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Belly of the Beast RPG
by Patrick H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/27/2016 21:24:57

This is excellent. I love the system (the dice engine is fairly standard, but the way characters are built is awesome), I love the setting, and I love how much freedom there is as far as what the world looks like.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Belly of the Beast RPG
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Belly of the Beast RPG
by Adam W F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/28/2016 09:35:07

I absolutely love the artwork in this book, and that combined with the unique setting is why I backed the project when it was on Kickstarter. I'm planning to take the Belly of the Beast setting, and use it with another RPG rule set that my group loves. I showed some of the full-page artwork to my group, and they can't wait to start an adventure! Looking forward to see what other products will be developed for this setting.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Belly of the Beast RPG
by Doug T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/27/2016 21:27:55

The minute I saw Belly of the Beast proposed on Kickstarter, I knew I had to have it. I was immediately struck by the originality of the setting, one so rich and interesting and filled with the potential for original roleplaying situations, I wished that I'd thought of it myself. Since backing the project, I was incredibly impressed with the professionalism and care with which the project was handled... traits that obviously carry through in the game itself. The product itself is beautifully written and illustrated. This is a game that I'm looking forward to enjoying.

-Doug Tabb One-Time Line Editor of Role-Aids, Chill, and Underground at Mayfair Games



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Belly of the Beast RPG
by Allana G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/27/2016 05:35:27

This is an awesome game, I've only had time to run it once but everyone seemed to enjoy it. The concept is good, the system is easy to get your head around and easy to run with. It would be perfect for a one shot or a whole campaign of fighting through increasingly difficult odds just to eek out a megre living.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Belly of the Beast RPG
by Duncan K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/26/2016 18:44:55

What do Resident Evil, World of Darkness, and Deadspace all have in common? They, like many other games, have the label of HORROR put upon them, when that is not what they actually are. Sure, they are all good, and yes, they may be scary at times, but they are not true horror. These are games of Action, Intrigue, and the Supernatural, with elements of horror. A true horror game is one that you have no chance of beating, only surviving. And only if you are very lucky. Horror comes from sense of helplessness, not a struggle to over-power the darkness.

Amnesia, Silent Hill: PT, and Call of Cthulhu are all true horror games, where at best, surviving through the game is your only hope. Heck, even Five Nights at Freddy's is even in this category, even if it is all about jump-scares.

Up until now, Call of Cthulhu has been the only tabletop RPG I could find that truly immerses it's players in an atmosphere of dread. Unfortunately I have never been much of a fan of Lovecraft's work.

Belly of the Beast is a truly unique and horrifying game, played entirely within the digestive tract of a creature the size of mountain, still consuming the land you once called home. You have no chance of escape, no chance of ever seeing daylight again. There will be betrayal, there will be insanity, and there will be horrors. Welcome to the Belly of the Beast.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Belly of the Beast RPG
by Nolan O. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/26/2016 16:18:31

Belly of the Beast is a fun, easy to learn and implement fantasy setting unlike any other I've seen. The world is well described with enough gory details and rules to give you the idea while leaving plenty for your imagination to start generating your own ideas on what could be lurking in the Beast’s gut. It should be said that I don’t enjoy post-apocalyptic games that much. Belly of the Beast immediately captured my imagination and my mind started spinning off possible stories.

The system they use seems to be one that the devs have previously developed and the polish shows. I haven’t extensively run the game or stretched the rules yet the rules have been easy to learn and held up well so far. Particularly the rules on gear, and your ability to sacrifice it as a story consequence, has been one of the biggest things to cement the gritty post-apocalyptic feel as well as creating some memorable scenes.

The biggest problem I have with the game isn't necessarily the game itself but the layout of the book. It's done poorly, things that should be simple section headings given bold title pages. The art is beautiful through the book, greatly enhancing the descriptions of the Beast and the survivors struggling inside but character portraits are left on their own pages with no background, left to spoil surrounded by whitespace. Wrapping text around the portraits seems like it would have been a much better way to do it, though more difficult to setup in regards to layout. These things, combined with someone strange layout quirks or decisions make the PDF feel like a rough draft or reference document more than the relatively substantial RPG book that it is.

The layout issues may seem like a small thing to focus on but significant enough to be the reason that I’m not getting a physical copy of the game. Rather than something I’d be excited to show off it makes the game an interesting curio, a unique idea that is well thought out and executed but held back from being great.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cornerstone RPG - Basic
by Mike K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/03/2016 14:38:16

This is a nice game system. I can see playing a lot of different kinds of games with it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cornerstone RPG - Basic
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Cornerstone RPG - Basic
by Jose F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/20/2016 00:44:26

This game is exactly what it says it is. It is heavily FUDGE/Fate inspired with some interesting new conventions. It's very simple and should play fast and would be excellent for one-shots or convention play.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hunt the Wicked RPG
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/29/2016 18:06:54

Hunt the Wicked is one of a growing string of successfully Kickstarted roleplaying games by Sigil Stone Publishing, and I’ve been singing their praises in past reviews for a while now. Well, it’s time to add another to the list, and it may well be the best one yet!

THE SETTING Hunt the Wicked features an expansive space opera setting, detailing planets, systems, orbital colonies, and more. There are three main species (humans, a race of amorphous lifeforms, and a race of beings whose sentience has essentially been uploaded into techno-organic bodies…or even across the neural net). While Earth features in the setting, it’s been a long time since humans ventured out into the universe and contacted both these other races, as well as supercomputer-like, godly sentience known as the Archon.

The Archon is essentially a godlike being that has more or less forced the three main species onto equal footing. This supercomputer is basically the size of a sun, and it uses its vast power and intelligence to destroy militaries that grow too powerful, or individuals that threaten the enforced order that the Archon has created. Ultimately, the Archon is a major background element of the setting, but what’s important is that it is a key reason why bounty hunters are a focus of the setting: if there weren’t bounty hunters to keep some semblance of order (even if it’s really motivated by personal gain in a lot of cases, rather than any sense of duty to justice and law), there certainly wouldn’t be any kind of cohesive military or law enforcement organization to do so. The Archon would make sure of that. Thus, poorly organized or even downright lone wolf bounty hunters are the order of the day.

While each settlement is given only a paragraph or two of information, consideration for story ideas and inhabitants is given in spades, and the general “feel” is clearly established for each settlement. All told, there are over two dozen settlements, and since some home in on a specific orbital station, while others tackle entire planets or small systems of a few inhabited worlds, that’s a lot of ground covered. While this may leave folks cold if they are looking for extensive amounts of background history, timelines, and nitpicky details about every single culture or city, it’s clear that Hunt the Wicked‘s text is solely concentrated on giving you immediately gameable information and the necessary inspiration to devise any number of conflicts for the players to face.

This provides an enterprising setting enthusiast with a strong foundation to work from, or provides simple direction and substantial inspiration for more collaborative world-building handled during the initial Game Concept stage, or during play. Each settlement is categorized by either the species or organization that founded it, which can help provide further character background fodder for players of any of the main three species featured in the game. Furthermore, the Archon is given its own chapter to help with understanding and using it as a plot device. It even has its own mechanic: Ire. It turns out that Bounty Hunters’ actions can increase (or decrease) the Archon’s Ire, and that’s very important to the denizens of the universe; we’ll talk more about that shortly.

THE SYSTEM The system used is the Ethos Engine, introduced in Vow of Honor Rolepalying Game. Basically, players roll a pool of 6-sided dice, built from a single free die, Advantage Dice that come from circumstances and gear, and Motivation Dice that come from a limited pool based on story factors that face a player’s Bounty Hunter. These Motivation Dice refresh every so often; we’ll get into that a bit more in a second, because that’s what truly sets Hunt the Wicked apart from Vow of Honor.

As in previous games from Sigil Stone, the GM doesn’t roll dice. Enemies and tasks are rated by difficulties or by their traits, but this are applied as opposition towards the players’ dice rolls, rather than actively rolled against them by the GM. While successes on the dice pool roll are determined by comparing each individual die to the Bounty Hunter’s Skill ratings, the difficulty level of the task or enemy determines how many successes are necessary to harm or defeat them.

As mentioned, Bounty Hunters have Motivations and ratings in eight general Skills, and their Species will also give them access to another special trait, as well as a bump to some skills. Beyond these, they have Talents that form a concept of what the character does well, such as Explosives Expert, and their gear, which includes weapons, survival gear, equipment for capturing their bounties, cybernetic technology, and so on. Lastly, each Bounty Hunter has a Technique, which is an especially potent ability that more or less defines a mechanical bonus representing the “how?” of their bounty-hunting style.

The Motivations are really the core of what makes Hunt the Wicked the game that it is: there are several, but an individual character chooses two, unlocking specific abilities (Motivation Maneuvers) from those that they choose. This gives each character an individual feel and unique abilities. The Motivations include: Community, Esteem, Justice, Liberty, and Power. Based on a Bounty Hunter’s chosen Motivations, they are awarded Motivation Dice when they face a Trigger (an event that causes one of their Motivations to come to the fore), when they resolve a Trigger (such as by capturing a bounty who triggered their Justice Motivation), and simply by pursuing and capturing other bounties along the way. The more you seek out, the more you’re going to be earning Motivation dice…but of course, the more times you may be facing danger, or Motivations that aren’t among your chosen ones.

Which neatly segues to some trouble Bounty Hunters face, namely becoming Haunted or Obsessed. For each, there is an action (called a Narrative Action) that a player can take to basically make something happen automatically, without regard to dice, but at an extreme consequence. One of those is Collateral Damage — the Bounty Hunter shoots down the target of the bounty, without regard to the innocent bystanders nearby — and that can lead to the Bounty Hunter becoming Haunted until absolved of their guilt. The other is Let Them Loose, where the Bounty Hunter lets their prey go for now, only to become Obsessed with getting them later on down the line. There are other means of becoming Haunted or Obsessed (some mechanical, some not), but these have palpable, narrative and mechanical consequences on a character, and show why Motivation is such an important aspect of game play.

While the rest of the game works pretty much exactly like Vow of Honor — which has elements of Fate in its Consequences and perhaps Apocalypse World — there’s discussion of chases, illness, fear, and favors. Chases are discussed at great length, with two alternative systems provided to vary the complexity of them. Favors are given a fair amount of word count as well, as owing favors and being owed favors makes up a huge part of the roleplaying aspect of hunting someone down, whether they are a low-life, a political leader, someone on the fringes, or perhaps a traitor to the local government.

The GMing side of things is clearly explained, and devotes plenty of space to building an actual manhunt, as this might be a little different than a typical “dungeon crawl” scenario, or even a roleplay heavy “political action” game. Understanding the crimes, how to move about a space opera system, and tracking someone down is all crucial, and well developed here. This even goes for how to portray dead ends, bad leads, and keeping the chase interesting over a long period of time.

Something I found to be especially strong among all of designer Ben Dutter’s work is the initial campaign creation stage that can be handled as its own conversation, or as a part of character generation. It starts with the creation of a Game Concept, a discussion between GM and players that will determine the general themes, mood, tone, and more specific information, giving everyone at the table plenty of say in where things will start, where they might go, and how to fit their characters into it. It sort of looks like this:

  • Game Concept: determine the overall theme and tone of the game.
  • Purpose: determine the primary purpose of the player characters, giving them a strong connective tissue for creating a cohesive party.
  • Place: determine the setting.
  • Color: determine aspects of the mood and tone and how they relate to the player characters.

Like Vow of Honor, this game is set to include a Quick Start Rules section at the end that provides a shorthand guide to all of the rules. It also includes a brief “Synopsis” text box at the end of each major section, which reinforces the themes and rules of the game in a narrative way, and can provide an excellent method of teaching the game to new players, or to give an overview of what the game is truly about. Considering the author’s commitment to having part of the gaming process to be “discuss what this campaign is about with your group,” these sections allow the GM and players to get into a game fast, have the same assumptions about the campaign’s tone, and allow for some collaboration to fill in the setting’s details that pertinent to the playing group.

An example hunt in the Quickstart, a fully fleshed out scenario titled “Terror on the Superlume,” some random tables — to flesh out the setting or a particular bounty — and lastly, a series of “Vignettes” round out the book. The vignettes are like prepackaged setting material that scream ADVENTURE HERE!, providing locations, NPCs, and mysteries that mesh well with the themes of the game and expand the universe.

ART & LAYOUT Hunt the Wicked is beautiful. It conforms to other Sigil Stone releases in that text is laid in one column (aside from the Quickstart), which means that it’s optimized for digital formats: it’s going to be a pleasant read on computer screens, tablets, e-readers, and hell, probably on your cellphone, too. It’s fully bookmarked and section headers and chapter breaks aren’t just easy to spot, they wonderfully designed.

The artwork is evocative and generally of stellar quality (pun intended). There are a few pieces that are very simplistic — generally those that simply highlight a new race or a single piece of equipment — but they are done well, providing a template that helps you understand the species/gear at a glance. The full page and locale-related artwork is just flat-out gorgeous, depicting a cohesive-yet-varied sci-fi space opera setting that truly feels like a universe of multitudinous peoples and places. All of them ripe for some bounty hunting action!

As is always the case when something is done right, we want a lot more of it, and this is no exception. There’s a few parts of the book where several pages go by without artwork, but when you hit the next piece, let me tell you, it’s great! That they layout is so clean helps avoid the feeling of “walls of text” without images in those sections, so there’s no trouble there.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hunt the Wicked RPG
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Micropend6 RPG
by chris m. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/04/2016 09:55:08

This is a nice introduction to the D6 system popularized by West End Games' Star Wars and the Open D6 games that followed. taking inspiration from MiniSix, Freeform Universal (FU) and many others, its clear that a lot of thought went into creating a manual that is up to date with current trends and honors the original system.

I especially like how creating the game concepts involve the whole table coming up with a few of every character's skills. I also like how players roll all the dice in this iteration of the D6 system.

Its a terrific free product and would make a great paid product as well. Definitely worth checking out!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Micropend6 RPG
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Cornerstone RPG - Basic
by Daniel D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/03/2015 13:06:59

I never trшув this ruleset because I use FATE and PDQ# - which both are somewhat similar: very simple, very easy to pick, and quite story-based

But i like this rules a lot. It's bright and simple/ Requires some imagination

Especialy Character generation and Equipment parts

Why I didn't swith to it? Because it's new rules, instead of well known FATE. But ALSO because players have much less input, like in old-school RPGs. The GM is god and all that. It could be rather advantage, not weakness, depending of how imaginative and active your players want to be. My players just like to co-create, and that's all



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cornerstone RPG - Basic
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Cornerstone RPG - Basic
by Michael J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/17/2015 13:47:43

I'm not really sure why. But the games it is based on I liked a lot, yet this improved version just doesn't interest me. I am very confused why I don't like it better, when I probably should.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Cornerstone Fantasy
by Alan M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/15/2015 16:55:31

Another great product by Sigil Stone Publishing. Easy to pick up rules, enough bare bones to get you started in your setting of choice and quick character generation. Great for novices and experts alike



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cornerstone Fantasy
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Vow of Honor RPG
by Sophia B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/05/2015 09:10:32
http://dieheart.net/voh/

What do you need to know?

Vow of Honor (VoH) is a narrative indie game by Ben Dutter from Sigil Stone Publishing. It comes with a strong theme: you play arbiters from the Order of Fasann in a harsh fantasy world who travel from enclave to enclave to uphold the Tenets of Honor. The game was successfully kickstarted in 2014 as a digital-only product. Later on, the author provided coupons for print-on-demand-copies distributed by Onebookshelf.

I stumbled over the Kickstarter project last year when some of my G+ contacts recommended it to me. I must admit that it was a spontaneous buy-in because the author had a reasonable approach to crowdfunding, not because I was particularly sold on the game. Ben Dutter did a good job of explaining what VoH is about, already had some art pieces, a complete draft of the game and a playable Quickstart. I also liked that there were no unnecessary stretch goals which can easily torpedo a Kickstarter project. The PDF was USD $10 at that time, so I just took a leap of faith.

Please note: I have no affiliation with the author and I bought the game from my own Kickstarter budget/money. This is a “reading review”, I haven’t playtested VoH.

Setting

The game is set in Sasara, a fictional place on another planet, populated by descendants from Earth, the Forebears. It feels like a fictional Middle East/North Africa. The technology level is on par with the 15th century. Sasara is still wild, brutal and unexplored. People live scattered in isolated settlements and survival is their foremost priority. The player characters are assumed to be Arbiters in The Order of Fasann. It’s not a religious organization, but they are quite powerful. Whereas they do not govern the populace, they help to keep it safe and honorable which means that they are at least tolerated by most governments. The Order follows the Tenets of Honor: Compassion, Commitment, Purity, Righteousness, and Understanding. The book goes into detail what the Tenets mean and how to interpret them. They are strongly tied into the mechanics of the game. Enemies of the players might be the Adabhuta, some kind of evil furry demons who prey on humans and the Dishonorable, factions like criminal organizations or militants. Although there are some example settlements, the setting is still very broad strokes. The author does a good job on conveying general information and a feel for the setting, but specific details (for example with fleshed-out districts and maps) is missing.

Rules

Character Creation

The character creation process takes both fluff and crunch into consideration. First, there is the fluff. You’ll need to come up with a character concept: Who is your character? (How would enemies/friends/teachers describe you?) and What is your character’s role? (What is your role as an Arbiter, what is your skill set, your appearance etc.?). Next you’ll need to incorporate your character into the Order of Fasann. This includes your background (childhood) and your foreground (the immediate history leading up to the start of the game). Usually, Arbiters are recruited as teenagers but exceptions exist. The new recruit has to train for at least one year and you are encouraged to think about how your character’s training went. Now, we come to the crunch: there are eight Skills in VoH: Awareness, Coordination, Influence, Knowlege, Logic, Might, Resistance and Stealth. Skills are ranked as Poor, Average, Good or Exemplary (natural language, how nice!). The game uses a pool of six-sided dice for resolution. The rank of a Skill determines what number counts as a success. With a Poor Skills only the roll of a 6 is a success, Average Skills count 5s and 6s, with a Good Skills a 4 already does the job and Exemplary Skills allow you to tally up everything equal to or above 3. Skills can be bought as different arrays: Standard, Versatile, Focused and Specialist. For instance, the Focused character has 1 Exemplary, 2 Good, 3 Average, and 2 Poor Skills. Additionally, you are allowed to choose a talent. You can define this knack yourself, examples include Smooth Talker, Excellent Shot or Strong Climber. When your talent is applicable to a task you may add a +1D bonus. Arbiters must also choose two of the Tenets as Oathsworn Tenets. Mechanically, if you act in accordance to a Tenet, you’ll get additional Honor Dice (bonus dice) and when you act against these tenets, the penalties are respectively higher. Every Tenet also has a pair of Tenet Maneuvers and you are allowed to chose one of them for your starter character. Let’s say, one of your Oathsworn Tenets is Righteousness. Then you can select either

Each HD (Honor Dice) spent counts as an automatic success while rolling to act Righteously. or

You are immune to fear, and allies in your presence gain +1AD (Advantage Dice) to resist fear. As you can see, the theme of the game is deeply ingrained to the mechanics and into character creation. Tenets can also be Stained. That’s when you violate a Tenet three ties before you act in accordance with it. Interestingly, the Game Master is encouraged to mirror Stained Tenets in the game world. It’s recommended to start with one Stained Tenet, so your character has the chance to go on a quest of redemption. Mechanically, acting in accordance or violating a Stained Tenet has no repercussions and no benefits, other than a normal Tenet. Yet the default rules assume that you can’t advance your character if she has a Stained Tenet. There is an optional rule which allows it if you’d like your game to assume that PCs have to act a bit dishonorably in your setting.

All in all, I like how character creation asks you to come up with a bit of background story and personality (fluff) but also is tied into mechanics (crunch). While it might take a while to come up with good ideas for flavor, the basic mechanics are easy to grasp and shouldn’t delay you too much from beginning play.

Game mechanics

Resolution is divided into Tasks, Enemies or Scenes. Tasks are difficult actions, Enemies are opponents that act like Tasks and Scenes are multiple Tasks and Enemies. The Game Master never rolls, only the players do. For every roll, you need to pick an applicable Skills. This tells you your success threshold. You get one free Base Die (BD). Remember, the game only uses “normal” six-siders. If circumstances are favorable, you may add up to 3 Advantage Dice (AD). Additionally, you may select up to 5 Honor Dice (HD) from your pool. Your pool builds itself from your Honorable or Dishonorable actions (in regards to the Tenets). At the end of each scene, you tally up your actions and may gain or lose HD. Luckily, the book explains how that works in detail. There are also some bells and whistles about sacrifice, forsaking a Tenet etc.

So, your dice pool looks like this:

1 BD + (max. 5) HD + (max. 3) AD vs. Difficulty The Difficulty is between 1 and 5. That’s the number of successes you need to overcome a challenge. Moreover, there are Short Tasks (one-time actions) or Long Tasks (tasks which require time and multiple rolls). Long Tasks are just “rolled down”, so you tally up your success until the Difficulty is reduced to zero. But they can also have a Threshold. That’s the number of successes you need to roll before the Difficulty decreases. Scenes and Enemies are just extensions of the base mechanic. Scenes merely sum up the Scene’s Tasks and Enemies into a single Scene Difficulty. You can already see here that the game is fairly abstract because everything can be shoehorned into one of the three resolution types.

Naturally, characters will suffer if they fail a Task. If you roll successes lower than the Difficulty on Short Tasks you get an Injury or Consequence. If you ever roll zero successes (Short or Long Task), you definitely get one of those. The Severity equals the Difficulty and if you suffer Injuries of 5 or more, you’re Defeated.

A Consequence is a narrative detail that either result in the opposite of what you wanted to happen, forces you to roll a Task with a different skill or places some negative effect on your character. The Consequences are scaled in Severity (1-5). However, they are normally removed after a Scene ends. This system allows some kind of partial success mechanic. The book gives the following example: you fail to leap over a chasm, so the GM decides that while the character clears the chasm, rocks fall and when allies attempt the same task, it will have +1 Difficulty. Injuries add at least +1 Threshold to any Task that would be logically hindered. If you’ve got a sprained ankle it will be harder for you to move fast or jump around (Coordination Tasks). Healing is done with a Knowledge Task based on the Severity of the Injury. The author also included rules for sickness and fear. Enemies are like Tasks, they have a Difficulty Rating, a Severity Rating, and a Threshold. You attack against the Difficulty and defend against the Severity. Initiative is a Task roll with Awareness, Coordination or Might. Success count, Enemies count their Difficulty. Movement is abstract and the GM judges if you can attack or if you’re too far away. If it’s reasonable you can move, draw a weapon an attack on the same turn. Time is also abstract, you can zoom in on the action or group actions together.

Game Mastering

The advice for GMs is very good. The author took a book out of my favorite indie games (“fail forward”) and blogs, for example The Alexandrian. He does a god job of explaining the job of the GM in this ruleset and also how to prep a game, how to handle Honor Dice, setting Difficulties, more on Thresholds or how to handle Scenes. There is advice on how to drive action and on how to create interesting settlements and situations. Additionally, there is guidance on how to create NPCs. The method includes a Who and What (like in character creation) and an Approach (how the NPC interacts with the players). Another chapter is dedicated to Factions. These organizations are build like NPCs and mechanically they work the same. This can get interesting if the players want a Faction to act: it can use its Skills and Talents to change a situation. I like the mechanical aspect of this because most games just handle factions narratively and the GM has to decide herself how things work out. What’s more, Factions can either follow the Tenets of Honor and have Honor Dice (HD) or they might have their own motivation which grants themMotivation Dice (MD). The content in the GM chapter is pretty solid and should help a GM mitigate the subtleties of this game. The appendix has additional rules and setting information which flesh out the game world. They also provide some random tables and plot hooks for inspiration. Kickstarter backers at a higher level were allowed to contribute “Vignettes”, so there are some short stories, tales, ideas for Forebear artifacts, organizations, NPCs or articles about the lifestyle in Sasara. The appendix further contains the Quickstart rules which should be handy if you need to look something up.

From the players’ perspective

Character creation is fast and easy. Generally, the rules are accessible and simple to learn. The most interesting thing will be how to handle the Tenets of Honor, but that’s more of a problem for a GM. With choosing two Oathsworn Tenets and distributing Skill arrays plus narrative background information, there should be enough to distinguish characters. If players are interested in a game that ties morality into game mechanics, this should work out fine.

From the captain’s chair

The author does a superb job of explaining the rules. Basic stuff is laid out first, there are plenty examples and rules summaries. A new GM will find it a bit difficult to adjudicate the honorable or dishonorable actions and also how Consequences work. While the rules mechanics are clearly well-thought-out, there is a bit of a learning curve on how to decide what kind of Tasks are appropriate, how to handle Consequences and Effects and where Scenes and Factions come into play. The setting description is enough to evoke a certain feeling for the world and the appendix certainly helps, but there is still lots to do for the GM in order to come up with settlements etc. It would have been nice to have a ready-made adventure or a detailed settlement to start out in the core book. (If you’re interested, there is a patreon which provides supplements and adventures, USD $1 per creation.)

The game is mechanically tied deeply into the Tenets of Honor, so it’s not a universal game. Nevertheless, you could hack it to do different things. The author himself is running a Kickstarter for Hunt the Wicked, a space bounty hunter game based on the same rules engine. Like Dogs in the Vineyard (see below), this could also be re-skinned to play Star Wars Jedis (I think the patreon also has a Star Wars hack with serial numbers filed off). :-)

Look and Feel

The game comes at around 260 pages. The physical copy is digest-sized which makes for a nice compact book. (I have the softcover version.) The book uses a well-layed out design, pretty basic one-column-styled text but headers are differentiated and important rules mechanics are summarized in text boxes. This is especially neat, as it makes learning the game much easier. The art is sparse but very good. This is not a full color “art book” but a game book: mostly text, some illustrations, and boxed text. That’s why the price for full-color books hurts a bit. For me, the quantity of the artwork doesn’t justify having to pay the additional charge for full color. What I don’t like is that each page has a large border with a watermark illustration. Although it looks pretty it’s a lot of wasted space. The softcover version uses the normal OBS-paper which means that the colors are a bit muted.

The PDF is bookmarked sparingly and there is no index.

Furthermore, the .mobi version was quite useless for my Kindle Paperwhite. Unfortunately, it’s just a converted PDF to .mobi format which means that it also copies the complete layout. It doesn’t take advantage of the adjustable text options of an ebook and was pretty unreadable on my Kindle. Still, all things considered, VoH’s layout is adequately done.

Dogs in the Vineyard?

VoH feels similar to Vincent D. Baker’s Dogs in the Vineyard. In Dogs, you play a bunch of young Mormon troubleshooters who travel from community to community to enforce the judgments of the True Faith of the King of Life. It is also an indie game with some interesting mechanics which puts a focus on conflict resolution vs. task resolution. Dogs was published in 2004 and is obviously much older than VoH. The mechanics are also different, but I still feel a kinship between these games. Both feel pretty unique and have a strong central motif.

Summary

What do I like: The base mechanic is simple and easy to learn and looks pretty solid. There are some interesting wrinkles with choosing Skills, Oathsworn Tenets etc. I like how everything builds up from the same foundation: Tasks -> Enemies/Combat -> Scenes. The GM chapter is very good.

What would I’ve liked to see: The setting could have been (at least partly) more detailed, with an intro adventure, pregens and a setting with maps. I’m not too fond of the layout and, unfortunately, the .mobi version doesn’t offer any additional value. But all things considered, I’m positively surprised by the game. I’m still not interested that much in the theme and setting but VoH is a pretty nifty game and I’m definitely looking forward to Hunt the Wicked, as it’s more my style.

Some bullet points:

easy to learn, simple base mechanic with a d6 dice pool which “escalates” to more complicated resolutions strong emphasis on a central theme which is tied mechanically into the game “abstract” obstacle rules (Tasks, Scenes) well written (if broad strokes) setting which is strife with conflict a distinctive “indie”/narrative feel (handling the Tenets of Honor could be a bit more wishy-washy which could make the job for a GM slightly difficult) some learning curve for the GM on how to adjudicate the mechanical bits (the players’ part is pretty easy) rules are very well laid out with practical rules summaries in boxed text layout and design of the game are so-so: it looks nice but has too much white space and the ebook versions don’t work properly the price point for the digital versions is ok, not exactly cheap, but the print copies are a bit pricey (full-color)

I'm giving this 4.5 out of 5 stars.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vow of Honor RPG
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Cornerstone RPG - Basic
by Tim B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/18/2015 15:29:07

The Cornerstone Universal Roleplaying Game is another creation from Ben Dutter and Sigil Stone Publishing, this one a genre-neutral means of creating narrative-driven games in any milieu with a light-yet-robust system where — like many of Ben’s RPGs — the GM doesn’t ever have to roll the dice, enabling them to concentrate on the flow of the story and the player-driven actions and mechanics.

Cornerstone has been released in a free Basic version, with just enough examples to get you started in a few different genres (sci-fi, superheroes, fantasy, etc.) and minimalist artwork that keeps the presentation of this version clean and immediately useful as a reference tool.

Form *****

Cornerstone features simple, clean layout like all of Sigil Stone’s work, but more akin to their first full-fledged RPG, Vow of Honor, there’s a fair amount of artwork depicting alien or fantasy humanoids, actions, and equipment. The artwork is somewhat sparse, but as this is a Basic version of the game, it is incredibly evocative of the breadth of possible game settings and characters you could play using Cornerstone.

The book is just over 40 pages. The text makes excellent use of bold for various game concepts, and examples are very clearly formatted separately from the rules text.

Content *****

Cornerstone is meant to cover any genre, to be a fairly simple pick-up-and-play game where you could choose a quick mash-up of genres, or simply call out that the milieu will be that of a favorite fantasy novel or sci-fi video game series, and immediately jump into the action. The rules reinforce this be having a clearly-defined “Game Concept” creation stage, and relatively simple character creation that highlights what makes each character special, as opposed to defining dozens of statistics, worrying about tech-levels, or requiring shopping lists of traits, equipment, and powers.

The Game Concept is decided either by the GM or the group as a whole, and is clearly defined by the Genre (sci-fi, space opera, fantasy, post-apocalypse, four-color superhero), the party’s Purpose, the Place that the session will be set (big or small), and the Color, which helps the group stay focused on whether the game is serious, funny, gonzo, epic, or gritty. By establishing these four things in as few words as possible, they remain clear, and can easily be referenced during play to determine if an activity or situation that crops up truly fits into the tone of the game. These aren’t hard and fast rules, but it really helps narrow things down quickly.

Characters use the Game Concept information immediately to develop their characters. There are eight standard Skills, the sorts of activities you see in almost every genre and roleplaying game, but the interesting thing here is that the Game Concept causes the party two choose 2 additional Skills to add to this list. These additional Skills will reinforce what the game is about, and could be anything from magic, to firearm combat, to psychic powers, and beyond.

Characters have three core Traits — Ideals, Method, and History — that are usually 1-word or short phrases that define what they do and how they do it. Obviously, the players’ choices will be informed by — and help reinforce — the Game Concept. Similarly, each player chooses a single Ability, which is like 13th Age’s One Unique Thing: it’s the thing that they can do better than everybody else, or that they can do but nobody else can. There are clear mechanics on how to operate the Ability in play.

The mechanics of the game are quite simple. Player characters perform actions by rolling 1d6, comparing it to the appropriate Skill, and modifying it by circumstances and/or an appropriate Trait. Abilities are much more powerful, either ensuring success, or allowing someone to roll for something impossible to most other people.

There are two things of note going on here.

The first is that success or failure is always appended with an And or But statement, providing the system a lot more narrative weight than just binary pass/fail rolls. Even die rolls add an And statement and odd die rolls add a But statement. The three core Traits of the player character can be used as either a bonus to the die roll, to add an additional And or But statement, or to cancel out an existing And or But statement, giving the potential for even more narrative weight to every single die roll.

The second thing worth noting is that GMs never roll dice. Player characters are either the acting force, or are reacting to situations and non-player characters. GMs have plenty of advice in rating enemies (and allies) in terms of their power-level at various forms of conflict, but the player’s rolls primarily drive the effects of the game, which might include determination of damage or other consequences.

Further permutations of the system include situational modifiers and gear. Circumstance modifiers use an Advantage/Disadvantage system almost precisely ripped from Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Gear only comes into play if it is a significant piece of equipment in the narrative, and is defined by similar Traits and perhaps an Ability, just like characters. Otherwise, they simply provide common sense usefulness to the characters: a gun allows them to use firearm-related Skills or Abilities, for example.

Homebrew

As a game primed for picking a genre mash-up, the universe of any book, TV show, movie, or video game, or simply snagging any adventure and adapting it, Cornerstone is an interesting way to reinforce narrative themes and keep the GM focused on the story and drama, while giving the players enough meat to chew on with regards to making their characters feel and act in unique ways. It’s meant to be the ultimate homebrew, universal system, and it does very well at that.

Creating a Game Concept is nothing new to fans of Fate and perhaps even GURPS, but the succinct manner by which this is done is something that can be applied to literally any game where the GM and players collaborate to build the world they will be adventuring in.

The unique nature of the core Traits and the Ability of each character are equally applicable to many other game systems, and can be stolen whole-cloth or adapted to various existing roleplaying games to give some added narrative heft to character roles and abilities. The idea of adding And and But statements can work in a lot of systems, too, but isn’t going to be for everyone: it’s kind of like a less visual way of performing some of the story work that comes out of dice systems like FFG’s Star Wars games.

What’s Next?

This game is clearly spelled out as the Basic version of the game, meaning that a more robust version is coming soon. Whether this will simply be the addition of more examples and artwork, or perhaps fully fleshed out genre settings with Ability and Skill lists, remains to be seen. As it stands, Cornerstone is a fast-playing system with lots of narrative tricks and enough mechanics to keep a game going for at least a dozen sessions before you tap out too many additional traits or skills, so it’ll be interesting to see where Sigil Stone Publishing takes this game in the future.

Conclusion

I’ve been pretty happy with Sigil Stone’s productions to date, and this one is not lacking. The universal nature of the game means that it isn’t dripping with evocative mechanics like Vow of Honor, but the Game Concept creation adds a twist that will reinforce the themes of whatever game of the week the GM and players want to run, so in a way, Cornerstone sets you up to come up with the evocative stuff on your own without much effort. That’s a lot more than I can say for more “mechanical” universal systems like GURPS or d20 Modern, and I’d argue it’s a little more succinct and clear than your out-of-the-box Fate Core game, even if Fate Core has more to chew on in other areas of play. That’s a tall order, and Cornerstone delivers.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cornerstone RPG - Basic
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