we all know Nyarlathotep isn't predictable.) This is definitely the best part of the book and is worth the purchase on it's own. (66 pages)
  3. Project RAINBOW: This is based around the so called Philadelphia Experiment that was performed on the USS Eldridge in 1943 in an attempt to make it invisible to radar. The Eldridge was in fact made invisible, using Tillinghast radiation, but it also travelled outside of our dimensions for 20 minutes. When it returned over half the crew were dead and it was hushed up. Unfortunately Majestic-12 is still experimenting with the technology in the present day. (34 pages)
On top of these three chapbooks that are reproduced we have 3 full adventures, the first two again written by Dennis Detwiller and the third by Adam Scott Glancy.
  • Artifact Zero is a full adventure for Delta Green agents around the events of Project RAINBOW. It is a very complex adventure but one that should be a memorable experience. If anyone wishes to run it there are some excellent resources on the web to assist in this. The Deep Background and Player Handouts both being very useful. 
  • A Night on Owlshead Mountain was originally published in the re-issue of  Eyes Only Volume 1: Machinations of the Mi-Go, and as you can guess is about Mi-Go in a mountainous area. It concentrates on a hermit on Owlshead Mountain in Vermont who has been enhanced by the Mi-Go using their protomatter and the search for some missing surveyors in the area.
  • Holy War is a scenario for experienced investigators concerning Delta Green, The Fate, everyone's favourite modern horror Y'golonac and New York in the months after September 11th as Delta Green wakes up to the new world they now operate in.
Rounding out the book are some small articles written by Dennis Detwiller and Shayne Ivey
  • A short article on policing in turn of the century New York, most of which was made obsolete in the months after September 11th.
  • Some miscellaneous, but very useful, short pieces on Delta Green tradecraft including
    • Green Boxes
    • Telephone Communications
    • Interrogation rules
    • Sanity costs for murder
    • Hacking
All in all this is an excellent book. It is very like all the other Delta Green books in that it doesn't have a specific focus, but this turns out to be a strength meaning there is something for everyone. Like every other Delta Green book published, this one is of high production standards with writing quality that every other writer and publisher would be proud to put their name to. Definitely a must buy. It is available in hardcopy or in PDF from DriveThruRPG (where it is currently only $14.99 for 266 pages of Delta Green goodness.)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Happy GMs Day

So today, March 4th, is GMs day. Started in 2002, it is now timed to coincide with the unfortunate passing of Gary Gygax in 2008, GMs day is the day to give back and say thanks to the GMs who make your games what they are. So reach out and say thank you and remember the work your game master puts into each and every session.

And if you like, GM and players alike, DriveThruRPG is having a huge sale with 25% off thousands of titles. Head over and pick something up for yourself or your GM.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

My RPG Collection: Shelves 3 & 4

So continuing where I left off on the series going through my RPG collection (this is partially for my own purposes, but some may find it interesting.) Part 1 can be found here.

Shelf 3

This shelf is pretty easy to cover, it's all Shadowrun. More specifically it's all Shadowrun editions 1-3. Shadowrun is one of those games where I'm a completionist. I haven't run the game in 10 years but I still buy everything for it because I find it so fascinating to read. In fact with my shift to PDFs recently, Shadowrun will remain one of the lines I buy in hardcopy as well just because I love it so much.

So Shadowrun editions 1-3. About 18 years ago I sold off my entire Shadowrun collection to a friend, which while it wasn't huge it was reasonable enough (edition 1 only.) I always regretted it and when 3rd edition was release I decided to start buying it again (I sold when I went to university and rebought when I started work and was actually bringing in money.)

I have managed to collect almost everything published for it now, though as you can see some are second hand and a little worse for wear than others. I am missing a few items from the first 3 editions, namely the hardback 1st edition rulebook, Prime Runners and the revised editions of Street Samurai's Catalog and Rigger 2. Smart eyes may notice on the larger image that my copy of Corporate Punishment looks a bit weird  that is because it is a print on demand copy from DriveThru as I couldn't find a regular copy.

Not visible here is the Denver box set which is too large for the shelf and is stored elsewhere.

Shelf 4

This shelf continues the Shadowrun theme with all the 4th edition and 20th Anniversary Edition books. I really like the two limited edition books I got, for 4th edition rulebook and the limited 20th Anniversary edition.

Continuing along and off Shadowrun we have a few books for White Wolf's Trinity line. This is one of those lines where I used to have everything (for some odd reason, I never read them) but sold the collection before my emigration as unwanted. These three books represent what I couldn't sell on eBay.

Next up, All Flesh Must Be Eaten. A fun game that I think a GM should spring on every RPG group once as a surprise. My group was surprised when I ran it as they hadn't even a clue what game system they were playing.

Rounding out the shelf are some of my Call of Cthulhu related magazines (the rest of the collection including the small format books are elsewhere.) The large format Unspeakable Oath's (missing issue 11 annoyingly), 4 issues of The Whisperer and the 6 English language versions of Worlds of Cthulhu.




Sunday, February 24, 2013

My RPG Collection: Shelves 1 & 2

Often you see threads on RPG forums of people asking how large other's collections are, and when I read through them I find that there are generally 3 types of role-player represented.

  1. The Minimalist - The role-player who perhaps just plays in a couple of games, or who perhaps runs games but doesn't keep many books. Many role-players make up their own items entirely without needing entire gamelines that are published. Then there are those who have switched mostly to electronic books. Whichever they are these games have only a handful of RPG books, generally no more than a couple dozen.
  2. The Game Liner - Those who only play perhaps one game and collect almost everything they can for it. The game line of choice is fairly extensive, but not always complete.
  3. The Collector - The person who collects RPG books seemingly as a hobby onto itself. While these gamers often to game with their books, it is not always the case. Many role-players actually just buy to read these days. Often these gamers will collect multiple lines in intense detail, and have parts of dozens of other lines, collectors editions, rare items etc generally spanning the entire history of the hobby.
I seem to have fallen into the latter category, I am most definitely a collector who buys anything of interest to me and has formed a large stack of books over the years. I don't have an exact count, but it's way upwards of 1,000 items. 

So what I thought I'd do was document in more detail what is in my collection and point out any gems, rarities etc. Since it is large (I have no kids, no debts, no vices other than books and flying and we have two professional incomes which is why I've managed to buy so much) I'll be splitting it in to multiple parts. Not sure but this could take some time to get through.

So onto the first two shelves. I'm arbitrarily starting at the top left of the collection and working through each case and then onto the other boxes and bits and pieces around the house.

Shelf 1
This shelf is rather a mixed bag. A copy of Eclipse Phase (purchased after flicking through the freely released PDF) followed by my Transhuman Space collection. I think I have everything released in Print for Transhuman Space, but I'm not sure.

Next up is the GURPS WWII line. I think I'm missing a few items there that I've not bothered to look to hard for.

Coming up after are a few real gems of games. A|State I love the setting, it's very Perdido Street Station mixed with Cyberpunk and more mystery. Not much of a rule system but a great setting and it's a shame it didn't get more exposure.

Starblazer Adventures was a Christmas gift from a friend. Based on the old comic strip Starblazers it's a great little golden age style game that I haven't given completely the time to read through. 

Tucked in beside is my only copy of an Unknown Armies book, the second edition rulebook. Seems like a great game, must re-read and then run.

Sengoku is Gold Rush Game's samurai RPG, seen here along with the adventure campaign Shiki. It works quite well but I bought it mainly for background as for the most part it's straight historical Japan with optional fantastical bits.

Recon. Ah I recall this fondly from my school years, playing Vietnam games based off war movies. We had great fun with it. This copy was bought a few years ago as a nostalgic replacement for books I sold many years ago.

Almost the entirety of the rest of the row is Traveller (until you get to the 40K stuff.) Here is mainly my Megatraveller collection (complete I think from a GDW perspective) but also any large format items from Classic and Megatraveller published officially and third party. The real rarities and favourites here have to be the Digest Group Publications (DGP) items. Starship Operators Manual (one of the best RPG books ever written in my opinion), Vilani and Vargr, all the large format Traveller's Digests.

Also include are the classic Traveller Alien series, the Traveller Adventure, fanzines such as Signal GK (about 6 issues), the small format GURPS Traveller items, the GURPS Traveller deckplans, Power Projection miniature rules, Traveller Bibliography and a couple other items from third parties like Judge's Guild.

Last in the row are some Warhammer 40,000 related items. While not RPG books they're great items. The original first printing two Realms of Chaos books (I shall never part with these they are much sought after), the paperback collected Liber Chaotica (mysteriously now out of print and worth about 3 times what I paid for it) and The Inquisition companion to the Black Library Inquisition based novels. 

The only item left on the shelf is the box set of Story Forge cards. I'll do a proper review of these at some point, but for now I'll just say these are great for coming up with character backgrounds, plot lines and adding colour to anything you're creating.

Shelf 2

Okay this shelf is a simple one. It's all Traveller.

This shelf contains all my large format Traveller books outside of the Classic and Megatraveller eras. I have everything else represented here Mongoose Traveller, T20, New Era, T4 and GURPS Traveller. GURPS is complete as is T20, but T4, New Era and Mongoose are missing items. For T4 it's missing teh Naval Architect's Manual (I never came across it) and First Survey (I refuse to pay money for such a flawed book, but we can discuss that separately.) And yes I know I have two copies of Reft Sector. I do keep a list on a website of my collection but sometimes I forget to look at it while I'm at my FLGS. 

From this shelf my favourites are the T4 books. Not for the rules, but for the setting information. I love the Milieu 0 foundation of the Imperium era, it just speaks to me. The GURPS Traveller books are also exceedingly well done and written. 

You may also notice tucked in are the three Bablyon 5 books published for the Traveller gameline (Trouble with Drazi is the thin one hiding in between.) I got these as completionist items to round out my B5 collection, but that's an entirely separate box. 


So there are the first two shelves. I've never sold any Traveller items during one of my selling phases, so many of these I've had 20 years or more (the Megatraveller stuff mainly.) The only repurchase on those shelves is the previously mentioned Recon book.

Hope you found it interesting, I'll be back with more at a later point. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Case of the Missing Blog Post

So the other night I sat down to write a short blog post/article on a specific aspect of one of my favourite RPGs. It's something I've written for before and I'm trying to get back into my writing, so much so that as some may know I'm toying with starting my own small imprint later this year once I have the material.

Anyway, I sat down to do a quick 20 minute post or article, and it was 4 hours before I stood up from my desk (my physio won't like to hear that.) What had started as a short item had ended up 24 pages long, with lots of notes for sections and rules to insert. I estimate when I finish it it will be about 50-60 pages long. So it kind of got away from me, but it had all been in there being mulled around for a while. So basically a blog post turned into a book, one that I'll put aside for publishing at a later point.

So where does that leave the blog? Well it means I've got nothing meaningful to enter here. So instead I'll just say go and buy the new issue of The Unspeakable Oath #22. The latest issue of one of the greatest RPG magazines ever published.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Gameline Overview: Delta Green

Delta Green is one of those settings that most people have heard of. A setting for Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green came out of the old days of Pagan Publishing and has proven to be far and away the most popular works they've ever produced.

For those who don't know, Delta Green is about an illegal conspiracy within the US Government of agents who work for a common cause fighting the forces of the Mythos. The activities of Delta Green are not sanctioned by the US Government, and are certainly not funded not even as a black project. While it was originally a government agency, Delta Green was officially disbanded in 1969 following a disastrous operation in Cambodia (the details of which are still sketchy today.) It now operates as a rogue element hiding behind fake identities, false accounts and a cell structure based on terrorist groups in order to remain hidden.

Set mainly in the 1990s, Delta Green fight the entities of the Cthulhu Mythos, help keep magic off the streets and investigate the mysterious Greys that the US Government has signed treaties with through the Majestic-12 agency. It's agents are knee deep in horror, and usually only end their duties in a violent fashion or through insanity. More than one agent has chosen their own way out of the world in order to escape the horrors they've seen.

While I could continue trying to describe it I refer you instead to a famous fiction piece written about it based on the famous Choose Life opening from Trainspotting. Unfortunately I don't know the original author.


Choose federal law enforcement. Choose the military. Choose NASA or the CDC. Choose lying to your superiors. Choose to ruin your career. Choose no friends. Choose divorce. Choose life through the bottom of a bottle. Choose destroying evidence and executing innocent people because they know too fucking much. Choose black fatigues and matching gas masks. Choose an MP5 stolen from the CIA loaded with glasers, with a wide range of fucking attachments. Choose blazing away at mind-numbing, sanity-crushing things from beyond the stars, wondering whether you'd be better off stuffing the barrel in your own mouth. Choose The King in Yellow and waking up wondering who you are. Choose a 9mm retirement plan. Choose going out with a bang at the end of it all, PGP-encrypting your last message down a securely laid cable as an NRO Delta wetworks squad busts through your door.
Choose one last Night at the Opera.
Choose Delta Green.

While Delta Green may seem similar to a very popular conspiracy show involving aliens and the supernatural from the 1990s, Delta Green first saw print in the acclaimed magazine The Unspeakable Oath #7 in early 1993, a full year before the release of the X-Files.

While Call of Cthulhu is usually a dark horror game, the publishing for Delta Green has generally concentrated on an even darker side to the horror, mostly concentrating more on the horrors that men do rather than some mysterious monsters. This helps drive the game home into a much more personal horror than Call of Cthulhu on its own generates.

The main setting book Delta Green was published in 1997, and won the Origin's Award that year for best roleplaying supplement. Delta Green: Countdown, a supporting setting supplement, was released in 1999. At 426 pages I believe that at the time it was the largest RPG supplement published in English to that point (it has since been beaten many many times, and in Cthulhu publishing is only beaten by the monster Beyond the Mountains of Madness campaign.) These two books represent possibly the finest RPG supplements ever produced for any game, and are a must have for any gamer.

After Countdown three mini supplements were released concentrating on various areas of the setting, but were never circulated through stores. I believe they were only available direct from Pagan Publishing. As a result they have become collectors items. These three books, Eyes Only volumes 1 & 2 were published in 1998 while volume 3 came out in 2000. The first volume, Machinations of the Mi-go underwent a revision and slight enlargement in 2000 (I think, I don't own a copy.)

While Delta Green is still very popular, publishing for it has been sporadic. After the release of the Eyes Only books there were no more official supplements for the setting, outside some magazine articles, until the main rulebook reprint with D20 stats in 2007. 2007 also marked the year that the Eyes Only compilation, with additional information, was issued.

2010 saw the long delayed release of Targets of Opportunity containing all new material plus a revamp of Greg Stolze's long awaited Cult of Transcendence write-up.

No more official supplements have been forthcoming since Targets, however under Arc Dream's publishing umbrella things are looking up for the setting. A new version of Delta Green is in the works and there are promises of further support for the line.

Despite the few releases, Delta Green fans are a patient lot. Every single release is more than worth the wait, and with the quality so high we'd rather get quality rather than quantity.

As of the time of writing, several of the books are available for electronic purchase. See the bibliography below for the links for these books.

Bibliography

RPG Books

Fiction

For more information visit http://www.delta-green.com/