Monday, August 31, 2015
However, having received my limited cover copy of Far Trek in the mail just a couple days ago, and having read it cover to cover -- I knew I had to write about it as soon as I could because it's just that good. And once again, it shows you can have a perfectly great game without the need to take up pages and pages of to layout the necessary rules and information needed to play.
To be clear here, this version of Far Trek is a new and expanded version of the game and the game had been available for some time before. A friend introduced me (and others) to the game as we were looking to do some sort of Star Trek based RPG game. At the time, we looked at doing an Open D6 type game (using the Mini Six ruleset to get us started), the original Prime Directive game, and Far Trek was tossed in as options. Prime Directive won the day but, Far Trek stuck in the back of my mind. By chance, a physical copy of the revised book with the fantastic and aged looking 'retro' Star Trek cover was being offered at cost for 24 hours from a POD. I seized the opportunity and ordered a couple of copies. The creator of the game does not make ANY money of this property since it is based on the Star Trek universe.
There have been a few Star Trek RPGs over the years starting with 'Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier' by Heritage Models (1978) with the most recent effort having been released by Decipher Games under the CODA system (2002). A favorite of many, you have FASA's 'Star Trek Role Playing Game' which remained the 'go-to' Trek game for many years when it was released in the early 80's. Of course, there have also been the 'unofficial' games such as 'Starships & Spacemen'.
I am certainly not an expert when it comes to all these different Star Trek games. I am vaguely familiar with the CODA system and I recall bits from FASA's offering when I first came across it in the late 80's but, that's about the extent of it. However, I *do* appreciate Star Trek and was a fan of the original series, movies, and the later series. I will always have a special fondness for the original series which is part of the reason why Far Trek stands out for me.
Far Trek, simply put, is a love letter to 'classic trek'. The game is simply a great pastiche for the original series. The system itself was originally based on the Microlite20 system as 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' which proved to be a great foundation for Far Trek which uses a 3d6 mechanic instead. It keeps the rules simple enough and does a great job at capturing the spirit and feel of the original series.
The book is broken up in 8 chapters with an additional 5 appendices. Chapter 1 provides a quick introduction to the game, the Federation, and the Prime Directive and dives in Chapter 2 which deals with character creation. There are 3 basic classes to the game, being Gold Shirts, Blue Shirts, and Red Shirts, and 4 attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Charisma). Each character has skills and talents to round them out.
The rules themselves make up less than ten pages for Chapter 3 where as basic equipment can be found in Chapter 4.
The largest chapter in the book is devoted to Starship Movement & Combat, but like the rest of the book, the rules and aids in this section are clear, concise, and relatively simple in comparison. The following chapter, titled 'Enemies & Allies', will help populate the stars and various encounters but the last two chapters of the book provides a wealth of tools to help create your adventures. You have a host of tables to create new worlds and systems as well as aids to create encounters with enough variety to keep things fresh. Well... new but familiar in a very 'Trek' manner anyway. Along with this, you are also presented with a series of charts to serve as your 'Episode Creator' for the game.
Of course, some people may feel that all of this isn't enough but thankfully, even here, there is an attempt to make those people happy. A third of the book is appendix material which gives you options such as new classes, creatures, and detailed information on Klingons and Romulans.
The books is a small, 6x9 book with a 148 page count but the quantity of information and the great system found in its pages makes a campaign to that final frontier on your own 5 year missions so much more accessible now. The fact that the PDF is completely free is a BIG bonus.
If you want to continue to hear about development on Far Trek and find where you can grab the free PDF, you may do so HERE.
Sunday, August 16, 2015
What caught my attention though was this full-sized hardcover that was proudly displayed. It screamed of old-school FRPG aesthetics and flipping through the book instantly reminded me of some of the older 1st Edition AD&D tomes and other FRPG books of the day. This was the Torchbearer RPG book and looking at its pages made it evident that this work was a love-letter to those games of old both in look and spirit.
There is an emphasis on resource management in this game. Notably, the importance of inventory, time, and light and how these are managed will make or break the party of poor souls during their planned expedition.
Tracking inventory and knowing what you can and can't carry is key to the game. You can only take in what you can carry and the same goes for what you take out. If you are loaded up with gear and you want to take out an artifact, you may need to leave something behind. Worse yet, you may even juggle the necessity of equipment and the amount of food you are taking with you! Tracking is made easy in the game... much like some computer RPGs, it's based on slots.
As far as time goes... everything you do counts against you. As time goes on, you may get hungry, or, if particularly unlucky other conditions suffered may worsen as time progresses. The passage of time was very important in the earlier days of dungeon exploration and adventuring. It is something a lot of modern games tend to gloss over nowadays. However, in the earliest versions of the world's most popular roleplaying game, this was of paramount importance.
However, it is the importance of light that makes the game interesting. A lack of lighting will most definitely play into the challenge of trying to successfully accomplish a variety of tasks. The thing is, light is also a resource and it can, and will eventually, go out.
Naturally, these things and their relative importance can be stressed and put into practice in any RPG so, these alone wouldn't be enough to 'sell' the game. But the relative detail vs ease of play is a strong reason to at least take a look at the game. For those familiar with both Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard, this falls somewhere in between. It isn't near as complicated as Burning Wheel but has more than Mouse Guard. The creators' themselves consider Torchbearer to be something like an 'advanced Mouse Guard'.
A big turn-off for the game for many is that, while simple enough in principal, it plays vastly differently from a typical game. This become readily apparent when it comes to combat (referred to in Torchbearer as conflict. The biggest difference is that the party determines at the start of the conflict, their 'disposition'. This is effectively a hitpoint pool which is divided up among the party. The GM does the thing for his side. The player's side of the conflict is managed by the 'Conflict Captain' who, effectively manages the party for that conflict. Each side gets three actions and each action can either be Attack, Defend, Feint, or Maneuver. The GM selects his in secret and the Conflict Captain, after consulting with his team determines their three actions and who will take them. Each action (or phase) compares one side with the other in what could best be described as something like 'rock, paper, scissor'. Depending on the action, rolls and/or opposed rolls are called for and disposition may be lost. When either side reaches zero disposition, they lose. What happens when the lose will depend on the original intent. Was it to drive them away? Capture them? Kill them? etc...
It *is* simple but it's also a bit granular and not what most gamers will be used to when they come to this game. It's probably something that will appeal to some and turn off others. What it does do is challenge they way we play and Torchbearer is well positioned to shake off a sort of complacency of how we approach our RPGs.
As for the rest of the system, there is much elegance to it. It is a dice pool system with skills and traits, and abilities (stats) and some expertise (called 'wises'). The numbers determine the dice you roll and aspects of the character and given situation will add or subtract from that pool. One person who is well-versed in the mechanics can easily guide a group of new players through the game and can easily teach them to play while running through a scenario. While easy to learn (and easier if you are taught it), it will take some time before the players really get the hang of it (or master it, if you will). The game itself will force the players to work together as a team and talk to each other instead of taking a 'everyone for themselves' mentality to playing. It certainly will cause people to change how they play and react compared to other games.
Torchbearer is *not* designed to be a sweeping saga across some fantasy realm filled with political intrigue or murderous plots. It's for dungeon crawling and the importance of tracking movement, time, provisions, and the state of the party is paramount. You start off in an inn, you organize expeditions and leave from the town to the dungeon, and try your best to earn a living without getting yourself killed while working for your big score.
If this still interests you, the PDF is available over at RPG Now over HERE for just $15. Physical copies of the book are still available, and you should be able to find or order it at most reputable game stores. Noble Knight has it new for $29.95.
Saturday, August 8, 2015
The Castles & Crusades Mythos Kicktarter is well under way, and with only 10 days left, it's time to drop the hammer on this one. The goal of this campaign is to bring to print three hardcover books which is a blend of historical, mythological, setting material for your game -- be it C&C or other compatible FRPGs. To date, they have brought two of this to print. The first of these was the Codex Celtarum, and the second, the Codex Nordica. Both books were very well received and I've reviewed both in the past. These can be found HERE and HERE. This crowdfunding campaign brings three more books to the fold. These are the Codex Germania, the Codex Slavorum, and the Codex Classicum.
The Codex Germania focuses on the myths of the ancient Germanic peoples and their worldview during the age of the Roman Empire. It is an excellent companion book to the first two books already released. The Codex Slavorum presents a change of focus and brings to light the diversity found in eastern and southern Europe. Finally, the Codex Classicum are the ancient Greeks, their mythology, and contextualizes them with the Romans and Etruscans.
Of course, the great news is that these have already been funded and pretty much funded the first day. We're looking for stretch goals and some of those involve expanding the available material further.
At the $99 level, you get all three books (PDF and in print) plus a bunch of stretch goals as they are unlocked. These already include expanded content for the fist book, a stand alone adventure, and some bookmarks. There was another stretchgoal for early birds and another bonus goal if 201 backers support the project before Sunday evening (the 9th of August) at midnight.
If $99 is too steep or you are just not interested in all three books, you can always pledge at the $1 level and add-on which ever book(s) you want but doing so will mean ineligibility for the some of the bonus swag.
In any event, I strongly urge you to check it out. If it's anything like the previous two books in the series, this books will be a great addition to your gaming library.
This year's GenCon was a special one for me. It was my second GenCon that I attended but this year's convention was also my honeymoon. On July 25th, I married my significant other; we had already been together for about 12 years. The marriage itself seemed more of a formality but the reception (read party) afterwards was fantastic. It was great to see family and friends celebrating this milestone with us and, after a couple days rest, we embarked on a road trip to Indianapolis.
My wife is a geek and, while not certainly a big gamer, she loved her experience at GenCon the previous year and wanted to go back. She loved the idea of GenCon being our honeymoon destination so we planned the wedding accordingly. The past few months have really been busy though but everything ended up being very successful. Being our second time at GenCon, we avoided some of the pitfalls the first time around and made sure our experience was a far better one than our first.
One of the decisions we made, since we were doing this as a road trip, was to do the journey in two days as opposed to a continuous marathon. We opted to do a stop off at a stereotypical honeymoon destination -- Niagara Falls. We left early (VERY EARLY) on Tuesday morning and made good time from Montreal to Niagara. Arriving early afternoon, it gave us a chance to visit the falls, take the iconic boat ride (and get soaked) by the falls, as well as visit the town. The town was very 'kitsch' but appealing nonetheless. Probably because we were on our way to GenCon. We had a nice dinner and enjoyed a good soak in the pool and hot tub.
The following morning was another early as we left from Niagara and crossed into the US to complete our road trek to our ultimate destination. It was a longer drive and we arrived very late afternoon. We took the time to check in and then go to the Indiana Convention Center to pick up our badges. That proved to be the only hiccup of our trip but one that couldn't be avoided. As residents outside the US, there is only the 'Will Call' option to pick up the badges; they just won't do any mailings outside the US and that's a shame. The line up when we came to it in the evening was entirely too long. Coupled with the fact that many residents of the US prefer to save the $10 instead of having badges and tickets mailed out to them, waiting over an hour in line just goes to show how somethings still need to be improved. We opted to go out to supper and come back later. When we did (it was well past 9pm by that point), the line was just as long but seemed to be moving quickly. We waited only about 45 minutes.
The next few days were a blast though and, instead of trying to book every hour of my day (like I did last time), I spaced out my events and made sure my evenings were free. I mean, it *was* my honeymoon after all. I got into three games... two were Amazing Adventures games and one was a Castles & Crusades game. The Amazing Adventures ones I played were both run by Jason Vey, writer of the game, and I had a blast with it. It was the first chance I actually had to play the system despite owning it for a couple of years now. The Castles & Crusades adventure was particularly fun though. We had something like 20 players and it was, as expected, totally a meat grinder. I had a glorious death as threats came in at us from all sides. Stephen Chenault from Troll Lord Games ran us through that one and my character had a glorious death!
I also sat through a couple of demos, did a couple of workshops, and the wife and I did some tourist type things like the Indy Brew Tour. Indianapolis has a lot of microbreweries and, it's not everyday one gets to tour one. In this case, the tour takes us to four but, in all honesty, the tour consists of going to brewery to brewery and sampling many types of beer as well as buying and drinking even more. It was FANTASTIC and we'd happily do the tour again. :)
One of the highlights during the trip is seeing some friends again. We were fortunate that we shared our road trip with a couple of friends who were also part of our wedding party. However, we made some friends last year at GenCon -- namely the gang at Troll Lord Games. We were invited out to go drinking with them last year and this year was very much the same thing. The guys there are a great bunch to hang out with and we were constantly popping in to say hi to them while they were working the floor in the exhibit (vendor) hall. They really are a great bunch of people and seeing them again, sharing a few drinks, really helped make the trip worthwhile.
Between Wednesday evening and Monday morning, we enjoyed the hospitality of Indianapolis and our departure on the morning of the last day was a bittersweet. It was nice to know that we would soon be home but we were also sorry to see this year's GenCon come to an end. We decided to end the trip on a high note though and detoured through Cleveland to take in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. While in Cleveland, I also got a chance to get together with a friend I met a few months earlier on Facebook. It was a pleasant stop and a nice break from the road.
We continued on that evening till we hit the outskirts of NY state for an inexpensive motel for the night only to continue and complete our trip the following day. We were greeted with Montreal rush hour traffic -- a sobering reminder that we have come home.
The trip wasn't without its costs though. A crippled Canadian dollar made the exchange rate even less favorable than we had initially planned upon. I started the trip with a 'shopping list' of sorts and managed to come back with more than I had planned. Thankfully, nothing really excessive save a pricey Iwata air compressor but buying it there meant I save close to $200 Canadian otherwise. It was a great buy and I've already put it to good use.
It was a great trip overall and between the Falls, GenCon, and the Rock Hall, a trip whose memories I will treasure. The wife and I as well as my traveling companions have already begun discussing the possibility of a trip back next year.