Jan 222013
 

kuro-cover-500-233x300Welcome back everyone to the next thrilling installment of my review of the wonderful little game Kuro, brought to you by the fine fellows Cubicle 7 Entertainment. I left you last time with a taste of what the world was – Japanese horror mixed with cyberpunk – and how it was presented to you by the book. Following straight on from there we get to character generation, so I thought I would give it a shot myself.

If anyone has read my Gnome Stew competition entry, they will know that I’m hoping to run this game myself at some point this year, so I had a rough idea about the type of character I would expect to see. For this example, I thought I would try for a spoiled little rich kid. Someone with no issues in his life who just indulged in his hobbies while the world around him was falling apart. Little would he expect that before long, his own existence would prove to be just as fragile as a house of cards, and when you have more to lose, it can be a lot more painful when it finally collapses.

So, the first thing the book asks for is a concept. That was sorted pretty quickly, along with age and social standing. Next we work out the points allotted for the characteristics based on our young buck’s age. I had decided to make him younger than the average character; this would mean a slightly smaller pool of points, but since I wanted him to be naive and sheltered, this made perfect sense. What comes next in the book, that doesn’t make so much sense. After telling you how many characteristics there are, and how many points you have to spend on them, there is no indication of what these characteristics are until several pages later. I kind of understand why they dropped some pregens in here now; if people wanted to get straight into a game it’s useful to have them good to go. I wasn’t looking for anything pre-created though, so there was a lot of scrolling back and forward through the pdf to get to the info that I needed. Once you get over that jump though, the information is very well presented in a way that makes sense. The stats are laid out nice and neatly, and the derived attributes are easy to work out and are all pretty intuitive. If you’re curious, I took a hit to a couple of stats to get higher scores in some key areas, and ended up with the fewest hit point it is possible to get, but a bloody high defense score.

Next we turn to the skills, and once again I was cursing my choice to play a younger character. The game lays it right out there that doing so will be a hindrance, and should only be done with the GM’s permission, so It was in fact my own foolish choice. Skills in Kuro are split by type, and your skill points are distributed into these categories. Each set has a list of skills beneath it, and each is now set to the level of points you have put into the whole group. For instance, I picked the firearms skill set, and set it to three points. I wanted to be able to play with handguns a bit better than that though, and luckily, Kuro had me covered.

After assigning skill points, you get specialisation points. Since each skill set has a list of individual skills, you can chose to excel in certain specific fields. In my case, I whacked three specialisation points into handgun – bringing the score up to six – and then could only hope my character could lay their hands on one. With my other points distributed amongst the skills and specialisations I wanted, it was time to move on.

Or should I say back a bit, because once again, having the pre generated archetypes in the book before I had finished creating one of my own had confused me. Next to a lot of the specialisations on the archetype, there would be an extra word in brackets. I had to scan back a couple of times, even resorting to a search on the pdf until I was convinced I hadn’t just missed something, and could carry on. Eventually I found out what these mystery words alluded to, and was pleasantly surprised. For each specialty taken above a certain level, you can choose a special trick for it, like adding an extra dice, or a permanent bonus. Lovely idea thinks I, and so I spend a few more minutes adding in some extra words. Not many, but if you’re going to create a standard character, you do get a lot more options. How this will play out during the game remains to be seen, and I can picture the need for crib sheets to begin with to remind the players what each word gives them, but we shall to wait and see…

Final touches next, and this means shopping. Luckily the game assumes that people will have the basics, plus whatever else they would be expected to have for their chosen career. I know a lot of people who find sifting through equipment lists to be the height of tedium, so they could probably jump right past this. I like equipping a character though,so I lost a good couple of hours going through the wares on offer. I have to say, Kuro shines when it gets the chance to dazzle me with cyber tech.

Page after page of things and stuff, with plenty of price lists and stat lines for people who only want the basics, and well written details for people like me. I particularly liked the inventiveness which they’ve applied to making this game feel so fundamentally cyberpunk. I could wax lyrical on this for another thousand words, but my word count is already starting to look strained under the pressure, so I’ll just say that the time was well spent, and I totally winter stealing some ideas from this for my current game. Honest. I would have preferred a few more pictures of some of the more outlandish pieces of future tech, but that’s a personal issue, and I’m not the one paying for artists.

Apart from the fine tuning, that’s all you need to know about breathing some life into a Kuro character. All in all, ignoring my shopping spree, I was done in a little over half an hour, and I can’t see even inexperienced gamers taking too much longer. If you are planning creating the entire group in one sitting though, I would advise you to make a little character generation pack for each player, with the derived stats calculations and the two pages of skill lists on it. Otherwise you’ll be spending most of the time waiting for the players to pass the book round to each other.

I’ll continue the review next week, looking at the rules of play. For now though, this game still receives two very enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

Dec 282012
 

For the record, I don’t want people to expect too many more book reviews on this site, unless they are actual role playing books of some kind. This is a noteworthy exception though, as within half a dozen pages, I was thinking about how best to turn this bad boy into an RPG. I know that I’m not alone in this, as I lent it to my better half, and after reading the first few chapters, she was contemplating the exact same thing, and even had a base system in mind.

What makes this dystopic, cyberpunk book so suitable as a role playing game then? The setting. Oh lord, the setting. From the off, Mr. Cline paints a vivid portrait of two distinct worlds, both of which are full of rich pickings indeed for game play possibilities. To put this context, the book takes place in a near future where the poverty divide is wider than ever, and global warming paired with energy shortages and wars have made the world a hell of a place to live unless you’re one of the elite. The alternative is the OASIS. A fully immersive VR social media/MMO world, open for anyone with the hardware required to log on.

Even this plane, with it’s countless worlds and settings, is divided, as only the entrance way is available for free. Leveling up your avatar costs money to get them to worlds that provide quests, and for Wade – the hero of the piece, that just isn’t possible. His only options involve hitching a ride with school friends and grinding low level kills for their paltry XP and treasure. That is until he solves the first clue in a game that runs throughout the story. Without going too far into a plot that is much better discovered by reading the book, the creator of Oasis was dead to begin with. And his will involved giving away everything - including the rights to Oasis – to the first person to find the Easter egg he had hidden in the virtual universe he had created.

The first clue? Well, that was just perfect for role players.

The copper key awaits explorers

In a tomb filled with horrors

But you have much to learn

If you hope to earn

A place among the high scorers.

Anyone else getting an idea that they might have a rough idea on this one? This is part of the beauty of the book, it is so totally self aware, not only about it’s content, but also its audience. It could have been heavy handed with this, and become a series of knowing nods that becomes tired so very quickly, but it never does. Cline is obviously in love with the pop culture of his own youth, just as much as the man behind the riddles. Luckily, I’m willing to bet that a whole heap of my readers are too. Any of you ever annoyed the snot out of someone when a movie from your childhood has come on, by quoting the whole thing verbatim? I know I have, and still do.

This simple activity becomes instrumental in the book, and just made me smile to think how well I would do if the movie in question was Ferris Bueller’s day Off…

This is not a real book review, and I’m not going to go into loads of detail about why the author chose the world he did to tell his story or any of the stuff that real reviewers get up to. Instead I’m going to implore you all to try and pick up a copy of this book. It is worth the cost at full price from a real book shop – and since I work in one, I hope you will all pick it from your own local book emporium – but with money being tight, I present to you a link to grab a slightly cheaper copy. 

I hope you all enjoy it, and I look forward to hearing from you what inspiration you have taken from this wonderful book, and how you plan on using it in your own role playing games.

Dec 212012
 

I have had my eye on this little beauty for a while, and when a couple of twitter people I follow started talking about it, I just had to ask if there was a way to get my hands on a review copy of it. Quite selfishly, I also wanted it to run the game at some point. I get a huge kick out of running horror RPGs, and my regular readers will know that I’m currently GMing a CP2020 game for my local gaming society. Seriously, they couldn’t have designed a game to grab my attention better, without rubbing some Steampunk all over it…

Luckily, one of the Tweeps that was talking was the lovely Cubicle 7 twitter account (@cubicle7), who kindly winged me the download code for my very own pdf of said game. Big thanks go out to them for sending me this; as they said themselves, they’re reticent to give out too many review copies as they don’t get that many reviews done. Well, I’m not quite done reading it yet, but what I’ve read so far has been not only killer, but well worth talking about, so with no further ado, lets get into Kuro

What I have read so far is the setting info, which I’m breaking into three parts, and takes up over sixty pages of the book. Some of you might be thinking that this is a bit much, but I love spending a good old chunk of reading time on setting the scene, rather than jumping in too early and then having the setting information drip fed to me in the middle of pages that really should concern themselves more with the system.

The first part is a captivating bit of prose fiction to set the scene in a ‘Show it, don’t tell it’ kind of way. You’re introduced to what is clearly a player character and their sidekick, as they travel through the cyberpunk streets of Tokyo, or Shin-Edo, to give its current name. These are wonderfully described, along with snippets of back story dropped into get the reader thinking about the setting and stories that could be told within it, right from the get go. I always like seeing these intro chapters as I think they do away with the need for a ‘what is role playing’ section. Sadly the game designers didn’t agree with me, and popped one up there anyway. That, along with a glossary of terms that really should be in the back of the book, were the only things I was a bit let down by.

After that we get some description of the actual back story; a very well thought out idea that opens the door to not only cyberpunk genre’d storytelling, but a whole host of horror ideas too. You can play around with cyberpunk styled body-horror, serial killing splatterpunk, supernatural ghost stories, and even Lovecraftian otherworldly eldritch horrors. In other words, perfect for me, and any other fans of horror RPGs. You get tastes of the advances in technology and how it affects the lives of the people condemned to stay in Shin-Edo. All this is good, but on occasion goes over a little bit of ground from the prose piece; not a bad thing though, as I know from other gamers that not everyone likes, or  even bothers to read, the fiction at the top of a book.

Finally we have a lot more detail on the city itself. It is broken down into ‘quarters’, but ‘wards’ seem a better choice of word, as there are considerably more than four of them. Each has its own feel, along with personalities and places of note. It is worth pointing out here a great trick they pull throughout this whole first quarter of the book. Often in RPG rule books, box out text plays a part in the setting info. More often than not it breaks up the narrative flow as it is dropped in seemingly at random. Not so with Kuro. Time has obviously been taken to fit it into the world they are weaving, with thought being given to such fine touches as the frame on the text box making sense for what is inside it. They are all worth reading, as they drop hints and clues about what could be encountered within the city, and even give GMs some great plot seeds. If I’m honest, I’ve already stolen one of them for my own cyberpunk game…

So, what do I think so far? I ruddy love it! I know that I’m pretty much the perfect GM to be reviewing this type of RPG as it ticks so many boxes in what I look for in a setting, but it could still have been handled badly. The pdf is gorgeous though, with stunning art, and some great layouts, along with writing that pops. Sure, there is a typo or grammatical error here and there, but translated work can be forgiven as long as it doesn’t become a constant issue. I’m really looking forward to getting my teeth into character creation, and then the system as whole, but - faithful readers – that will have to wait until the new year.