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Legend of the Five Rings Core Rulebook
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/01/2018 23:46:01

*“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”

– Bruce Lee*

This game does not take on the same form as the old Legend of the Five Rings. Instead, it has changed for the better. Gone are old mechanical hangups, needless complexity, and even cultural missteps in the setting.

Guided by an appreciation for what came before, the designers exerted genuine effort to recreate what made it great by improving on what it was. In many ways, it was the change that we needed to bring the setting forward in a way that would remain relevant, accessible and fun for the next 20 years.

The rules are more narrative, and sometimes I can’t correctly map out the right Skill to use with an action, but that’s okay. What the new game loses in precision, it makes up for in spirit. It knows the themes and culture and tone it wants to be, and engages appropriately.

The Strife system is the trickiest to understand from a old gamer who never had to deal with stuff that was originally perceived as being part of pure “roleplaying.” But once it clicked, it brought a host of benefits to the game. Add the fact that it is also key to several other mechanics (most notably in Dueling) then you have a mechanic that says something about the setting.

Each of the subsystems has the seeds for great stories. Intrigues finally has a mechanical backbone to support itself, while Skirmishes, Duels and Mass Battles all make a return. While I have some small concerns about Intrigues and Mass Battles, they all do their intended jobs, and in the hands of a competent GM, can be used to spin off into some very interesting scenarios.

The new approach to schools is a welcome change in my eyes, and allows for players to build their characters to their personal vision. There has been some niggling about “sub-optimal” choices, but to be perfectly frank, if optimization is your thing, then this version of L5R is probably not for you. 3e and 4e are still widely available if you’re here to optimize builds.

Conclusion

This edition is all about the stories you can tell. About characters with strengths and weaknesses that will go through moments where you will want to tear your hair out as they make bad decisions, and cheer when they are able to rise above the challenges that face them.

Few games give me the impression that it can be used to run games with high emotional stakes, like a romance, or a tragedy, but 5e seems to be tailored to it. Strife, Anxieties and Adversities all act as signposts that can guide a samurai through a gauntlet of emotions that they can’t publicly acknowledge, leading to some particularly spectacular moments of catharsis when they finally unmask and let loose upon the unfairness of the world.

If there’s one tiny downside that I can think of, it’s that as a GM, it can be taxing. Each player can use a multitude of Approaches in a given situation, paired with any of the skills. Framing those, and working it into the story is a shared load between you and the players, but since it’s likely that you have more experience with it, you’ll be doing the heavy lifting.

If you’ve ever had any love for samurai imagery, eastern cinema, wuxia stories or even anime, then buy this book. If you were a fan of L5R prior, then buy this book. If you’ve never heard of this game, then congratulations and buy this book.

It’s not without the occasional mechanical hiccup, but with the host of innovations to both rules and concepts, Fantasy Flight Games’ Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Game is a triumphant return of one of the best intellectual properties in gaming to the form that suits it best.

Art and Layout

It would be unfair to end this without a quick note to the absolute quality of the artwork of the book.

The layout of the book is easy to read with a subtle textured background that doesn’t tire the eyes or make it hard to read the text. The text is in a standard two-column format, with callout boxes and little sidebars that add context or options as needed.

The artwork is top-notch, and I’m happy to say that there isn’t a single piece of art in the book that I wasn’t happy with. Overall, stunning work by the art team to make the book into something that I’d be happy to display publicly.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legend of the Five Rings Core Rulebook
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Genesys Core Rulebook
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/27/2018 04:21:37

I’ve always had a thing for generic RPGs. I dabbled in GURPS, fell in love with HERO, and checked out OVA for anime shenanigans.

And now Genesys shows up, the new hotness, with promises of Narrative gaming and excitement. With fancy colorful dice and symbols, and a resume that boasts of being the engine behind the popular new Star Wars RPG, it certainly makes a powerful first impression.

So how does it hold up?

Mechanics

The base mechanics behind Genesys might appear gimmicky, but looking past the fancy dice lies a solid rules system. Gameplay is fluid and the thrill of rolling dice pools is given new depth with the varied outcomes for each die.

There’s something visceral about rolling your own difficulty, a sense of ownership as your GM hands you the extra difficulty dice with a grin, knowing that your character’s chances are all in your hands.

Campaigns. Your Way.

As a Generic RPG, Genesys is judged not just by it’s rules, but by how well it can facilitate a GM’s vision. A third of the game is dedicated to being able to craft a setting of your own. Alternate rules are pre-built options that you can weld into the original framework to twist gameplay towards your desired odds, and the discussion on Tones and Settings help in giving it the feel you need.

Building a campaign in Genesys should be a game in itself, honestly. It feels like putting together a project car, with a standard build, that you then personalize with Customized Rules, tweak with Alternate Rules, then spray on a fresh paint job with the Tones.

And it does it all without the burden of points juggling and math.

Conclusion

Genesys is quick. There’s obviously a lot of design thought that went into it, and a lingering sense that all the designers wanted to do was to add just one more little bit into it. Sometimes that leaves us pining for what could have been, like a more extensive section on Superhero gaming, but that’s just us being greedy.

For those with a preference for rules-medium gaming, Genesys fits in perfectly well as a contender against Savage Worlds for fast, furious, fun. While it doesn’t have the intense library of GURPS or the near insane modularity of HERO, Genesys knows how to present a lean generic ruleset that can power almost any genre.

Overall, Genesys is a must have, not only because of its versatility, but also because it forms the bedrock of a lot of products in the future. Alternate rules are a sneak peek into the future, and I expect that with products like Realms of Terrinoth, we’ll be seeing even more ways to make the system sing.

Thanks for checking out my review. This is a fraction of a longer series of Let's Study articles for Genesys that can be found over at: https://philgamer.wordpress.com/category/roleplaying-games/genesys/



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Genesys Core Rulebook
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RuneQuest - Roleplaying in Glorantha
Publisher: Chaosium
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/24/2018 03:40:15

The new RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha by Chaosium is an incredible product. Blessed with fantastic artwork, lovely layout and writing that could only come from the heart of someone who truly, absolutely loved the setting, reading RuneQuest was a heck of an experience.

Myths and Stories

RuneQuest’s setting of Glorantha has seen many incarnations and rightfully so. It’s a land that feels like a real myth, and the practices of the people in the land and their magics and beliefs are so grounded in what could have been that simply exploring that could fuel me for entire campaigns.

It’s rare that I find a setting so well adapted to sandbox campaigns, where the point is to help your community see the next year with healthy children, a larger herd of cows and the blessings of your Gods. Gone are the traditional “Chosen One” and “Murderhobo” formats, replaced instead with the simple (but difficult) task of living.

As I Live And Breathe

Few settings are so well explored in terms of the daily lives of its denizens as Glorantha. I remember early on that I came to RuneQuest hoping that it could deliver the same sense of culture as Legend of the Five Rings.

Now I find myself praying that the new edition of Legend of the Five Rings can relay their setting with the same care and attention to detail as Glorantha was presented in RuneQuest.

Everything and everyone has a place and a role, and Adventurers are motivated and constrained by their role in their communities. It’s a beautiful social ecosystem that never feels contrived or made-up. And even in the absence of some world-shattering horror or Big Bad Evil Guy, there’s plenty to do.

The Rules

RuneQuest is a product of an older era of game design, and it shows. It’s not quick, easy or narrative. The rules don’t fade into the background as you play, and combat determines the smallest thing from where you hit to how much damage it does, and if it harm’s the target’s armor. I see a lot of slow combat and plenty of rules look ups early on and feel a great need to own a GM’s screen.

And that suits me fine.

RuneQuest is a stellar example of a game that knows what it wants to do. Combat is detailed because we’re playing out a simulation that is ugly, dirty, and likely to leave everyone injured. Magic is detailed, and full of requirements and considerations and options for ritual add-ons because you’re entreating spirits or gods to show you favor.

The rules aren’t there to obscure the moment: they’re there to highlight it.

So while I won’t reach for RuneQuest for Fast! Furious! Fun! I will use it when I want to tell a tale of heroes that reads like the Literary Epics rather than a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie.

Downsides

Not everything is perfect though. RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha is a fantastic product, but it does feel incomplete. Without a bestiary (a concern now addressed with the release of the book just a few days ago) the book itself is less of a complete experience.

Also missing are chapters devoted to teaching people to run RuneQuest. While there is no shortage of inspiration, I had hoped that it would include more advice on how to start and what kind of adventures one could run for it. I’m approaching this review as a GM who has run all sorts of games so what might be obvious to me may be a concern to new GMs who picked up RuneQuest only to find that there wasn’t enough support for them right out of the gate.

I know there’s a GM book in the works somewhere, but I wish that and the Bestiary came out at the same time if only to give the full experience.

Conclusion

RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha is a glorious game, and much like reading the epics, is extremely rewarding if you sit down and put some effort into reading it. The rules are complex but fit together in the manner of a Swiss watch, and the setting only makes it even more impressive.

It’s not fast, nor narrative, nor does it want to be. It knows it’s place, and doesn’t try to reach out to other spaces when it completely dominates at what it is. I would highly recommend it to GMs looking for a setting that can sandbox extremely well, has a wonderful sense of mythic realism, and isn’t intimidated by the reputation it has.

Chaosium has wowed me consistently from day 1 with my experiences with Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, but RuneQuest is the one game that has knocked me off my feet and made me a believer.

Get it, study it, and fall in love with it.

I know I have.

Thanks for reading my review. This is a fraction of a huge 10-article "Let's Study" review series on my blog that you can find over at https://philgamer.wordpress.com/tag/runequest/ There you'll find a breakdown of the contents and impressions of the major chapters of the book.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
RuneQuest - Roleplaying in Glorantha
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Star Trek Adventures: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Modiphius
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/07/2017 02:44:30

Where do I even start? I knew of Star Trek before from some of the movies and a few of the original series and TNG episodes I’ve watched before, but I wasn’t really a fan. So when I got the preview pdf offer from Modiphius, I wasn’t certain I would understand the appeal of the game. But since I was sold on the 2d20 system from my experiences with Conan, I figured it can’t be that bad, right?

Fast forward to now and I’m practically gushing about the game mechanics to my long-suffering wife, who even now nods patiently in understanding while I type this out and she reads it over my shoulder.

Art and Layout

Fans of the aesthetic of Star Trek will find plenty to love here, with the layout mimicking the user interfaces of the ships. However, I have to admit that adjusting to reading white text on dark background on screen was a little difficult at times, and I found myself wishing for a black and white version for readability.

There are a few typos in my preview copy, but hopefully those will be dealt with by the time the final product rolls out in stores.

The artwork is pretty evocative, and I didn’t really cringe at any of them. The Starships are probably the highlight of it all, and I did find myself wondering why there weren’t any more images of Starfleet in more relaxed situations. There’s a lot of Starfleet guys running / shooting / dodging explosions, but you’d be surprised at how hard it was to find an image to go with the Social Conflict article.

Mechanics

This is a mechanics-heavy game that will take repeated exposure, careful reading and more than a few goofs to internalize. While the basic mechanics are easy enough to grasp, there’s a ton of subsystems to cater for different styles of play. GMs will have to spend a bit of time really studying the system to get the most of it. Hopefully this series of Let’s Study articles can help future GMs learn faster!

I found the ship combat to be pretty heavy, and I’ve yet to try it out to see how things turn out. It promises a lot of explosions and show-appropriate destruction, so I’m looking forward to it.

Review & Conclusions

Buy it.

If you can afford the collector’s edition, get that.

If you can afford the Borg Box, then by all means, get THAT.

Star Trek Adventures has made a fan out of me out of the sheer amount of love and care put into creating a game that delivers on the promise of playing through and experience that is true to the series. This isn’t D&D in space in Starfleet uniforms. Modiphius knows what it’s doing whenever it works with a licensed setting.

Every rule exists to enforce the physics and ethics of the setting. There’s not a sign of lazy game design anywhere here, with each rule and subsystem carefully considered before it was added to the final product.

My only concern, if any, would be the fact that it’s a big read with a fair amount of complexity. But if you’re willing to put in the time to go through it and understand the systems, you’ll see the elegance behind it.

I also have a full review series covering all the chapters of the Star Trek Adventures RPG on my blog. If you're interested, you can read through them here: https://philgamer.wordpress.com/2017/06/22/lets-study-star-trek-adventures-introduction/

There's a handy list of links at the bottom of the introductory post to help you get to the rest of the chapter reviews.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Star Trek Adventures: Core Rulebook
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Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of core book
Publisher: Modiphius
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/16/2017 02:07:02

Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of set off to become the definitive Conan RPG. While many have tried before them, Modiphius has managed to pull off this claim, coming up with a game that contains what could be best described as the very essence of Conan’s adventures.

Art & Layout

The artwork in the book is phenomenal, and well used, each one conveying the manic vibrance and urgency of Conan’s pulp adventures. While there was still a few instances of a naked lady being sacrificed in an altar, most of the other artwork showed sensibly-dressed women in situations of empowerment and adventure.

The layout is crisp and clean, and made reading the book a lot more pleasant. Callout boxes with and tables were used with consistency and an eye towards clarity, and even with the textured printer-unfriendly version, the background didn’t interfere with the ability to clearly read the text.

As a PDF product, the entire thing was bookmarked and searchable and quite snappy on my laptop (though perhaps a little less so on my mobile phone.)

System

Modiphius’ 2d20 House System feels like a perfect fit for Conan’s adventures, and the genius of the Momentum and Doom mechanics lie in their ability to affect the mood of the game and amplify tension.

Combat is crunchy, but every rule exists to support the fiction. Conan isn’t a place where combat is heroic. It’s visceral, practical and fraught with danger. Even if the player characters are meant to be exceptional individuals, there’s never a sense of an encounter being a cakewalk since the GM is always waiting in the wings with Doom in hand.

Conclusion

Would I recommend Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of to others? By all means, yes. If you’ve never played a different kind of Fantasy RPG, then you owe yourself to try this game.

If you’ve ever enjoyed Conan in any iteration, from the movies, the cartoon, the videogames or the stories then you owe yourself to try this game.

I’ve always had a strong preference for games whose rules are structured to promote a given feel and mood while simulating the “physics” of the fiction. The Conan RPG does this in a stellar fashion, with a crunchy set of mechanics that emulate the world of savage adventure inhabited by Conan in a way that I imagine will be very, very difficult to outdo.

--

This is the conclusion of a 7-part breakdown of the contents of the book. If you'd like to see the rest of it, please visit: https://philgamer.wordpress.com/tag/conan/



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of core book
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A Single Moment
Publisher: Gallant Knight Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/13/2016 05:51:23

A Single Moment is a Roleplaying game for two players that tells the story of how two Samurai have come to odds and what bitter end awaits them.

Weighing in at a slim 43 pages, and with layout by Eloy Lasanta of Third Eye Games fame, A Single Moment would be best described in one word as “Focused.” While there is a greater narrative that unfolds, the assumption of the game is that it begins with the two principal characters already about to face off in a duel, and that the rest of the story is told in flashback.

Tobie shows a strong preference for the cinematic in this game, and the entire “experience” of the game must be envisioned through the context of a movie.

STRUCTURE

Rather than go over the full details of the game’s structure, I’ll go over it in broad strokes.

The game breaks down into several phases: The Opening Scene, which establishes who the two principal characters are, when and where the fight is taking place, how long this grudge has been left to fester, and what the tale is about. Each of these details are established in an alternating fashion by both players.

At this point, the players then go through the chapters, which detail the events that lead to the final single moment. Players use the chapters to build the tale. In playing through the tale the players attempt to resolve each scene and gain Choice Tokens.

At the end of the chapter, these tokens are converted to dice that are then rolled. Depending on how favorable the outcome, the players can either gain Edges, Hatred and Scars.

Hatred opens up a secondary scene wherein the Samurai in question has to deal with it by either Channeling their Anger or Letting Go of it. These can channel the story towards the final confrontation.

When all chapters are done, the finale is resolved, using the Edges and Hatred gained in the previous chapters. These form the dice pools used in battle, and the fight ends once a player runs out of Edges. Once the fight is over, the triumphant and defeated players get a chance to narrate the immediate and long term outcome of the confrontation.

OTHER PLAYSETS

Given the nature of the game, it becomes nearly trivial to strip out the base “setting” and replace it with anything from cowboys to space opera. As long as two things want each other dead, you’ve got a game of A Single Moment. Tobie acknowledges this by adding other genres to use from space opera to pulp and even romcom.

His additional notes also include a means to extend the game beyond a single confrontation to a longer format.

THOUGHTS

A Single Moment knows exactly what kind of game it wants to be. A two-player story game where the mechanics exist only to lend just that extra touch of uncertainty to leave both players guessing which samurai will walk out of the duel alive.

It’s emotional, gripping, and single-minded in what it wants to do and in that sense the game is as damn near perfect as I can think of as long as you buy into its singular premise.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Single Moment
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7th Sea Core Rulebook (Second Edition)
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/30/2016 05:26:03

To call this a 2nd Edition feels like a bit of a misnomer. John Wick has taken the old 7th Sea, tossed the old Roll and Keep mechanics overboard, and rewrote much of the setting and history to create this new version of 7th Sea. As such, it feels more fitting to use a term more commonly applied to movies: a reboot.

A More Cinematic Experience

7th Sea's new mechanics lend itself to a style of play where the player characters are Heroes with a capital "H". Men and women with amazing skill and luck to live out larger-than-life adventures.

The new system is fairly straightforward. Upon declaring the character's action for the turn, they roll a pool of d10's determined by the sum of their Trait and Skill. Players then assemble sets of 10 from the results of the roll, with each set counting as a Raise. These are then used to "buy" narrative achievements such as successfully meeting a goal, taking advantage of an opportunity, or just avoiding harm.

On the GM's part, their job is to present the players with Opportunities and Threats within the scene, each one building towards a cinematic encounter between the Heroes and the opposition, be it a horde of goons, a devious trap, or the villain of the story.

You're not the World, but a Stage

GMs who cleave towards a more simulation-based philosophy of running a game will find themselves somewhat challenged by the chief conceit of 7th Sea second edition. The game is engineered so that your role is not that of a director rather than that of a referee.

Threats and Villains exist so that you can highlight the Heroes. And even the character creation ensures that the Heroes know exactly what they're getting into, and how they'd like each tale to end.

This eliminates a lot of the creative input from the side of the GM, and those who are used to a more open, sandbox method might find themselves lost as to how to properly run the game.

Pretty as it gets

I will say that the artwork and layout for the book is gorgeous, with full colour illustrations and easily readable text. The lack of over-sexualised images is a major plus, and I found a few pieces that took into account the LGBT fans as well, something that I feel will be very much appreciated.

Conclusions

7th Sea Second Edition isn't an old car with a new coat of paint. It's a familiar shade of paint on a brand new car. If you're looking for more of the old, then you might want to be prepared to be surprised.

However, if you're looking for a game that delivers rope-swinging swashbuckler-y fun with the ability to take your own story by the reins, then this is the game for you. John Wick clearly knew what he wanted to do with the game, and didn't waste time killing sacred cows to make it happen.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
7th Sea Core Rulebook (Second Edition)
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Exalted 3rd Edition
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/20/2016 17:17:00

Exalted Third Edition is the glorious return of a game that I had almost given up on. It’s funny how my experience with the game mirrored a lot of the in-game history.

The first edition was my First Age, full of wonder and promise that collapsed under the weight of complexity.

The Second edition was my Age of Sorrows. I wanted to like it, but it failed to capture my imagination.

This latest edition however, brings back the feel and mood that I loved, while demonstrating a stronger mechanical rigor that helps it stand despite the complexity demanded by the setting.

Each subsystem has been carefully considered and playtested, and adds a different kind of fun to different players. But what struck me the most was the fact that a lot of the gamey mechanics actually relied on a lot of role-play to pull off.

Social Influence rules are an easy example for this, as the player must think and act like they’re really looking for social leverage before they can act, or else the odds are stacked against them.

The changes to the setting are well considered, and while there are a few add-ons that feel a bit difficult to accept at first (like the Liminals) others were things that I didn’t know I wanted until I saw them, like the Exigents.

Creation is familiar and yet feels renewed once more. Solars have arrived and there’s a stronger call for them to become heroes more than ever.

Despite the delays in production, and the myriad little things that went wrong and slowed it down, the end result is a thing of beauty. I’m glad to have backed this book, and even happier to put down money to buy a print version when it finally becomes available on PoD.

If you’ve ever wanted to play Exalted, or if you’re still on the fence on whether or not this is a good evolution of the game, don’t worry, and jump in. You won’t regret it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Exalted 3rd Edition
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Worlds in Peril
Publisher: Samjoko Publishing
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/05/2015 07:30:50

Worlds in Peril is surprisingly well done, with rules that help emulate all sorts of superpowers without needing a ton of specific rules describing each and every power (and modifiers that change how those powers work.) It’s elegant, and focused more on telling a good tale of do-gooders punching bad guys than emulating physics by any stretch.

Character creation is a breeze, mechanically, but may trip up a few people who aren’t used to building specifically from a concept. As a game built around the Apocalypse World rules, the mechanics are a simple 2d6+Stat roll with results based off a chart depending on which Moves your character is doing. It’s very different from the games I’m used to running, so the ease of play took me by surprise.

My biggest concern about the rules would probably be the Limitations. The way that they are used is simple enough to understand, but I had to work very hard with my players to get them to understand how Limitations to a character work and how they work with Bonds. Aside from that, the rest of the rules run well.

Worlds in Peril looks great, with wonderful art and good, readable layout. There are a few bits where the writing could be clearer, but after a few re-reads and a one-shot or two I was able to get everything else in order in my head.

If you’re looking for an easy to learn (and fun to play!) superhero game, and you don’t mind a rules-lite approach, definitely give Worlds In Peril a try.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Worlds in Peril
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Ryuutama : Natural Fantasy Roleplay
Publisher: KOTODAMA HEAVY INDUSTRIES
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/21/2015 10:41:14

Ryuutama brings to life a different kind of game from the tired fantasy tropes that have been the norm in RPGs for years now. With the focus on the romance of traveling and the merry adventures that the adventurers encounter, Ryuutama delivers a refreshingly new experience to the table.

I will admit that I did have early difficulty with the presentation of some of the information, especially early on, with some Traveler Classes and Ryuujin Types thrown at me up front without any context, but it’s a minor quibble. The artwork is gorgeous, and I wish there were more of it somehow.

Combat looks tactical, without being bogged in the ammo-counting, hit-location identifying drudgery that detracts from the experience.

Ryuutama is a Fantasy game, but it occupies its own niche, and does what it chooses to do very, very well. I would definitely recommend this to groups looking for something different, lighthearted and yet capable of being much more.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ryuutama : Natural Fantasy Roleplay
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Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/30/2015 23:07:02

TitansGrave: The Ashes of Valkana is a splendid setting that gets the whole Thundarr: The Barbarian vibe across in a consistent world. The setting is very cool, especially for an 80’s kid like me, and the artwork is an absolute joy.

The additional mechanics are very sparse but definitely useful for branching the AGE system into sci-fi stuff, without adding too much complexity.

The adventure is the key component of this product and it is perhaps one of the most fun-looking I’ve read up on in a while. At this point I’m already tempted to call up my gaming group to ask them if we could run this right away.

My only nitpick about it is that I wish it covered more ground in the setting. Still you could have more than enough fun romping around the regions detailed in the book so far.

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where this line might develop into and how they plan to expand it. Bottomline? Buy it. It might just be your new favorite science-fantasy setting.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana
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Fantaji Universal Role-Playing Game
Publisher: Anthropos Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/30/2015 04:11:32

Fantaji reminds me of Early Dark in the sense that both of them are clearly works of people who had a single, powerful vision. Fantaji's approach to gaming takes narrative elements and gamifys them, using Drama as a currency to push characters (or obstacles) further. The "Playing To" mechanic insures that all actions serve the hidden bounds of a story's themes and it all comes together like clockwork.

That said, the elegance of the mechanics also makes it a little difficult to grasp. I've read through it and I understand it, but it wasn't easy. YOu will need to discard quite a bit of your old habits as far as RPG rules go. I definitely see spending more than a few practice sessions of work from all players to finally get it up and running smoothly, but once everyone gets it, Fantaji should run very well.

In addition, Fantaji is very well illustrated and the layout is clean. The language used is pretty accessible, though there are a few parts which make me flinch just the slightest bit, such as when it uses marketing language inside the product (it's "crazy versatile!" being the most memorable phrase that comes to mind.)

Overall, Fantaji is an unique entry to the lineup of universal RPGs that has a LOT of new ideas. If you like generic RPGs but are tired of point buy options, you might want to give Fantaji a go. It's not quite FATE, but it certainly feels like a fork of the idea of gamifying a narrative. Definitely a worthy addition to an RPG shelf.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fantaji Universal Role-Playing Game
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Cypher System Rulebook
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/23/2015 20:51:22

Thanks to the generosity of Monte Cook Games, I was given an opportunity to take a peek at a pre-production copy of the CSR! Needless to say, I was pretty stoked about it, which explains this First Impressions review.

What is it, and what is it for?

The Cypher System is the name of the rules that power Numenera and The Strange. Designed to put story at the forefront of gameplay, it kills a few interesting sacred cows to promote a much more dynamic style of play.

This makes it a prime candidate to be the baseline for a generic rpg product that people can use to spin off their own games. And now, Monte Cook Games makes it possible with the Cypher System Rulebook.

The Basic Mechanics

I’ve gone over the basic mechanics before in my Let’s Study articles for Numenera and the Strange, but I’ll try to give a quick summary here.

Basic mechanic is a 1d20 roll against a set target difficulty that ranges from 3 to 30. This difficulty is set by the Level of the obstacle or opponent. This allows the game to function without the GM having to roll, resulting in a much faster game.

Other fiddly bits involve the expenditure of a finite pool of Effort to reduce the difficulty of the task, and the use of set damage to further streamline play.

Rolling a 1 is always bad, while rolling a 19 or 20 results in getting a minor or major effect that further improves your success.

I’ve gone and said it before, but it’s fast, elegant. Furthermore, the focus on speed and offloading rolls from the GM’s duties allows for a much more interesting game as the GM can focus on the story.

Character Types

Previous games using the Cypher system featured three types with different names appropriate to their settings. The CSR gives them much more generic-sounding names for the sake of clarity: Warrior, Adept and Explorer.

However, the CSR also adds a fourth Type in the form of the Speaker. The Speaker fills the niche of the social character. While this has been folded into the other types in the previous games, I’m very happy to see them get their recognition with the CSR ruleset, as it is meant to cover more than the usual Action-Adventure genre, which is something we’ll come back to later.

The Types section also introduces Flavors, which are separate sub-packages of new abilities that can be traded into an existing type on a 1:1 basis. Meaning you can give up an ability pick from the Type in exchange for an ability from a Flavor. I’m all for customization, so I’m very happy to see this.

Character Descriptors

I’m glad to see that there’s a hefty serving of fifty different character descriptors in the CSR, all of which are geared towards being generic enough to fit any genre.

There’s something for everyone here, from Dishonorable to Perceptive, Vengeful to Noble. Negative-sounding Descriptors are particularly interesting as they give benefits while placing a great amount of personality to your character.

Character Foci

The third building block of characters is the Character Foci. Again, there’s a ton of different foci in the CSR, but what really stands out for me is the fact that they took the time to provide several tables of suggested Foci that work in the context of different genres. They have a list for fantasy, Modern / Horror, Sci-Fi and Superheroes.

Genres

Here’s probably the most exciting part for me. As a fan of the HERO system, I’m always delighted when I read through rules that twist an existing ruleset to work with a given genre.

As mentioned before, the CSR provides chapter for each of the following genres: Fantasy, Modern, Sci-Fi, Horror and Supers.

Each of the chapters goes into a quick summary of the genre, and how the GM can run it. To further assist, they include charts on which Types (and Flavors), Foci and even Creatures are appropriate for a game. In addition, genre-approriate equipment and artifacts are also covered here.

Some of the Genres also add further Racial Descriptors to denote non-human creatures. Further modifications for genres include special optional rules such as Shock for Horror, and my personal favorite: Power Shifts for Superheroes. I don’t want to spoil too much for this, but the rules for Power Shifts is a suprisingly elegant means to simulate the incredible ability superheroes without becoming needlessly complex.

Game Mastering Advice and Running the Game

The last section of the CSR is devoted to helping GMs run the game. From a collection of varied monsters that could fit various genres to the Cyphers that provide one-shot powers, the books gives all the toys that a GM would need, and the advice necessary to use them properly.

It’s not often that you get to say that a Generic Ruleset would be suited to a new GM, but the Cypher System Rulebook is definitely an exception. There’s enough here to give even fledgeling GMs the confidence to get started.

Overall, the Cypher System Rulebook is a master-class product that manages to become one of the most accessible generic rules I’ve had a chance to see. While I wish there was more pagecount dedicated to providing even more options for the various genres, I think that’s a holdover from my expectations as a HERO system GM.

As is it’s a brilliant product and one that is definitely worth having in your library.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cypher System Rulebook
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Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/23/2015 03:16:04

Fantasy AGE is technically a generic fantasy RPG that will let you play the heroic characters in the well-known adventure fantasy style of play made popular by D&D. If you're familiar with the 3.X era of rules of D&D, some of the concepts and ideas used in Fantasy AGE will be familiar to you, as the AGE System draws much of it's inspiration from True20, which in turn was an offshoot of D20.

The book itself is beautifully illustrated, and well laid out in an easy to read fashion. As a generic fantasy ruleset, it doesn't come with a setting, so those looking for a new game with a complete world might be a bit disappointed.

That said, what IS here is a complete ruleset for running fantasy, with a few innovations that break away from the norm, while sticking to a few sacred cows that could use a bit of simplification.

Basic Mechanics

The Resolution system for the AGE system is a 3d6 + Ability roll against a set difficulty. The twist here is that one of the three dice you roll should be a different color, as it serves as the "Stunt Die" which serves several different purposes.

If a player rolls doubles, then the value of the Stunt Die determines how many Stunt Points is made available for the character for that action. The Character may then execute any number of Stunts that they can pay for with that pool of Stunt Points.

It's a neat mechanic, and the addition of Stunts certainly adds a bit of dynamism to an encounter.

Character Creation

Making a character in Fantasy Age is pretty straightforward, and might trigger some deja vu from D&D players. The first step is to determine a character's Abilities. These are:

Accuracy Communication Constitution Dexterity Fighting Intelligence Perception Strength Willpower

Unlike D&D, there's no need to derive further stats from these, as the values in your Ability are the ones you'll add to your 3d6 roll. I appreciate how this cuts out an unnecessary step and just keeps the useful bits.

Abilities can be rolled and assigned in order, rolled and assigned by preference or bought in a point-buy system.

Ability Focuses are an area of expertise within an Ability. This is the "skill" system of Fantasy Age, and each of the Abilities has at least 4 different Focuses in them. For example, Strength Focuses include Climbing, Driving, Intimidation, Jumping, Might and Smithing.

There are six races to choose from in Fantasy AGE: dwarf, elf, gnome, halfling, human and orc. Each one has it's own package of Modifiers to the character, as well as a small table of randomly determined additional Benefits. It's a nice touch as it makes certain that two characters of the same race will still have something to make them different from one another.

Once you have your Abilities and Race squared away, you move on to Backgrounds. This trend of adding backgrounds with mechanical impact is a good one, and I'm glad to see it here.

Backgrounds are determined by making a couple of rolls and a lookup in a table. Backgrounds are sorted by Social Class, which ranges from Outsider to Upper Class, and each of those has a smaller list of Backgrounds to come from. Each Background bestows an Ability Focus to the Character.

Finally we get to Classes. There are only three Classes in Fantasy AGE: Warrior, Rogue and Mage. Each of these Classes has a package of traits, including recommendations for primary and secondary Abilities, starting Health and Weapon groups that the character can wield. Each Class also has a large list of powers, that expand with every additional level up to the cap of level 20.

Each level either bestows new abilities or gives opportunities to learn Talents, which are like D20 Feats, though each having a 3 tier progression from Novice, to Journeyman and Master levels.

The only derived stat I could see in the entire character creation process would be the calculation for the character's Defense value, which is done by adding up 10 + Dexterity + Shield Bonus (if applicable.)

Character Specializations

Here's the fun part. I know I said that there are only 3 classes in Fantasy AGE, but they get to add back a lot of variation by adding Character Specializations. These are micropackages that are tacked onto an existing character, bestowing benefits at certain levels. Again these benefits are ranked as Novice, Journeyman and Master and have certain requirements for a character to obtain.

Equipment

The Equipment chapter of Fantasy AGE feels surprisingly... old. There's a lot of bean counting, with perhaps only the absence of encumbrance and weight as the only improvement from the classic D20 stuff.

That said there's an audience for this kind of stuff, so if you'd like listings for mundane tools, services, goods, food and lodging, the game has those too.

Magic

The Magic system for Fantasy AGE works on the basis of 12 Magic Talents, each covering a different Arcana. Mages begin with 2 of these (each one granting 2 spells each), and they advance in rank as they level up.

Spells require Magic Points to cast, which are calculated by a simple formula: 10 + Willpower + 1d6. This value goes up every time the Mage levels up as well.

Mages learn multiple Arcana, making them surprisingly flexible.

Stunts

Perhaps the biggest mechanical highlight in Fantasy AGE would be the Stunts System. It's neat and easy to remember, and when used outside of just combat, it lends to some unpredictability that can be a lot of fun. The book also includes tables for Exploration and Roleplaying related stunts, which should help jog the imaginations of the players as they go through their adventures.

The GM section

The rest of the chapters goes into some very thorough GMing advice, and covers all the important bits from running the game, to coming up with your own setting, to a chapter on monsters and a sample adventure. It's a great template to follow and the kind of content that I'd love to see in more games of this kind.

Conclusion

The Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook is beautiful, well-laid out, accessible and sits on the lighter side of rules complexity. There's a lot to like here, much like in 13th Age, as it improves on an existing ruleset but doesn't innovate where it doesn't need to just to be different. Each innovation in this book has a purpose and it comes together perfectly.

It feels solid, and the Stunts are a nice touch. I can certainly see introducing this game to new players and getting them started with little trouble. With new Settings coming out soon, it's definitely worth your time and attention.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook
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Atomic Robo RPG
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/17/2014 21:10:10

Atomic Robo is probably the most impressive RPG I have ever read that works with a licensed IP. It manages to hit all three most important factors in licensed RPGs: it’s fun, the rules reflect the fiction of the setting, and it manages to make me interested in the comic. Likewise fans of the comic might find themselves interested in the game.

The Fate Core rules fits Atomic Robo like a glove, and the custom mechanics for this game enrich the basic Fate Core system while highlighting the strengths of the setting. It’s relatively easy to learn, and there are enough examples to facilitate the learning process.

GMs and players alike are given freedom to make pretty much any character they want, thanks to Weird Modes, and the Brainstorm and Invention rules makes certain that Action Science is still the key theme of the game.

There’s plenty that other games can learn from checking out how Atomic Robo manages to provide a lot of freedom of choice, while adding a structure for guided fun in a game. The mechanics are elegant and each rule exists to further the theme and activities of pulpy fun.

Atomic Robo is a great game for those new to the hobby, and those looking to get into Fate Core. Old hands at Fate will find plenty to like here as well as Brainstorming and Invention Rules can work in any setting that needs it.

Definitely a must buy for any RPG gamer looking for pulpy action-adventure fun.

If you're looking for a more in-depth coverage, check out my 6 part Let's Study articles for Atomic Robo over at my blog: http://philgamer.wordpress.com/category/roleplaying-games/atomic-robo/



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Atomic Robo RPG
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