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Posts tagged ‘Review’

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Joe Reviews “In Harm’s Way: Pigboats”

As most of you already know, I’m quite the history buff, which means I enjoy historical games as well as pseudo-historical games. In Harm’s Way: Pigboats is a historical game set in World War Two. Specifically, it covers submariners in the Pacific. There is some really cool stuff in this book!

This game is meant to describe the kinds of stories one would tell about sailors on a submarine in WW2. What kind of story is that? Well, it’s about a few different things. First is the execution of the mission. One player is the Skipper of a particular boat, and part of the story is the action one sees while being a submariner. Second, In Harm’s Way: Pigboats is about how a man advances in the United States Navy during WW2. There is a really cool mechanic called “Notice” which works sort of like social XP, allowing one to advance in rank by gaining the positive (and enduring the negative) Notice of your superiors in the Admiralty. Third is Shore Leave, and what you do with your time. Interactions between regular Navy, Marines, and even Army men while on leave are ripe for stories about camaraderie or inter-service rivalry. Fourth is the Honor and Practicality dichotomy. Everyone has 20 points
(ten in each) to start, and as one become more honorable or pragmatic, the balance can shift towards one or the other. Finally is the interaction of the players. Many military stories are about a group of men who don’t get along but then resolve their differences through bravery in war. This game does this, too, although not explicitly like the previous actions.

Gaining Notice, fighting the boat and shore leave are all mechanics that are present in the system. Fighting the sub is almost a mini-game in and of itself, since one needs to know all sorts of things about the condition of your boat as well as worrying about what the enemy is doing.

In Harm’s Way: Pigboats actually has four different systems (all variations on a theme) in it. The basic rules are percentile, d6-d6, d6 pool, or d20 based. Respectively, the systems are known as StarPerc, StarZero, StarNova, and StarPool. Essentially, these are granular percentile systems with varying increments of difficulty. For instance, selecting the percentile option gives a lot more fine adjustment in TNs than the d20 version. What I like is the idea that the granularity can change the feel of the game, without having to convert anything else. A pistol does +15 damage no matter what system you’re using. The Notice, Sub fighting, Shore Leave, Honor, and other sub-systems (no pun intended) also seamlessly work with any of the four dice systems.

My favorite section of this book is the “Extra Credit” section. This part of the book discusses exactly what actions are performed on a sub. It gets into some pretty neat details about what each action feels like, all without getting too technical. In Harm’s Way: Pigboats is an awesome game.

Playing this game offers some cool challenges, as it seems to be built for troupe play, in which everyone has several characters of different ranks (Officer ranks, of course). One way of playing the game is to run a Wolf Pack in which everyone has different characters on the boats, giving everyone the opportunity to play Skipper! In Harm’s Way: Pigboats is a game I can heartily recommend as worth your money and your time. It’s a great game with a whole lot of potential as a fun game in between serious and beer and pretzels. It’d be a good filler game or campaign game!

Update!

The author has posted 14 actual play reports as a free PDF! They are available at Pigboats’ official page.

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Joe Reviews Missing Magic: Potions

Every once in a while, there is a little, low-cost gem thrown out into the RPG PDF sphere: and the Missing Magic series by Asparagus Jumpsuit is full of them. Potions is a great little book that does exactly what it claims to do.

Missing Magic: Potions claims to be a detailed look at 34 common potions for Pathfinder, and it delivers. The potions are common spells distilled into liquid form, and each has its appearance, taste and smell described. Some sound really nasty while some sound appetizing, but they all sound fairly realistic. What I mean to say is that they all sound like actual concoctions of some kind, and while the taste and smell is not always in agreement, one could easily use those clues…and make up their own based on them.

Each potion is a pretty useful spell in its own right, and It is really cool to see them done up with taste and smell. When a GM is running a dungeon crawl, these descriptions are a good way to give a PC something to see or smell before detect magic is cast. In fact, if you are consistent in your GMing, you could get players to recognize certain potions by those attributes!

The potions may not be as palatable as a fine wine, but they certainly sound like something someone might (or might not!) try to drink. If I were to learn that my player undid the stopper of something and smelled “beer and seawater,” I’d be hesitant for my PC to use it right away. Describing the tastes and smells is a really good idea, and makes the book well worth the $3.

I heartily recommend Missing Magic: Potions, and for the price you can hardly go wrong!

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Joe Reviews: The Yaurcoan Empire

I miss playing Savage Worlds, and plan on returning to it one of these days. When I do, I sincerely hope it is to play Totems of the Dead. I am a Latin American scholar, and spend an inordinate amount of time studying the pre-Columbian peoples of North and Central America. As a result of this fascination, a pre-Columbian fantasy game like Totems of the Dead is definitely one of my favorite games. (We did an episode in season one where it was featured as a favorite game.)

The Yaurcoan Empire sourcebook is a fantastic resource for Totems of the Dead, especially if you want an Incan themed game. If I can put my historian hat on a for a moment, The Yaurcoan Empire won’t get you through a class on the Inca, as the Empire presented in the book is a mash up of the Incan Empire around the time of its “discovery” by Pizarro. I like to think of the Yaurcoan Empire as a bit of alternate history with the assumption that the Spanish never showed up…and it has Pterosaur riding warriors and Pleistocene animals wandering around (like Terror Birds). This, to me, makes it incredibly awesome!

The book itself is short but sweet, covering all sorts of material without bogging the reader down in minutiae. There is at least one adventure seed per page, and I’m not exaggerating about that. There is a part that covers the history, religion, and culture of the Yaurcoan Empire and its subject people. Like the Incas, the Yaurcoa dominate a bunch of local tribes, some of whom resent the dominance and others who are busily assimilating, as well as many shades of gray in between the extremes. The religion section is interesting and really illustrates this cosmopolitan atmosphere.

The Gazetteer section is also incredibly informative and useful for a GM who is going to run a game set in the cities of the Empire. Each city comes complete with a sentence or two of history, some cultural differences highlighted, and a little news (adventure seed!). The places are wonderfully thought out, and yet tease you with a lack of detail begging to be filled in! The entire book is written with an eye for tantalizing your imagination with ways to bridge gaps between short bursts of inspirational prose. There are neat details like a mention that there are hidden valleys in the mountains containing monsters, treasure, secret estates, and ancient ruins. They even mention a couple of peoples from the distant past (one a race of giants that still inhabit some of the valleys) to help you flavor your own ruins.

There is only a page of new crunch in here, which definitively shows that it’s more of a GM’s book than one for players. The new edges and equipment is still pretty cool, though. In the GM’s section of the book there are stats and backgrounds for a few major characters mentioned in the current events of the Empire, which does a really good job of showing you how to build a character from a similar background. Each description has a few good story hooks in it, too. There are two pages of “secrets,” which are really just adventure seeds, and they add a lot of ideas!

The bestiary section is really cool, too, which is really a feature of this line (the GM’s Guide has a massive bestiary). It has the stats you would need to run the adventure at the end of the book. The adventure is only a page, and would require a little bit of exposition on the GM’s part. It does a solid job of giving someone a good kick start to the two-fisted nature of the game.

Overall, if you like Totems of the Dead, pick up The Yaurcoan Empire. It’d be six dollars well spent, as at the very least it will keep you inspired to do something. The best praise I can heap on The Yaurcoan Empire is that it screams to be played. The entire time you read it as a GM your head will spin with ideas to run a game set in the Empire itself.

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Joe Reviews: GURPS Social Engineering

I love reading GURPS books, they are always so full of ideas that I cannot help but be inspired. GURPS Social Engineering is no exception. It clocks in at 88 pages, but there is a lot of information packed in there. It’s a surprisingly weighty pdf, but the investiture of time in reading it is well worth it.

Primarily, GURPS Social Engineering is a rules book. It expands greatly on the fairly static rules for rank, social status, and NPC reaction found in the Baic Set. The book does more than simply tweaking these systems: it actually opens them up to a level to be the focus of a campaign. One can have a social campaign using these rules, and have the focus of said campaign be mechanically supported fairly well.

One interesting thing about the way the rules are written is the fact that using these rules to run a campaign would not fundamentally change the GURPS engine, but change the focus of those rules. What I mean is that running a social-only campaign using this book would not allow one to experience social “combat” in the spirit of Fate, but it would allow for social conflict on any scale from high school bickering to a coup d’etat in an inter-stellar empire. The social conflict possible using the rules in GURPS Social Engineering is mostly about influence and nuance…it is not a fundamental change to how GURPS works.

This is a feature, not a bug. As I’ve said before, GURPS is a modular game. You want to take the parts that work to help build the game you want. In many ways it’s a toolkit of sub-systems that allow one to build a campaign framework that works well enough to emulate the genre or style your campaign will take. GURPS Social Engineering makes this eminently more plausible, by adding the rules for a campaign that doesn’t focus on strictly physical conflict.

There are a few areas where GURPS Social Engineering really shines in the rules department. The expanded rules for Rank and Social Status are very in depth, and can build one hell of a catty society. In the first chapter, High School is mentioned as a setting, I can see class conscious “mean girls” being a great Enemy Organization. Similarly, the new reaction tables are awesome. There is a reaction table for a lot of different situations where a group of PCs would want something from NPCs: Hiring, Requesting Aid, Commercial Transactions, and Confrontation with Authority are some examples.

I really like this book, as it examines a lot of social situations in which PCs can interact. I think my favorite section is the one where the author discusses taunting and intimidation. The final chapter of GURPS Social Engineering is about the line where social conflict becomes physical conflict. It’s an extremely well done look at how to provoke violence in NPCs using the rules in GURPS. There is a section on inciting a riot as well as being intimidated and or attacked by one!

The book closes with a small nod to the debate about social rules existing in RPGs at all. There are many who feel that roleplaying should be more than sufficient for all social situations in a game. I happen to agree with this in a game where social interactions or political maneuvering is not part of the game. I like any game I’m playing to support what I’m doing in it mechanically. I don’t want to play a game that works in spite of the system I’m using, and with GURPS Social Engineering , I’m now equipped to run a political game using GURPS. I’m always happy when I can do more things with GURPS.

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Joe Reviews The Genius Guide to the Death Knight

I have heard a lot about the Genius Guides over the last couple of years. Even as someone who does not normally play Pathfinder, I am always on the lookout for stuff I can use in Castles & Crusades. Having heard about the Guides, and having a predilection towards undead things, I picked up The Genius Guide to the Death Knight.

This is a pretty cool book! The PDF I have for it is apparently formatted for easy screen reading, and it looks great on my iPad. The illustrations are very evocative, especially the severed head on page 17!

The book itself is devoted to a new base class, or at least a class that can be used as one, called the Death Knight. It’s a death-aspected anti-Paladin, of which there are two minor variants. The variants are based on alignment, (only Evil or Neutral allowed), and are mostly flavor distinctions. There are all sorts of cool powers available to the Death Knight. My favorite is every few levels the living Death Knight gains immunities usually reserved for the undead! They also have access to spells, which I forgot was normal in Pathfinder.

Speaking of spells, I am totally going to steal some of these for evil necromancers in my D&D-like games. The Grave Summoning spells allow a Death Knight to summon undead creatures from a list. I can think of all sorts of horrible misdirection possibilities with Mask of Life, which hides an undead’s true nature. There’s also a cool spell that allows for the caster to hide in the Low Road, which is a sort of path to the underworld. The same spell allows them to travel the Low Road from corpse to corpse.

The Low Road is a really cool concept, basically a plane of existence in which only the recently dead can go. The soul of the intelligent dead from all over the multiverse funnel through it, and it is completely inaccessible by the living or the dead who inhabit their final reward or punishment.

The Genius Guide to the Death Knight is a really cool little sourcebook that has a ton of neat ideas in it. I really enjoyed reading it, and my players may see a Death Knight or two in my next game!

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