Table Top RPGs

Frontier Space by DwD Studios

A Review

TLDR summary: Great game, good possibilities for tinkering, great art, good setting, great writing. Buy it, for it is fun.

I will admit first of all that I have been looking forward to this game for quite some time. When I bought BareBones Fantasy several years ago, I learned that the authors had taken the system they loved from Star Frontiers and had carved it down to a lighter version which they called the D00 Lite system. Among the changes made to the system, attributes were changed, a new critical mechanic was given, and skills were changed to the class-as-skill model I have seen used successfully here and elsewhere. The BBF game was really a great innovation, to my mind, and I was left with an eager desire for the day when I would see my old friend Star Frontiers (by TSR back in the early 80s) take flight again in this system. I eagerly devoured Covert Ops soon after BBF,  and saw a few more changes to the system that adapted the game to that setting, showing how versatile the game engine could be. My eagerness only grew.

Now that I have my copy of the game, I am even more eager to take it for a spin.

The first thing I saw from the game was in the notice of the download which contained the author’s’ invitation for anyone to take the system and setting and do whatever they liked with it under the Creative Commons license. This impresses me especially as a game tinkerer and is a refreshing change from some other games. I already have a couple setting ideas that almost write themselves, and a few more ideas within the setting as it is written.

And now the game itself.

In the introduction of the game the primary setting ideal is explained, that this game is about small fish in a very big ocean. The frontier is the star of the show, so to speak, and the players part of a far larger whole. Here I got a glimpse of the quality of writing I could expect throughout the book, which was engaging and clear; dramatic yet succinct (if I am using that word correctly.) It is a gritty setting. The discussion then continues to explain the role players and referees each serve in, and the all-important golden rule of RPGs, that when the GM makes a ruling, accept it and move along.

The dice system is broken down and explained in the beginning of the first chapter. All dice are ten sided. Most rolls will be percentile, with two zeroes read as 00 and not 100. You succeed if you roll under the target number, usually a skill plus an attribute plus modifiers. Rolls for damage or some other effects are the dice rolled and added together. There are six attributes which cover whatever your character is going to do.

Skills follow the class as skill model as in the other outings of D00 Lite, but here instead of the previous games’ formula to arrive at the overall skill, it is simply expressed as a number between -20 (untrained) and +30 (top in the universe) with 0 being basic professional level training. At first I was thrown by this idea, but as I got used to it, I began to see how brilliant this is. For one, it is possible to use the same skill with multiple attributes. If you have a Medic skill, for instance, you could use it with Perception to examine your patient, with Coordination to perform surgery, and Willpower when you are telling the patient to relax and heal.

Character creation is in the second chapter, and has a couple of neat points. You can roll for your attributes and then put the rolls where you want them or choose a predetermined array that includes a good mix of values to give a character enough depth without being overpowered yet. Species are discussed elsewhere in detail but are conveniently summarized here. The Referee’s book will have the means to create new species but the five included in the book are plenty to start with. (I have to wonder how hard it would be to adapt the various fantasy races from the BBF supplement Flesh and Blood. Probably pretty easy, and just a bit of re-flavoring and reskinning.) Characters start with one skill at 0 and two at -10. This I like because you then have a character that can do one thing well and a couple others (out of 12) that they do sort of well. I like the way character creation comes together as a fast and easy thing.

The rest of the book follows along as a logical progression through the technology and the culture of the game and winds it all up with the setting. While glossing over much of the book and encouraging you with my opinion that it comes together well, is well written, and engaging, I will say that the game makes a few assumptions that pinch just a little. The setting is somewhat limited to a couple dozen systems but with a lot outside of this area left nebulous enough to be mysterious and so forth, but in saying that I have to giggle a little at myself since I haven’t seen more than a quarter on my own state and rarely leave a  hundred mile circle of that. Ships are kind of on the small side but only when compared to Star Destroyers and Trek ships. The only other annoying thing about the setting is the number of loose ends set up in it which would all be things one could use as story hooks to get player characters doing cool stuff.

It would be really easy, though, to port in any setting you like with this game.

The artwork throughout the book is pretty cool and captures the essence of a spacefaring gritty story based game. Only a couple of the spaceship drawings were not quite up to my standards, but are still a ton better than what I manage. One thing the old game did that is rare to find elsewhere in science fiction shows and games was that almost all of the ships were built on the tower model rather than the boat model, which is to say that in a spaceship decks would be best placed perpendicular to the thrust so that you have acceleration as your false gravity. There is very little evidence that gravity floors would be possible let alone cheap enough to be ubiquitous. It appears that the space vessels are built on the boat model for the most part. Really that is my only gripe with the art. Everything else is awesome. Those boat model space ships are pretty awesome, too, really.

Fair or not, I judge games on several criteria, mostly having to do with feelings. Frontier Space wins first because I have been excited for a long time to get it. It wins again in how confident in the way the rules are laid out that I could easily play and enjoy it. It wins in that I can see myself walking around on many of the described worlds, talking to Yar, Erakai, and Novim friends. It wins in that I can see piloting huge freighters and nimble fighters through the deep voids of space. It wins in that I cannot think of any ways in which it loses, with the only exception being the relative obscurity of the game, which is something I can at least try to do something about through this review and getting the word out on other places.

I was going to ask for more D&D books for Christmas and birthdays upcoming, but since i got this as an early present from a kind benefactor, I think I would rather get printed copies of this book and the referee’s book, which together would be less than either the 5th Edition DMG or Monster book.

Table Top RPGs

I Did It!

I actually got back to the table top and played a session and a half of 5th Edition D&D with a mostly new to me group.

That may not sound like much of an accomplishment, but I have been struggling with social anxiety and chronic pain for quite a while, and my gaming at the table tapered off and then vanished about a year ago. I am giving myself permission to go and be a bore or good company as it may fall. I give myself permission to make poor character choices in the name of story. I give myself permission to get up and go when the pain gets too overwhelming, or to take whatever is prescribed and hang around all loopy and goofy.

I had a really good time both Saturday and Monday, and I look forward to many games in the future. I may even run a few, though those will be either Basic D&D or one of my many other games; I am not in coin at the moment.


Computer Games · General · Table Top RPGs

Why Fallout is not MY post-apocalypse

I first played the game Fallout when it was released, and I spent a lot of time with the various iterations of that franchise, missing only New Vegas. I love the nods given to the earlier media, such as the leather armor (the “road leathers” in FO4) referencing the costume Mel Gibson wore in the Mad Max movies, particularly The Road Warrior. I like the various factions and the description of the world after the disastrous war of 2077.

But these were not my gateway into the world after civilization.

In 1980 or so, I got the box set for Gamma World. I had been playing D&D for just long enough to be eager to devour each issue of Dragon when it got to my local library, and this new game was advertised, and something inside me needed the game. Some of my most memorable scenes were from that game. It still strongly influences me in my gaming choices. Unconsciously, I weigh every game I mean to get into against it. Every setting is measured against the world as imagined by its authors (as then interpreted by my 12 year old understanding of it).

So then what else gets there for me. Well, I missed out on the hype train around the recent edition of Gamma World as seen through the D&D4 lens, so I didn’t get it and really haven’t looked at it more. Shadowrun was also a post-apoc I could and did enjoy. The recent slou of games in the OSR tradition based to some degree or another on GW are really cool, and I have enjoyed as many as I have looked at. The upcoming nod from the guys behind Dungeon Crawl Classic looks really nifty. Also the background behind Wil Wheaton’s “Ashes of Volcana” setting for the Fantasy AGE game is pretty cool, though for me it misses some essentials.

The elements that make a post-toasty (term from THuD) cool for me include

  • It happened here- to some degree or another it is this world that has passed away.
  • Psionics or magic is a thing
  • Mutations can be both good and bad, but the chaos of the apocalypse leaves no two beings too similar.
  • The original critter needn’t be a human. Best if it is possible to be any sort of animal, robot or maybe even a plant.
  • The world has been destroyed, but there is hope still in our protagonists’ hearts. -I like a tale of rebuilding, not one of further drift into death.

I do not think there is any way the current iterations of the Fallout franchise can be anything like a real role playing experience as created by folks around a table. I do not see how it could be possible for the computer based games to allow for the amazing variety of possible characters a real tabletop game can provide, nor can it provide for the level of choice in the actions of the player characters.



Table Top RPGs

Pip System Released!

Third Eye Games new generic rules are released and available at the One Bookshelf sites RPGnow andDrivethrurpg.  My first scan through the pages show me a decent set of rules and how those rules can work in a number of different ways to make for a good gaming experience. A couple of things stick out to me to be aware of when buying this pdf. The first is that if you like to print out pages or the whole book for use at the table, the pdf is layered letting you turn off the background colors for a printer friendliness. The second is that while the rules call for six sided dice, the majority of rolls could be made just as effectively with any binary random selectors you might have. I picture using pennies and nickels when the black and white dice are called for. The only difference is that certain abilities make it so sixes count double, and unskilled shot-in-the-dark rolls only succeed on a 1. If you neither have the special abilities nor are unskilled, coins flipped will do, it seems.

Is it really going to be worth fifteen bucks?

As fully realized generic rule sets go, this is in fact a fair bargain. Some, like Savage Worlds, are cheaper by a bit, but I have to point out that for the most part, you use SW with another supplemental world book while The Pip System is geared to work pretty much out of the book with no more than the usual session prep time. There will be game books coming out based on The Pip System, some of which were stretch goals for the Kickstarter campaign, but each of these will be a stand-alone book without need for the basic rules open alongside.

The artwork throughout the book is charming. The page background is friendly to the eyes. The fonts are well chosen and easy to read at speed. Not as gorgeous as some books, but then I spent half as much as I would have for them.

General · Table Top RPGs

Nobody Asked, But

Yeah, I’ll answer, anyway.

What do you mean you won’t buy ?

Well, it is not because of lack of interest. I am just not really wealthy, despite my living standard that is far above any of my royal ancestors. I occasionally come into a little money and splurge on a few books or a couple of Kickstarters. One of these most recent opportunities was my final grant for college at the same time as my tax return. I was very happy to be able to support The Pip System and Cortex Prime, and I am very stoked that both of these projects have funded and will be real books. I have had pretty good luck with the things I have supported, even the one that took two years to finalize with product in my hands.

What is so all-fired awesome about these dice pool games?

Yeah, I noticed that, too. I see that my two recent crowdfunded books are both dice pool systems. Some of my favorites from the past are also dice pool games, most notably Fantasy Flight’s iterations of Star Wars,  FASA’s Shadowrun, and <grargh> World of Darkness.* The way you feel when you can roll a bunch of dice to figure how things went, this is quite gratifying. I am also particularly fond of how in the Cortex Prime games, you get dice from several places on your sheet, roll them all and add the two best, or more if you pay tokens for it.

*(I was dragged into the WoD by my friends who wanted to play nothing else but those Critter: the Adjective games once they came out. Any appearance of enjoyment on my part is purely coincidental. I did get a little Soggy, though.)

Where is the video promised in a recent Facebook post?

Well, I tell you what is going on. Since Windows Movie Maker was deprecated, I have not found a satisfactory video editing program. I thought I had when I got HitFilm 4 Express, but I am having a lot of trouble getting my footage to work in that platform. It is just too feature filled for me to see past it. I still don’t have money, really, so getting the Adobe Creative Cloud is not happening since I have no desire to rent my software. That may totally be the wave of the future, but it’s just crashing on me and not letting me surf. I’m kind of too perfectionist to want to mess around with it too much, since that is frustrating and school is all I can manage this final quarter. Still I went to all the trouble to learn Photoshop, and I have found the freeware stuff entirely unfriendly for that. Maybe I should be more open to other paths.

So please don’t hold your breath for the videos, but they are somewhere in the future.

Thanks and Happy Waffling!

Table Top RPGs

More Pip System!

I mean to say I would like it.

So far we have a successful Kickstarter, a couple of great videos, and an actual play on podcast.

Also to note, they have a G+ group.

The Pip system has a simple and quick mechanic involving each die either being counted or not on a 50/50 basis, 1-3 no or 4-6 yes, and you roll against a number of target dice according to the difficulty of the challenge or the challenger. You have basic skills, which have qualities, and your roll is your skill + qualities in dice. Beginning characters can start with up to 4 dice in a skill and an equal number or less in each quality, all determined by allotment. More good dice than bad, success. More bad than good, defeat. Even, a success but.

I’ve read through some preliminary material, and the writing is good, and clear. The game will be a good one. It remains to be seen whether it will be adopted in the way it aught to be. I would really like to see it deployed into some grittier settings as well as the fun stuff we already see in the pipeline. Of course, even Mermaid Adventures could be played pretty gritty if you really wanted to, with just a few tweaks. While “A Kid’s Guide to Monster Hunting” will likely be very much like a preteen Scooby Doo, it could just as easily be played more like Stranger Things or even Horror Rules.  Oddly enough, though I want to see these serious things developed, I probably won’t actually buy them. I would, however, probably strongly consider yet another fantasy game using the rules, though it would be cool to see something drawing more from Asian or African lore than from Mr. Tolkein or Mr. Lieber. Another Mars game wouldn’t go amiss in my book. Still a fan of John Carter, but also of Space 1889 and Martian Chronicles. Maybe set the whole thing on a distant world under a bright red sun, and the mysterious giants invading the land are Humans and their mining equipment. Of course, Humans being the setting’s kaiju in Infestation is pretty brilliant, anyway.

Whatever it is, I am keen to see it.

Computer Games · General · Miniature Wargames · Off the Farm · Table Top RPGs

Producers & Consumers

Throughout the history of games, the rules and the pieces have all been set by a few for the many to enjoy. Or so it may seem, anyway. Among the folks creative enough to enjoy games involving the imagination, whether they be boardgames using abstract tokens to represent troops and armor storming the WW2 battle lines, miniature wargames using models on a terrainscape of sand and styrofoam, or the people represented by penciled in sheets in a candle-lit living room; among these the lines blur considerably between the producers and the consumers. Whether it is a simple house-rule that makes sense to everyone around the table, or the DM’s long hours of effort to create an evening’s destruction and mayhem for her friends to carve their way through, or the player who has an idea and throws something together to sell to other players.

My creations are many. As yet I have only ever published one item, a sheet of stick figure miniatures that I made up for the Deadlands Reloaded game my friend ran us through.

Time to turn left on that side road. I had to wonder why my stick figure miniatures struck a chord with my friends and others. For the same token, why is it that I can be so much more immersed in a pencil on quad ruled paper dungeon adventure than I can in a more richly modeled environment, whether it is a detailed layout on a table top or the amazing world of the Elder Scrolls games? I think that while one shows me stuff, I am limited to what it shows me, see, while the more simplified makes me engage my imagination to fill in almost everything. It is the same thing as the difference between reading the Harry Potter books and going to see the movies. Am I the only one who thinks that however pretty and talented Miss Watson was, Hermione should have been curlier?

The same advantage holds for the recent spate of indy and OSR games that seek to pare down the rules complexity instead of getting every last thing nailed down into a table or chart. It is really cool to have five hundred pages of awesome new world to adventure in, but when I get one of those things, I find myself afraid to get some detail of the setting wrong; or worse, calling my GM on some detail they got wrong. I have been that insufferable know-it-all turd that dragged a game to a screeching halt over a detail that any GM should have felt free to alter at their own table. Sorry, Ted. (He won’t even play with me anymore, and who could blame him.)

Back to the topic, I guess, though I suppose I was more about the stick figures and rules light stuff.

Unlike a gallon of gas or a taco or a box of detergent, what we do with games almost immediately takes us from being a mere consumer of products to creators. Reading the first paragraph in a game should send pictures blazing through my head of ideas I had never seen in that way before. Even when the game is a lush world on the computer screen, my creativity goes into the experience in the same way a book is not complete without the reader’s participation. In short, we are all producers and creators. We always have been.