Posts Tagged ‘ reviews ’

It’s Not My Fault!

Nota Bene: If you click on a pic, that pic embiggens so that you can read the cards more easily.

Recently I purchased It’s Not My Fault!, published by Evil Hat Productions and available on DriveThruRPG at the aforelinked location. I went for PDF + Cards, currently available for $8.99, plus a clear plastic container for the cards, which was a buck more, if I recall correctly. All in all, not a bad price. The printed cards, as you can see in the pics, aren’t works of art, which I appreciate. My aging eyes enjoy not struggling with miniscule point sizes and exotic fonts layered over art or some sort of pattern.

The deck is really four decks in one. Twenty cards are “character aspect/approach/stunt cards”. One side shows what some systems call a character class (Con Artist or Illusionist, for example) along with three approaches, color-coded, and an aspect in italics. Players pick two cards in turn, and the third is dealt at random. On the flip side of the cards you find which approaches that “class” is best at along with a stunt. The player adds up the pluses for the approaches, makes note of the stunts, et cetera, and the character is done.

I chose Con Artist and Illusionist. I randomly dealt myself Sorcerer. My character’s aspects are Have I Got a Deal for You!, Now You See Me…, and You May Call Me…Tim!. I like the idea of the first one being the character’s high concept.

His approaches are Careful +0, Clever +2, Flashy +2, Forceful +1, Quick +1, and Sneaky +2. He has three stunts, one from each card: Fast Talking, Vanishing Act, and Earth-Shattering Kaboom.

The other three decks within the deck each include 14 cards that “help you generate a sticky situation fast”. Shuffle each deck, deal one card from each. These cards answer the questions Where Are You Now?, What Brought You To This?, and (my favorite question) How Is It About To Get Worse?.

I randomly dealt a card from each deck. We discover that my character is miles underground because he swore an oath while drunk and that his means of escape just left without him.

The PDFs that come with the product also include card-sized rules references and card-sized character sheets. I’ve not provided examples of these, but you can see a sample at this link.

I’m kind of psyched about my It’s Not My Fault! cards. Fate Accelerated has become one of my favorite game systems over the past few years. It’s versatile, easy, and fun. Looks like it might be time for to schedule another dinner-and-gaming event.


September 15th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Do: Fate of the Flying Temple

For some time now, I’ve meant to purchase Do: Fate of the Flying Temple. Now I’ve done so. Do, co-published by Evil Hat Productions and Smart Play Games, written by Mark Truman, promises to be “a family-friendly standalone roleplaying game.” I’ve seen this sort of claim before made by a few other games. Upon investigation, I discovered that, while those games might be family-friendly, it ain’t my family they’d be friendly to. Also, I facilitate Ludi Fabularum, a story game club, at the school whereat I teach. More than one of those other so-called family-friendly games would probably get me reprimanded if I allowed them at a Ludi Fabularum.

I am pleased to report that Do lives up to its claim. For the rest of this mini-review, I’m going to assume that you’re familiar with Fate Accelerated Edition; therefore, I’m not talking about the rules. They’re pretty much standard FAE rules, with two noteworthy exceptions, that I will address in a bit. If you don’t know FAE or don’t like FAE, that’s okay. Do‘s biggest selling point isn’t the game system; it’s the worlds of Do.

The Worlds of Do

At the center of everything floats the Flying Temple, home to wise and benevolent monks who master the martial arts in order to master themselves rather than fight others. Children who arrive at the Temple’s gates are adopted by the monks. These children become pilgrims. They’re not monks, but they’re not outsiders either. The monks teach their skills and wisdom to the children, who then fly to the many worlds of Do, answering letters sent by the troubled to the Temple. The pilgrims try to solve those troubles using the non-violent methods of the monks.

The worlds of Do are not planets like Earth or Mars. Instead, they are more like floating islands, drifting on the winds that blow through the vast sky in which everything moves and lives. To quote the rules, “There is no ‘outer space’ as we know it, with its harsh vacuum and hazardous cosmic rays.” There is sky. There are clouds and birds and worlds and flying whales and, like everywhere you find people, there is trouble. Those experiencing trouble write letters to the Temple. The monks read the letters, decide which troubles need attention, and then send pilgrims — children — to solve those troubles.

The players’ characters are pilgrims, remarkable children who live at the Temple under the tutelage of the monks. One day, all pilgrims face graduation day. Their pilgrimages have an end date, and after that they are pilgrims no more. Instead, they become monks who tutor pilgrims or else they depart the Temple to live among the worlds of Do. Regardless, they are player characters no longer.

About Pilgrims

Pilgrims are made pretty much like any FAE character. They have aspects, stunts, and approaches, but the aspects work a little differently. Every pilgrim’s name has two parts: a banner and an avatar. The former is “an adjective or verb that represents how your pilgrim gets into trouble.” The latter is “a noun that reflects how your pilgrims helps people.” Three sample characters are included in the book, and chapter two goes into admirable detail about banners and avatars. In normal FAE-speak, a pilgrim’s banner is his trouble, and his avatar is his high concept. Every pilgrim also has a dragon aspect. This aspect describes something about the newly hatched dragon that the pilgrims must protect, guide, and raise. The players, through the dragon aspects of their characters, create the personality, appearance, abilities, et cetera of the young dragon.

In simplest terms, the dragon is a non-player character controlled by the GM, given qualities by the players, a collection of aspects usable by all of the players and the GM, and, therefore, a source of both strengths and troubles. In my opinion, the dragon is the cleverest piece of Do. It’s something that is so simple that I wonder why I didn’t think of it.

The Temple Is Missing!

If you choose to run a Do campaign, it begins when the pilgrims return from a mission to discover that Temple is missing and, in its place, is a dragon egg. Where is the Temple? Where did this egg come from? What is the nature of the dragon within? All of the questions are answered during play as a sort of metaplot that moves toward a defined end of the campaign. As the game progresses and pilgrims answer letters (more on that below) and gradually solve the mystery of the Temple, the dragon gains more aspects. At the end of each letter (read: adventure), the dragon learns something new. It gains a new aspect. When the dragon gains its tenth aspect, the campaign draws to a close.

Mail Call!

As mentioned above, the people of the worlds of Do send letters to the monks, who read those letters and then send out pilgrims to solve the problems in the letters. When the Temple vanishes and the dragon hatches, the letters don’t stop. Instead, the dragon coughs up letters, and the pilgrims find themselves without the guidance of the monks. Problems must be solved, and the dragon accompanies the pilgrims, learning from how they act what sort of dragon it should be. In other words, the way the pilgrims solve problems ends up teaching the dragon, which will eventually become a very powerful creature indeed, how it ought to solve problems. Whether the pilgrims — mere children — like it or not, the fate of the worlds of Do is in their hands.

In Conclusion

If you like FAE, get Do. It is a remarkable example of what FAE can accomplish. If you don’t like FAE, get Do. It’s a fascinating idea for a multi-world campaign where solving problems via violence is possible but never without consequences, not the least of which is the fact the pilgrims end up teaching the dragon that the way to solve problems is via force.

I cannot recommend Do strongly enough, and I look forward to challenging the students who participate in Ludi Fabularum with its many worlds.

August 22nd, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

The Cthulhu Hack: A Read-Through Review

If you don’t own Paul Baldowski’s The Cthulhu Hack, buy it now. You can learn more about this wonderful game by visiting I’ll wait here until your done.

Now that you’re back, take a look at Mr. Baldowski’s work, a clever hack of David Black’s The Black Hack, an inspired role-playing game for dungeon-crawling fantasy adventure. In just a little more than 40 pages, The Cthulhu Hack gives you a complete game that launches its players into deadly conflict with the soul-shrivelling horrors of a Lovecraftian world.

The game’s core mechanic — roll a Save on a d20 that is below a specific value — determines success or failure of everything and everyone, including blood-crazed Cultists and sanity-blasting Shoggoths. Like Dungeon World, another favorite game of mine, the players rather than the GM, make almost all the rolls, including actions related to whether that mad Cultist’s machete painfully slices through muscle or harmlessly through air.

Add to the core mechanic features such as Usage Dice, Advantages, and Disadvantages to this simple, flexible core mechanic, and these simple rules cover everything from clue finding, suspect interrogating, ammo tracking, and sanity losing. It is the latter aspect of The Cthulhu Hack that I’ve been looking for for years, but more on sanity later.

Usage Dice cover resource management. For example, all investigators have a Flashlight Die that represents that investigators resources when he “needs to spot, uncover, trip over, research, stumble [upon], recall or otherwise discover something” (to quote the rules). When this comes up, the player rolls his investigator’s Flashlight Die. If the die comes up a 1 or 2, it decreases in size (from d8 to d6, for example). If a d4 Usage Die comes up a 1 or 2, the investigator is out of that resource. Nota Bene: A 1 or 2 doesn’t mean the investigator fails. It means he succeeds, but at a cost (represented by the Usage Die decreasing in size).

An Advantage means the player rolls 2d20 for a Save and choose whichever die result he prefers. A Disadvantage means the player rolls 2d20 for a Save and the GM chooses whichever die result he prefers. I’ve read this mechanic comes from D&D 5E. Regardless of its origin, it’s a great rule that replaces charts full of situational modifiers. Does your investigator have to sneak across a squeaky, dilapidated floor made of water-damaged boards? No need to consult a chart of stealth modifiers. The GM simply rules that your investigator is at a Disadvantage to do so.

I’ve played horror games before, and most I’ve played use some sort of fear or sanity point mechanic that tends to be both cumbersome and tedious, as well as requiring several pages of text to explain. The Cthulhu Hack handles sanity (or the lack thereof) as a Usage Die detailed by little more than one page of rules. Seriously. I could cut-and-paste the sanity rules into a document, fiddle with font and size and margins, and fit all of the sanity rules on one side of a single page.

The Cthulhu Hack stands severed head and mangled shoulders above every other game of its genre that I’ve read or played. Get some friends together and have them choose from one of five Classes and add one of 30 occupations. Creating an investigator is snap, and the rules for antagonists facilitate making them up more or less on the fly if necessary, which makes it easier for the GM to put more thought into the story rather than the stats behind the story.

Speaking of investigators, a sample character follows this paragraph. Ability scores (which make up the aforementioned Saves) are generated by rolling 3d6. “If a player rolls a Save with a value of 15 or more the next must be rolled with 2d6+2. After that continue with 3d6 until the end or another 15+ is rolled. Once the player rolls all six, she can choose to swap around” (to quote the rules again).

Dr. Horatio Phelps
Occupation: Archaeologist
Class/Level: Adventurer/1

STR 7, DEX 7, CON 9, WIS 15, INT 16, CHA 8

Hit Points: 9
Hit Die: d8
Sanity Die: d8
Armed Damage: 1d6
Improvised Damage: 1d4
Flashlights/Smokes: d8/d6

Special: Roll with Advantage when making a CON Save to avoid damage from poison, drugs, alcohol, or paralysis. Once per game session, apply powers of deduction and reasoning to reach an apposite conclusion.

Postscript: The last Sunday of this month, I’m hosting a dinner-and-gaming night featuring The Cthulhu Hack and a short adventure I’m writing entitled The Strange Case of the Bell Witch Bootleggers. I intend to post a playtest review a day or two later.

July 12th, 2016  in RPG 1 Comment »

Gearing Up for Fate?

The twice-monthly (or thereabouts) sessions of Man Day Adventures have been through a few game systems over the years: AD&D (2nd edition), the d20 System (3.0, 3.5, and Pathfinder), Sine Nomine’s excellent Stars Without Number, brief excursions into d20 Modern, Swords & Wizardry, and Mutants & Masterminds, and, most recently, the fabulous Dungeon World for a rollicking campaign under the auspices of three GMs.

As July 2015 bears down on us, we prepare to bid a sad adieu to one of Man Day’s adventurers, who is leaving the U.S. for a new life in a foreign land. The consensus is that his final Man Day will be the final act of our Dungeon World campaign. Further, it seems most likely that our next game with be Fate Accelerated (or FAE), published under both the Open Gaming License and Creative Commons Attribution license by Evil Hat Productions.

To prepare for the upcoming new campaign, I trundled my virtual self to DriveThruRPG and purchased FAE. While I was there, I also picked up A Spark in Fate Core, published by Genesis of Legend Publishing. This latter product bills itself as a “Fate World Building Toolkit” and, since one Man Day adventurer had talked several times about using FAE to create a collaborative campaign world, it seemed like a well duh acquisition.

FAE claims that it can be used to play (just about?) any genre. The players get together, decide on a genre, and then make characters that fit that genre. I’ve run across this claim before (GURPS, for example), and I’ve almost always been at least somewhat underwhelmed. Often, it seems based on my experience, the system claims to work for (just about?) any genre, but then the system ends up working against that claim because the system itself is too rigidly defined.

Keeping in mind I’ve not played FAE yet, it does seem as if FAE avoid at least this pitfall. Characters are defined more by narrative hooks than by ability scores. These hooks come in three flavors: a high concept, which “is a single phrase or sentence that neatly sums up your character”; a trouble, which is that “one thing that always get you into trouble”; and at least one other aspect, which is something “really important or interesting about your character.” Characters also have approaches, which describe how characters accomplish tasks. Each of the six approaches are rated as a bonus ranging from +0 to +3. One character might be Flashy +3, whereas another character might be Careful +3. Lastly, FAE recommends each character start with one stunt, which “is a special trait that changes the way an approach works for your character.” Stunts either grant a bonus (usually +2) or else let the character ignore certain rules in a predefined circumstance.

Since the action resolution system starts and ends with narration built around some combination of high concepts, troubles, aspects, approaches, and stunts, a huge range of activities can be accounted for without dozens of pages of rules. For example, one of the sample characters, Reth of the Andrali Resistance, has “Suncaller of the Andral Desert” as a high concept. This lets him “magically call forth the power of fire.” FAE doesn’t include pages of fire spells or powers. Instead, Reth’s player would narrate Reth’s desired course of action, such as:

“I lunge at the robot, sheathing my body with flame, as I attempt to slam my foe.”

The player would then roll four Fate Dice, apply Reth’s Good (+3) Forceful modifier, and then compare the result to the robot’s defense total. The degree of success determines the results, ranging from failure to short-term benefit to damage to more damage plus a possible short-term benefit. Pretty much everything works more or less like this (narrate, roll, determine results). The use of Fate Points can further amplify results or even establish facts about a current scene.

In short, I kind of psyched to give FAE a test drive. There are oodles of reviews for the system out there, many of which do a better job explaining things than I do. Check them out.

So, what about A Spark in Fate Core? In short, it’s almost exactly what I hoped for. ASiFC offers a step-by-step method to collaborative world building that helps ensure all players at the table have a pretty much equal say.

This process starts by listing favorite media, such as a particular television show or comic book. Each player then explains the inspiration for his choice. For example, if I choose Pee-Wee’s Playhouse as my favorite, I would then expand on this choice by noting how much I like the all of the goofy supporting characters such as Cowboy Curtis and Billy Baloney. After all players have shared their favorite media and related inspiration, the group then decides on a genre that incorporates those media and inspirations. The genre should have a descriptor that shows how the group’s take on the genre stands apart from the genre’s most common examples.

This process of players taking turn sharing, arriving at group decisions, asking and answering questions, et cetera, continues until the world has a scale (small or large), a list of facts, a title, several Sparks (the system’s name for potential problems or sources of conflict), a group of Faces (important NPCs), and noteworthy places. The GM uses the Sparks to set up issues that impact the shared story. One Spark is a Legacy Issue; it used to be a problem, but now serves as history and culture. Another Spark is the Current Issue. This is the main focus of the campaign to start with. A third Spark is an Impending Issue. It’s not a problem yet, but it will be eventually.

The process described in ASiFC is simple enough, flexible, and truly collaborative. The downloadable PDF is free. If there had been a pay what you want option, I’d have paid for it. It’s worth at least a couple of bucks, and ASiFC‘s process is generic enough that it would work well with just about any game system.

June 17th, 2015  in Man-Day Adventures No Comments »