Category Archives: Reviews

Random Story Generators

Random generators are incredible tools for GMs. No, I’m not talking about dice or other random number generators. I’m talking about random story generators. Basically, they randomly give you a few pieces of a story and then you have to figure out how they link together. Usually this winds up generating exciting ideas that you might not have come up with on your own.

A really simple random story generator is the online Vortex Oracle: Stories in Time & Space, which creates a random Doctor Who episode. For instance, I just generated:

The Death Children

  • A beautiful structure reaching the heavens, impossibly made.
  • A disembodied brain crackling with psychokinetic force.
  • An archaeological dig.
  • Mourning a lost loved one.

Already ideas are flowing about what kind of story this might tell. I’m imagining a story somewhat like The Time of Angels in which the TARDIS arrives at the ruins of some desolated planet. Perhaps the people made some sort of Tower of Babel structure that wound up being taken over by “a disembodied brain,” whatever that winds up being. And there’s a survivor of the incident who is mourning the lost of her brother after disaster befell him.

Next up are random tables for generating stories. Thrilling Tales of Adventure by Adamant Entertainment includes one such generator in which you roll on eleven tables to generate a full adventure. The benefit of a table like this is that it is specifically designed for creating an elaborate adventure for the setting of the book. I just rolled the following adventure:

Villain: Mastermind

The Fiendish Plot, Part 1: Infiltrate

The Fiendish Plot, Part 2: A Lost World

Main Location: City Skyscrapers

The Hook: Solicitation

Supporting Character: Clumsy, Skilled, Business Owner

Action Sequence Type: Chase, Vehicle

Action Sequence Participants: Lots (5+ per PC)

Action Sequence Location: Educational (museum, college, etc.)

Action Sequence Complications: Props

Plot Twist: Hidden Plot

Looks to me like there’s some key to a lost world (probably Hollow Earth or something) inside of a downtown multi-story museum. And we’ve got a massive vehicle chase through that museum, perhaps even driving the vehicles on display!

Although tables like these are incredible, they are really only designed for a certain setting. So ideally we would want something just as flexible, but generic. The coolest gaming accessory I’ve found lately are the Story Forge Cards, which fit the bill perfectly. These are a set of 88 cards which each have two concepts on them. These cards are then randomly dealt out in a certain arrangement, leaving it up to the GM to interpret the meaning of it all.

Story Forge is mostly aimed at writers, but it does wonders for helping a GM come up with a plot or to determine a character’s backstory (there’s a great video showing the latter). It comes with several predefined card arrangements (called “spreads”), but I could easily see creating new spreads depending on your needs. Perhaps you could create a small spread for a Deadlands character’s worst nightmare. I can even see them being useful during gameplay. The players want to talk to an NPC you’re making up on the fly? Draw a single card and find out what their motivation is. That alone could create incredible plot hooks.

Right now, Story Forge has a Kickstarter project associated with it, which is already more than funded, so it’s definitely going to be made. I definitely encourage you to pick a deck up. It may seem pricey at $25, but a tool for randomly generating stories for any system or setting seems well worth it.

Anybody else know of any good random story generators out there?

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Review of Mongoose Traveller, Part 2

Two weeks ago, I started my review of Mongoose Traveller (i.e. the version of Traveller created by Mongoose Publishing) and talked about the amazing character creation system. Gameplay in Mongoose Traveller is slick, although it’s not quite as stellar as the character creation.

The typical adventuring party in Traveller is a group of people working together on freelance missions. Sometimes they have their own ship, sometimes they’ll have one on loan from a patron. Generally this leads to sort of a Firefly vibe with people from different walks of life all working together.

Because there are so many skills, it’s possible to have missions that don’t have any combat whatsoever. Want to go on a science mission? It’s easy since there are multiple skills that are related to science. Want to have Battlestar Galactica-style drama? You’ll be using skills like Admin, Advocate, Deception, Diplomat, Investigate, Persuade, and even Carouse. And how do you do stuff? Roll 2d6, add your modifier from an appropriate characteristic (such as Intellect, Dexterity, or Education) and add your modifier from an appropriate skill, generally aiming for an 8 or higher. Quick and easy. Because skills just add flat modifiers, this also means that characters still have a shot at doing things that they aren’t well trained for.

But if you do want to do combat, be forewarned that it is lethal. Say you’re on a mission and some goon wants to shoot you. He makes a Gun Combat roll, adds his Dex Modifier, and gets an 8. If you’re not under cover or anything, then you’re shot. The goon rolls for damage and your Endurance characteristic is reduced by the number of points you got hit for. Did it get to 0? Then you reduce either Strength or Dexterity for the remaining number of points, which abstracts the kind of wound that you’re getting. And did either of those get to 0? Then you need immediate medical treatment or you’re dead. Lethal, but really, really fast (faster even than Savage Worlds).

If there’s a weakness to gameplay, it’s that it’s really hard to advance. If you think about it, your character only earned one or two skills over the course of four years during character creation. It takes about as long in gameplay. The official way to do it is that the number of in-game weeks it takes to advance a skill is equal to the number of skill levels you have. Got ten skill levels? It will take you ten in-game weeks to advance. Although realistic, this can be hard to manage if you’re used to a D&D-style power progression. The real reward for completing missions is generally money and contacts, not experience.

Besides those things, there really isn’t anything special about gameplay. There’s a lot of potential for a variety of mission types, combat is lethal, yet really, really fast, and the focus is on getting contacts rather than getting experience. If you don’t like for the system to get in the way of your storytelling, I think you’ll be happy with how Mongoose Traveller feels in game. Still I imagine that there will be some who find gameplay less interesting than the awesomeness of character creation. I can’t think of another system that has that problem.

At any rate, I definitely recommend giving Mongoose Traveller a try at least. It’s a nifty system that is an update to an old classic. Simple, diverse, and fun.

Review of Mongoose Traveller, Part 1

On Friday night, I got to run a one-shot of one of my favorite systems: Traveller. Or more specifically, the Mongoose Publishing version of Traveller (usually shortened to Mongoose Traveller or MGT). You see, there are quite a few versions of Traveller, the oldest of which was released in 1977. Mongoose Traveller is an updated version of the original Traveller with more modern mechanics. The result: pure awesomeness!

The most ingenious part about Traveller in all its forms is character creation, which is basically a game in and of itself. Most RPGs have you create characters as they are in the present and any thought about their past is usually an afterthought relegated to a character’s backstory. Traveller works the other way. Your character’s statistics are a direct result of their past life events, which are randomly determined to some extent. Although you will likely wind up with a different character than you envisioned, the result is a character with greater depth and history.

The first thing you do is roll 2d6 to determine your six basic characteristics. There’s the standard RPG attributes like Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, and Intellect, but there are also two more: Education and Social Standing. Just like the PSAs tell you, a better education means that you have more career choices. But being famous helps too.

You start your character as a teenager on a planet somewhere out in space. You get a few skills based on your homeworld and upbringing, then you get to apply for your first career. If you make it, then you’re off to good start. If not, you can either let the military draft you or you can become a Drifter (or as we like to call it, a Hobo).

After that, you advance your life in four year stretches of time. You get training in a skill to indicate your learning on the job. Then you have to make a roll to see if you “survive.” In old versions of Traveller, failure meant you died. Time to make a new character! But in Mongoose Traveller, failure just means that you were ejected from your career for some reason. You roll on a mishap table to figure out why. Perhaps your journalist got arrested and sent to prison because of something they wrote. Or your marine led a blunderous assault and was severely wounded, resulting in his discharge. Either way, it’s time to find a new career.

If you succeeded in your survival roll, you get to roll on an events table to determine what notable thing happened to you in the last four years. Perhaps your scout managed to get in contact with a previously undiscovered alien species. Or your noble had some political squabbles and gained an enemy. After this, you roll to see if your character gets a promotion of some sort in their career. Then you can repeat the cycle again for the next four years of life.

If you decide that your character is getting too old, then you can end character creation and decide to start the game at whatever age you stopped at. There is a tradeoff to aging: you become more skilled, but the physical toll of aging starts to catch up to you. I think that this is a really brilliant mechanic because it makes it so a 26 year old and a 62 year old are both on about equal terms in the entourage while still having very different talents.

Another important part about character creation is that you gather contacts, allies, rivals, and enemies. These add more depth to the character (and give lots of great plot hooks to the GM). Contacts and allies can also be another player character, reflecting your shared history. I even had one player made another player character into a contact, then roll a life event saying that their character became romantically involved with one of their contacts. So the characters wound up marrying! I can’t say that I’ve seen that happen in any other system.

To sum it all up, character creation is a blast and is definitely a unique system! Next week, I’ll be reviewing Mongoose Traveller for the actual gameplay.

A Review of Some Christmas Scenarios

Like it or not, we’re about a week away from Christmas! Many of us celebrate it in real life, so why not also celebrate it in our role-playing games? I’ve found into a few Christmas themed scenarios that I’d like to review (the first two I’ve run as well):

Silent Night, Hungry Night (Deadlands Reloaded)

Ever wonder what Christmas is like in the Weird West? The characters are on a train that breaks down on Christmas Eve, but fortunately there’s a small town nearby that might be willing to put up the passengers for the night. But it turns out that they’re rather hostile towards the newcomers since a group of raiders from a nearby town came by and now they barely have enough food for themselves. If the group is going to have a warm place to sleep tonight and the people are going to have a merry Christmas, then this town is going to need some heroes! But little do they know that there is something far more sinister and stranger going on…

This adventure is a free one-sheet adventure (actually it’s one and a half sheets) published by Pinnacle Entertainment and written by Shane Hensley himself. As Deadlands scenarios go, it’s more of a traditional Western scenario with only a bit of the supernatural included. The focus is mostly investigation, but does have combat at the end. When I ran it last Christmas, I found that it also made a decent scenario for introducing players to Deadlands.

One thing about the scenario is that players will eventually discover that they are in a twist of another Christmas story that they’ll recognize (I won’t say which one!). It’s a great moment when they finally realize it, especially seeing how it’s been twisted into Deadlands. If the GM isn’t careful, it could come across as cheesy, but the reveal happens when the players are in a really bad situation, so hopefully the players won’t be inclined to poke holes at it.

If you’d like a bit of Christmassy Deadlands this scenario is definitely worth running. It’s strongly tied to the feel of the setting though, so if you’re just looking for a Christmas scenario for the sake of Christmas, you might be more interested in one of the other scenarios.

Santa Claus vs. The Orks! (Ork! The Roleplaying Game)

First off, this is a scenario for Ork! The Roleplaying Game from Green Ronin. It’s a fairly obscure system, but it’s an absolutely hilarious “beer & pretzels” game. Each of the players is a brawny, stupid Ork who is typically out to do some crazy quest that the Ork Shaman has sent you on. Usually it involves wanton violence and the killing of as many “Squishy Men” as they can find. It’s pretty easy to learn and is a lot of fun for one-shots.

In this free scenario, the Ork Shaman has sent the Orks on a mission to steal the heart of the “Crumpet Man Shaman” who he says “am jolly, fat person who am rule over Crumpet Men” who make toys. Not long after, they jump through a magic portal and arrive at the North Pole. There’s terrifying singing (Fa la la la la, la la la la!), a factory of terror (Santa’s toy factory), a stable of flying reindeer (which the Orks can try to ride), and the jolly Crumpet Man Shaman himself who declares that the Orks are very, very naughty!

With a creative group, this one is a riot and in some ways is stronger because it plays off the fact that it’s so cheesy. If you can get your hands on a copy of Ork! The Roleplaying Game (which unfortunately has been out of print for some time), this is definitely worth running!

A Kringle in Time (Risus)

Risus is an ingenious (and free!) RPG where characters don’t have stats, they have clichés which they use to solve their problems. Any sort of hero you can think of will work with this system. There is a $15 scenario named “A Kringle in Time” which throws in just about everything into it. Perhaps it’s best if I just give the description of the scenario:

This is an adventure about saving Christmas from an ancient evil. This is an adventure about murdering Santa Claus for his own good (seven times). This is an adventure about shopping, and family, and eggnog, and Jesus Christ, who appears here courtesy of the Almighty God, along with his robot duplicate. This is an adventure about the stress of fast-food employment, the grandeur of world-domination plans, the difficulty of pronouncing things in Welsh, and about toys nobody wants.

I haven’t run (or played it) it before, but it certainly sounds like it could make a riotous adventure with the right GM.

The Battle of Christmas Eve (Savage Worlds)

This is a really creative scenario in which you are all Toy Story-like toys who wake up at night when nobody is around. The Battle of Christmas Eve is a free scenario written by Paul “Wiggy” Wade Williams, author of many Savage Worlds scenarios as well as All for One: Régime Diabolique. In this one, it’s Christmas Eve and a group of rogue toys are threatening to ruin Emily’s Christmas. It’s your job to go in and save the day while fighting the rogue toys and avoiding Mittens the cat.

Aside from being a rather adorable concept, it’s actually a very well written scenario with a lot of variety. There’s combat (GI Joe guns are deadly to toys!) and also recruitment of other toys and the need to accomplish strategic objectives. And it even takes advantage of some of the Savage Worlds subsystems by including a chase and a Mass Battle showdown underneath the Christmas tree. There’s also a note that 1 game inch represents 1 real world inch in this scenario, so you could even use your own toys to travel around your house instead of using a battle mat!

Although this would be a lot of fun with adults, I have to say I really wish that I had a group of little kids to play this with, probably using a simplified version of Savage Worlds. It’s really a brilliant scenario and of all the ones on this list is probably my favorite.

So that’s four great Christmas scenarios to add some holiday cheer to your gaming. Are there any others out there that I don’t know about?

Review of Savage Worlds Deluxe, Part 2

Welcome back! This is part two of my review of Savage Worlds Deluxe. You can read part one here.

New Subsystems

I said in my first review that Savage Worlds Deluxe was truly a deluxe version because it featured a number of supplemental rules. The biggest addition is a number of new subsystems. I’d like to go into a bit more detail about each of them:

Chases

Savage Worlds DeluxeActually, this is an old system, but it’s gotten a complete overhaul. Rather than tracking distances in a chase, each round players are dealt multiple cards that tell them the relative distance of how far away they are from their target and if ranged or melee attacks are possible. It’s a really abstract system that takes getting used to, but it’s fast and works well for chases in situations like a crowded city with lots of traffic, where the participants are dodging in and out of shops and climbing on rooftops.

I think that the chase rules in Explorer’s Edition did a lot better with a more traditional chases, like pursuing a rider on horseback on the open plains, and it would be somewhat unsatisfying to do such a chase with this new system. But there’s no reason that both can’t be used if you identify which is more appropriate for your situation. By the way, Pinnacle has released a PDF of the new chase rules for free here.

Dramatic Tasks

Dramatic Tasks are somewhat like the D&D 4e skill challenge system except that they’re all about trying to get so many successes before time runs out (typically 5 rounds or 5 attempts). For instance, if you’re trying to disarm a bomb, you might have to get five successes (raises count towards this) before five rounds are up or the timer reaches zero. There’s also some advice on making this task happen in the middle of combat for extra tension. Used alone, I’m not sure they’re really all that special, but done in the middle of combat, I think they’ve got a lot of potential.

Interludes

This is a system for when the characters have some downtime and are revealing a bit more about their lives. Each player gets a card and, depending on the suit, shares with the party about a tragedy, victory, love, or desire that they have. I let these be loosely interpreted, so drawing “love” would allow a character to, for instance, share about a cause they are passionate about. As a reward, players get a benny or an adventure card. It’s a nice way to tie in character backstories, although I think having only four options makes it a bit limiting. (Pinnacle has a full release of the text here).

Social Conflict

If you’ve ever wanted to have a courtroom debate or get the players to make a mob stand down, this system is for you. There are three rounds of conversation where characters are trying to rack up more successes on Persuasion rolls than the other team, with bonuses going to especially good points. There’s also extra rules if you’re trying to argue technical points, like legal matters. After these rounds are done, just look at a table describing the outcome based on the margin of victory. All in all, a decent subsystem that, if a bit simplistic, works well for what it tries to do.

Travel

For when you want to have something more interesting happen than “you walk for many days and nights,” there’s this new system. You can calculate how long the journey will take by land, air, or sea and each day you draw from the encounter table to see what happened that day. It’s a simple way to make things more interesting without bogging down the journey, but might need to be customized depending on the style of play. For instance, if you want a Lord of the Rings style journey, you could draw more frequently and customize the encounter table (e.g. as you’re traveling, you get intercepted by a group. Since you’re in Rohan, it’s a group of Rohirrim soldiers).

Some Final Thoughts

All in all, I think it’s a really good book and has some neat additions. It’s not an essential upgrade if you already have the Explorer’s Edition, especially since Pinnacle has released some of the new stuff for free online, but it’s really cool nonetheless.

Being a Savage Worlds fanboy, I preordered Savage Worlds Deluxe at Origins this year. Studio2Publishing had a deal where you could get a CD with the PDF right there at the con and then pick up the hard copy at GenCon or get it mailed to you. I did that and got it signed by Savage Worlds creator Shane Hensley and contributor Clint Black!

Signatures inside Savage Worlds Deluxe

My signed copy of Savage Worlds Deluxe

If you’re a diehard Savage Worlds fan too or you like having a hardbound book in a larger size, I’d recommend getting it. If you’re a GM and think you’ll use the new subsystems or one-sheets, I’d recommend getting it. If you’re a player, it’s really up to you. If you are really intrigued by the new Edges or Powers, you might be interested in it, although if you have at least one copy of the book at the table, you can get them easily enough. Aside from that, I guess it just depends on whether or not you like the larger, hardbound book.

Also it’s worth mentioning that Joel Kinstle, vice-president of Pinnacle, wrote the following on the Pinnacle forums:

Like the two Deadlands core books, you should expect an Explorer’s Edition-sized paperback coming out in about a year [from the August release date] (possibly sooner if all the SWEX evaporate really fast), and then those two core rulebooks will share the shelf and catalog space.

To the best of my knowledge, Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition has been evaporating pretty fast. So I wouldn’t be surprised if by Origins, or GenCon at the latest, we’ll see a new “Explorer’s Edition size” of the Deluxe Edition. I predict that it will be $10-15, but in order to convert the material from 160 big pages to 160 small pages, some things will have to be axed. No doubt that the full page setting ads will go away as well as the “Design Notes” sidebars. My guess is that it will have the rules changes, the new Edges, the new Powers, and either the Races or the new subsystems, but there will only be one one-sheet adventure instead of five.

Well, that’s my review! If you’ve got any questions, comments, or jokes, feel free to share it in the comments!

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