Jan 022014
 

The title of this blog – welcome back after the holidays by the way – is a small bit of an introductory paragraph to a game idea I’ve had rattling around in the old noggin for the past couple of weeks. I’ll go into detail about it a bit further down, but for now there’s going to be a bit of a catch up, and some ideas about where the blog’s going.

This was originally going to be a New Year’s Revolutions style of post, as I have a few ideas about things I want to do over the next few months. Sadly though, even though for the next month or so I’m expecting life to return to normal, there’s still a whole lot going on that’s outside of my control. After that I will hopefully be busier than I’ve ever been, and will be playing the whole writing thing by ear.

There’s a couple of things I won’t be doing though. Firstly, I won’t making any promises on when I’ll be posting on here. I’ll be continuing my Orbis RPG game write ups as my weekly post – the game starts again next Tuesday, and I can’t wait – but other than that, I have other things to concentrate on. Because of more important things, I’m also not going be able to review games. It’s not as if I get sent a butt-load of them to begin with, but the time it takes to read the entire rule book, and the struggle to get people together to play it, just makes it unfeasible at present.

One of the things that I will be working on though is my Steampunk robot RPG, Rise of the Automata. It got put on the back burner a few months before the holidays as work was getting crazy and I had other things on my plate too. I never stopped thinking about the game though, and have a few ideas about setting and narration that I want to get down, plus some fun new bits that should allow players to have more of a say in character development and making shiny gadgets.

This is obviously going to be a big project, writing wise, and means that my other cool idea may have to sit gestating a while longer before I get round to fleshing it out. What’s odd is that when I started the blog, I found myself worrying that I would run out of ideas and things to talk about, and was amazed when I would read other people’s blogs and see how they struggled to find the time and mental energy to keep up with everything that they wanted to concentrate on.

And here I find myself without the time to get going on a pretty cool idea. Actually, it’s not so much the lack of time, it’s the fact that I really want to see the Steampunk game finished. I had to put a fairly long term hold on the card game I was working on, simply because of the problems that come along with producing and play testing  game that requires so many physical components. I still lack the finds to create a working prototype and take myself along with it to gaming and Steampunk conventions.

I have a dear friend who has lamented that I have never finished the game as he’s a keen Steampunk creator and really liked it, but life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. An RPG has far fewer necessary components that are required to enjoy it. That’s kind of the reason why I decided to to try and create one, along with having a pretty nifty idea for a base system mechanic, that works really well with a Steampunk setting.

The new game though, I have approached slightly differently. I have no system in mind at all, and only a very vague idea about how the game would work. Depending on how much I want to get it done, it could very well end up being a setting for a modular system like Savage Worlds. I hope not, as designing the system for Rise… has been a damned fine experience.

This game – so far without a name – came about because I have been thinking about running a horror game again. Regular readers will know that I’m a bit of fan of the genre, and I always like to inject a little horror into games I run; so long as it doesn’t detract from the base theme and genre. What I have never done though, although I’m a huge fan, is run something Lovecraftian.

I love the Mythos, but have never been a huge fan of any of the systems. Call of Cthulhu does a good job of handling investigations, but I would prefer a more involved combat system, and Trail of Cthulhu doesn’t appeal at all I’m afraid. Not only that, but I’ve had it my mind for a while now that there’s scope out there for role playing in a world that has seen the investigators to have already lost to the cultists.

In the final month of the year 2013, the rituals were performed, at the right time in the right places. There was nothing that those who worked against the Elder Ones and their minions could do. Strange lights were seen in the skies, and the world awoke to find harbingers of the ancient and unspeakable evils that had lain dormant for so very long.

That was two hundred and thirty-seven years ago, and still the evil has not fully returned to our world. After all, what are mere centuries to beings from beyond time and space? Their cultists stalk to halls of power, sacrifices are made in their honour, fed to the other-worldly  creatures that are said to herald their arrival.

The world hasn’t stood still though, and for most people, their lives continued much as before, but with all permeating dread and fear as constant companions. Technology has marched on, both in the hands of those praying daily for the arrival of the Gods, and also those who use to try and thwart the will of these deluded fools.

The Gods are coming. Can they be stopped?

Jul 152013
 

Choose-Your-Weapon-Dice-TabletopOnce more I find myself taking inspiration from the writing process, as work continues apace on my Steampunk RPG: Rise of the Automata. I’m still chugging away nicely on it and have almost finished the section I will need to try a play test of the combat system out. I’m not going to go on at length about what this will entail, as I have a different blog for that, but it has made me think about the kind of combat system I wanted to create, as it would be the kind I also wanted to play.

In the past I have made note of how much I love the Cyberpunk 2020 role playing game, but still felt the need to tidy up the combat system a little bit, as it wasn’t quite what I wanted. There wasn’t a great deal wrong with it, but there was just a bit too much dice rolling for my mind. And that’s what this post boils down to, and what I want to talk about; I want a combat system that truly is fast and fun. In the CP 2020 combat rules, when you attack anyone in close combat, either with a weapon or without, both combatants roll off against each other. Since this should happen at the same time, it technically shouldn’t slow thing down, but it does. There’s an awful lot to take into account when making a combat roll in CP 2020 anyway, two people doing it just takes that little bit longer. And the fact that what you have is a fluid target number also means a heavy degree of unpredictability, so people spend a lot longer thinking about whether or not luck should play a role in this moment.

So I removed the need for people to roll against each other by creating a very basic way of characters to have a target number that represents their ability to either parry or dodge an attack. It worked pretty damned well; the only failing being my own as I forgot to write down what I had used to make this number, or tell the players how to do it either. It was based on a combat skill, and as they were putting points into it, the parry/dodge score should have been going up too. My bad. So in the game I’m working, I have done something similar, but made a special box for it on the character sheet, so that it should be easier to track.

Another combat system I generally like, but could do with streamlining, is Savage Worlds. For a system that claims to be Fast and furious, combat can sometimes drag. Mainly down to two reasons based on my experience: initiative order changing every round, and being Shaken. Initiative first; I understand that combat should be fluid, but changing the order each round by the draw of a card is not the best way to go about it. I have recently been involved in play test sessions for 6D6, and I love one of their ideas about initiative. If there is a narrative reason for one character to go first, then they do – as long as it is agreed upon by all participants – and then they nominate the next active character. This means that the order is fluid, and the players can make tactical decisions in how they operate. A lovely idea, and one I thoroughly enjoy. I’ll be sticking with good old fashioned rolling once then setting the order though, as it’s simple and quick.

Being Shaken in a combat round is a big pain in the ass. I know why the rule is there, but it just means that a player has the potential to be a damned big hero who just lays there for several rounds as they fail test after test to regain their senses. I personally would like to just ditch this rule, but it would make player characters a bit too powerful, and they really don’t need any help in that area. if anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

So far then, it seems the best thing to do to speed up combat is to reduce the number of dice rolls. Before anyone points it out, I know that Amber does that job spectacularly well, but I’m still a bit too much of a fan of random chance to go full dice-less. So I have a parry/dodge mechanic to cut down on one set of dice rolls, and I am also trying out something that should do away with damage and hit location rolls. This idea has not yet been tested out, but it should be fun.

At its heart, the game uses a 2d10 system. So, you roll to hit, adding the two dice together and checking against the target number. If successful, you choose one of the results for hit location, and the other for damage. This works for all characters, so it isn’t just the players who get more control over how they deal damage. This could still be broken, and I may need to insist on different colour dice so that one will always be location, the other damage, but I’d like to try this out first, and see how it goes down.

So there you have it, some thoughts on speeding up the flow of combat, and a crazy idea i want to try. If you have any thoughts of your own, please feel free to share them below. If you think my ideas stink, please keep the raging torrent of bile down to about two paragraphs. I thank you.

Apr 152013
 

If you have been following my other projects of late, you might think it a bit odd that I’m writing a blog post about not using published adventures less than a fortnight after I uploaded my very own adventure onto DriveThruStuff. Bear with me though, as it will all make sense.

A while back I wrote a little article about a way of cutting down on prep time for running games without sacrificing quality. I think this is very important to a lot of GMs who sometimes don’t get the chance to put the love care and attention into their stories as they would ideally like. We all have lives away from the table, and even when I was young and just starting out in this wonderful little hobby, and had little in the way of responsibility, there were still occasions when a game needed to be run, and there was little prepared in the way of plot-lines and rounded out antagonists. When this happens, it can be sorely tempting indeed to pick up an adventure that someone else has written and put in all the leg work on. It might seem like you’re saving yourself a lot of hassle and time, but sadly, this is very rarely the case.

It’s easy to think that because it’s all laid out there in front of you that you won’t have to do so much to run said game, but I have never found that to be the case. The last time I ran a  pre-written adventure was to try out the system for Only War, a Fantasy Flight Games RPG set in the popular Warhammer 40k universe, all about the Imperial Guard. I went in very prepared for this, and had read the entire Dark Heresy rulebook before hand, as the adventure only had quick start rules, and I didn’t want to be caught with my pants down. Metaphorically speaking…

Even that wasn’t enough though, as I was constantly worried that I was forgetting things that the adventure had included that could be important later on. I am in fact fairly sure I missed out one entire NPC, and got two others mixed up, but I hope that my players never realised. And this is my biggest problem with written adventures; since I never came up with the idea, I feel bad about changing any detail, as it could change the ending, or at least the conclusion. If I’m running an adventure I have created myself, I know the exact thought process behind every decision made when writing it, and where any thread could lead, because I was the one doing said writing.

If I’m working with someone else’s intellectual creation, I don’t know why they made the decisions they did, and sometimes these questions can only be answered by actually playing the game. At which point – if it goes wrong – it’s a bit late to back-track and reevaluate as your players will already have seen the fumble.

Now, there are exceptions to this, as there to everything – except the second law of thermodynamics – and these are adventures written with multiple paths within them. The best example I have seen of this recently was in an adventure I was lucky enough to be able to review as part of Modiphius‘ campaign to back their Achtung! Cthulhu! Kickstarter campaign. From the get go, this laid out a few paths that could be taken, dependent on the wishes of the players, and the abilities of the characters.

This is a much better way of writing an adventure, but can still take more time to prep than if you are running your own adventures, because you still have a written conclusion that really should be the final aim. Going into an adventure expecting it to end in a certain way means being prepared for all the eventualities that a group a of players will throw at you, and when doing so within the confines of another person’s ideas, it can be tricky to do so without it coming across as the most rail road-y of rail roads.

Is there still a time to run published adventures? Well, of course there are! The adventure I keep subtly linking you to was written for a gaming tournament. It was supposed to be played over two session split by a lunch break, and in such a way as to be as close to the same as possible for two different groups, so that they could be judged fairly against each other. This is an extreme example, but I’m sure that a lot of GMs out there write adventures ahead of time if they’re going to be running a game at a convention. This is the kind of time we really like having the leg work done for us.

The important thing to remember though, is that just because some has started the job for you, that doesn’t mean you get to put in any less effort. If you want the payers to have a good time, then you need to know the adventure just as well as if you had written yourself…

Feb 012013
 

myfarog-adventure1-front-page1I announced that I had applied to join this play test on the Facebook page for the blog a few days back, after getting the tip off from wonderful blogger – and fellow extreme metal fan – Cirsova. I jumped at the chance, but with a hint of nervous apprehension. You see, the game has been created by someone who is considered controversial, even in Black Metal circles: Varg Vikernes. I really don’t feel like listing here the reasons for this, as I spent a lot of time doing so for my one of my final year projects at university, but if you feel the need, it is easy to search for the information on Google (other search engines are available).

Suffice to say, ‘controversial’ doesn’t quite do it justice. Why then am I writing about this man, and doing so in a way that is going to be supportive? Do I agree with his politics and religious views? Absolutely not. What I can do though is differentiate between the man and the art. For instance, I adore his latest re-issues of the old Burzum material, as well as his later stuff. I also know that he is heavily inspired by the work of Tolkien, taking on a stage name of Count Grishnackh for a time, and even the band name ‘Burzum’, means ‘darkness’ in Black Speech. His personal background also included paying war-games and RPGs, something that I’m sure those people who oppose our hobby would be more than happy to tout as a reason to stop impressionable youths from doing so.

So, with all these things considered, I thought I had nothing to lose from just registering my interest. And Last night my mobile beeped notifying me of a new email, and lo and behold, it was the play test packet arriving in my inbox. It was a bit late for me to get into it by then, but I was very excited indeed and jumped online this morning to take a look. This post is not going to detail what I have found out so far, other than to say that it all looks good, and professionally put together. I had to a nondisclosure thing when I signed up, so there actually be big bits of the game that I won’t get the chance to go into detail on, we shall see… I’ve also been going back through the game’s website to download a couple of extra things to get myself prepared.

Now, as followers of the blog will know, I’m in the middle of reviewing Kuro, and will be finishing that review before I get too deep into MYFAROG, so have no fears there. But expect occasional updates about how I’m finding it on any of the social media channels I use, such as the aforementioned Facebook page, my Twitter account, or even on Google+. Let me know what you, my dedicated readers think about this, and I’ll do my best to answer any questions you may have.

Nov 132012
 

You read that right blog fans! I’m finally ready to release my Steampunk card game to other people who will play it and everything! Links will pop up throughout this post as I talk about the various components, but there will be one link at the end that should take you through to everything you need to get started in your very first game of Excitement and Adventure: The Race for Glory!

First thing you might want is the Rule Book. This was formatted to be printed off as a booklet, rather than just creating the document and then printing it off as a booklet, as my printer didn’t do a great job of that. Print off pages one and three, then two and four on their reverse side. A fold down the middle and you’re done. On the back cover, you’ll see a few names of people who’ve helped out in the early stages. If you do play the game and provide some feedback, then your name will be added to this list.

Next up is the Play Mat. In a finalised version of the game, I would love to see this as a world map, with boxed out tables for each continent. For now, it’s just the tables, but it means it will work easily on an A4 sheet with a font big enough for everyone to read.

Characters next, and there is two sheets of these. Each has three characters on. Although at the moment the game only really supports 2-4 players, I like the idea of giving the players a bit more choice about who they control. It also means a larger number of possible character combinations. These cards really do highlight the fact that I have no artwork as yet, since most of the card is white space. I will get something down on them later, but right now I just need to know if the game works at all.

This is the big bit I’m afraid, as the next thing you’re going to need are the two decks; Excitement and Adventure. Quite a few pages of these, with 9 cards per page. Just cut them out and stack them up. Male sure your printer is set up to do the whole sheet, as I have extended the margins somewhat. This was done to make the cards fit snuggly in basic CCG sleeves. I didn’t want to print the whole lot on card stock, so this seemed like an easy option. I picked up 300 sleeves on ebay for less than £3 including shipping if you decide to pick some up. You will need over 200. Sorry about that, but it just kind of got away from me.

Each deck also has a back available too. Adventure and Excitement denoted by a big capital letter. If you want to keep printing costs down, you can just write this on yourself, but since there are over 200 cards, I thought I’d make it easier if people didn’t fancy spending that long with a pen. You’ll notice that there are no lines on the back of card sheet. This was because getting the lines to sync up with my printer was a bit of a pain in the rear. These are just a single sheet, so you’ll need to print off enough to back all of the cards in each deck.

Finally, one more thing that you’re going to need is the Time Slider. Just print off and cut out. Folding the un-numbered side between the others for stability, then taping it closed. A paper clip should suffice to track the turns, which I hope you can find about your home.

I am also trusting that most of the people who will be interested in playing this game will have access to a pile of things that they can use for tokens. I’ve been using poker chips for Renown, as the different colours can denote differing points, meaning smaller piles of tokens come the end of the game. Other than that you’ll need a handful of other tokens/beads to represent Trophies and Malfunctions picked up as you Adventure.

If you have all that, and you’re ready to go, then I hope you have fun, and I have just one more thing to ask. I need feedback. It’s why I’m opening this up for people to play. The basic stuff such as game balance and spelling mistakes would be great to hear about, but there’s a whole host of stuff that I would like to know to help the game improve. If you’re playing a game, I would love it if you could keep track of which Explorers were being played, how many players there were, the final point tally and how long the game lasted. And of course, if the game makes sense and you have fun.

And also, thank you. I know that this month a lot of people are designing their own games, so if you get the chance to take a shot at this, I want you to now how much I appreciate it. If you need play testers of your own, ask away, and if I can fit it in, then I will happily reciprocate the favour.

Link to all items. There are some sample sheets in there too, feel free to ignore those, as they exist just to give people an idea of the cards.

Nov 092012
 

When I last left you I had completed the Excitement deck and shared a few choice samples with you, along with the rule book so you know what the heck it all means. Or at least, that was the plan. Go and take a look if you missed it…

Since then I’ve mainly been working on the Adventure deck. I say mainly, I also came down with a pretty bad man flu and spent an evening watching a Google+ hangout as some great people play tested an awesome game. But mainly the Adventure deck. This took a lot longer to square away than the Excitement deck, even though it’s smaller. The reason for this is that I wanted a whole bunch of unique Adventures, where as a lot of the Excitement cards made more sense as duplicates. In the original idea, I did have duplicates of Adventures, with the plan being the players would ‘race’ to be the first to finish each one. You know the drill, once someone has mapped the source of the Nile, doing it again later just isn’t as impressive. Sure, they could still head out there, and might even discover something new and shiny, but the main work has already been done and the achievement celebrated.

I had worked out ways for people coming along after the fact to have an easier time of it, but reap less rewards, but it just seemed a needlessly complicated way of dealing with exploration. Instead I have created nine unique Adventures per continent and then nine other open Adventures than can be completed anywhere but with less rewards and a slightly higher difficulty. Not only did this take time as it stretched my creative muscles a bit more, but the Adventure cards have a bit more information on them, and a few more numbers that need to be balanced. Click this link, and you’ll see what I mean.

It also gave me a few opportunities to try out some extra ideas, such as differing rewards or individual difficulties depending on the nature of the Adventure. All in all it was time well spent, and I hope that the changes I made – including simplifying the language and doing away with often repeated sentences in favour of basic terms – will speed up the game play. The last thing I need before I can try it out though is a set of characters.

I decided to keep it to the six I had in mind originally, but worked out differently based on the rules revisions. A lot of this is the same as I did to the Adventure cards. removing full sentences in favour of modifiers to a game effect. This mean they should be smaller cards – three to a sheet instead of two – without looking cluttered. I’m hoping the balance issues will be swifter to work out now I have a better handle on it, so with any luck, I should have a Monday update that includes some files to download that will allow people to actually print and play the game themselves.

I hope there’s at least one of you out there who is interested enough – and can fit it into their own busy NaGa DeMon schedule – to take a look and let me know what they think. Without play impartial play testing I’ll never know if this works as well as it does in my head.

Nov 062012
 

People who read this blog – welcome back, you beautiful people – will know I have spoken about this game before. The reason I’m taking a crack at it for the NaGa DeMon (national game design month, for the uninitiated) is that after a couple of play tests, I knew that the game needed a substantial re-write.  Each time it was played, with different numbers of players, the game got bogged down and would have taken hours to play, even taking into account the fact that it was going slowly due to note taking and rules clarifications. Luckily, the people who offered to help were all game players and knew what I wanted to achieve, and they offered some great suggestions for streamlining and simplification. First though; what the heck is this game?

Excitement and Adventure (no longer a working title, it’s actually grown on me), The Race for Glory is a Steampunk themed game of exploration and fame. Each of the players take on the role of one of six members of a Neo-Victorian London based members only club called the Explorer’s Repose. They have each put their name forward to engage in a once in a lifetime race to as many exciting places around the globe as they can get to in a set period of time. At the end of that time, the Explorer who has gained the most renown for the club is declared the winner. To help them on their way, they put together an Expedition of fantastical Gadgets and stalwart Retainers, then pick an Adventure, and away they go. On their travels, the other Explorers will be trying to hinder them, and vice-versa. But there are also cards that can be played to their own advantage.

I’ve tried to keep the mechanics simple to stop the game dragging on to long. The rule book is now available for download, but bear in mind that it is formatted to be printed off as an eight page booklet. Basically though, the players buy things, play cards and go on Adventures. Most of the cards are fairly self explanatory, but the problem has been in showing the passage of time and incorporating how the explorers use that time. I eventually settled on a ‘time slider’. A simple count down of 20 to 0, which drops a point at the end of each turn. When it hits zero, renown is totaled up, and the winner is declared. Once a turn the players who have characters on an Adventure may make an Exploration roll to see how much progress they make on their current venture, with Exploration tokens showing how well they’re doing. Once they feel confident that they’ve explored enough they can make their Adventure roll to see if they’ve found what they were looking for. Each token gives a plus one to this roll, but every Adventure has a difficulty that takes away from it. So the players have a choice to spend more time exploring to increase the odds, or take a gamble and possibly end up getting more lost or returning to London in shame.

The Expedition cards are designed to help in this, with action cards played by all explorers that can also hinder. This was a big part of the game for me, as I didn’t want each player to take their actions in vacuum, preferring the idea of player interaction. Successfully completing Adventures not only gains renown, but also means the Explorer gets an extra revenue source with which to buy better things or fund more rewarding Adventures. For people lagging behind – due to bad luck with regard to card draws or dice rolls – there are ways for them to get back into the game through certain options and an increased chance of drawing extra cards. This is a totally new mechanic for the game, and I’m hoping that after a few more play tests I’ll get to see how well it works.

That’s the basics of the game then. At the moment, I’ve managed to complete the Excitement deck; containing the resources needed to go on Adventures and ways of helping/hindering those who are also on one. I’ve also worked out a first draft of a play mat to show the differing results to exploration rolls one would expect on different continents, and as mentioned above, the rule book. At the moment I’m working on the Adventure deck. This is separate from the Excitement deck and can only be drawn from if the player skips their normal draw phase. When they do so, they take the top three cards and select one that they would like to attempt. when it is complete I hope to have nine different Adventures per continent, with a few extras that can be attempted on any land mass with appropriate modifiers.

After that I need to go back and revisit the characters. I like all the original ideas I had for the basic archetypes, but since the rules have changed so dramatically, I think that only the basic idea and the character names will stay the same.

As an aside, the reason I’ve kept the working title – and added a subtitle – is that I’ve been thinking that basic mechanic of this game would work well in other settings, and currently have an idea for a sci-fi exploration game too.

Linked here is a sample of a few different types of Excitement cards, just to give you an idea as you check out the rule book. If that looks interesting to you, please let me know; I don;t want to spend a month on something that no one cares about. And if you fancy playing the game, then keep an eye out – maybe even join the Facebook page for this blog – as I will be opening it up to more play testing over the next week or so.

Oct 152012
 

Today I’m going to talk about the new game that I’ve been working on recently. This is me trying to give something back to the awesome RPG community and it will take the shape of a card game about Steampunk explorers, searching for fame and riches in a Neo-Victorian world. In the past I have talked about writing up an adventure, and although this is ongoing it is very much on the back-burner right now. the problem comes from the style that I use to run games, and how hard it is to translate that to a written adventure that can be used by others. It’s a bit complicated, and is probably deserving of its own blog at some point in the future. The short story is that it’s very hard to write down an adventure when nine out ten events that happened in it were because of player choices that I had did nothing to create or influence.

So, instead I thought I’d try my hand at another thing I love: card games. To be specific, card games with a board game feel. Think Elder Sign, or the new Blood Bowl game, both by Fantasy Flight. What else do I like? Steampunk! It has long been a fascination for me, going back many years. If I was any good at crafting clothes and items, I would have made so many that you would never have seen me not wearing a Steampunk inspired outfit. Sadly, I’m rubbish at such things, so instead I created fiction, in the style of role playing games and adventures, and occasional short prose pieces. When I was thinking about what I wanted in a card game, Steampunk jumped straight to my mind.

I also love horror, but if I want those two things to cross paths, I already have my favourite RPG, Unhallowed Metropolis by Atomic Overmind, if I want to play a game like that. So to do attempt something different, I went for the Victorian theme of exploration and adventure. This was heavily inspired by Mark Hodder’s books, where he takes a Steampunk look at one the period’s greatest explorers, Sir Richard Burton. So, I knew what I wanted from a game, the next problem was to make it happen.

I suppose I had better explain the blog title a bit, before we go any further. I saw the deck of cards having too components, one of which would be the explorations and adventures that the characters would go on. My first thought was to have them in one deck, along with the other card, and when played, the explorer leaves London and goes off around the world. This was quickly dismissed as the random element of card draw could leave someone with no adventures for an entire game. Thus was born the ‘Adventure’ deck. A bunch of cool things to do, such as be the first to find the Source of the Nile, or to venture into Macedonia, and meet the Metal Men that reside there. At this point I knew I would need two decks, so the only option was to give the second deck the working title of ‘Excitement’. I’m sure all the geeks out there have spotted where I got that nugget of inspiration from. [Link NSFW]

Next came a few weeks of card design, and thinking of what to put on the cards. The lovely people at Reddit helped out with some basic character ideas, more than a couple of which made it into the six I’m currently using for play-testing. There were also gadgets galore to help out the intrepid Explorers in the field, Retainers with their own skills to accompany them, and even an occasional Valet; something no self respecting gentle-person should be seen without. I didn’t like the idea of exploring in a vacuum though, so as well as extra cards to help out an Explorer – finding a ancient map, or having a rare beast just walk into camp one morning – there are plenty of cards that can be played to derail a fellow Explorer’s quest. Sending in a mob of angry natives, or just having the weather turn against you at an inopportune moment.

With all that sorted, and some basic cards formatted – including having them backed with an ‘E’ or ‘A’ respectively, it was time to play test. At point of writing, I have only had one opportunity to do so, and big thanks go out to my very good friend Gav. He invited me around to his house, I got to meet his daughter for the first time since she acquired the power of speech, and was given a couple of snifters of very fine rum indeed. And we also got to play the game, tentatively entitled ‘Excitement and Adventure’.

The game basically works with each player taking on the role of an Explorer, and investing their time and money into winning a wager about who can get the most ‘Renown’ by going off and having grand adventures, and living to tell the tale. The characters all being members of an Explorers society who agreed the terms of the wager, then went at it with gusto. I will spend more time later discussing the mechanics in detail, but for now, there’s a few things I learnt from this one and only play test.

  1. The game takes too long. We were playing for well over two hours before I called it on account of the lateness of the hour. For the record, Gav kicked my ass.
  2. One entire mechanic needed to be ditched. It never came up, and if it it had, would have made the game even more drawn out.
  3. I need to think of new adventures for the characters to go on. The Adventure deck needs bulking up after the rule change.
  4. It’s totally possible to go off on an adventure with far too many Retainers and Gadgets. This needed changing.
  5. I need a few more play tests before I release this into the wilds of an open play test.

So that’s where I am at the moment. I’m hoping to rope a few more friends into playing the game with me over the coming days and weeks, and will occasionally update on here, if anything interesting enough happens. If any of my readers has any cool suggestions of adventures for the Explorers to go and have, the comments box is just below here.

Jul 232012
 

I want to start by saying that I really wish I could afford to buy into the Only War beta and play test, but at twenty bucks – or whatever the Sterling equivalent may be – it’s a bit outside my current price range of free. My reasons for wanting to join in on this are two fold; firstly I really like the setting, being a huge fan of the novels and other stuff that’s been put out there by Games Workshop, the Black Library, and Fantasy Flight; secondly, I’ve spent a couple of years now playing around with the idea of running a military style campaign involving a bunch of guys spear pointing an invasion onto foreign soil (think Generation Kill to a certain degree), and the system seems to lend itself to that very well.

So, couldn’t afford the full Beta, next best thing was to give the adventure a shot, and hope that there’s no massive changes between Only War and Dark Heresy, which I was lucky enough to already own.

The adventure was very much what I would expect when the basic premise of the game is ‘guardsmen fight things’, but there was a nice extra level of suspense added. With a ticking clock in the background that counts down to an orbital bombardment, the choices the players make have an obvious set of consequences.This is especially true as the story starts with the surviving characters part of a ten man squad with the rest of them out for the count, bleeding to death, missing limbs, or blind. Do the players try to bring them along and save their lives, or leave them behind to save their own? All of this will have an effect on how quickly they reach safety.

In character this was dealt with very well by the junior member of the Commissariat who was played by a wonderful chap named Ant (a bonus character available from the FF website. I did ask a specific player to take this role on as they knew the world and system better than myself, and were confident enough to play the Commissar well). They provided one of the lame guardsmen with a pistol, two clips, and a prayer to the Emperor, and anyone else was either left behind or swiftly dispatched, with all honour they were due, as heroes of the Imperium. This kept the group moving well and set the tone for when they met another higher ranking Commissar.

There was a great example from play that came about when I was NPCing said Commissar; when worried about a boat capsizing, an NPC guard swiftly removed his helmet to bail the water out, trying to save his fellow guards. He was swiftly shot in the temple for removing his head gear in a combat situation without permission from a superior officer. And still, no one thought of killing either of them

If I have any complaints about the printed adventure, it would be the expected frequency of the combats. I like a bit of a fight, and playing front line troops, my players expected to get into a scrap or two, but I ended up ignoring every instance of the game recommending that I throw in a fight if things slow down. I never thought it was necessary, and a good GM would b able to keep the pressure on without piling the Orks on every ten minutes.

As to the system, I really did like it. Most of the stuff is geared towards combat, but if you were expecting different, you should steer clear of a game called Only War. One of my players was an old hand at Dark Heresy, running and playing, and another knew their way around the combat system enough to make it easier on me when it came to running the combat It did also showed me a few things that could be a wee bit broken, and one or two ideas that could be great little house rule fixes. Firstly, grenades are fricking deadly! I know, big surprise. But really, when my experienced player was grabbing up any and all he could find, I should have seen something coming. Later on in the game, he barely even touched his shotgun, instead looting even Ork corpses for Stick-bombs, and it soon became clear why. At close range for firearms, he had a pretty good shot of getting the grenade somewhere near the bad guys, and with the blast radius, he was usually killing off at least one with each attack, and occasionally getting a good grouping that took out three at a time.

There could also have done with some clarification on targeting using full auto fire. In the end it was just deemed sensible to have either a spray across a line; no one target being hit more than once, or concentrated fire; all shots on target hit the same guy. Another house rule everyone should consider is the stacking of aim bonuses (big thanks to Ant for this one). If you’re a little ratling fella with a sniper rifle, and really want to make your shots count, why not spend an extra full turn action aiming, to add a massive plus forty to your hit chance? Worked well for us, so i suggest you give it a shot.

I don’t think I really need to talk about production values much here; it’s a Fantasy Flight release – they were going to make it pretty and navigable, and they did. My final thoughts have to be that if you’re planning on getting the main game when it’s released, either make sure all your players are gung-ho types, or delve a bit deeper into the world you’re going to be playing in to find some plot lines that can get the guards out of the firing line on occasion. But, you are playing a game called Only War…