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The World Wide Wrestling Roleplaying Game: The Road
Publisher: ndp design
by James M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/11/2019 13:31:00

"The only real things in the wrestling business are the money and the miles."

Much of the life of a pro wrestler is making the towns night after night, year after year, pretending to be someone you're not. What's the toll to body and soul of living the gimmick for 300+ days a year? This suppliment helps you explore this question.

The Road is an essential (and free!) add-on for an excellent RPG that adds new layers of psychological complexity and pathos between bouts of arranged athletics. If your game draws more from the gritty realism of Mickey Rourke in The Wrester (2008) than the all-kayfabe self-promotion of Verge Gagne in The Wrestler (1974), this is for you. It adds mechanics, story prompts, and stock NPCs related to issues of addiction, recovery, travel, social media, fans, partying, family strife, and more - it's all here. Not only do these rules add psychological depth to the PCs, but their effects carry over into the ring, offer new ways of generating Momentum, Heat, Injury, etc.

Your World Wide Wrestling campaign won’t feel complete without it, brother.

The only negative, and this is a major one – the artwork is absolutely TERRIBLE. (The WWWRPG basic book has similarly awful “move” inside art.) I dare you to describe exactly what is being depicted on that cover.

I get it – it’s a free PDF supplement for an indie game. But surely another artist could've been up to the task.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The World Wide Wrestling Roleplaying Game: The Road
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Patrol - A Vietnam War Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Newstand Press
by James M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/13/2019 15:03:47

Patrol Review

GMed for five players over six sessions.

Patrol is an ambitious modern military RPG that frames the Vietnam War through the lens of survival horror. Borrowing from the 1982 RPG/wargame hybrid Recon, Patrol mixes old-school simulationism with a fresh modern approach. The game makes room for players who want to count every bullet, take a hallucinogenic trip into the Heart of Darkness - or something in between.

But dodging VC bullets is just one of your worries. Seemingly everything in the jungle conspires to sap your precious strength/sanity: hunger, thirst, weather, and the war crimes your squadmates keep committing. As your Doubt grows, plain ole Lucky Strikes and LSD won’t cut it anymore; throwing down your rifle, or turning it on the next village, starts to make sense. It’s too bad that the mechanic for tracking doubt, and the status effects that produce it, is the game’s chief liability.

But first, the good stuff.

Well Sourced. Erika did tons of research – and it shows. In just 206 pages, this book boasts an extensive history of the Vietnam conflict, multiple glossaries of military terms, ‘60s slang, and Vietnamese phrases, maps, and detailed timelines of events. (A character rolled in 1964 doesn’t have the same gear, training, or morale as a character rolled in 1970.) Patrol draws heavily from Oliver Stone’s film Platoon (Patrol’s alignments are modeled on the four main characters) and Michael Herr’s “Dispatches,” one of the best non-fiction books ever written, that gives Patrol its name. (Herr also wrote the hardboiled narration in Apocalypse Now and co-wrote Full Metal Jacket, two other key sources.) The atmosphere drips off the page capturing the chaotic, trippy nature of the war.

Layouts. The book is well laid out with attractive fonts and art. It lacks an alphabetical index but makes up for it with a detailed table of contents, glossaries of terms, and printable handouts. The art, with the exception of the full-color cover, consists of chilling vintage photos solarized in stark black-and-white. (A more printer-friendly version without the background overlay would be welcome.)

Play Options. As with Cary, Grunt, or Recon, you can just roll some GIs and hit the bush. But Patrol expands your options, adding characters from Vietnam (North or South), Cambodia, Laos, Korea, New Zealand, or Australia. (Is this the first ‘Nam RPG that lets you play as the VC?) You want to do Wages of Fear with NVA truck drivers dodging bombs on the Ho Chi Minh Trail? Check. You want to play post-Vietnamization ARVN desperately staving off the inevitable in 1973 Saigon? Check. You want to play a fantasy game pitting GIs against an army of Ivan Drago-ass Spetsnaz supermen? Check, check, and check. Every force and faction has NPCs ready to drop into any type of campaign, be it a heroic struggle against imperialism or the adventures of terrified Iowa draftees counting the days until they can go home.

Character Creation. Is simple and relatively quick with lots of cool MOS (class) choices. But I could’ve used a few sample PCs as guidelines - or to assign to new players. The ability to hand a fresh sheet to someone whose GI just got napalmed can’t be undervalued. The end of session move is also great: by secret ballot, players nominate squadmates for medals or for punishment for war crimes.

Alignments. Alignment determines how characters both accumulate and alleviate Doubt, or their overall feeling about their place in the war. Although these mechanics are very interesting (and quite provocative), this section is ultimately a miss for me. The alignment guidelines feel too restrictive and mechanical and could largely be replaced with a list of general guidelines and emotional triggers. For example, the Pragmatist alignment is far too passive - two out of five Doubt-reducing actions que off of other characters.

Dice. Dice rolling is fast and fun – simply add the relevant attribute, gear bonus, and modifiers and roll some D6s. 6s are successes – 5s and 6s when you have the relevant skill - and 1s are failures. Roll more failures than successes and you FUBAR – something catastrophic has happened. Each action (of which there are many) clearly delineates consequences of success, failure, and FUBAR, making strategic planning easy. Nothing feels better than opening up with a M60 and tossing a giant handful of D6… so if you like rolling fistfuls of D6s, this is your game.

Combat. Combat is fast, tense, and very deadly. Recon’s wargame DNA is mostly felt in Patrol’s large number of combat actions, extensive weapon and equipment lists, and detailed rules for movement and initiative. (Playing with minis on a battle mat is recommended.) Strategy and teamwork are a must - and suppressive fire will absolutely save your life. I love the battle buddies rule that uses background NPCs as ablative armor for the PCs. Nothing is more nerve-wracking than performing battlefield surgery under fire while your buddy bleeds out and the Pigman has jammed his M60 again.

The Roundel. Clocks are a big tabletop trend lately (hello, Blades in the Dark) and Patrol is no exception. The Roundel is a clock-like chart for tracking the accumulation status effects like hunger, thirst, and doubt. Turn length is variable - an hour of marching in the hot sun or five minutes of combat - and each Roundel space shows what effects accumulate. Sure, it’s possible for your resident min-maxer to “game” the clock, as these statuses accumulate in a mechanical way. (“We can march for two more turns before I need to rest for three.”) But nothing drives home the core attrition mechanic quite like staring down all those attribute penalties headed your way. This humble chart soon became the greatest source of dread – for all the right and wrong reasons – in our campaign.

Okay, now the bad stuff.

Tracking Status Effects. It’s difficult to convey how simple tracking status effects seems on paper… but how convoluted it is in practice. This is the single biggest issue with Patrol and the reason I can’t give it a better review.

A single table monitors exhaustion, thirst, hunger, injury, doubt, and cumulatively, fatigue. As the first four effects increase, they reduce effectiveness by lowering your attributes. They also generate fatigue, a measure of your overall mental health, which is used to determine XP rewards. If this sounds like too much heavy lifting for one humble chart, you would be right. It’s not just poor presentation of important information - you’re just tracking too many things in the first place. Why not consolidate some of these statuses? Why have four physical tracks and two mental tracks when one of each would be enough?

Just to review, each character is tracking five values, three of which directly modify their ability scores, a fourth that modifies ALL of their ability scores, a fifth that tracks the very complex morale mechanic, and adding up all of those values to derive a sixth that determines end-of-mission XP gains. Now imagine all six of those values are changing. Every. Single. Turn. Got a headache yet? My players struggled with this even after I created a PowerPoint specifically to explain it to them.

Managing all this stuff ground the game to a halt several times. Status penalties accumulate so quickly that frequent rests became essential – and further mitigating penalties requires bulky supplies too heavy to carry in large amounts – requiring more interruptions for foraging. Simulating slogging through triple canopy jungle doesn’t need to feel like this much of a slog.

Doubt. One of the most ambitious mechanics is charting the accumulation of Doubt. Different alignments gain or lose doubt in different ways. As Doubt mounts, characters unlock increasingly desperate actions – including desertion and friendly fire – that alleviate it. Too bad the Doubt chart is a convoluted mess of plusses, minuses, and symbols listing over 25 specific circumstances in which you “take Doubt.” A simple alignment playbook with a few brief guidelines would’ve sufficed instead of another monster of a convoluted chart. And none of those Doubt builders are MOS specific – like a Medic losing a patient, for example.

Actions and Skills. Simply put, there are too many of both. Presenting a new player with eleven pages (!) of actions to choose from is a recipe for analysis paralysis. Likewise, skills are far too specialized, with a few being universally good (mainly weapon skills) and most being almost useless (I can’t imagine too many SCUBA trips happening in I Corps.) And considering how many actions overlap, they could easily be consolidated. For example, there are three different radio actions (keying off of three separate radio skills) that could easily become one “Use Radio” action governed by one “Use Radio” skill. And don’t get me started on the twelve separate movement actions.

Handouts. This game requires too many pages of handouts. With a character sheet, several pages of equipment print-outs, ammo and battery trackers, a status tracker, doubt tracker, and a code of conduct list, that’s like 10 pieces of paper per player. Worse, the character sheet is incomplete, with no room for your MOS perk, base vs. current attributes (these will constantly change), strength, fatigue, or carrying capacity. I eventually created my own sheet just to record everything.

Weapon References. I could use a quick reference for weapons with modifiers and damage rolls.

History. Not mentioning Strategic Hamlets, which were such a huge part of the counterinsurgency efforts of both the French and the Americans, is a major omission. Not to mention a great plot hook.

Copy Editing. It’s to be expected that an independent product largely created by one person would have some goofs, but there are many typos, errors, and missing sections. For example, the text can’t agree how much a body weighs (20 or 10). The roundel and the book can’t agree on how many Rest actions players need to take to recover. All of the trap actions have the same flavor text regardless of function. Breaking down doors is dependent on the hardness of the door – for which there are no rules.

Conclusion

In her first major game, Erika Chappell has created something to be proud of.

Patrol boasts considerable positives – it is meticulosly researched, atmospheric, and boasts a huge variety of play options. It takes on an important subject with sensitivity and intelligence and still manages to be a gripping tabletop experience.

However, I feel the game got away from her in several key areas, chiefly the messy status effects and doubt mechanics. It’s too bad these core rules are so fussy because there’s a killer game fighting to break free from under them.

If a revised edition is forthcoming, sign me up.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Patrol - A Vietnam War Roleplaying Game
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Creator Reply:
Fun fact: There is in fact a revised edition coming, with the priorities being to cut down on actions and book-keeping, introducing a mass dice roll mechanic, saving page-count on rules and using it on much expanded sections about Vietnam and the lead-up to the war instead. This review will be close on my mind as I work on it!
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SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists
Publisher: Land of NOP LLC
by James M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/17/2019 16:36:28

Sigmata: This Signal Kills Fascists

GMed for five players over four sessions.

Well, it’s certainly got an original pitch: Radio-powered cyborg revolutionary supers fighting a fascist US government in an alternate-history 1986 where the Red Scare never ended.

Too bad that with all the tremendous world building (and gorgeous full-color art), Sigmata falls flat at the table with a clunky, unsatisfying system that splits the difference between modern storytelling and trad crunch and overwritten prose with terrible art direction that make the book a chore to actually use.

First, the good.

Theme. Sigmata is a supers game like few others. Your characters aren’t just masked vigilantes punching bank robbers and aliens, but the vanguard of a national revolutionary movement. It’s not enough to kill the fascists, you need the people on your side to overthrow the evil Regime. Waging an ethical revolution – and not alienating the disparate factions that support you – is a very engaging concept with lots of potential for tough moral choices.

But make no mistake, if you want to play superheroes who punch Nazis… this is your game.

Dice. The basic dice rolling mechanic is elegant and simple. You always roll five dice, 6+ are successes. The higher your attribute, the more d10s your roll. The rest are d6s. Successes win the player narrative control, while failures win the GM narrative control. It’s so good that I’m totally stealing it – too bad what happens AFTER the dice are rolled is so clunky.

Basic Moves. The game breaks encounters into three types of “structured” scenes – combat, evasion, and intrigue. Each comes with an excellent handout to track player and enemy progress. (PRO TIP: Print and laminate these or prepare to erase A LOT.) Characters choose one of four moves to either damage the enemy, protect themselves, or aid allies. Rounds move quickly and picking moves soon becomes second nature, making space for the fiction.

Gear. Wisely, Sigmata eschews choosing equipment, encumbrance, or money. If it’s reasonable for a PC to have a MAC-10, a 1983 Dodge Caravan, or a top hat full of peanut butter, they simply have it.

Atmosphere. Much of Sigmata’s word count is dedicated to worldbuilding, emphasizing the challenges of existing in a pre-internet world: chain letters, BBSs, and phone phreaking all get discussed. For those of us who were alive in the ‘80s, this may feel unnecessary, but it is appreciated. Much ink is spilled on the now of 1986, leaving the post-1960 timeline vague. Hints are dropped about the origin of the Signal itself (the CIA adapting alien tech gets my bet) but nothing concrete is ever revealed.

Art. It also bears repeating that the Akira-inspired color artwork is both gorgeous and perfectly communicates the setting, theme, and tone of the world. Now, the bad.

Overlong. This book clocks in at a beefy 331 pages and it could easily loose half of that. Every description is overwritten – why give one example when three will do? Rules are scattered among disparate chapters buried amid the fluff. (Even Games Workshop codices observe that separation of church and state.) How about a quick reference for character creation? A list of powers and effects? Nope. Even the character sheet is depressingly light on mechanics.

Organization. Imagine a RPG book in 2018 without an index or a glossary – just a handful of cryptic chapter titles like “Operating System” (basic dice rolling) and “Cybernetic Vanguard” (character creation). As GM, I created my own three page play-aid and 20-entry glossary to keep book checks to a minimum. This thing is absolutely drowning in jargon. There are few paragraph breaks, no sidebars, little italicized or bolded text, and few charts, just long uninterrupted blocks of text, making picking out play mechanics frustrating.

Awkward mechanics. Sigmata is an awkward mix of trad crunch and modern storytelling game.

In addition to four Core Processors (attributes), PCs pick two Blades (cyberware – shouldn’t that be Expansion Cards?), several Subroutines (superpowers), an Ultimate Subroutine (super-duper powers), a memory (flashback), several libraries (personality traits/skills), and three peripherals (signature gear) -some combination of which could be used in a single roll - and all of which have subtly different mechanical effects. All of this crunch is ultimately in service of winning narrative control of the fiction like a story game. Running the structured scenes were neat, but wading through all those options to determine the outcome of a single die roll is frustrating.

As one of my players put it, “There are just too many dials on this thing.”

Play balance. Encounter balance was tough to judge – even without the Signal, my players steamrolled what the book defined as a “balanced” encounter. Later, in a more compromising situation, faced with even stiffer opposition, they activated multiple Ultimates and laid waste to waves of Fist.

In conclusion, in spite of its evocative art and worldbuilding, appealing basic dice rolling mechanic, and unapologetically leftist slant on the superhero RPG, Sigmata was a frustrating experience to run and just felt unsatisfying at the table.

Bashing the fash in 2018 should feel good. It’s too bad Sigmata’s punches just don’t connect.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists
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Creator Reply:
Thanks James M! I appreciate your insights from play-testing. I think this is a great example of a good "bad" review, the type that helps designers do better next time. Cheers!
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