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The Senate Game
by Malcolm H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/30/2018 19:19:27

A simple, bare-bones edularp, in which the players explore the dynamics of Roman politics by taking the roles of Roman Senators and Equites and debating a succession of crises affecting the Roman Republic. The example crises are seeded from history, but the expectation is that as in Rome, the politicians will soon become the crisis, as they struggle for power and domination.

The rules are simple and well focused, covering things like debate, war and murder. It looks like it'd achieve the goal of giving people a look at Roman politics from the inside. From a larp perspective, I think it'd produce a couple of hours of fun, and I'd consider playing it at a con if it was on offer.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Senate Game
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The Shivering Circle
by Ben M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/04/2018 14:06:42

There's an awful lot to like in this litle game. While only 64 pages long, the system is solid and focused and I can see gettig a lot of use out of the Shivering Circle.

The game is meant to emulate a style of horror known as "Folk Horror". These are stories of out of the way places with dark secrets. Ancestral horrors bleeding in to the modern day, lurking in dark forests, crumbling manor homes, forgotten seaside villages, etc. If you're thinking about stories like H.P. Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror", M.R. James' "Whisper and I'll Come To You My Lad", or T.E.D. Klein's "the Ceremonies", you're on the right track.

What sets the Shivering Circle apart from the multitude of other contemporary horror games, though, is not simply this focus on Folk Horror. It takes great pains to look at the psychological aspects of a horror story, and the system is built around that idea.

For example, 4/5 of the character stats are all psychological/emotional values. “Health” is the only physical one. There is simply no combat mechanic, and none is needed. The game does not care what your skill level is in "Shoot Rifle" or "Punch". Rather, the mechanics are there to see if you have the stomach or emotional state to perform a task. And even the "Health" stat is more about having the fortitude to run through a dark haunted wood to escape murderous villagers, or stay awake all night reading weird books of village lore.

E.G.: in the closest we have here to an example of combat, a PC is trapped in a room, and a bad guy is coming to get her to sacrifice her to the local village god-monster. Rolling the dice is about “do you have the courage to shoot the Bad Guy?” instead of “can you hit the Bad Guy, and how much damage do you do?”

The designer tells us that he assumes "You can do what you know you can do." Character abilities are fluid, and up to the player to determine, within the parameters of the game. You're told to write down one or two things "you know", "people you love", something "that drives you", etc.

The dice mechanic is very clever. Stats are rated from 1-10, starting at 4, and you can add points. When you roll the dice+stat, you have to beat a Target Number. If you do, you add a point to the stat, and narrate what happens. if you fail, you deduct a point from the stat, and the Narrator decides what happens. So if you succeed, you become more confident, and succeed more. But as you fail, you start losing confidence, and things become harder for you.

Dice rolling is all player-facing. NPC stats are the same rating scale +10. So if an NPC is trying to do something to you, that rating is the Target Number you have to roll against to avoid the consequence.

There's nuance to the dice system as well, where things You Know, or Love, or Are Afraid Of, etc. come into play, and add or remove dice from that Stat+Dice roll. Seems like it'd be really interesting to play with this a little.

The titular "Shivering Circle" is also part of the game mechanics, as well as the default setting (I'll get more to the setting in a moment). The character sheet has a diagram of a circle of standing stones on it. When you're confronting horrible situations in the game, and completely fail your rolls, you mark off one of the stones. The more stones you mark off, the more horrible your fate is becoming, and the harder it is for you to survive in the setting. The Narrator (GM) is encouraged to begin to ramp up the weirdness level as your Stones are checked off, and when you mark off the final stone in the center of the circle, Bad Things (TM) happen. "You meet your fate. In the next scene, you get burned in a Wicker Man, crowned as the antichrist, dragged to hell, inducted into the coven, and so on."

And as with the dice mechanic above, there's nuance to the use of the circle. You can "burn" a stone to get bonus points to your abilities, making it easier to suceed in tasks. Or you can burn ability points to remove a stone, allowing you to survive a little longer.

Also cleverly, the number of stones is different based on the needs of the game. For a one shot game, you're encouraged to use the sheet with only 5 stones on it. Longer games use sheets with up to 13 stones.

If you're still with me, lastly I want to talk a little about the default setting of the game. "Hoddesford, Hoddesham and Hoddeston" is a strange little area somewhere in the UK. Details on location are vague, and transient. The author describes how it often moves around, unnoticed by anyone. For those familiar with the works of Ramsey Campbell, it felt almost like a cross between his Severn Valley, and the purgatory-esque feel of the "Silent Hill" franchise.

It's a small village, and surrounding area, with a number of odd people living within. The detail on the area is brief in the book, and mostly focuses on a handful of strange characters. I'm not going to go into detail here for fear of spoiling them for potential players. But suffice to say each of these characters provides enough fodder for a short series of games. Put them all together, and you could easily create a small campaign in the Hoddesford area.

The Hoddesford setting is quintessentially british, and I admit that my only gripe with it was there were a few terms used that were just not familiar to me (a lifelong Californian). A quick google search cleared those up though (eg: what's a "hunt saboteur", or an "ASBO" designation). They're nothing that hung me up for long.

And while Hoddesford is very much a British construct, I can easily see transporting it, or at least the ideas, elsewhere. I immediately thought of the strange seaside towns of California's central coast, or the mostly-abandoned gold-mine towns in the Sierra Nevada. It would be easy enough to run a game of the Shivering Circle in any place like that, or any "off the beaten path" area of your choosing. Stephen King's "Children of the Corn" would feel right at home in this game.

Speaking of the King of Terror, brings to mind this quote:

“The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it's when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it's when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It's when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there's nothing there. I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud. ” ― Stephen King

The Shivering Circle fits neatly into that trifecta. It's a game of Terror primarily, but is not afraid to bring on the Horror. And the Gross-Out fits right at home here to drive home the emotions brought on by the first two.

In summation, this is a really great game. If you're looking for a pulp, monster-punching style of horror game, this is not the one you want. However, if you're more an afficionado of the creeping dread style of horror story, you really couldn't do much better than the Shivering Circle.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Shivering Circle
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The Shivering Circle
by Timothy G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/03/2018 23:27:13

The Shivering Circle captures one of the more understated and ultimately grim horror subgenres, folk horror. It promises a world where the mundane and the horrific freely intermingle, and delivers it in a setting of hunt enthusiasts that'll hunt people when foxes are scarce and a junk shop whose proprietors own a tormented soul. The default setting of a strange circle of standing stones and the community around it is full of different options to threaten the bodies and souls of PCs, along with a few allies to give just that glimmer of hope.

It is ultimately the way that the setting and system capture the glimmer of hope that makes it work in the reading. The setting offers plenty of trouble and the system backs it up—failure doesn't just bend the story against you character, but it diminishes their attributes and brings them closer to their doom. While success replenishes attributes, it also increases the difficulty going forward for that PC, balancing out the mechanical davantage of having an attribute increase. In addition, you can move your character closer to their final doom to replenish stats, or if you've been on a roll reduce your stats to push back that doom, but it costs more to buy more time than to barter long term survability for in the moment increase to attributes.

The relentless pull of the system captures the sense of inevitable, building dread key to folk horror. It does not attempt, nor need to attempt, to do anything more than that. It is neutral on whether or not a task succeeds, but instead concerned with what the attempt and result does to the PC. Uncanny powers in the hands of the PCs are tools to achieve whatotherwise couldn't, but hastens their doom when used.

Finally, the core system itself is licensed so that others can create settings around it. Wherever the edges of regular life blur into the uncanny and history looks unkindly at the present, the Shivering Circle system can drag protagonists through on the thinnest of hopes.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Chariot: Fantasy Roleplaying in an Age of Miracles
by A customer [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/27/2016 05:03:51

Disclaimer: English is not my first language. I apologize for any mistakes, spellig an grammer-related, up front.

Chariot is a game about Atlantis. To be more specific, it's a game set in an Atlantis based on a theosophical account of Atlantis (Blavatsky, James Churchward and William Scott-Elliot are mentioned, among others, as sources of inspiration) - and, even more specific, it's about the Fall of Atlantis.

Chariot is set in a world of wonder and horror, populated by 5 different races - all of them human and subject to human experience. The Atlantean race is established as the context for the other races - other than the Atlanteans and their empire, there's the Lemurians (usurped by the Atlanteans), the Rhmoahal (subjugated and enslaved by the Atlanteans), Tlavati (a race the Atlanteans failed to subjugated and enslave) and Muvians (seceded from the Atlanteans).

Chariot is a game about human evolution, and the inherent tragedy and horror. One race - the Atlanteans - finds itself in ascendance, attempting to push out or enslave all competition.

THIS IS IMPORTANT: the author is fully aware of the imperialist and racist nature of ideas presented in the setting. Atlanteans subjugate other cultures, take slaves, treating human beings as non-persons and inflicting acts of rape or de facto rape on them.

This subject is tackled head-on. At no point is slavery or rape or the violation of another person's agency treated as a good or desirable thing. Those things are clearly presented as contributing to the destruction of Atlantis. They're subject matters to be confronted by the players and the player characters. The book is very specific (and helpful) in its storytelling advice concerning the horrors of the setting.

The empire is dying. Slaves rebel. Islands sink. Giant machinery sucks away earth's energy so that a select few people live in luxury, at a cost of thousands of lives. War is threatening. A Catastrophe is coming.

The player characters are Fated. As one of the Fated, they know what's ahead, they know how they are going to die (individually), and they've been given abilities that - while not enough to prevent the Catastrophe - may well save lives and change the world to come.

The book describes the cities and nations of Atlantis and Lemuria (twin continent to Atlantis) in detail. Special detail is given to social problems and sources of conflict in each of the regions/cities, making the setting chapter a fertile ground full of story ideas. There's a civil war about to happen on Atlantis proper. There's a city whose main export is people magically lobotomized and turned into slaves (among them "Thralls Decorative"). A warrior state whose all-female soldiers gradually trade away their humanity through magic to be better soldiers. A college of priests charged with enforcing law to the letter, without any concept of mercy or clemency. A society plagued by ghosts of a human race it destroyed. Etc.


Characters are created by choosing a race, a social station and a Fate. Aside from the obvious importance of race and social station in the setting, Fate is pretty important too - your Fate tells you how you'll die in the coming Catastrophe (yes, that's right. A player character cannot die, under any circumstance, until the Catastrophe), and it also gives you a Boon.

Boons are powers that always work, unless a character uses it on another Fated. Boons include things like "You know the truth of all things" or "You are always victorious in battle".

This is important - right after character creation, it is entirely possible to play a character that automatically wins every fight, unless opposed by a Fated. The implications of this are treated in a sidebar - the consequences are important. So you can win every fight. So your magic never fails. What's next? What do people think of you when faced with your power?

Characters have 9 Attributes. Conflicts are resolved not by rolling dice but by choosing and playing cards using a Tarot deck. There's an interesting strategic element in playing the right card at the right time. The book includes an example for conflict resolution.

DISCLAIMER - I'm not the right person to give you a qualified review of the game's system. My tastes in terms of systems are very specific these days. The system of Chariot doesn't fit my personal tastes. I find it hard to give you a balanced perspective on the rules, which is why I'll let other reviewers do that. This is a personal failing of mine and in no way a fault of the system.

Of particular note is the inclusion of a "Catastrophe list" - a list of (not particularly happy) things that may happen before the Catastrophe, setting the stage and painting a picture of the dire state of the setting and the things to come. Examples include

"River water turns sour and undrinkable."

"Migrating Lemurians collide with a large city and threaten its destruction."

"One of the God-Emperors denies, publicly, in a proclamation that there is anything wrong."

"A city’s government loses all control and dissolves into chaos. "

That's it, then. Chariot is a pretty dark game.

In writing this review, I'm spending plenty of time describing the horrors and tragedy of the setting. Which is appropriate, because Atlantis isn't a happy place, but any presentation of the setting wouldn't be complete without also mentioning the glory. There's airship fleets. Domestic dinosaurs. Rocketboats. Floating islands. Magic. Cyborg amazons. All of that.

However, these things exist to set the stage for a game that is, ultimately, about tackling difficult subjects - terrible injustice and oppression.

As mentioned in the game, the point of the game is altruism - it's about struggling to make things better in a world that desperately needs heroes. There are very few systems designed to make a character more effective - characters start out as something like demigods right at the beginning. Instead, there are systems that make it easy for players and the game master to introduce new, interesting NPCs - relationships for the player characters. The game isn't about reaching personal goals, it's about freeing slaves. Doing something about the sins of the Atlantean empire. Making sure someone gets to survive the Catastrophe.

This game is probably not for everyone. It's very specific in what it is set out to do. For those who enjoy games focused on tragedy, the human element and the ways people deal with tragedy, I cannot recommend this game highly enough.

If I have captured your interest with this review, I recommend checking out the author's blog concerning Chariot:

This is where the author talks about the game's setting and system as well as sources of inspiration.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Chariot: Fantasy Roleplaying in an Age of Miracles
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MSG™: The Deoffensified Edition
by Timothy G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/26/2015 13:50:15

A very good read that I'm looking forward to playing.

The take on corporate culture and how companies view things is spot on, and thus very dark, but the tone keeps it from being too unrelentingly awful.

I think this plus the Big Idea would make a fun evening of satire, especially after putting a full day of meetings in which you didn't get to speak, make a decision, or acquire any information relevant to you.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
MSG™: The Deoffensified Edition
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