Reviews from R'lyeh

The Psionic Puppet

The Zhodani Candidate is the second scenario from the designer of the superlative freeform, Eve of Rebellion. Set in the Third Imperium of Mongoose Publishing’s Traveller and published by March Harrier Publishing via Mongoose PublishingThe Zhodani Candidate won the Zhodani Base Awards 2019 for Best Adventure. It is a one-shot scenario suitable for conventions or campaign breaks, designed to be played by five players, plus the Referee. In terms of mechanics, The Zhodani Candidate is written for the current rules for Traveller, but is so rules light, it can be run by almost every previous version of Traveller, or indeed, be adapted to almost any system of the gaming group’s choice. Indeed, the primary game content in The Zhodani Candidate in terms mechanics are the stats and skills of the five characters involved, although stats are also provided for the Cepheus Engine.

Inspired by the television series Homeland and the Cold War brainwashing thriller The Manchurian Candidate, plus the Trust and Betrayal mechanics of Contested Ground Studio’s Cold City roleplaying game, The Zhodani Candidate is a scenario about intrigue, deception, and conflicting agendas. It takes place in the year 1098 on the planet of Mora in the Spinward Marches. Lady Isolde Ling Muudashir, the heir to the Duchy of Mora, is planning to marry ex-Imperial Marine Sergeant Darius Cantu, a love match rather than the traditional marriage of securing dynasties and economic alliances. Cantu is a war hero who fought in the Fourth Frontier War against the invading forces of the Zhodani Consulate and after being captured, spent a decade in the Zhodani re-education camps before being returned to the Third Imperium as part of a prisoner exchange. Cantu would simply have remained an ex-war hero, content to do charity work for veterans of the Fourth Frontier War, were it not the fact that he met Lady Isolde and they fell in love.

Consequently, various Imperial agencies with an interest in the security and stability of the rich and technologically advanced Duchy of Mora given its role as the gateway to the Spinward Marches, have concerns about the intending nuptials. They are worried that Sergeant may have been brainwashed by the Zhodani during his decade-long captivity and may be a secret sleeper agent. As husband-consort to the Duchess of Mora, he would have access to a great deal of classified information and would represent a major security risk. Informing the current Duchess, Delphine Adorania Muudashir, of their suspicions, the agencies have come to a compromise with her. They will form an Inter-Agency Taskforce to perform a security vetting of Sergeant Darius Cantu and determine if he can be cleared to marry Lady Isolde, or whether he is the Zhodani Candidate—a sleeper agent programmed to betray the Imperium. They will then approve the wedding guest list, should the wedding go ahead.

The Inter-Agency Taskforce consists of five members. They include Undersecretary Eon Jaxon, Undersecretary to the Ministry of State, Spinward Bureau, who formed and heads the Inter-Agency Emergency Vetting Taskforce; Senior Ducal Bodyguard Sir Jans Hillier, the head of Her Grace’s Security Service; Perrin Davos Senior Security Vetting Agent, Ministry of Justice, a specialist in security vetting; Lieutenant Samanthe Rosen, Imperial Naval Intelligence, a junior member of Naval Intelligence recommended by the Admiralty as an investigator and interrogator; and Senior Scout Evelyn Tremayne, a representative of the Intelligence Branch of the Interstellar Imperial Scout Service with information to present to the Inter-Agency Emergency Vetting Taskforce. All five player characters are presented in some detail and come with full stats, skills, background, and equipment, as well as a Departmental Agenda, a Personal Agenda, and more. What this means is that there is quite a lot of information for the players to absorb in terms of their characters—and then there is the addition of Traveller’s Library Data pertinent to the scenario.

The scenario itself is divided into two parts. The first is the investigation of Sergeant Darius Cantu, the second is the vetting of the wedding guests and the wedding itself. Now although there is a central objective in the scenario, that of ensuring that Lady Isolde Ling Muudashir is married to a safe husband, achieving it is only half of the scenario’s playthrough. The other half is the interplay of the player characters and their sometimes conflicting objectives. Here, as with the earlier Eve of Rebellion, is where the author’s experience with playing and creating freeforms come to the fore. That said, the objectives in Eve of Rebellion are tightly supported by the links between the player characters, but in The Zhodani Candidate, these are not present, at least not initially. At the start of the scenario, the player characters do not know each other, so the players will need to work harder to involve their characters in the scenario. Now the investigation serves to pull them into the scenario, but after that, the players will need to work hard to work bring their objectives into play without exposing them.

The actual adventure in The Zhodani Candidate runs to less than a third of its length, but includes staging advice, the scenario’s events, and possible outcomes. Besides this, it comes with the five player characters, Library Data, timeline of events, and reference sheets for the Game Master. In comparison, The Zhodani Candidate is mechanically more complex than Eve of Rebellion, and the Game Master may want to have access to both Traveller, First Edition and Traveller, Second Edition from Mongoose Publishing to the fullest out of it. The complexity comes in the fact that unlike in Eve of Rebellion, the player characters in The Zhodani Candidate are going to be doing a lot more than just talking and deceiving. Stats and guidelines are given should the Game Master want to run the scenario using the Cepheus Engine.

One new mechanic which The Zhodani Candidate does add is for handling trust between the player characters. Adapted from Cold City, it measures the degrees of trust between the scenario’s cast, which can grant a bonus between two trusting characters. Conversely woe betide anyone who breaks their trust with another character, or rather expect trust to be lost and broken as the player characters’ differing objectives clash and conflict with each other.

Physically, The Zhodani Candidate is a 1.44 Mb, thirty-six page, colour PDF (though only the cover and some maps use any colour). It is well written, the characters are solidly designed, and the advice is excellent throughout. If there is anything missing, it is that the scenario could have done with a few more handouts, perhaps to give out as part of the briefing handouts and so establish a sense of verisimilitude right from the start. No doubt a Game Master could create these herself as part of her preparations to run the scenario—and even better if she did them as folders of briefing material, one for each player and his character, ready to be opened at the inaugural meeting of the Inter-Agency Emergency Vetting Taskforce.

What The Zhodani Candidate lacks in comparison to Eve of Rebellion is a sense of grandeur and elegance. Now this is due to differences in their subject matters, Eve of Rebellion with high politics and family matters, The Zhodani Candidate with subterfuge, espionage, and deception. So there is more machination to The Zhodani Candidate, more grit and more paranoia. Eventually though, The Zhodani Candidate will probably confirm everyone’s perceptions of the nasty, underhand, and perfidious Zhodani and their sneaky use of Psionics, and drive everyone on the taskforce into a showdown from which none are going to walk away unscathed.

The Fate of Cthulhu

It is the year 2050. Twenty years ago, an island rose in the Pacific Ocean and a horde of loathsome octopus-headed beasts swarmed over every ship sent to investigate, even withstanding multiple nuclear strikes. With a great being known as Cthulhu at their head, the creatures launched neurological attacks that warped and corrupted the survivors. Within a month, humanity survived only in a handful of enclaves. 

It is the year 2050. Twenty-two years ago, an island rose off the coast of Massachusetts and as the resulting tsunami floods the coast up and down the east coast of the USA there came reports of ships and towns being attacked by fish people. Then in the isolated town of Innsmouth, a search and rescue team saw survivors transforming into the fish people—quickly identified as Deep Ones. They were only the first, for what became known as the Innsmouth Plague spread around the world. Billions transform, millions die. What they have in common is that they were taking Palliagil, a cure to an MRSA plague from eight years before. Could it be linked?

It is the year 2050. On Hexenacht, April 30th, 2030, the top of Brocken, Germany’s highest mountain exploded to reveal a thousand foot tall, eight-legged and hoof-footed, tentacled monstrosity. Its appearance instigated a wave of cannibalism amongst the nearby Hexenacht celebrants that would leave thousands dead. But then from the corpses exploded miniature versions of the giant thing that had appeared earlier that night. They killed anyone who investigated, then more spawned from the new corpses. Within days, these tentacled horrors dominated the planet bar three, slowly contracting exclusion zones in New England, Nigeria, and Australia.

It is the year 2050. Twenty-two years ago, the unknown Nour Al Hasan walked out of the desert and won the Egyptian presidential election. He declared himself Nyarlathotep, the Dark Pharaoh, and that he would return Egypt to its former glory, whilst in Antarctica, over a hundred volcanoes exploded and revealed great cities and waves of star-headed, barrel-shaped and winged creatures which fly north to meet up with the armies of Faceless Ones that the Dark Pharaoh freed from below the pyramids. Within weeks, humanity is dead.

It is the year 2050. Twenty years ago a strange figure appeared in Covent Garden in London, all in yellow and masked, a strange mist spreading in its wake. Those touched by the mist exhibit symptoms of diseases in seconds that normally take days, either dying almost immediately or undergoing grisly transformations. Within hours this King in Yellow appears in cities around the world, spreading disease, and in weeks, there is nowhere in the world that remains untouched, most of humanity dead by then.

It is the year 2050. You are one of the few survivors of an unholy apocalypse that struck the world two decades ago. Scientists and researchers have developed the means to effect limited time travel and it has been decided that they will send one or more men or women—forewarned of knowledge of the future—back in time to meddle with one of these timelines and thwart the efforts of an Old Ones and its cultists. This is not without a cost though, for every time traveller must connect with another alien being known as Yog-Sothoth in order to come back to 2020, literally connect with the corruptive power of the Mythos, and that leaves a mark. It likely gives the time traveller a strange power, one beyond science, a power that itself will be of use in combating the Mythos and its influence, but even that will corrupt the user even further, however beneficial it may well be…

It seems that despite Call of Cthulhu having been in print for almost four decades and both initiating and dominating the Cosmic Horror subgenre, the long reach of Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying seems to touch upon roleplaying game upon roleplaying game. From Savage Worlds and Realms of Cthulhu and GURPS and Cthulhupunk, numerous roleplaying games have provided different takes upon the role of H.P. Lovecraft’s Mythos and approaches to it, so it is no surprise that it has finally reached FATE Core. The highly anticipated FATE of Cthulhu is radically different to the roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror that have come before it.

FATE of Cthulhu is a roleplaying game—a standalone roleplaying game which does not require FATE Core to play or run— of confronting the Mythos a la the James Cameron film, The Terminator. One or more of the investigators will have come back from 2050 to 2020 to stop the apocalyptic plans of an Old One and its cultists. They come back aware of the steps along the way which brought about the apocalypse and they come back ready to fight it. This though is not the Cthulhu Mythos in general, but rather a single Old One and its cultists, and each thwarting of an Old One is a self-contained campaign in its own right, in which no other element of the Mythos appears. So no cultist dedicated to another Old One or Nyarlathotep himself stepping in, even if only mockingly, to help the investigators thwart a common enemy. Unless the Game Master wants them to, that is… So what FATE of Cthulhu is not, is a roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror, but is instead, a roleplaying game of Lovecraftian action horror. Now this does not mean that the Game Master could not take the elements of the Lovecraft Mythos in FATE of Cthulhu and use them to run a scenario or campaign of Lovecraftian investigative horror as per other similar roleplaying games. That would take a little more effort upon the part of the Game Master, as FATE of Cthulhu is not written or organised to support that, in part because the Mythos is compartmentalised timeline by timeline.

Investigators in FATE of Cthulhu are defined by their Aspects, Skills, and Stunts. Aspects describe elements of a character and to work effectively, they need to be double-edged, that is, each should be both an advantage or a disadvantage. For example, the Aspect ‘An eye for the ladies’ could be used as an Advantage to spot a particular woman in a crowd or a bonus to seduction attempts, but as a Disadvantage, it would mean that the character would be easily distracted in female company. Each investigator has an Aspect each for his High Concept and his Trouble, plus two free Aspects. In play, an Aspect is Invoked by the player to gain an advantageous bonus or a reroll, but Compelled to trigger its disadvantageous elements. It costs a player a Fate point to Invoke an Aspect, but he will gain a Fate point if the Aspect is Compelled. (A Compel can be resisted by a player, but this costs him a Fate point). Stunts provide advantages or bonuses under certain circumstances, usually to skills, and they can be Corrupted by exposure to the Mythos. Skills simply provide a bonus to skill rolls, there being a limited number of broad skills in the game, one of which is Lore, expanded here to cover knowledge and its application of the Mythos.

Francine Hernandez
Personal Timeline: 2050
High Concept (Aspect): Desperate Housewife who knows too much
Trouble (Aspect): My husband was a cultist
Relationship: I trust John, but he doesn’t trust me
Aspects: Ex-Society Matron, Gets lost in the Future (Corrupted) 
Stunts: The Voice of Reason, Hound of Tinadalos’ Eye (Corrupted)
Skills: Deceive (Great +4); Contacts, Resources (Good +3); Fight, Rapport, Shoot (Fair +2); Drive, Lore, Notice, Will (Average +1)
Physical Stress (Physique): 1 2 3
Mental Stress (Will): 1 2 3
Corruption Clock: O O O O
Refresh Rate: 3 Fate Points: 3

Mechanically, whenever a player wants to undertake an action, he selects a skill and rolls four Fudge dice—FATE having originally been derived from the Fudge RPG mechanics—special six-sided dice, each of which has two faces marked with a ‘+’ symbol, two faces marked with a ‘–’ symbol, and two faces left blank. The ‘+’ and ‘–’ symbols cancel each out and the blank faces add nothing, so the results range simply between +4 and –4. The result is added to the player’s skill, aim being to beat a target set by the Game Master, an Average target being +1, a Fair target being +2, and so on, the targets matching the skill values in terms of progression. Should a player’s result match the target, then he succeeds at a cost; if the result is one or two points or shifts above the target, he simply succeeds; and if the result is three or more  shifts, he succeeds with style. In combat, shifts usually represent damage inflicted upon a target, but should a character succeed with style, then he can place a temporary Aspect in play, that can either be used once and then it is lost, or used once for free with subsequent uses requiring a Fate point to be expended.

Aspects like this can be set up on locations, objects, on NPCs, and on player characters, and then during play both the players and the Game Master can interact with them, Invoking and Compelling as necessary. Similarly, the Game Master can design and create places, people, and things all with the simple use of Aspects that get to the core of anything that he designs and creates, and again these can be Invoked or Compelled as part of FATE Core collaborative play between the players and between the Game Master and the players. Unlike FATE Core there is less of this collaborative effort involved during character creation, primarily because FATE of Cthulhu does not involve the worldbuilding that is part of the core rules.

One of the big differences between FATE of Cthulhu and other roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror is that where in those roleplaying games the corrosive effect of witnessing or employing the Mythos, whether that is seeing a Mythos entity or reading a Mythos tome, or casting a Mythos spell, is mental. In other words, investigators lose Sanity. Now in FATE of Cthulhu, the corrupting effect of the Mythos can work that way, but in the main, its effects are physical. Every time an investigator is exposed to the Mythos or uses it in the case of casting a spell or ritual, or using a Corrupted Aspect or Stunt, the investigator will face backlash as the universe tries to protect itself against the changes forced upon by the unnatural nature of the Mythos. If the investigator cannot withstand this backlash—the backlash being equal to the success of the use or power of the Mythos—he adds points to his Corruption Clock. Fill that in, the Corruption Clock is emptied, but the investigator is drawn further into the influence of the Old Ones and one of his Aspects is corrupted. Should an investigator have all of his Aspects corrupted, he is lost to the Mythos.
For example, Francine Hernandez is attempting to find where her husband, Hector,  is going to be as she knows that he will be participating in a great ritual to learn the location of a lost tomb. He has already managed to deceive her as to where he is going, but Francine and her compatriots need to know. Francine’s player decides to use her Gets lost in the Future Corrupted Aspect. Francine’s player pays the Fate point to Invoke the Aspect. This will give a bonus of +2 to Francine’s Notice of +1. The Game Master takes Hector’s Deceive of +4 and rolls blank, blank, ‘–’, and ‘–’, to give Hector a total of +2. Francine’s player rolls blank, ‘–’, ‘+’, and ‘+’, for a total of +5. This beats Hector’s attempt at Deception, and means that Francine learns where he has gone. Unfortunately Francine suffers backlash equal to the roll her player made or +5. Her player has to make a roll using her Will of +1  and rolls blank, ‘–’, ‘+’, and ‘+’, for a total of +2, which is not good enough as it leaves three mental shifts to absorb. Francine can absorb one of the shifts on her mental stress boxes, the other two having been filled earlier in the investigation. For the remaining two mental shifts, Francine can either take a point of Corruption and have part of her Corruption Clock filled in, or suffer a Consequence. Francine’s player decides on the latter and Francine gains ‘Visions of an alternate failed timeline’.Despite the physicality of the Corruption Clock versus the Sanity mechanics of other Lovecraftian investigative horror roleplaying games, there is still a downward spiral of being exposed to, and in this case, using the Mythos to fight the Mythos, over and over. Essentially, it may well be necessary to fight fire with fire, but the cost…? Once gained, Corruption is fairly difficult to lose, though it is possible if no Corruption has been gained during an investigation or through a supreme act of sacrifice upon the part of another investigator.

Instead of giving a greater sense of the Mythos, FATE of Cthulhu focuses on five distinct threats—five distinct threats powerful enough to bring about an apocalypse. Each threat is essentially a separate campaign or timeline in which someone from the future of 2050 has some knowledge of. Each of the five timelines—which in turn deal with Cthulhu, Dagon, Shub-Nigggurath, Nyarlathotep, and the King in Yellow—consists of five events, the last of which is always the rise of the Old One itself. The events represent the roadmap to that last apocalyptic confrontation, and can each be further broken down into four event catalysts which can be people, places, foes, and things. The significance of these events are represented by a die face, that is either a bank, a ‘–’, or a ‘+’. These starts out with two blanks and two ‘–’, the aim of the players and their investigators being to try prevent their being too many, if any ‘–’ symbols in play and ideally to flip them from ‘–’ to blank and from blank to ‘+’. Ultimately the more ‘+’ there are, the more positive the ripple will be back down the timeline and the more of chance the investigators have to defeat or prevent the rise of the Old One. Conversely, too many ‘–’ and the known timeline will play out as follows and the less likely the chance the investigators have in stopping the Old One.

Each of the five timelines comes with details of what a time traveller from 2050 would know about it, more detail for the Game Master with a breakdown of the events and their Aspects, Stunts, Mythos creatures, and NPCs. Most of these can serve as useful inspiration for the Game Master as well as the advice given on running FATE of Cthulhu and her creating her own timelines. In addition, FATE of Cthulhu highlights two issues with Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying. First it makes clear that in spite of his deplorable social views, H.P. Lovecraft’s writings and creations are worth examining as sources of inspiration, as are the writings of more modern writers who do not share Lovecraft’s views, race, or gender. Second, it makes clear that in FATE of Cthulhu, Corruption is not Sanity—or the loss of it—and that in Corruption, it not only has a far wider array of effects to apply to investigators, it wants to avoid any stereotypes or insensitivity that the portrayal of insanity or other mental illness might lead to. It goes on to give good advice about the portrayal of those affected by Corruption and how to avoid clichés. Both are fair, balanced, and mature approaches to their subject matters, being aware of the sensitivity and difficulty that some gamers may have with either subject.

Physically, FATE of Cthulhu is well produced, nicely illustrated, and well written, including numerous detailed examples. It is however more limited in scope than other roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror, being focused on a certain type of campaign, and if a Game Master wanted to do more with it than run those campaigns—although any of the five offers opportunities for roleplaying and action—she would have to make more of an effort. In terms of the five timelines and the concept behind FATE of Cthulhu, what is really missing is the point of departure for any time traveller (or time travellers if the Game Master was running a full on ‘Chrono-Commandos versus Cthulhu-style campaign), so no details of what the future is like. There is advice on how time travel works, how it is possible to meet your past self and even have them die in your past, but no background about what life is like in 2050. Also as written, it is very much focussed upon the timelines, so writing a solo adventure would also be challenging.

As befitting a FATE Core roleplaying game, FATE of Cthulhu is more action-orientated, more direct, and more upfront about its confrontation with the forces of the Mythos. It definitely veers to being Pulp in nature rather than Purist and can probably be best described as High Derlethian. Further, its ‘time commando comes back from the future to stop…’ may not be original, but FATE of Cthulhu does provide a fresh approach to confronting the Mythos with Lovercraftian action horror.

An Alternative Cosmic Mythos

Published by Livres de l’Ours, what Rats in the Walls: A roleplaying game of cosmic horror offers is a mechanically light roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror with consequences. Set in the Jazz Age of the nineteen twenties and the Desperate Decade of the nineteen thirties, it is very much inspired by the writings and Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, but does not actually use the writings and Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. The consequences come with failure upon the part of an investigator, whether that is in combat, when he casts a spell, his will suffers from a sanity-draining incident or encounter. As well as facing Old Ones such as The Feeder, The Grinder, and The Void Mother, and their cultists, investigators in Rats in the Walls may discover wonders and dangers beyond the Walls of Sleep in worlds that reflect the dreams of the Old Ones. What drives the investigators is the knowledge that only they are in a position to defeat the terrifying machinations of the Old Ones and their cultists, that only they can prevent all of mankind being exposed to the horrifying truths of the universe.

An investigator in Rats in the Walls is defined by five attributes, which range in value between 0 and +3. These are Brawn, Dexterity, Violence, Wits, and Willpower. He also has a Profession, such as Artist, Boxer, or Magician, and a Reputation, like Anonymous, Old, or Shady. These provide a particular benefit. For example, the Lumberjack is used to living in harsh conditions and receives two extra Hit Points and the Occultist knows one spell and two dead languages, whilst a Feared Reputation means that most people will back down if they know who you are and Well-Travelled means that you never get lost above ground and learn languages easily. A Profession also allows an Investigator to succeed at the mundane aspects of his job and affords him several contacts in the field. An investigator also has a couple of pieces of equipment, perhaps a weapon as well, and some languages. To create an investigator, a player divides five points between the five attributes, and chooses a Profession, a Reputation, and some equipment and languages for him. With the rulebook in hand, the process takes mere minutes.

Our sample investigator is Henry Brinded, a Bostonian from a wealthy family who studied Classics at Yale before serving as an artillery officer with the American Expeditionary Force in Northern France during the Great War. As a consequence he is slightly deaf and abhors loud noises. He owns and runs a small antiquarian shop which specialises in ancient and medieval manuscripts.

Henry Brinded
Profession: Occultist
Reputation: Dilettante

Brawn 0, Dexterity 0, Violence +1, Wits +3, Willpower +1

Hit Points: 10
Sanity Points: 11

Languages: Latin, Ancient Greek, Hebrew
Spells:
Equipment: Notebook & Pen, Magnifying Glass

Mechanically, Rats in the Walls uses two six-sided dice. For an investigator to undertake an action, his player rolls the dice and attempts to get a high result. Bonuses are flat, either a +2 because the task is easy—due to the investigator’s Profession or he has the right tools or time, or -2 because the task is hard—due to a lack of time, tools, help, and so on. The target for the roll is typically an eight, but whilst that is always a success, it is a success with consequences. A player will need to roll ten or more for his investigator to succeed without consequences. Further, the Game Master does not roll, only the player does.

Before the roll is made though, player and Game Master discuss and set the terms of the task. Now a player can roll and the result be a failure, but it can instead be a partial success rather than an out and out failure. For example, in attempting to break into a house to view an occult tome which the owner is believed to possess, a player and the Game Master negotiate not an unsuccessful attempt if the player rolls a failure, but the fact that although the investigator manages to break in, find the occult tome, and get the information he needs, he leaves evidence of his intrusion that the house’s owner might find. 

Now, this act of negotiation is not carried out throughout the whole of Rats in the Walls. For tasks that take time, a player is simply rolling to determine how long the task takes, the better the skill check, the quicker it takes. Combat works in a similar fashion. At its most basic, with the average investigator having just ten Hit Points and a rifle inflicting 2d6 points of damage, combat in Rats in the Walls is deadly, and if an investigator is reduced to zero Hit Points and survives, then he suffers a scar, which might a limp, chronic pain, or a nasty scar. What a player is really doing in combat is rolling to see whether his investigator will inflict Consequences or suffer them. If a player rolls poorly, then his investigator will suffer one or two Consequences—decided upon by the Game Master, but roll well and his investigator can inflict them on his opponents. Potential Consequences include Harm, Ignore Armour, Stray Bullet, Vulnerable, and Stress, but the Game Master and the players are free to make them up.
For example, Henry Brinded confronts a cultist about to slice open the throat of a wouldbe sacrifice. His player states that he wants to disarm the cultist. He rushes forward and attempts to stop him by grabbing the knife. His player rolls two dice and adds Brinded’s Violence of +1. Unfortunately, he only manages to get a result of a nine and not the target number of ten he needs. This means that Game Master can inflict a Consequence on Brinded. Since Brinded was attempting to disarm the cultist, the Game Master rules that it be Harm as although he does not disarm the cultist, but he does in effect stop the cultist from cutting the victim’s throat when the cultist plunges the dagger into Brinded’s shoulder.Like most good roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror, Rats in the Walls has a Sanity mechanic. Whenever an investigator encounters a supernatural event or monster rather than any mundane horror, his player makes a Willpower roll. He can roll and succeed and lose nothing, but gain a bonus when encountering either again, or he can fail and lose Sanity Points. How many depends on how poorly the Willpower roll was failed by, either one to three or one to six points. Once an investigator suffers one shock too many and loses all of his Sanity Points, he may do something silly—run away in a random direction, shoot mindlessly, abandon his friends, and so on, faint, or even continue to act normally. The latter is not without its consequences, so the investigator might be shell-shocked and lose one Sanity Point permanently, gain a scar which aches in the presence of the unnatural or a third eye which detects the use of sorcery, a weak heart, or suffer from PTSD. Once a player has made his choice, the investigator gains a die’s worth of Sanity Points back, but it can also be gained between sessions by an investigator engaging in favourite activity.

Should an investigator permanently lose all of his Sanity Points, he becomes permanently insane and thus an NPC. There are two ways in which Sanity Points can be permanently lost. One is through being Shell-shocked, another is by learning a spell. Learning sorcery requires finding and deciphering an old tome. Casting a spell is a Willpower check and can lose the caster Sanity Points. Spells include Curse of the Mute which renders the target incapable of speech, Murmurs inflicts strange whispering voices on the target revealing dark secrets and a loss of Sanity Points, and Withering which gives the target the strength and vitality of a nonagenarian for a few hours. Now one of the things that Rats in the Walls does omit here are the tomes which contain these spells.

In terms of its mythos, Rats in the Walls does step over into the Cthulhu Mythos with the inclusion of the Ghoul and the Shoggoth, but in the main it offers its own Horrors Behind the WAlls of Sanity. Abyssals are creatures of living water which can teleport between any body of water in sight and manipulate water tendrils to attack; the Dying Light come from the centre of the universe in search of life to take back to the Void and can absorb life, but the sight of which is the same as seeing into the Void; and Memory Hounds target those humans who have killed other humans, possessing the face of the person who was killed. The Old Ones of Rats in the Walls’ mythos are unstoppable, almost unquantifiable entities who have found a home on Earth, Consequently, they have no statistics and cannot be killed, rather their plans can be delayed, the efforts of their cultists thwarted, and so Humanity saved for a while. They include the Feeder, the Grinder, the Howler, the Mad Dancer, the Stranger, and the Void Mother, each being conceptual in nature, and each comes with thumbnail descriptions of three cults, one from the Middle Ages, one from the Jazz Age, and one from the future, a Science Fiction setting.

The mythos of Rats in the Walls and the reach of the Old Ones stretches ‘Beyond the Walls of Sleep’. Here their inhuman dreams intermingle with Humanity’s imagination to create medieval cities lit by gaslight, lands reached by ships that sail the skies, souks populated by peoples and creatures out of myth, so realms of the fantastic, but also the disturbing and the weird, such as the Iron Plain, a wide plain covered in flowers of brass populated by the victims of the Great War, perhaps hunted by the first war machines or the City of a Hundred Summers where everything is bought and traded for in facts. Although it is possible to learn a ritual that will enable you to enter the Old Ones’ dreams, the greater likelihood is that an investigator will be drawn in after being embroiled in their machinations.

In terms of support for the Game Master, Rats in the Walls provides solid advice on running Cosmic Horror at the table, primarily that her task is not to scare the players, but the investigators. It advises using contrast to highlight the weird versus the mundane, making sure that the world is worth saving, and not to draw upon the Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. It makes clear that although Rats in the Walls is inspired by his writings in its treatment of Cosmic Horror, it does not set out to emulate it. Further, on the Purist to Pulp scale, Rats on the Walls veers away from the former, being about stalwarts caring enough about the world to fight to save it from the alien beings which embody Cosmic Horror, even if that fight is daunting and there is the possibility that the investigators will die or go insane. Further advice guides the Game Master through creating investigations, whilst an appendix provides means to create investigators in The Past—the Victorian era and the Wild West, for example, and during the Crusades.

Physically, Rats in the Walls is available as an art free version or a version with full colour artwork. The latter consists of full page pieces, all fairly decent. The book is well written, although it needs an edit in places. If there is anything missing from Rats in the Walls it is a sample investigation or scenario.

What Rats in the Walls offers is rules-light cosmic horror roleplaying inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, but not emulating him. Its player-facing mechanics—a combination of Advanced Fighting Fantasy and Powered by the Apocalypse—make for faster, easier play and enable the Game Master to focus on guiding the narrative and portraying the NPCs. The lightly drawn mythos of Rats in the Walls: A roleplaying game of cosmic horror, means that there is plenty of scope also for the Game Master to create new content and develop new scenarios that may avoid some of the familiarity of similar horror roleplaying games.

Friday Fantasy: Dungeons & Tombs

There is no denying the continued and growing popularity of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, with it having appeared on the television series Stranger Things and the YouTube series, Critical Role, it no longer being seen as a hobby solely the preserve of typically male, nerdy teenagers and young adults. Yet as acceptable a hobby as roleplaying and in particular, playing Dungeons & Dragons has become, getting into the hobby is still a daunting prospect. Imagine if you will, being faced with making your first character for your first game of Dungeons & Dragons? Then what monsters will face? What adventures will you have? For nearly all of us, answering these questions are not all that far from being a challenge, for all started somewhere and we all had to make that first step—making our first character, entering our first dungeon, and encountering our first monster. As well written as both Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and the Player’s Handbook are, both still present the prospective reader and player with a lot of choices, but without really answering these questions in an easy to read and reference fashion.

Step forward the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ published by Ten Speed Press. This is a series of introductory guides to Dungeons & Dragons, designed as primers to various aspects of the world’s leading roleplaying game. Each in the series is profusely illustrated, no page consisting entirely of text. The artwork is all drawn from and matches the style of Dungeon & Dragons, Fifth Edition, so as much as it provides an introduction to the different aspects of the roleplaying game covered in each book in the series, it provides an introduction to the look of the roleplaying game, so providing continuity between the other books in the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ and the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and the core rulebooks. This use of art and the digest size of the book means that from the start, every entry in the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ is an attractive little package.

The first in the series, Warriors & Weapons provided an introduction to the various Races of Dungeons & Dragons, the martial character Classes, and the equipment they use. Second is not Wizards & Spells, the companion to Warriors & Weapons which covers Clerics, Sorcerers, and Wizards, or indeed any of the other spellcasting character types in Dungeons & Dragons. Instead the second book in the series is Monsters & Creatures. As the title suggests, this presents an introduction to the monsters, creatures, and animals that the prospective player may well have his character encounter on his adventures, many of them—like the Beholder, the Mind Flayer, the Owl Bear, and more—iconic to Dungeons & Dragons. Equally, the third in the series is not the eagerly anticipated Wizards & Spells, but Dungeons & Tombs, a guide to the dungeons, tombs, castles, crypts, cave networks, and other complexes which populate the many fantasy words of Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeons & Tombs begins in promising fashion, warning of the dangers of dungeon delving, but highlighting also that they are places of mystery and adventure before discussing a little just some of the preparations necessary to venture into such places. Then the book leaps into the first of its three parts, ‘The Most Dangerous Dungeons’ which looks at six of the strange, sinister places ready to be explored by the adventurers. These are Ironslag from Storm King's Thunder, The Temple of Elemental Evil from Princes of the Apocalypse, The Sea Ghost from Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Ravenloft from Curse of Strahd, Chult from Tomb of Annihilation, and Undermountain from Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage. Each is given an overview, highlights its important places, shines a spotlight on a specific area, and outlines a key encounter in the dungeon where the adventurers will have to make a critical choice.

So for example, Ironslag is a former iron mine and fortress which has been reopened by the Fire Giant, Duke Zalto, who wants to construct a mighty warmachine. Besides Duke Zalto himself, other threats include the treacherous Yakfolk, salamanders, and other Fire Giants, as well getting into the dungeon itself—behind a high cliff face protected by the village of the Yakfolk. The latter is included listed in the dungeon’s important places, alongside the mines, the foundry, assembly hall, and at last, the Adamantite Forge. The spotlight is on The Foundry where Fire Giants are smelting iron and Duke Zalto’s son, Zaltember is about to toss a prisoner into the molten metal! Here is a chance for the adventurers to intervene, story prompts suggesting an idea for the Dungeon Master and an idea for the player characters. Lastly, the Encounter is presented in a short piece of fiction, here describing the final scenes in the dungeon and asking the reader what the character in the fiction should do next.

Now there is nothing wrong in Dungeons & Tombs showcasing the dungeons and campaigns available for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, and it has the benefit of all six ‘Most Dangerous Dungeons’ actually being in print—unlike the last time that Wizards of the Coast did something similar with the near useless, Dungeon Survival Guide. Yet Dungeons & Tombs only highlights six of the campaigns when at the time of publication there are ten available and it ignores the excellent Lost Mine of Phandelver from the excellent Dungeons & Dragons, Starter Set. Further, it exposes secrets (spoilers?) about each of these dungeons when perhaps the write-ups could have been more circumspect in what was revealed. Nevertheless, the six do showcase various types of dungeons—a ship, a mine, a castle, and so on.

The middle section returns to the territory of Monsters & Creatures, but specifically focusing on creatures found underground with the ‘Dungeon Bestiary’. Some fifteen monsters are detailed, each entry accorded a double page spread, the left hand page showing an illustration of the creature or monster, a listing of its special powers, a description of its size, and an indication of its Danger Level, from ‘0’ or harmless to ‘5’ for really nasty. On the right hand page there is a description of the monster or creature and its lair, accompanied by a list of things to do or not do when dealing with it. Many of the entries are Dungeons & Dragons classics, like the Basilisk, Mimic, Oozes like Black Puddings and Gelatinous Cubes, and Ropers. Others, like the Grung, the Sea Elf, and the Yikaria, are simply not, leaving the reader to wonder why such a random selection was included. The simple reason is that these monsters and creatures appear in the ‘Most Dangerous Dungeons’ rather than because they are classic Dungeons & Dragons creatures.

The last of the three parts in Dungeons & Tombs, is ‘Building Your Own Dungeon’, a relatively short guide for the potential Dungeon Master wanting to create her own dungeon. This looks at potential concepts—location, creator, and purpose; populating a dungeon with inhabitants and traps; mapmaking with examples and map symbols; quests and exploring dungeons; and using dungeons to tell stories. All of this is good advice, a solid introduction to designing dungeons and running them, but it is all for the Dungeon Master. The fundamental problem with Dungeons & Tombs is that it does not do the same for the potential player. There is no equivalent introduction to dungeoneering and its dangers for the player and his character, because instead, Dungeons & Tombs is focusing on specific dungeons and their dangers, which both player and character are likely to encounter just the once.

Now there is nothing wrong with a book for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition examining dungeons or adventures and their dangers for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Yet in devoting over half of the book to specific dungeons, including the monsters and creatures which are specific to those dungeons, it forgoes the opportunity to give more general advice on dungeoneering for the prospective player and Dungeon Master. General advice which would enhance the utility of Dungeons & Tombs, potentially serving as general reference which could sit on the playing table or close at hand, ready to be checked for advice and hints. Much like the Monsters & Creatures book can work.

Physically, Dungeons & Tombs is an attractive little hardback. It is bright, it is breezy, and it shows a prospective player what his character might face, both in the art and the writing. Further, the art shows lots of adventuring scenes which can only spur the prospective player’s imagination.

The problem with Dungeons & Tombs is that it does not deliver on its tagline of ‘Explore the Magical Worlds of D&D’, but rather the bulk of it delivers ‘Explore SIX of the Magical Worlds of D&D’. Apart from the last section, the last fifth of Dungeons & Tombs, which is specifically written for the Dungeon Master, its approach to its subject matter is just not general enough to be useful in the long term. Dungeons & Tombs is disappointingly specific and the least useful, least interesting of the three Young Adventurer’s Guide’ titles to date.

Jonstown Jottings #8: Rubble Runners - A collection of Pavis Characters

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.


—oOo—

What is it?Rubble Runners - A collection of Pavis Characters is a collection of fifteen NPCs and almost eighty members of the supporting cast and scenario hooks.

It is a thirty-nine page, full colour, 5.97 MB PDF.

Rubble Runners - A collection of Pavis Characters is well presented and reasonably well written, but needs a thorough edit from start to finish. The illustrations are decent, being photographs reworked by the author.

Where is it set?
The content of Rubble Runners - A collection of Pavis Characters is set in Pavis and civilised Prax, specifically in the years 1625, 1626, and 1627 after Prince Argrath White Bull has defeated  Lunar forces at the Second Battle of Moonbroth and liberated the city and drove out it Lunar occupiers—mostly at the point of a sword.Who do you play?The supplement primarily consists of NPCs, though some NPCs can be used as player characters.

What do you need?
Rubble Runners - A collection of Pavis Characters requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and a whole lot more. Being set in New Pavis and its environs, to get the full benefit of this supplement, the Game Master will require access to various supplements including Cults of Prax, Pavis, Big Rubble, and Borderlands for RuneQuest II or River of Cradles, Sun County, and Shadows on the Borderlands for RuneQuest III.

Note that this is at the time of publication of Rubble Runners - A collection of Pavis Characters and will change when a new supplement dedicated to Pavis and the Big Rubble is published. 

What do you get?
Rubble Runners - A collection of Pavis Characters is a collection of fifteen NPCs, each of which is accompanied by five or six associates and contacts—their supporting cast and five or six encounter and plot hooks. Every NPC includes a half to full page description and background, full stats for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, an illustration, and the aforementioned supporting cast, encounters, and hooks.

Many of the characters in Rubble Runners - A collection of Pavis Characters are connected to each other, either directly as friends or family, or through the members of the supporting cast they have in common. Yet what really connects this diverse range of characters in the supplement is that they have all been affected by the bloody expulsion of the Lunar occupation. In this the supplement draws its inspiration from the Wild West following the American Civil War, as well as the cinema that it inspired. That said, the nastiness and antipathy expressed by and towards some of the NPCs in this supplement echoes that of occupied Europe following its liberation at the end of World War II.

One further limiting factor to the supplement is not the setting itself, but the nature of that setting. Rubble Runners - A collection of Pavis Characters is predominately a city supplement and there few cities in Glorantha which are large enough and urbanised enough to support this range of characters and their elements. Nevertheless, if the Game Master has such access to such a setting or is using New Pavis, this supplement is a ready-made cast into which the Game Master can draw her player characters, involve them in each other’s plans and objectives, and so help build towards an ongoing campaign.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. Rubble Runners - A collection of Pavis Characters is a solid set of inventive NPCs, a good mix of contacts, friends, foes, employers, and more. Particularly useful for the Game Master running a campaign set in New Pavis.
No. If the Game Master is not running a campaign set in New Pavis—or planning to take her campaign to New Pavis, Rubble Runners - A collection of Pavis Characters is not a useful supplement.
Maybe. Even if the Game Master is not running a campaign in New Pavis, the content of Rubble Runners - A collection of Pavis Characters may still be of interest. Some of the characters contained in its pages can be used as player characters, pulled out and used in other settings, or simply used as inspiration for NPCs of the Game Master’s own design.

Danger Down Under

Terror Australis - Front CoverOriginally published in 1987, Terror Australis, for use with Call of Cthulhu, Third Edition, the supplement was always, much like its source material, something of an outlier in comparison with the venerable roleplaying game’s focus on North America and Europe. Indeed, Terror Australis was perhaps best known for the inclusion of the scenario, ‘City Beneath the Sands’, the Australian chapter of the highly regarded Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign. Of course the removal of ‘City Beneath the Sands’ for its inclusion in The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep left scope for Chaosium, Inc. to revisit Terror Australis, but that opportunity did not come until the publication of the Masks of Nyarlathotep: Dark Schemes Herald the End of the World and the revised edition of Terror Australis, both of which have been written for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition and updated, revised, and expanded in scope to make their respective contents more accessible and playable.

Notably Terror Australis: Call of Cthulhu in the Land Down Under is double the size of the original Terror Australis. In fact, it includes half as much again in terms of background and source material in comparison to the original Terror Australis—and that is in addition the supplement’s two scenarios, both new and both lengthy. From the start, Terror Australis takes a mature and respectful attitude towards its subject matter. It identifies the continent’s  indigenous peoples throughout as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, it acknowledges the racism prevalent against by those peoples by White Australia through much of its history, and it explores the presence of LGBTQI subculture to be found Australia’s big cities. Of course, not as prevalent as in Berlin as detailed in Berlin: The Wicked City – Unveiling the Mythos in Weimar Berlin in this period, but present nonetheless.

Terror Australis opens with an examination of Australian history, which of course begins with the arrival of the Europeans, there being no recorded history before that, looking at turn with the initial European exploration, the founding of the British penal colony—a period which has been looked at in greater detail in Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia, the Gold Rush of the 1850s, and so on, right up to the Commonwealth of Australia’s involvement in the Great War and its effects. It is followed by a guide to the continent’s geography which also touches a little upon its archaeology.

Where the history starts with the arrival of the Europeans, Terror Australis’ coverage of the Australians as a people starts with the indigenous peoples, identified throughout as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It covers their history, culture, art, spiritual beliefs, and world-view, information enough for the Keeper to create interesting NPCs and the players create interesting investigators. White Australians receive similar treatment, the supplement noting that most will be British and that the Mother Country dominates Australian life and society, whilst highlighting the dominant male culture with its love of the working man, drinking, and gambling. It includes a guide to Australian slang and pronunciation, plus new Occupations and skills. For the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples there are the Hunter/Gather and Clever Man/Woman, whilst the broader Occupations are all support the working class nature of Australian society. They include the Boundary Rider who tours and repairs the boundaries of cattle stations, the Bushranger  or Outback outlaw, the Camel Driver who acts as guides and escorts in the Outback, the Digger or former miner or soldier, the Jackaroo/Jillaroo who are working cattle or sheep stations for the first time, the Stockman/woman who have more experience than the Jackaroo/Jillaroo, and the Swagman/woman or itinerant labourer. Of course, the many other Occupations from Call of Cthulhu are suitable for inclusion in a scenario or campaign set in Terror Australis, although it does discuss the nature of the Private Eye in Australia during this period, highlighting how they are unregulated, distrusted, and sometimes guilty of criminal acts themselves in pursuit the evidence or proof their clients want. The Relativists—mostly physicists and astronomers—is given as an investigator organisation with an interest in the unexplained, whilst The Theosophical Society is given later on.

As well as giving thumbnail portraits of some twenty or so Australians of note, ranging from artists, scientists, and journalists to politicians, activists, and aviators, the supplement details Australia’s police and legal system, healthcare, transport networks, and communications. Given the nature of Call of Cthulhu, it is likely that the investigators will find themselves ‘going Bush’ or mounting an expedition into the Outback, so there is advice on handling expeditions and ensuring their survival in the harsh environment beyond Australia’s settled coasts. Similarly, for players and their investigators, there is most obviously a guide to law as it related to firearms and the institutions, all museums, where research can be conducted. Australia’s five main cities are described—the two largest, Sydney and Melbourne in some detail, as well as Perth, Adelaide, and Brisbane. Each starts with a pair of handy references, one a guide to portraying the city, the other a guide to the city at a glance, plus places of note, criminal underworld, and more.

As well as detailed city maps, it is here that Terror Australis begins to explore the weirder side of the Land Down Under. Initially, this is via the ‘Strange Australia’ sidebars such as the river monster said to inhabit the Hawkesbury River and the fate of the Alert, the ferry which was used to ram great Cthulhu himself as described in Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. The presence of various cults in each of the cities are also covered, the homegrown Cult of the Sandbat from Masks of Nyarlathotep being joined by the Cthulhu Cult and the acquisitive New World Incorporated from Day of the Beast. A good sixth of Terror Australis is specifically dedicated to the Mythos in Australia. Understandably, its initial focus is upon the Great Race of Yith, their place in Australia’s prehistory, their great city of Pnakotus, and their enemy, the Flying Polyps, exploring how both inhabit (or have inhabited) the very geography of Australia itself and this continues with the Great Hive of the Sand-dwellers. In addition various sites of Mythos interest, Terror Australis describes threats brought to the continent by Europeans. These include Ghouls, cultists from the darkest part of Gloucester, and a cult in the Barossa Valley sure to put off any oenophile. The Mythos bestiary adds a variety of different creatures and entities as well as discussing the presence of more traditional Mythos creatures and entities in Australia. So Ghouls and Hounds of Tindalos as well as Bunyips and Yowies, the latter akin to the North American Sasquatch or Himalayan Yeti, and Dark Spirits of Earth, which inhabit or haunt particular features of the land. No one Dark Spirit is the same as any other and the Keeper is given the means to create her own, for which she will need access to the Grand Grimoire of Cthulhu Mythos Magic.

The spiritual beliefs and existence of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are explored in some depth in ‘Alcheringa’, also known as ‘Dreamtime’. A spiritual space which surrounds everything, this is where the world can be explained, not as a creation myth, but as the world is, has been, and always will be. It is also a space which can be entered via ‘song-lines’, not just to learn how the world is, but also for learning knowledge, for revealing the secret nature of the world, and for bringing about supernatural changes to the world. This is done via specific rituals and requires the participants to follow each song-line fairly tightly if they are to gain the desired rewards, otherwise there is a chance that they may get kicked out of Alcheringa rather roughly. Following a song-line and entering Alcheringa is not without its dangers, which is even worse should an investigator actually enter physically. There is even the possibility that participants can alter and even twist a song-line, although this is not easy and is not without its consequences. 

Song-lines are in some ways a Mythos tome which an investigator can experience spiritually rather simply read and which a player can roleplay that experience. Further, there is a social roleplaying aspect to Alcheringa in that the investigators will need to find someone who will teach them the ritual or allow them to participate in the ritual. The rules for Alcheringa are supported with sample rewards—either internal and personal or changes to the world and external, artefacts which help in the Dreaming, and sample stories which can be used as song-lines, including an expanded one which shows how they work in play. Four examples of megafauna, long extinct, but of course still alive in Alcheringa where the investigators might encounter them… The rules for Alcheringa and song-lines are an impressive addition to Call of Cthulhu, helping to bring an aspect of Aboringal culture and spirituality to life and mark investigations in Australia as being different to those in other countries. They literally add another dimension to Lovecraftian investigative horror and as a side note, there are parallels between the song-lines of Alcheringa and the heroquests of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha—also published by Chaosium, Inc. 

The two scenarios in Terror Australis are both new. The first is ‘Long Way From Home’ is radically different to almost every scenario before it. Taking a leaf out of the Old School Renaissance, it is a ‘sandbox’ scenario in which the player characters—or investigators—are free to wander as they please and engage with the elements of the scenario as is their wont. Now Call of Cthulhu being a roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror, ‘Long Way From Home’ provides multiple lines of investigation into the scenario. Set in the Northern Flinders Range to the north of Adelaide, these lines include a strange shower of meteors, a growing pattern of earthquakes, a spa deep in the outback providing miraculous cures, and a job offer to look after a copper mine which has been put into mothballs. Each of these strands are standalone, but all have links to Australia’s deep past and H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Shadow Out of Time’. There is a certain benign quality to the nature of the Mythos and a scientific feel to it at the heart of this scenario. The multiple strands means that there is also a flexibility to it also, because the investigators are free to follow whichever strand they want in whatever order they want. The strands include some pleasingly creepy scenes—one of which is archetypically Australian—and the final series of encounters have a surprising grandeur.

The second scenario, ‘Black Water, White Death’, feels more traditional in terms of Call of Cthulhu, possessing an onion skin layering of its mystery. Even its beginning is traditional, the investigators being asked to attend an auction on behalf of a client. He is a professor of anthropology with an interest in cannibalism in tribal society who wants the diary of a convict who escaped prison on the island of Tasmania in the 1830s and is reputed to have involved. Not everyone wants the diary to end up in his hands, but should the investigators get it to their employer, he further wants their aid in following up the information and that means they get to visit wintery Tasmania. Essentially a scenario of two halves, ‘Black Water, White Death’ is more confrontational than ‘Long Way From Home’, with a potentially bloodier ending which comes out of nowhere after strong investigative, almost academic, focus.

These are both good scenarios and worthy replacements for those which appeared in the original Terror Australis. Hopefully the two scenarios from that supplement—‘Pride of Yirrimburra’ and ‘Old Fellow That Bunyip’, the third, ‘City Beneath the Sands’ appearing in Masks of Nyarlathotep—will be revised and revisited in an Antipodean-themed anthology of further scenarios. Of the two, ‘Black Water, White Death’ is the easier to run, being more direct and straightforward than ‘Long Way From Home’, which will require greater preparation upon the part of the Keeper because there are more plots and they are separate plots. If there is a weakness to the pair of scenarios in the revised Terror Australis, it is that neither involves Alcheringa, although there is an option to include it in ‘Long Way From Home’. In addition to the two scenarios, it should be noted that the supplement is strewn with scenario hooks ready for the Keeper to develop, which would provide multiple sessions of play. Rounding out Terror Australis is a set of four appendices, containing in turn a list of equipment prices, a bestiary of Australia’s mundane, but often deadly wildlife, timelines mundane and fortean, and a good bibliography. All useful content.

Terror Australis being from Chaosium, Inc., this means that this is a good looking supplement. The layout is clean and tidy, done in full colour, illustrated with a wide range of artwork and period photographs. The cartography is also good and the writing excellent.

In 1987, Terror Australis was a decent supplement and thirty years on, it could simply have been a case of Chaosium, Inc. publishing a straight reprint, probably with the addition of a new scenario to replace ‘City Beneath the Sands’, but doing so would have been a missed opportunity. Thankfully, Chaosium has not missed that opportunity and has taken it to publish more than just a reprint, allowing the original authors to revisit, update, and greatly expand upon the original. The result of that effort is undeniably impressive and it almost goes without saying that this is another great supplement from Chaosium, Inc. Terror Australis: Call of Cthulhu in the Land Down Under fully fleshes out the continent, not just in mundane and Mythos terms as you would expect, but in magical terms with the extra dimension of Alcheringa. 

The Other OSR: Wizard

It is impossible to ignore the influence of Dungeons & Dragons and the effect that its imprint has had on the gaming hobby. It remains the most popular roleplaying game some forty or more years since it was first published, and it is a design and a set-up which for many was their first experience of roleplaying—and one to which they return again and again. This explains the popularity of the Old School Renaissance and the many retroclones—roleplaying games which seek to emulate the mechanics and play style of previous editions Dungeons & Dragons—which that movement has spawned in the last fifteen years. Just as with the Indie Game movement before it began as an amateur endeavour, so did the Old School Renaissance, and just as with the Indie Game movement before it, many of the aspects of the Old School Renaissance are being adopted by mainstream roleplaying publishers who go on to publish retroclones of their own. Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, published by Goodman Games is a perfect example of this. Other publishers have been around long enough for them to publish new editions of their games which originally appeared in the first few years of the hobby, whilst still others are taking their new, more contemporary games and mapping them onto the retroclone.

Yet there are other roleplaying games which draw upon the roleplaying games of the 1970s, part of the Old School Renaissance, but which may not necessarily draw directly upon Dungeons & Dragons. Some are new, like Forbidden Lands – Raiders & Rogues in a Cursed World and Classic Fantasy: Dungeoneering Adventures, d100 Style!, but others are almost as old as Dungeons & Dragons. One of these is The Fantasy Trip, published by Metagaming Concepts in 1980. Designed by Steve Jackson, this was a fantasy roleplaying game built around two earlier microgames, also designed by Steve Jackson, MicroGame #3: Melee in 1977 and  MicroGame #6: Wizard in 1978. With the closure of Metagaming Concepts in 1983, The Fantasy Trip and its various titles went out of print. Steve Jackson would go on to found Steve Jackson Games and design further titles like Car Wars and Munchkin as well as the detailed, universal roleplaying game, GURPS. Then in December, 2017, Steve Jackson announced that he had got the rights back to The Fantasy Trip and then in April, 2019, following a successful Kickstarter campaignSteve Jackson Games republished The Fantasy Trip. The mascot version of The Fantasy Trip is of course, The Fantasy Trip: Legacy Edition

The Fantasy Trip: Legacy Edition is a big box of things, including the original two microgames. So instead of reviewing the deep box as a whole, it is worth examining the constituent parts of The Fantasy Trip: Legacy Edition one by one, delving ever deeper into its depths bit by bit. The first of these is Melee, quick to set up, quick to play game of man-to-man combat. It was followed by Wizard, a companion to Melee which sends wizards into the arena to duel against each other. It is designed to be played by two or more players, aged ten and over, with a game lasting roughly between thirty and sixty minutes. Inside the box can be found a twenty-four page rules booklet, a 19” by 23” game map, a set of sixty-two counters, and three six-sided dice. It also includes an eight page Wizard Reference Pages, which summarises all of the spells in the game as well as character actions and monster and beast stats.

The presentation of the game is rather plain and simple. So the layout of the black and white rulebook is clean and tidy, as the is the game map, which is marked in two inch Hexes, each with a centre spot, every seven Hexes forming a Megahex three standard Hexes in width. The standard Hexes are used for movement and facing in melee combat, whilst the Megahexes are used to determine range in missile combat. The various counters provide a range of opponents, including animals and monsters, plus condition counters and area effects. These are done in a range of monochrome colours, but all are different and include a pair of giants whose triangular counters take up three Hexes and dragons who take four and seven Hexes! All of the counters have a skull and crossbones on the other side to indicate when they have been killed. Lastly, the set of three eggshell-blue six-sided dice add a spot of colour to the game.


Play of Wizard begins with the creation of well, a wizard. In Melee, each fighter had just the two attributes—Strength and Dexterity, whereas Wizard adds a third, IQ. All three it turns out are important to spellcasting magic-users. Just as in Melee, Strength covers how many hit points a wizard has, what weapons he can use, and how effective he is in hand-to-hand combat. Dexterity covers how easily a wizard can hit an opponent, disengage from the enemy, and how quickly he can attack. For a wizard though, Strength represents how many spells he can cast, each spell having a cost that is paid in Strength points, not only to cast the spell, but also maintain it if necessary. Dexterity also represents a wizard's ability to hit a target with a spell. Intelligence or IQ, the new attribute, governs the number of spells a wizard knows, the maximum level of spells he knows—each spell has an IQ rating between eight and sixteen which the wizard’s IQ must match for him to know, and his resistance to illusions and Control spells. 

All three attributes begin at a base value of eight each, to which a player distributes another eight points. Once done, a wizard receives a staff, though it can be a staff, a wand, a rod, or the like, through which he casts spells. It is not a physical weapon though, but Wizard does cover physical combat should a wizard resort to using a dagger or his fists. Once a player has selected his wizard’s spells, the character is ready to play.

For example, Sibbe Stigandidottir, a Seeress from the north who is studying at a secret academy in the warm south. Her rough manners have made her the target of other students and when she struck out at one of her tormentors, Alzono, he challenged her to a duel in the academy’s arena.

Sibbe Stigandidottir
Strength 09
Dexterity 10
Intelligence 13
MA 11
Wizard’s Staff
Spells: Blur, Clumsiness, Confusion, Control Animal, Dazzle, Destroy Creation, FreezeMagic FistMage SightReverse MissilesSleep, Stone Flesh, Summon Wolf

Image result for Wizard SJG
Wizard lists some sixty or so spells. They are rated according to the minimum Intelligence or IQ a wizard must have to learn them. Each has a cost in terms of Strength points which need to be expended when a wizard casts the spell and many have an ongoing cost if the wizard wants to maintain them. They are catagorised into four types. These are Missile spells such as Magic Fist and Lightning,  which are direct damage spells; Thrown spells, like Blur and Slippery Floor, which can be cast on a target, whether that is a person or a location, but which do not inflict damage; Control spells such as Control Animal and Control Person; and Creation spells, being further divided between spells which create an actual object like  Summon Bear and spells which create illusions like  Illusion

Wizard is played out over a series of turns consisting of six phases—initiative, renew spells (or spell upkeep), movement, the opponent’s movement, actions (physical attacks, spell casting, attempts to disbelieve spells, and so on), and forced retreats, and dropped weapons. None of which happens simultaneously, but it takes place across a five-second round. Now in Melee, the primary objective in play is for the combatants to close with other and fight, essentially go from Disengaged to Engaged. This provides the fighter with a number of options. If Engaged, he can ‘Shift and Attack’, ‘Shift and Defend’, ‘Change Weapons’, ‘Disengage’, and so on. If Disengaged, he can ‘Move’. Charge’, Dodge’, ‘Drop’ (to prone), ‘Ready New Weapon’, make a ‘Missile Weapon Attack’, and so on. All of these options are available for the wizards in Wizard, but in the main, it will not be the wizards who will enraging with each other at such close range. Rather, it will be the things that they have summoned, whether that is wolves, bears, myrmidons, gargoyles, giants, and even dragons, or illusions—of them and other things—which can also inflict damage if the defending wizard fails to disbelieve them, which are likely to be engaging in close combat.

Which in main means that wizards will be dueling it out with each other at range. Mostly obviously this means casting missile spells at each other in order to do direct damage, but with four types and sixty spells to choose from, a wizard has more options available to him than a fighter has in Melee. Spells like Blur, Reverse Missiles, Spell Shield, and Iron Flesh all provide various forms of protection, whilst Slow Movement, Clumsiness, and Trip will hinder a target. These though are spells that target either the casting wizard or his opponent, but a wizard has access to spells which can the environment between himself and his opponent. So spells like Shadow fills a hex with black shadow, so hindering sight; Create Wall places a wall which blocks sight and movement; and Slippery Floor makes a megahex slippery, which forces anyone entering it to make a Dexterity check or loose their footing. It is also possible for a wizard to hide in the arena, either by casting Invisibility or slipping into a hex containing the effects of the Shadow spell. 

Being companion games, both Melee and Wizard share the same mechanics. This is essentially a Saving Throw, rolled on the three six-sided dice, made against an attribute. Typically, this will be a roll against the wizard’s Dexterity in order to hit an opponent or object with a spell, but roll against a wizard’s Intelligence to avoid a Control Person spell, disbelieve an illusion, and so on. Damage is dealt in six-sided dice, more damage being done by spells by a wizard expending more Strength on the spell when cast. Damage is deducted from a wizard’s Strength, a wizard being knocked unconscious when it is reduced to zero and killed when it goes below that. Wizard duels in the arena are either to the death, arena combat, or practice combat, each awarding fewer—fifty, thirty, or ten—Experience Points to any survivors. It takes one hundred Experience Points for a wizard to increase one of his three attributes.

Alonzo Bianchi
Strength 11
Dexterity 10
Intelligence 11
MA 11
Wizard’s Staff
Spells: Blur, Control Animal, Control Person, Freeze, Illusion, Magic Fist, Reveal Magic, Reverse Missiles, Rope, Shock Shield, Summon Myrmidon
For example, Sibbe Stigandidottir and her challenger, Alonzo Bianchi enter the arena and stand ten hexes apart from each other. Each player rolls a six-sided die for initiative, Alonzo’s player rolling a two, Sibbe’s player rolling a five, so she acts first. She knows that Alonzo wants this duel over and done with as quick as possible, so suspects that he will launch an attack as soon as possible. So she casts Reverse Missiles. This costs two Strength to cast and one to maintain. Her player tells Alonzo’s player that Sibbe has cast a spell, but not what, and notes it down. As she suspects, Alonzo casts a missile spell—in this case Magic Fist. This is a telekinetic blow which will do 1d6-2 for each point of Strength powered into it. In this case, two points. Alonzo’s player makes a roll against Alonzo’s Dexterity—there are no adjustments for range—and rolling three six-sided six, hits with a result of a seven. Unfortunately, because Sibbe has cast Reverse Missiles, her player reveals the the Magic Fist rebounds and hits Alonzo. His player rolls 1d6-2 for each missile, getting a result of a three and a one. Adjusted, this would be a one and a minus one, but since the damage can never be less than the Strength points put into the spell, the adjusted damage is two and two, for a total of four damage! At the start of Round Two, Alonzo has a Strength of five, having lost two for casting Magic Fist and four for the damage that spell would have inflicted. Sibbe has a Strength of seven from casting Reverse Missiles. Alonzo’s player rolls a six for initiative, whereas Sibbe’s player rolls a one. Alonzo, reeling from damage that should have struck his opponent, fires of a quick Freeze, which would hold Sibbe in place for several rounds. It costs him four Strength, leaving him with just one! Sibbe will need to make a Saving Throw to shrug off this effect to act, her player rolling fourteen, so not enough to hold her in place. She will be held immobile for seven Rounds. In Round Three, Alonzo’s player rolls a four for initiative, whereas Sibbe’s player rolls a six. She gets to act first and her player makes another Saving Throw, this time with a result of seven, which means she throws off the effects of Freeze and acts, casting Summon Wolf. This costs two Strength to cast and one to maintain. The creature appears and Sibbe directs it to hound Alonzo. Being left with just one Strength, he can only hope to hold off the wolf long enough for Sibbe to use up her Strength, but otherwise it looks like the end of the duel for Alonzo...This is just a simple duel, but with the range of spellcasting options available in Wizard, players have a lot of choice terms of what spells they cast and when. Duels can become tense, tactical affairs, especially when summoned creatures and illusions come into play because then the wizards will not be fighting against just each other, but multiple opponents. One type of spell missing from Wizard is the healing spell, though were there any such spell, a wizard would in effect be expending Strength to cast it in order to increase his Strength and so have more points to cast spells and withstand damage. Rounding out Wizard are rules combining Wizard with Melee, which will provide more options and tactics, and provide for a more involved game. Together, they also lay the groundwork for a proto-roleplaying game, but that will have to wait until The Fantasy Trip: In the Labyrinth.

Physically, Wizard is well presented. It has a ‘Old School’ monochrome feel, but the writing is excellent and the rules clearly explained, and the new artwork in the rulebook is very nice. The cover artwork for the box is also excellent. The game is also supported by short piece of fiction which is explained with a fully worked example of play.

Wizard, much like Melee is a little game, but offers quite a lot of tactical play and options in terms of its rules, much of which will be later seen in Steve Jackson’s GURPS. It is pleasingly self-contained—there is room inside the box for another set of dice and index cards to record the details of every wizard—and easy to set up and play. Unlike Melee, this game is not as easy to teach and certainly not as easy to master, for Wizard offers more options and more tactics, than simple armed combat. Learning them and mastering them will bring players back to Wizard as they try out different spell combinations and tactics, providing a magical counterpart to the brutality of Melee.

Six Brides for a Vampire

A Bride for Dracula: A System neutral, one-shot adventure of bridal contests with bite. is one-shot camp gothic scenario from Mottokrosh Machinations, a publisher best known for Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm. Indeed, Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm is one for the systems for which A Bride for Dracula is written, although technically, and as its subtitle suggests, the scenario is entirely systemless and its plot and set-up could be run using a panoply of roleplaying games and systems—and genres! For A Bride of Dracula takes place in a time when Dracula still resides at his castle in Transylvania, his greatest victim still loves him, the Nazis lost World War II, and ‘brain in a jar’ technology is available. So there is a technological seam to the scenario alongside its gothic theming, much in keeping with its genre.

A Bride for Dracula takes place on one night at an event hosted by Count Dracula who seeks—or rather lusts after—a new wife. Thus six prospective brides—and thus six players—have come to his castle at his invitation, their suitability to be his wife to be tested. They include Princess Naomi Andress of the Pale Hills—the prospective bride and her mother, Queen Ursula Andress of the Pale Hills; Brigitte, a humble milk maid; Elsa Van Elseling (definitely not Van Helsing Senior’s daughter. Nope.); and the crimson-skinned Yvonna Fackelot, who comes with minions and an almost endless wardrobe. They are joined by John the Carriage Driver, who is just along for the ride. All six characters come with secrets, goals, fears, and a list of the things they are good at and bad at. As written, these characters are detailed enough for players to roleplay should the Game Master want to run A Bride for Dracula as a very rules light, almost freeform scenario.

Alternatively, the players could roleplay members of the entourage for one of the contestants in Dracula’s  bridal competition. The Game Master and the players can easily adapt A Bride for Dracula to the mechanics of their choice. It would work with just about any retroclone for the Old School Renaissance, but especially with the tone of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay, but also Troika, Into the Odd, or Numenera for example. Given that there are no stats given for any of the characters, it does mean that the Game Master will have some extra preparation to undertake prior to running the scenario. Plus, it is a pity that no stats are given for the characters written for the publisher’s own Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm.

Plotwise, A Bride for Dracula is straightforward and linear. The characters start the game together and will experience the same encounters together before play opens up when the contest begins. The Game Master gets to throw in some complications too and much of the fun of the scenario will come as the players and their characters react to these complications and try to out-compete each other in Dracula’s contests. There is certainly enough to keep a playing group of six players occupied for the evening or session.

Physically, A Bride for Dracula is short book, neat and tidy. It is lightly illustrated, but the artwork is decent. The writing is clear and really, the Game Master could grab A Bride for Dracula as is and prepare it in ten minutes. So it really works as a pick-up game when not every player can make a regular session.

Unfortunately, there are couple of elements to A Bride for Dracula which may be problematic. One is the tone, which is camp and gothic, much in the style of the Carry on films—most obviously Carry on Screaming!—and the Hammer Horror series of films, and that tongue in cheek tone, even silliness, is not to everyone’s taste. The other issue is that one of the player characters is an ex-Nazi. Now the scenario does not dwell overly on this or go into further detail, but it does fit in with the campy, gothic tone of the scenario and the exploitation genre of films which inspired the scenario. As is, the character will need to be played with some care, but her very nature means that some players will find her inclusion offensive and not only will they not play her, they may not play the scenario because she is included. The Game Master will need to judge her players as to whether or not to include her, and if not, create a replacement. Arguably, it is a pity that the designer did not include an alternative.

A group need not even have a copy of A Bride for Dracula to play it, since the scenario is available online. Unless the Game Master and her group need to create characters, preparation for A Bride for Dracula is really, really quick, making it perfect to pull out and run at the last minute. There is scope for the Game Master to tinker with it at her heart’s content, but at the heart of A Bride for Dracula: A System neutral, one-shot adventure of bridal contests with bite. is a no fuss, straightforward, even linear scenario which can be run with the minimum of preparation.

Miskatonic Monday #33: Pickman’s Legacy

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.

—oOo—
Name: Pickman’s Legacy

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Keegan Sullivan

Setting: Modern Day

Product: Scenario
What You Get: 0.54 MB thirty eleven-page, full colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: A terrible legacy taken advantage of is still a terrible legacy. 
Plot Hook: A Cold Case in Lovecraft Country.
Plot Development: A missing daughter, a worried father, and a daughter drawn astray...
Plot Support: Four handouts, five monster and creature stats.

Pros
# Solid mystery
# Suitable introductory scenario
# Potential as a one-to-one scenario
# Adaptable to anytime after 1926
# Good use of a Lovecraftian bloodline
# Short, one or two session scenario
# Challenging epilogue

Cons# Needs editing
# Plot and clues poorly explained
# Not suitable for the new Keeper
# Underdeveloped
# Challenging epilogue
# No timeline
# Underwritten NPCs

Conclusion
# Underdeveloped 
# Keeper will need to make notes to understand the plot.
# Solid mystery and use of a Lovecraftian bloodline.

Beyond the Misty Mountains

Image result for Ruins of the NorthRuins of the North is an anthology of scenarios for The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild Roleplaying Game, the recently cancelled roleplaying game published by Cubicle Seven Entertainment which remains the most highly regarded, certainly most nuanced of the four roleplaying games to explore Tolkien’s Middle Earth. It is a companion to Rivendell, the supplement which shifted the roleplaying game’s focus from its starting point to the east of the Misty Mountains, upon Mirkwood and its surrounds with Tales from Wilderland and The Heart of the Wild to the west of the Misty Mountains. In particular, to present the Last Homely House of Master Elrond and then onwards through Eriador as far west as the town of Bree. Just as The Heart of the Wild has its companion volume in Tales from Wilderland, the Rivendell supplement has its anthology of scenarios in the form of Ruins of the North.

Unlike Tales from Wilderland, and especially unlike Bree, this anthology is not designed for beginning characters. In fact, two of the Heroic Culture character options presented in Rivendell—the Rangers of the North and the High Elves of Rivendell—are not designed to be equal to starting characters in The One Ring. There is a possibility that both can be introduced during the play through of Ruins of the North, which as written is designed to take the characters who have been part of a campaign set to the east of the Misty Mountains through the mountains and into Eriador. Then  once they have established Last Homely House as a sanctuary, they are free to go forth and adventure to the west. Sometimes at the direction of Elrond, sometimes not. To get the very best of the six scenarios in Ruins of the North, the Loremaster will definitely need access to a copy of Rivendell.

The sextet of scenarios presented in Ruins of the North take place between 2954 and 2977—so after the events depicted in Tales from Wilderland. They chart the growing influence of the Shadow as the once vanquished Witch-King of Angmar who in ages past, worked to bring down the Númenórean kingdom of Arnor, returns west of the Misty Mountains. They make use of the expanded rules given in Rivendell for treasure and Precious Objects and Wondrous Artefacts, as well as for The Eye Of Mordor, which reveals the presence of the player characters or company to the Shadow’s influence. In the case of the former, this means that the player characters are likely to uncover caches of treasure far greater than that found in previous titles for The One Ring, whilst in the case of the latter, they are in greater danger of accruing more points of Shadow and suffering other deleterious effects than before. Thus whilst the rewards are potentially greater, so are the dangers…

The anthology opens with ‘Nightmares of Angmar’. This begins in the Black Hills in the Vales of Gundabad where an isolated tribe of Hill-men has been raided by goblins and its children were kidnapped. As they suffer nightmares of desolate fortress, the player characters have to persuade that rescuing them is the best course of action and then chase the kidnappers west, over the mountains, and into Eridor. Dark alliances long past are revealed and there is an opportunity to make a new ally—or lose one in the rescue attempt. Whatever the outcome, the player characters, now west of the Misty Mountains, are given the opportunity to find rest in the House of Elrond. ‘Nightmares of Angmar’ is a gruelling affair, with long stretches of travel across blasted lands—something which will occur again and again through the anthology. It also provides some good roleplaying opportunities and exposes the characters to the reach of the Shadow down the long years.

The theme of the Shadow’s long reach continues in ‘Hard Than Stone’ as an ally appears from strange places to help the player characters in return for their help. Tasked with escorting a road maintenance crew, the company discovers evidence of a bandit attack and after managing to rescue some survivors, learn that the bandit party consists of both Men and Trolls! Learning what could bring such forces together lies at the heart of the scenario and brings into the open long term plans. Elements of the scenario are left for the Loremaster to develop and whilst some interesting options are given, it does leave the scenario with an underwritten ending.

‘Concerning Archers’ begins on a lighter note and a pleasing encounter with the protagonist at the heart of The Hobbit—one Mister Bilbo Baggins. Encountering characters from the books has always been well handled in The One Ring and this is no exception as Bilbo asks the company to help him settle a scholarly debate by visiting an ancient city where a legendary company of archers had its last stand. The company are free to tackle this whenever it wants, so once the request has been made, ‘Concerning Archers’ can either be run as is or added to a campaign as a side quest. This is an opportunity to delve a little into Hobbit history, especially for a Scholar character, and the Loremaster may want to have access to the Bree supplement as well for this and later scenarios.

The fourth scenario, ‘The Company of the Wain’, is a distinct change of pace and tone. The company encounters a caravan of travelling traders stopped off at a village. Initially, the player characters have an opportunity to spend a little money and interact with the traders, but when one of their number spots a possible kidnapping, it suggests that there is more to the caravan. The nature of the threat here is all but mundane, although is not to say that it is not evil. There is no quite right way to deal with the threat, potentially leaving the scenario open for further developments, some of which may lead south into the lands of The Horse-lords of Rohan and potentially, Oaths of the Riddermark.

The company comes to the aid of a Ranger in the fifth scenario, ‘What Lies Beneath’. He wishes to reclaim his family’s ancient mansion and establish a secure outpost for the Rangers near Weathertop. Unfortunately, it has been occupied by some bandits and he wants some help driving them out. This is very much a character piece, with the Loremaster having several NPCs—including the Ranger—to roleplay on one dark, murderous evening. The shortest of the scenarios in the anthology, the plot to ‘What Lies Beneath’ is well-worn, but hopefully good roleplaying upon the part of the Loremaster will divert the player characters enough for its events to play out.

In the sixth and last scenario in Ruins of the North, the player characters are asked by Gandalf himself to undertake a small quest. In ‘Shadows Over Tyrn Gorthad’, he asks that the company retraces its steps and return to the ruins of Angmar in order to determine why Barrow-wights from the Barrow-downs have been seen abroad far from their resting places. This is a much longer scenario than the previous five, and could be played out over several sessions, perhaps even running one of the earlier scenarios in the anthology between its events. Certainly there is room for the Loremaster to insert one of her scenarios here if suitable. Gandalf is not the only character from Middle Earth canon to appear here and the scenario gives another chance for the Scholar chance to shine, as well as be exposed to some dread dangers. The Bree supplement may also be of use here, but is not required. ‘Shadows Over Tyrn Gorthad’ brings Ruins of the North to rousing climax, standing alongside Gandalf attempting to stop a long slumbering threat rising again.

Physically, Ruins of the North is, like the other books for The One Ring, is a pretty book, done in earthy tones throughout that give it a homely feel that befits the setting of Middle Earth. The illustrations are excellent, the cartography decent, and the writing, although needing a slight edit here and there, is clear and easy to understand. The content is decently organised, making all six scenario easier to run.

Unfortunately, Ruins of the North is not quite as satisfying a set of scenarios as those given in the previous collection, Tales from Wilderland. They do not feel quite as cohesive, and certainly, they do not work as a campaign, since there are no strong threads running through the set, from ‘Nightmares of Angmar’ to ‘Shadows Over Tyrn Gorthad’. All together, they do delve into the region’s dark history and hint at the plans that Mordor has for the region, but this being a hint—admittedly a strong hint—Ruins of the North does very much feel as if it is laying the foundations for a bigger campaign, perhaps in the manner of The Darkening of Mirkwood. Of course, that is not be.

With six scenarios that are perhaps darker, nastier, and more challenging than previous anthologies, and definitely different in tone, Ruins of the North is a solid companion to Rivendell. Players and their characters will definitely want to find refuge in the Last Homely House after playing these six.

The Barbaric North

Image result for conan the barbarian+rpgConan the Barbarian is a supplement for Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of published by Modiphius Entertainment. It is the first in the ‘Conan the…’ series of supplements which focus on and take their inspiration from Conan himself at various stages of his life and what he was doing. Over this series, the supplements will track our titular character’s growth and progress as he gains in skills and abilities and talents. Thus this first supplement looks at Conan as a young man and his life among the people of his homeland, at the beginning of his career which will take him from barbarian to king, essentially the equivalent of a starting player character. Yet whilst the stats for Conan himself at this stage of his life do appear in the pages of Conan the Barbarian, they are more a side note than a feature, for the supplement is an examination of the countries of the north in the Hyperborean Age—Asgard, Cimmeria, Hyperborea, and Vanaheim. It includes new archetypes, talents, backgrounds, and equipment to help players create more varied barbarian characters and Game Masters more varied barbarian NPCs; a gazetteer and guide to the bleak lands of the north, either shrouded in fog or smothered in snow and; an array of detailed NPCs and monsters, including unique nemeses; and mechanics to help bring barbarian activities and attitudes to your game, including raids, contests, battle tactics, and more.

Conan the Barbarian opens with four new Barbarian castes and some changes to the castes given in the core rulebook for Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of. The latter are minor in nature, mostly name changes and slight adjustments in terms of Social Standing, whereas the five new castes are Barbaric, Law-speaker, Renegade, and Skald, each supported by new Talents, such as Savage Dignity and Uncivilised for the Barbaric caste, followed by Stories for each of the new castes enabling the creation of backstories for the characters of said castes. These are followed by four archetypes—Bard, Hunter, Raider, and Slaver, In addition, there are Barbarian Natures and Educations, and Talents, the latter the Skald and the Bard. Along with a small selection of equipment, including sun stones used as navigation aids and several sorcerous items, these options combine with those of the core rulebook to provide greater choice in creating characters from the barbaric north. This can be simply to create and play something different from the core rulebook, but it could also provide the diversity needed to create a party of barbarians from the north, whether for a campaign set there or looking to escape the frozen north…

Supporting these new character options is a gazetteer of the north. Beginning with the coming of the barbarians it looks in turn at the peoples, way of life, geography, and places of note in Cimmeria, Nordheim, and Hyperborea, with Nordheim being rent into two by great rivalry between Asgard and Vanaheim. Although other nations may look at the north as being wholly barbaric, the gazetteer begins to separate the four peoples and so emphasise their differences. So the Cimmerians live in clans belonging to four tribes and mainly live in independent villages dotted across the dreary Cimmerian Marches, their inhabitants only coming together when invaders, like the Aquilonnians, attempt to capture or colonise what the Cimmerians regard as their territory. The inhabitants of southern Nordheim recognise kings, queen, jarls, and more, whereas those of the north band together in nomadic tribes, constantly moving across the icy reaches of the north. Vanaheim also has a coast, enabling its inhabitants to build boats and fish and raid—their raiding ships with their carved figureheads being known as the ‘dragons of the sea’, whereas Asgard does not. To the East, the land of Hyperborea is known for its fortified cities and its participation in the slave trade. Again, there is a lot here to brought into a game, whether it is rolling on the Cimmerian village generator or nomad camp features table, or visiting the charm-bedecked Witch-Oak in Cimmeria said to be home to a witch, a crone to some, matronly to others, capable of lifting and bestowing curses.

If the gazetteer explores the cultures and places of the north, ‘Events’ describes the regular doings of the north. First and foremost is the ‘Thing’, a combined festival, council, and reunion, held by kings as much by lesser nobles. Here disputes and other matters are settled, to which the Game Master can add events from the accompanying table. Equally dramatic is the decision of a Nordheim tribe to migrate its camp across the snowy wastes or the members of Vanaheim village deciding to build a ship and conduct raids further along the coast. These are raids akin to those of the Vikings, rather than piracy, which will of course be covered in more detailed in Conan the Pirate, including ship-to-ship combat. There is a lot here to make all of these exciting and involving. 

The often dreary and unforgiving nature of life in the north is reflected in the discussion of its peoples’ gods and legends in ‘Myth & Magic’. None more so than the Cimmerian afterlife, which is even more dismal and dreary than their actual lives! Vahalla, the Hall of the Mighty is a more inviting prospect amongst the valorous of Nordheim. As well gods and legends, it presents rules for using geases and taboos, and Runes and inscribing them onto objects for one-off or even permanent benefits and the first Nemesis NPC in Conan the Barbarian. This is Atali, the Frost Giant’s Daughter, who plagues and plays with the lives of mortals. The following chapter, ‘Encounters’, includes even more Nemesis NPCs, from the generic Chieftain and Witch to the Lindorm, a two-legged serpent, a solitary hunter through the snow, and Bragi the Unloved, a seasoned chieftain who usurped his predecessor and who rules with an iron first, his ambition driving him to declare on his neighbours. This is in addition to the other thirty or so NPCs and creatures of varying capability. Not just Snow Apes, Boars, and Mammoths, but also Banshees, Draugrs, Were-Bears, and Wyrms. 

Rounding out Conan the Barbarian is ‘Hither Came Conan…’ which places our titular hero in the context of the supplement and provides a playable version of him early in his long career, rough equal to that of a beginning character. Running campaigns set in the north are explored in ‘The Barbarian Way’, discussing campaign set-ups—warbands and raiding parties in the main, whether the player characters part of or leading them, plus missionary and colonisation expeditions into the north; barbaric rites and traditions, and war and carousing, the latter including a lengthy table of carousing events. Lastly, Ali is a presented as a ‘Hero of the Age’, a female hero born to chattel slavery, a potential player character or an NPC, developed by a backer for the Kickstarter campaign for Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of.

Physically, Conan the Barbarian is a slim hardback, presented in full colour, illustrated with an excellent range of fully painted artwork. It is well written, although it needs to be edited in places. Otherwise, it is accessible and comes with a reasonable index.

As is, there is not really anything missing in Conan the Barbarian. There are plenty of ideas, places, NPCs, and monsters in its pages to spur a Game Master’s imagination, but perhaps for the neophyte Game Master, new to running Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of, some scenario hooks or adventure seeds would have been useful. Nevertheless, it is clear from Conan the Barbarian that its author has delved deep into Hyperborean lore and presented much of it in what is a multifaceted supplement. Although based on Conan’s early life, it goes beyond that to bring the world around him not just to life, but also to make it accessible and playable. Whether that is as Conan himself, using the provided write-up, or more obviously, as player characters. For the player who wants to create a barbarian character from the north, Conan the Barbarian offers welcome options, but for the Game Master wanting to run or take her Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of in or to the frozen, savage north, Conan the Barbarian is an excellent sourcebook.

Future History is a Killer

Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones is the seventh release for Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic, the spiritual successor to Gamma World published by Goodman Games. It is the second adventure to be designed for use with player characters who are Zero Level after the first, Mutant Crawl Classics #1: Hive of the Overmind. What this means is that it is a Character Funnel, one of the features of both the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game and the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game it is mechanically based upon—in which initially, a player is expected to roll up three or four Level Zero characters and have them play through a generally nasty, deadly adventure, which surviving will prove a challenge. Those that do survive receive enough Experience Points to advance to First Level and gain all of the advantages of their Class. In terms of the setting, known as Terra A.D., or ‘Terra After Disaster’, this is a ‘Rite of Passage’ and in Mutants, Manimals, and Plantients, the stress of it will trigger ‘Metagenesis’, their DNA expressing itself and their mutations blossoming forth. Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones differs from Mutant Crawl Classics #1: Hive of the Overmind and other Character Funnels, in that it is designed for play under certain circumstances, with multiple players and characters, and in the case of the characters—none of them are expected to survive!

In the classic Character Funnel, each player begins play with three or four Level Zero characters and roleplays them from the start of the scenario until the end, hoping that one or more survives to accrue enough Experience Points to achieve First Level. In Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones, each player gets one Zero Level character, not three or four, and when that character dies—which is highly likely in Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones—his player is out of the scenario and leaves the table whilst a new player with a new character takes his place. When a second character dies and his player leaves the table, another player can join the table and take his place, including any player who has already lost a character during play. However, each time a new player—whether completely new or returning to the game after having lost a previous character—sits down and joins the game, he does so with a completely new, Zero Level character.

Essentially, Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones is designed for high character and high player turnover. In order to facilitate this, a Judge wanting to run this will need a lot of players. The scenario is written for between eight and ten players, but that is just the number of players sat at the table, for the Judge will need half of that again—if not the same number to get the fullest use out of the scenario—in order to have a sufficient supply of replacement players. (The Judge will also have to prepare numerous Zero Level player characters.) This supports the play of Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones as a tournament scenario at a convention. The winners of which will be the players who either had the most characters survive, or rather, killed the least number of characters.

To support all of this death and mayhem, Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones is the post apocalyptic equivalent of the funhouse dungeon, a madhouse carnival of death, in which the player characters will fumble their way through, all but blindly making mistakes which hopefully, the other characters—either those currently in play or those waiting to be played by the players ready to step in with the death of the next characters—will learn from. In other words, this is an adventure in which the characters and their players learn from the deaths of other characters and the temporary ejection of their players from the game.

The adventure itself begins with an earthquake which exposes an artefact, some kind of portal, of the Ancients. It leads to a strange chamber beyond from which various rooms can be accessed, one at a time, almost at random. These locations, most of them single rooms, are of all historical significance, enabling the characters to explore some of the events which led up to the Great Disaster that resulted in Terra, A.D.—Terra ‘After Disaster’—the world in which the characters live. Most of them are fairly detailed and many of them have a puzzle element to them, as well as a combat element. In keeping with the tone and design of the ‘dungeon’ or complex, most are also deadly. Many of the encounters heavily reference an array of Science Fiction films old and new, and both Judge and players will enjoy spotting them, whilst the Judge will enjoy roleplaying these references. More obvious references are made in the actual random encounters, many of which can be played as is, or expanded upon by the Judge. There is also scope here for the Judge to create his own encounters, again drawing from iconic Science Fiction movies and other settings.

Interestingly, Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones does something which few if any other scenarios for the post apocalyptic roleplaying do and that is, enable a player character to make contact with an AI patron. This is particularly important for the Shaman character Class, which specialises in ancient lore and knowledge and serves a god—or AI patron—which will in return grant wetware programs of great power as well as the Invoke Patron AI program. This always seems glossed over in Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic, so it is interesting to see it presented here, though a Shaman choosing and making first contact with his AI patron has the potential to be an adventure in itself.

Physically, Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones is well presented. The artwork is a variety of styles, but all of it fitting. The centrespread map is clear and easy to read. If there is an issue with the scenario in terms of its presentation, it is that it is brought to an end somewhat abruptly.

Rounding out Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones is a set of advice and notes on running it as a tournament adventure. These highlight how useful and useless the scenario actually is. Useful if the Judge wants to run a demonstration or tournament scenario at a convention involving a larger number of players than a scenario for almost any roleplaying game would normally ask for. Unfortunately that calls for certain circumstances and for the most part, because those numbers do not fit the standard pattern of six players and one Game Master, such numbers are rarely called for in convention scenarios and difficult to organise. Useless because this is not a scenario that can easily be run at home using the given format, so the Judge will need to adjust the player and character numbers accordingly.

Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones is a mad funhouse dungeon comprised of excerpts from our future prior to the Great Disaster. It has some delightful Science Fiction film references that the Judge will enjoy bringing into play and the players will find themselves roleplaying encounters from those and other films as they explore the location. Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones is deadly, fun, and silly, but ultimately of limited utility.

Jonstown Jottings #7: Rocks Fall

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.


—oOo—

What is it?
Rocks Fall: A slot-in scenario for Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is a short, one-session scenario set in Dragon Pass wherever Trolls may be found.

It is a sixteen page, full colour, 22.96 MB PDF.

Rocks Fall is well presented and decently written, but needs an edit in places. Both illustrations and cartography are decent, the maps being particularly clear.

Where is it set?
Rocks Fall is set in a dry, rocky place anywhere Trolls might be found and so can easily be slotted into most campaigns.

Who do you play?
The scenario is combat-focused, so warriors and combat capable characters are recommended. The scenario will hold significance to Ernalda and Babeester Gor worshippers.

What do you need?
Rocks Fall can be run using just RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. For more information about Trolls, the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary may be useful.

What do you get?
Rock Falls is a combat heavy scenario set in a small cave and temple complex which a Troll band is excavating and will defend any attempt to intrude upon their efforts. The complex has just nine locations and is linear in nature, although it does make good use of vertical space. Each of the locations is decently described. Also detailed is the reason of the Trolls’ activity in the complex and some hints as what the complex was prior to its partial collapse.

The opposition consists of several Dark Trolls and a mixed band of Food, Value, and Warrior Trollkin. The Trollkin are not initiates, but advice is given on each of their tactics and how to scale both them and the Dark Trolls in order to make them more of a challenge. In addition, each of the Dark Trolls and Trollkins has its own character standup. These accompany the large, but simple maps of the complex.

One issue with Rocks Fall is the overview of the scenario is underwritten and could have done with a stronger explanation, especially concerning the reasons why the Trolls are digging there and possible legends related to the complex. That would have expanded the versatility of the scenario, perhaps giving a good hook for Ernalda and Babeester Gor worshippers to seek out the complex or for a rival band of Trolls.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. As a ‘Slot-in’ scenario, as a short and location scenario, Rock Falls is easy to insert into an ongoing campaign. It is particularly suitable for a combat orientated group of player characters or a combat capable group looking for a change of pace.
No. Less combat capable player characters will find Rock Falls a challenge, if not deadly.
Maybe. The background to Rocks Fall is lightly drawn, giving scope for development by the Game Master.

Mining the Beyond

Riot at Red Plank is a scenario written and published for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition by Golden Goblin Press. Like the earlier Riding the Northbound: A Hobo OdysseyRiot at Red Plank was released as a stretch goal for the Kickstarter campaign for the scenario, Cold Warning: A chilling 7th Edition scenario, and like Riding the Northbound: A Hobo Odyssey it is a one-shot scenario which explores a different aspect of American history. Where Riding the Northbound: A Hobo Odyssey explored the lives of Hobos, Tramps, and Bums in the desperate decade of the 1930s, Riot at Red Plank takes in the first decade of the twentieth century in the mines worked by and company towns lived in by immigrant workers amidst growing labour unrest, union agitation, and the often armed response of the mine owners.

Riot at Red Plank takes place in 1904 and is set on the Keweenaw Peninsula on Lake Superior in Northern Michigan where a number of copper mines are worked by immigrants from Scandianavia and Northern Europe. One of these is the Hecate or ‘heck-eight’ mine, worked by mostly Finnish immigrants. Two years ago it was purchased by the Monadnock Trust, a Boston-based cartel of investors, which has appointed a new mine agent, Hiram Noyes. Since then, Noyes has made many changes, replacing seasoned miners with his own men, and cutting corners which ultimately lead to a disaster and several deaths. He also began testing the use of one-man pneumatic drills, the introduction of which would likely lead to the loss of jobs from amongst the workforce. This has resulted in discontent among the miners, many contemplating unionisation and forcing an independent inspection of the mine. This is where the Riot at Red Plank opens…

In fact, Riot at Red Plank opens with a bang. In the default set-up, the player characters—for they are not investigators in the traditional sense of Call of Cthulhu—are mine workers of various types, including actual miners, carpenters, track layers, and trammers. (Suggestions are given as alternative characters should the players not want to all play miners.) Either way, they are assigned to accompany the mine inspector when disaster strikes and an explosion separates them in a cave from the rest of the mine where they discover a strange mineral and encounter monsters from beyond. When this results in the death of the inspector, the other miners blame Noyes and tensions escalate as the miners agitate for strike. Noyes’ response only makes the situation worse and as labour relations collapse, there remains the question, what was the mineral that the miners found in cave and just what killed the mine inspector?

Riot at Red Plank is a relatively short scenario, a one-shot investigation which has the players take the roles of miners—not investigators—and has them do something that they would ordinarily avoid. That is, conduct an investigation into the mine manager’s anti-labour activities and the horrifying weird events at the mine. They are hampered by the Keweenaw Peninsula isolated location, so getting outside help may prove difficult, but potential help may come from an unexpected quarter (but also sets up a possible sequel in both the 1920s and the modern era). To support this, Riot at Red Plank provides not just the seven pre-generated mine workers, each complete with detailed backgrounds, but also information about the Keweenaw Peninsula, the Hecate mine, and how mining is conducted during this period. Further support comes in the form of maps, terminology guide, and a number of decent handouts.

Physically, Riot at Red Plank is very nicely presented. Reuben Dodd’s artwork is excellent as ever, Stephanie’s McAlea’s cartography is decent, and the layout is clean and tidy. The writing is good too. The cover though does give away who the Mythos villains are in Riot at Red Plank.

Structurally, Riot at Red Plank is different not just because it gets the players to take roles different to those of standard Call of Cthulhu investigators and its places them in an interesting period of the USA’s social history—much like Golden Goblin Press’ Northbound: A Hobo Odyssey—but also because it delivers a short, sharp horrifying shock right from the outset. This shock sets up the mystery which pervades the whole of the scenario and lies behind all of the antagonists’ motives. Suitable as a one-shot or a convention scenario, Riot at Red Plank is an effective piece of corporatised horror which forces the labour force to confront the Mythos.

Escaping the End of the World

In classic post apocalypse gaming—by which we mean Gamma World—players get to roleplay a variety of character types Humans, Mutants, Mutated Animals, and Mutated Plants. Although it seems highly unlikely that players will get to roleplay Mutated Plants in the Mutant: Year Zero series, so far in the Swedish post apocalypse roleplaying game, Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, players have got to play Mutants, leaving the Ark that is their home to explore the Zone beyond and the metaplot which underlies the setting—a search for Eden and perhaps the fate of the Ancients. Then with Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha, they got to play mutated animals, living in Paradise Valley under the careful eye of the metallic Watchers from their base in the Labyrinth. This was followed by Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying in which the players roleplayed not Androids, but robots, suddenly self-aware sent out to prevent other robots from achieving self-awareness, in a giant undersea manufacturing dome whose facilities have long begun to deteriorate. This only left the Humans. Just where are the Humans in the future of Mutant: Year Zero? All that is explained in the setting’s latest expansion and fourth standalone roleplaying game in the line, Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium. Like those previous expansions and roleplaying games, Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium includes everything necessary to play—character generation, rules, and a complete campaign, all of which leads up to the start of something new…

The last of humanity has ridden out the worst of the apocalypse in an enclave dug deep into the bowels of the earth. This is Elysium I—named after the meadows of eternal Spring of Greek mythology—founded by four powerful industrial and financial dynasties that continue to rule the enclave to this day. Decades after the end of the world, contact has been lost with the other enclaves, resources are growing scarce, the enclave is close to losing its manufacturing capabilities, and the four great houses—Warburg, Fortescue, Morningstar, and Kilgore—plot and feud against each whilst other putting on a public face of co-operation and optimism. Meanwhile, the workers agitate for better conditions, criminal gangs seem to have free reign, acts of sabotage seem to go unchecked, and rumours abound that the surface might be safe to walk upon and the air clean enough to breathe, a paradise awaiting the first footsteps of humanity once again. In response, the four houses have established a force of Judicators tasked with preserving law and order in the enclave.

The players take the role of members of the four houses—junior members or heirs—who have been assigned to the Judicators, every Judicator patrol consisting of at least one officer from each of the houses. Their loyalties are, of course, to their patrol and the Judicators, but in secret, they report to, and take orders from their house, which often means they have to follow agendas at odds with the rival houses, if not the fellow Judicators in their patrol. Effectively, this means that at any one time, one of the player characters in a patrol will be a double agent! In essence, Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium has much in common with Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron. The player characters are tasked with policing and dealing with an issue that they are either part of or responsible for. In Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron it is dealing with difficult situations caused by self-aware robots, whilst also being self-aware, whilst in Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, the Judicators are investigating acts of sabotage, whilst one of their number is supporting or conducting similar acts of sabotage in the name of their House. If Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium can be described in terms of other roleplaying games, it is Mongoose Publishing’s Paranoia meets EN Publishing’s Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000AD and Contested Ground Studios’ Cold City. All of which is played out in a giant inverted underground city equipped with advanced, but increasingly decrepit technology and infrastructure and the look and style of late-nineteenth century, though more central Europe than the Victorian era of Great Britain.

As with player characters in the other Mutant: Year Zero roleplaying games, characters in Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium have four attributes—Strength, Agility, Wits, and Empathy. Each attribute has three basic skills associated with it. Instead of the Mutations of Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, the species of Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha, and chassis and models of Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron, characters or Judicators in Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium are all Human. They belong to one of the houses—Warburg, Fortescue, Morningstar, and Kilgore—each of which favours one of the four attributes. They also belong to one of six professions—Investigator, Officer, Procurator, Scholar, Soldier, and Technician. A seventh option is a Psionic, but the playing group will need access to Mutant: Year Zero in order to use such powers of the mind. Each profession provides a single professional skill, for example, Investigate for the Investigator and Command for the Officer, plus options in terms of a Judicator’s appearance, talents, relationships to the other player characters and NPCs, objectives, and equipment.

Unlike the previous roleplaying games and expansions in the Mutant: Year Zero family, the Humans of the Enclave I in general do not have any ‘special’ powers, such as the mutations of the mutants in Mutant: Year Zero. Exceptions to this are the aforementioned Psionics from Mutant: Year Zero and Biomechatronics—cybernetic implants, such as Data Banks, Polygraph, or Heat Vision. Their use though has the potential to cause Machine Fever in those implanted with them. It could be argued though, that the Contacts that each Judicar has, for example, ‘Deadbeat Child’, ‘Grandfather’s Trove’, or ‘Loan Shark’, are the equivalent of ‘special’ powers, but with more social rather than physical or mental effects. Similarly, like the use of Biomechatronics, the use of Contacts is not without its potential backlash.

To create a Judicator a player selects a House and Profession, making choices from the options that these provide. This includes one of the three talents available for the profession, for example, Defender, Pettifogger, and Public Servant for the Procurator. When a character gains experience, he can choose more of these profession-only talents, as well as talents from a wider selection, such as Double Wielder, Machine at Heart, and Rot Resistant. He also assigns points to both attributes and skills, the points for each varying according to a character’s age. A younger character will have more points to assign to his attributes and fewer to his skills, whilst the reverse is the case for an older character. In addition, a player also selects his Judicator’s contacts and what he thinks of them. These are important because they form the pool of NPCs in ‘Guardians of the Fall’, the campaign in Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium.

Our sample character is Horatio Kilgore, a historian who has written a number of books about society before the Titan conflict. The recent circulation of rumours about the surface world being safe made the head of the Judicars wonder where they might be coming from and what they might be based on. So, an expert on the past was requested and unfortunately, Horatio, was reassigned. Much to his dislike, he finds himself having to get out and about instead of spending his days reading and teaching. 

Commissar Horatio Kilgore
House Kilgore
Profession: Scholar
Appearance: Glasses, Hunched build, Smooth and buttoned uniform
Age: 52

Attributes
Strength 2, Agility 3, Wits 5, Empathy 4

Talents
Crucial Insight

Skills 11
Enlighten 4, Fight 1, Shoot 1, Comprehend 3, Know the Zone 3, Manipulate 2

Relationships (Fellow Judicars)
Niamh Warburg is your apprentice and you wish to teach her everything you know.
David Fortescue is ill-mannered and should be disciplined.
Lulu Morningstar has knowledge you thought was unimportant that proved to be otherwise.

Relationships (Contacts)
You hate Theodora Warburg, a fellow Scholar and former colleague. An imbecile, totally undeserving of the career at the academy which should have been yours.
You want to protect Melina Fortescue, a brilliant scholar at the academy and your former teacher.

Your Big Dream
To learn about the surface world and maybe even experience it. You suspect that the Council is not saying everything they know on the subject.

Gear
Stun gun, E-pack, emergency rations, Class IV ID card, comm radio, 9 Credits

Mechanically, Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium uses the same system as Mutant: Year Zero—a mix of specialised dice and cards, also published by Free League Publishing and distributed Modiphius Entertainment. The content of the cards though, in the main artefacts as in Mutant: Year Zero, are reproduced in the pages of Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium and so are not absolutely necessary to play the game. Indeed, arguably, the artefacts do not play as strong a role in Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium as they do in other roleplaying games and expansions in the line. The dice are another matter. All six-sided dice, they are divided into three types—the yellow Base dice, the green Skill dice, and the black Gear dice. In addition to the number six, all dice are marked with the radiation symbol on that face. This indicates a success when rolled. On the one face of the yellow Base dice there is a biohazard symbol, whilst on the one face of the black Gear dice, there is an explosion symbol. Rolling either symbol is counted as a failure. The green Skill dice do not have an extra symbol of their one faces. Now a game of Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium can be run without using the specific Mutant: Year Zero dice, but it does at least require pools of the three different coloured dice to represent the Base, Skill, and Gear dice.

To undertake an action, a Judicator’s player assembles a dice pool consisting of Base, Skill, and Gear. These should be yellow Base dice equal to the attribute used, green Skill dice equal to his skill, and black Gear dice equal to the Bonus for the item of any Gear used. A roll of six (radiation) on any of the dice rolled counts as a success, but rolling more successes are better as these can be spent on stunts. The types of stunt available are listed skill by skill. So with the Fight, you might inflict extra damage, grab an opponent’s weapon, or knock it over, while with Know the Zone, you would not only work out what a creature or phenomenon is, but also whether or not it could hurt you or you could hurt it. If no sixes are rolled, then the action is a failure. The results are even worse if ones or biohazard symbols on the yellow Base dice or explosion symbols on the black Gear dice are rolled. If a player fails to roll any radiation symbols—or not enough, he can push the roll and reroll any dice that did came up as Biohazard, Explosion, or Radiation symbols. Even if a player makes a successful roll, his Judicator can still suffer trauma for any Biohazard symbols rolled.

For the most part, combat in Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium works in the same way as it does in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days and Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha, with one major exception. Characters have access to advanced healing, although it takes time. Social conflicts use the same mechanics as physical combat.

The play of Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium differs significantly ways both minor and major. The first and minor difference is that where in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days and Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha, the player characters were trying to improve their lives and those of their community by inventing new technologies and building devices, here they are attempting to hold back the enclave’s ruin and eventual collapse. Instead of working to raise Development Levels, here the player characters are attempting to prevent them from degrading, though ultimately, this is unlikely. This sets up one half of the conflict that lies at the core of Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium. The other is that the player characters, the Judicars, are often expected to place their loyalties to their respective Houses above their loyalty to the enclave and the last of humanity overall. When asked to do so by their House, the Judicar becomes, in effect, a traitor to his patrol and fellow Judicars, and the enclave in general.

This core conflict is supported by the roleplaying game’s set-up and play, which again is different to that of Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days and Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha. Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium is best played by four players so that their patrol is comprised of one heir from each of the four houses. Play is divided into Strategic and non-Strategic rounds. Strategic rounds are player controlled and are when each represents not his characters, but his whole House. They plan and stage Incidents which will hopefully either increase their respective House’s Control or decrease the Control of a rival House in a sector. By increasing a House’s Control in a sector, the more Influence Points a character has during play, which enables him to bring in more of his contacts into play. Each House’s degree of Control is also used when voting to determine which Incident is assigned to the Judicar squad that the player characters are in. Each Incident will have a starting effect which is unavoidable and a final effect which will take place if the Judicars fail to deal with it—and that is in addition to the final effects of the Incidents which take place at the same time as the Incident being investigated, and which the Judicars do not deal with. Thus there is a constant sense of ongoing decline and decay that the Judicars just cannot hold despite their best efforts—which are often undermined.

At this point, the Strategic round pauses, the non-Strategic round begins, essentially normal play with each player roleplaying his character conducting the investigation of the Incident. This includes one of the squad being a double agent who is following his House’s agenda rather than that of the squad or the enclave. Following the resolution of the Incident, the players get to vote on who they think the double agent is and can get Experience Points if they all do. An exposed double agent is punished for misconduct and can be imprisoned for multiple infractions.

All of this is supported not just by a detailed description of Enclave I, sector by sector, and solid advice for the Game Master, but also the ‘Guardians of the Fall’ campaign. It is built around fifteen key NPCs and eleven Incidents, divided into eight standard Incidents and three Special Incidents. The eight standard Incidents will occur again and again up and down the Enclave, until such times as the Judicars investigate them and then they do not occur again. As the Incidents pile up and Enclave I begins to degrade, the Special Incidents occur. These tie the events of the  ‘Guardians of the Fall’ campaign into previous events in other Mutant: Year Zero campaigns and ultimately will push the Judicars out of Enclave I. The ‘Guardians of the Fall’ campaign is generally very good, but it does feel relatively short at eleven episodes and its constant focus on the debilitating effects of the Houses undermining each other, does make it a bit of grind with no let up. Now the Game Master is provided with the means to create other Incidents, which are really necessary if she wants to run Incidents that are normal in comparison, but it would be nice to see ordinary Incidents as detailed as those in the campaign. Especially as that would also allow the Game Master and her players to involve their characters more in what is the nicely detailed and rich setting of Enclave I. The last part of ‘Guardians of the Fall’ campaign takes the whole of the Mutant: Year Zero into the future, but hopefully there will be support for that future from Free League Publishing.

Physically, Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium is of the same standard as the rest of the Mutant: Year Zero line. Although it needs an edit in places, the writing is decent, the cartography is clear, and the artwork is excellent, the latter including a rather nice pastiche. Lastly, it comes with a good index.

Although, Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium bears similarities to Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying, it is a very different campaign in tone and nature. It is divisive—it is House against House, and thus player character against player character; it is collective in nature—each Judicar’s House matters more than the individual or the Enclave; is is oppressive—the Judicators are officers of an autocratic state; the enemies are internal—that is, the inhabitants of Enclave I—rather than external; and ultimately, the Humans of the future of Mutant: Year Zero are committing the errors of the past once again. Also the satirical aspect previously seen in Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying is not as strong in Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium and there is a darker, more oppressive feel to both setting and campaign. That said, the campaign does end on a wondrous and positive note, and perhaps the fact that it is short at just eleven episodes is something of a relief given its oppressive feel. It will be interesting to see how all of these differences are contrasted and handled in future releases for the Mutant: Year Zero line.

If a Game Master and her players have played through the first three Mutant: Year Zero roleplaying games, then they will certainly want to play Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, but be warned, it is radically different in terms of tone and play than the others. It would also work as a one-shot campaign, but is best played as the fourth part of the Mutant: Year Zero line because it is so different. Darker, decaying, and Dickensian, Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium takes the Mutant: Year Zero in a wholly new direction, just as each of the Mutant: Year Zero titles have done before it. This is the Mutant: Year Zero which brings them all together and which sets up what will hopefully be the next chapter. 

Friday Fantasy: Gauntlet of Spiragos

Until one hundred and fifty years ago, the world of Scarn was rent by a horrific war between the Gods and Titans, as the Gods, the children of the Titans, sought to rid the land of their whimsical and dangerous parents. Yet even as the battles raged and the mortals suffered beneath the combatants’ notice, the Gods found they could not kill the Titans. As its creators, the essence of the titans is inseparably bound to the world of Scarn, and destroy them, and the world is also destroyed. So instead of killing them, the Gods simply sought to incapacitate their parents, either chaining them in place or hacking them apart, their bodies and body parts becoming part of Scarn’s landscape where they fell. Now decades later, the felled titans are the targets of titan-worshippers wanting to resurrect their masters and the divine races to continue their war against the titanic abominations.

This is the set-up for the Scarred Lands, originally a setting for the d20 System published by White Wolf Publishing under its Sword and Sorcery Studios imprint since the year 2000. Now published by Onyx Path Publishing for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition as a Scarred Lands Player’s Guide, but a gaming group need not grab this rulebook in order to get a taster and a feel for this post-apocalyptic fantasy setting. The alternative is Gauntlet of Spiragos: An Introductory Adventure for 1st-Level Characters, an adventure designed to take a quartet of adventurers from First Level to Third Level. Advice is included to help a Dungeon Master adjust the scenario to make it more or less of a challenge as required.

The focus of Gauntlet of Spiragos is the Chasm of Flies, a crack in the earth left when the titan Spiragos the Ambusher was smote down by one of the young gods, Vangal the Ravager. The location is now is inhabited by spider-eye goblins and their spider allies, but has long been rumoured to be the resting place of powerful artefacts leftover from the Divine War. A torn and stained map has fallen into the hands of the Player Characters which possibly shows the location of a cleft or chasm in the Devil’s March and depicts what could be three magical items. The Player Characters are presented with three ways of discerning about information about the map, the Devil’s March, and the cleft in the ground. The first is from their general knowledge, whilst the second is to examine the map and work out the meaning of its various clues, and to that end, the designers have provided a number of skill tests for the players to roll and discover what their characters can learn. The other is to go to the edge of the Bronze Hills and Creagfort, which lies a few miles south of the Devil’s March and perhaps learn what those posted there know. This is optional, but the scenario assumes that the Player Characters will start there anyway, and to be honest, this is really the only opportunity for any roleplaying to take place in the adventure.

Unfortunately, after this, Gauntlet of Spiragos takes on a rather singular note with a series of combat encounters between Creagfort and the Chasm of Flies with an extra optional one should the Party be making easy progress. This optional encounter introduces an NPC which could be used to harass the Player Characters’ progress, but as written this option is one that the Dungeon Master will need to develop herself because he is only present to increase the number of combat challenges. This is a missed opportunity since it might have given something or someone for the Player Characters to interact with and oppose, and something or someone for the Dungeon Master to roleplay.

The Chasm of Flies presents an interesting physical challenge for the Player Characters, consisting of a pair of parallel columns which descend into the darkness, festooned with webs. This gives it an eerie atmosphere with a verticality derived for what the ‘dungeon’ actually is, something entirely in keeping with the setting and the consequences of the Divine war. Yet the encounters in the Chasm of Flies are not all that interesting in themselves, being again combat orientated and singular in nature. Nevertheless, the objects indicated on the map at the start of the adventure, the reasons for the Player Characters to undertake the journey are actually very nicely done, quite powerful and flavoursome given the low Level nature of the scenario.

Physically, Gauntlet of Spiragos is something of a mixed bag. Some of the artwork is excellent, but some of it is cartoonish. Likewise, some of the cartography is murky and a waste of space, in fact, the best map in the scenario is actually the player handout given out at the scenario. Similarly, the scenario suffers from being overwritten and dense in places, hampering the efforts of the Dungeon Master to extract material from the book and present it to her players.

There are some great elements in Gauntlet of Spiragos—the nature of the dungeon, the excellent magical artefacts, and the map handout as a means of delivering clues and information—which together do impart some of the feel and flavour of the world of the Scarred Lands. In fact, the importance of the magical artefacts come into play in Dagger of Spiragos and Ring of Spiragos, the two sequels to Gauntlet of Spiragos.) As an introduction, they work well, but they are hampered by the scenario’s linear design, lack of variety in terms of play, and the sometimes stodgy writing, the ultimate effect being that Gauntlet of Spiragos is not as interesting and as dynamic as an introduction to Scarred Lands it deserves to be. This should not be taken as Gauntlet of Spiragos: An Introductory Adventure for 1st-Level Characters being a complete disaster, for it is far from that. Rather it is a scenario that will work better with some tinkering and adjustment upon the part of the Dungeon Master.

Miskatonic Monday #32: We Are All Savages

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.

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Name: We Are All Savages: A Colonial Scenario for Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: William Adcock

Setting: The French and Indian War

Product: Scenario
What You Get: 29.01 MB thirty seven-page, full colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: Survival Horror in the Snow. 
Plot Hook: Snow, Scurvy, Starvation, and Worse at the far of the British Empire.
Plot Development: Missing supplies, blood on the snow, the worst winter, and a terrible confrontation.
Plot Support: Floorplans of Fort Niagra, six pre-generated characters, six illustrations, musket stats.

Pros
# One-two session one-shot
# Unique historical location
# Strong use of weather and location
# Strongly plotted
# Potential convention scenario
# Technology presents its own challenges
# Six solid pre-generated characters
# Potential Colonial Gothic one-shot

Cons# Tightly plotted
# Unfamiliar setting to non-Americans
# Not suitable for the new Keeper
# Works best with six players
# Limited options for the players
# Military scenario

Conclusion
# Strong use of weather and location
# Military scenario in an unfamiliar period and setting
# Potential one-session one-shot convention scenario

A Post Space Opera Companion

Ashen Stars is Pelgrane Press’ Science Fiction roleplaying game of investigation and action. Using the investigation-orientated Gumshoe System mechanics written by Robin D. Laws, it takes the idea that Space Opera stories, especially those screened on television, are essentially mysteries to be solved and adapts it to an interesting frontier setting. This is the Bleed, a rough, wild fringe of space that barely twenty years ago was the enticingly glamorous frontier of The Combine, a two-hundred-year-old interstellar, culture-spanning government dedicated to peace, understanding, and self-determination. The Combine was an idealistic utopia that enabled numerous races and peoples to live happily under its governance, but then the Mohilar attacked, and employing technologies unknown to The Combine, their vast war fleets stormed system after system until The Combine’s heart, Earth itself, was devastated. Then following an unexpected defeat at the hands of a last-ditch effort by what remained of Combine forces, they vanished. That was a decade ago and yet, due to an effect known as the Bogey Conundrum, memories of the Mohilar race have become hazy and inconsistent. Try as they might, no one call recall exactly what the Mohilar were, and certainly, no one has any idea where they are now…

In the wake of the Mohilar War, both the interstellar economy and government have collapsed and whilst The Combine exists, its reach has been pulled back from the Bleed. Thus, the worlds the Bleed, many scorched and blasted by war, have been left to their own devices, bound only by a common currency and cultural ties. Where Combine patrols once kept the peace, peacekeeping missions and criminal investigations are now put out to private tender and assigned to independent ship operators known as ‘Licensed Autonomous Zone Effectuators’ or ‘Lasers’. As Lasers, the player characters will crew and operate a ship on a tight budget, hoping to pick up assignments that if completed will enhance their reputation and so lead to better and more profitable assignments.

Since its publication in 2011, Ashen Stars has received only slight support, all of it the form of scenarios, such as Dead Rock Seven and The Justice Trade. Accretion Disk is support of a different kind, a supplement which takes its name from the structure formed by diffuse material in orbital motion around a massive central body, typically a star. In terms of a roleplaying supplement what we have in Accretion Disc is a collection of unrelated material—new character options, new playable species, new ability options, new weapons and equipment, new contracts, new aliens, and more. Accretion Disc is essentially, the Ashen Stars Companion.

The supplement wastes no time in getting down to business. The first fifth of Accretion Disk is devoted to Investigative Abilities—knowledges which get the Lasers clues, and General Abilities—skills and so on which allow the Lasers to act. Every entry for an Investigative Ability includes sample benefits from Spends of an Ability and sample clues and plot hooks, whilst for General Abilities include possible investigative clues and possible ‘Cherries’. So for the Data Retrieval Technical Ability, a Laser’s player might spend a point to protect the team’s own data or disseminate an enemy’s secrets to the general public, whilst sample clues and plot hooks include being able to access the captain’s logs of a crashed spaceship, determine clues from a ransom video in a kidnap case, and so on. 

‘Cherries’ were introduced in Night’s Black Agents [http://rlyehreviews.blogspot.com/2012/11/kiss-kiss-fang-fang.html] specifically to meet its thriller angle. Now, as with Night’s Black Agents, if a Laser in Ashen Stars has a General Ability with a rating of eight or more, he is regarded as being skilled enough to gain a special benefit. So for example, with an Athletics score of eight or more, a Laser have the ‘Hard to Hit’ and so become harder to target in combat, or he might take the Might Cherry for his high Athletics Ability, enabling his player to expend points from his Athletics Ability pool after the roll rather than before. Other Cherries give simple points in other Abilities or a free pool of points to spend on specific things. For example,  ‘Follow the Money’ for the Business Affairs General Ability, grants a free point in the Forensic Accounting Academic Investigative Ability, whilst the ‘Viro Wizardry’ Cherry for the Viro Manipulation General Ability to provide the Lazers with an extra pool of points to spend on the second use of a one-use Viroware. Overall, the section on Abilities—Investigative and General—is useful for both Game Master and player alike, adding further helpful description and utility. In general, the use of the Cherries also make the play of the game more cinematic in flavour and feel. Even further the write-up of the Flattery Interpersonal Investigative Ability is amusingly, exactly what it says it is.

‘Crewing Up’ expands upon the discussion of the Warpside and Groundside mission roles of the Lasers from the Ashen Stars core rulebook. It provides a list of the basic Investigative and General Abilities needed for each role, a discussion of the role, the role’s typical day-to-day routine, suggested equipment loadouts, specialised techniques and jargon, and classic media archetypes. So a Communications Officer or Hailer will be receiving communications, dealing with clients, tracking and analysing signals, hacking, and so on. He might be a polished corporate spokesman, an eccentric hacker/DJ, a military signals expert, harried technician, and more. Again, there is a lot of information here for both Game Master and player, giving the former ideas on how to bring them into play and the latter ideas on how to play each role. 

One of the aspects of Ashen Stars and of Gumshoe System roleplaying games in general is its direct implementation of Drives and Arcs to help involve Lasers in campaigns and plots. In the core rule book for Ashen Stars, they are discussed from the Game Master’s point of view since she is the one who will be implementing them. In Accretion Disk, they are examined from the player’s point of view. There are some general suggestions on how each player might bring them into play and do it judiciously, plus three sample Arc Drives for each. Ashen Stars then adds six new playable species to the Seven Peoples of the Combine, some of whom have held more prominent positions in the past. They include the warty, boney Cloddhuck, who once revered the Durugh as gods and served them as shock troops, but since the Mohilar War have used their combat intuition as mercenaries and criminals, and now, to solve crime! The Haydrossi evolved in the atmosphere of a gas giant and can not only float, but have excellent three dimensional spatial awareness and are driven to seek new places in search of a lost utopia. Unfortunately, they are not covered by the treaties which forbid the Kth-thk from eating certain sentient species. The Icti inhabit and animate the fresh corpses of the recently dead, the higher up the food chain the better, and can access the memories that the corpses had in life as well as preventing their newly inhabited ‘meat-shells’ from truly rotting for years. It is entirely for a Laser to die in game and his player chose to have come back as an Icti! The Ndoaites are even weirder, shell-residing lizards who consume radioactive ores and whose bowel movements are classed as type II biohazards. Consequently, as Lasers they serve Warpside happily, but send drones to represent them when Groundside. They can also generate and emit radiation, often in modulated, targeted bursts. The Racondids are bipedal reptiles overconfidently keen on the Combine and seeking out new challenges with a rapid metabolism which allows them to vomit flammable material! Lastly, the Verpid are a corporate-owned species, genetically engineered to change shape and have fled their masters in an act of self-emancipation.   

All six of the new races are interesting and different, but not necessarily useful or much-needed additions to Ashen Stars. They are again, another option for a campaign. More useful though are the sets of deck plans for the six most commonly used ships used by Laser teams. From the stalwart, reliable Runner to highly defensive, but uncomfortable Porcupine, all of the ins and outs of these vessels are discussed, as their foibles and quirks. If there is an issue here it that the deck plans are presented in greyscale rather than colour, so much of their definition and detail is lost. Accompanying this is a selection of new ‘Ship Bolt-Ons’, complete with Cost and Upkeep values, such as the Cannon-Nanny which prevents shipboard weapons from being used by over-zealous gunners so as to prevent Public Relations disasters or Particle Streamers which stream and excite particles hamper attempts by attackers to lock on and tow the ship. Shuttles receive a similar treatment with several alternatives to the standard shuttle carried by most Laser vessels, including Cargo Shuttles and Racing Shuttles. As does the section on personal technology, which includes a communications device, cybernetic enhancements, medical, forensic, and protective gear, and miscellaneous and investigative tech, viroware, and more. Players will enjoy the Dirty Harry Mod which makes a Disruptor weapon look a whole bigger and thus more intimidating; the Muckraker Suite, semi-intelligent systems and customised software for digging up dirt on a target; and the Wingman Ultra, which enables a Laser to mimic a colleague or friend’s Interpersonal skills, including of course, Flirting.

Rounding out Accretion Disk are over thirty ‘Hot Contracts’, giving the Game Master a wide array of tasks for the players’ team of Lasers to undertake, followed by an expansion to the ‘Entity Database’ with twelve new monsters and creatures. Lastly, the appendices provide rules for ‘Ashen Stars Warp’, a stripped down version of the rules with fewer skills and abilities. This is also intended for convention play where quicker mechanics might be of use.

Physically, Accretion Disk is cleanly laid out, decently edited, and nicely illustrated. It comes with a good index too. The only downside to the supplement is that it is presented in greyscale rather than colour, and some of the artwork—and certainly the deckplans—would have benefited from being in full colour.

Until now, Ashen Stars has not had a supplement to support both its play and its setting. Accretion Disk fulfills that need, with an array of useful and interesting bits and pieces, some of them connected—for example, the deckplans, the ship bolt-ons, and the shuttles—some not. Given the time between the publication of Ashen Stars and the publication of Accretion Disk, this is the supplement that will bring veteran players of the roleplaying back to play with its selection of new options, or support a group coming to the roleplaying game for the first time with advice and expanded explanations. 

Accretion Disk is more than welcome support for Ashen Stars, not necessary to play, but helpful, useful options and advice to expand and support a campaign. The perfect companion to Ashen Stars.

Jonstown Jottings #6: Arrows of War

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.


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What is it?
Arrows of War is a short, two-session scenario set in Dragon Pass during Dark Season easily run as part of the Colymar campaign begun in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – QuickStart Rules and Adventure and then continued in and around Apple Lane as detailed in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack, specifically before the events of the scenario, ‘The Dragon of the Thunder Hills’.

It is a five page, full colour, 2.0 MB PDF.

Arrows of War is well presented and decently written, but needs an edit in places. The internal artwork is okay, but the map is decent.

Where is it set?
Arrows of War by default takes place in Apple Lane in the lands of the Colymar tribe and then near Runegate in Dark Season 1625.

If run as part of the Colymar Campaign, it is best run before The Throat of Winter: Terror in the Depths, before the onset of the worst of Dark Season.

Who do you play?
The scenario does not have any strict requirements in terms of the characters needed, but warriors, entertainers, and priests will all be useful.

What do you need?
Arrows of War can be run using just RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. If the Game Master is running the Colymar campaign in and around, then the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack is recommended.

Although optional, The Armies and Enemies of Dragon Pass will provide more information about the Gloranthan warfare depicted in the scenario, whilst The Eleven Lights will explain the significance of the scenario’s cosmic events.

What do you get?
In the wake of the Dragonrise, King Pharandros of Tarsh reacts to Kallyr Starbrow’s revolt by sending a large Tarshite army to reinforce Lunar rule in Alda-Chur. In response, she petitions the tribes for warriors and the summons are issued across the tribal lands, including to the player characters.

In contrast to the events the characters will have participated in as indicated by ‘Step 2: Family History’ of the Adventurers chapter of the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha core rulebook during character generation, Arrows of War is not a scenario in which they take part in a great event or battle. Although a battle does take place—at Dangerford—the player characters, along with many of their fellow tribesmen, are stationed elsewhere and can only wait and watch in case the Tarshite army and its Lunar allies attack there.

Arrows of War is about the call to war, preparing for it, and its aftermath, rather than the fighting involved. As a scenario, it is not as obviously dramatic as getting involved in a showdown between Sartarite and Lunar forces would be, but there is plenty of scope for drama and roleplaying within the events it describes. In the main, these involve a lot of waiting and marching and waiting, with suggested small events along the way. It is also about military camp life and the anticipation of battle rather than battle itself. Throughout, the scenario suggestions are given as to what skills might be used and why, many of them less commonly used skills.

Although none are detailed in Arrows of War, the scenario represents an opportunity for the Game Master to bring in NPCs for the player characters to interact with, either of his own creation, or drawn from the backgrounds of the player characters created during ‘Step 2: Family History’ of character creation.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. Although Arrows of War places the player characters on the periphery of events in Sartar, it highlights the importance of those events as well as their consequences, as well as providing opportunities for both roleplaying and skill use. It is a another decent scenario to run as part of the Colymar-set campaign from the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack in and around Apple Lane, one that will benefit from the addition of some named NPCs.
No. If you are running a campaign set further away from Colymar, then Arrows of War may not be of use to you. Its events could be adapted to other battles though.
Maybe. Arrows of War can be run using groups from further away, adapted to other battles, or even with some effort, run for a group of Lunar or Lunar Tarshite characters.

Post-Zombie Quick-Start

Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart is a quick-start for a Dystopia Rising: Evolution, a Post Apocalypse roleplaying game from Onyx Path Publishing. It provides everything necessary for a gaming group to give the roleplaying game a try and perhaps even use it as the starter scenario to a campaign set in the dark future of Dystopia Rising: Evolution, including a basic explanation of the rules, a six-scene scenario, and five pre-generated player characters. The setting of Dystopia Rising: Evolution is an America some generations after the outbreak of a zombie virus brought about an apocalypse. In the decades since, the survivors have not only learned to adapt and get by, but mutated into several distinct Lineages. In more recent times, the cities, long fallen and crumbled, have formed the bones upon which new and vibrant settlements have been built, trade and travel have been established once again, and societies have begun to be formed. The setting for the scenario, ‘Trouble on Steel Pier’, is the Big A.C., a place of glitz, glamour, and danger within the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Here are opportunities for trade, for work, for entertainment, but also criminality, murder, and more…

Unlike other Jumpstarts and roleplaying games from Onyx Path Publishing which use the Storyteller system, Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart employs the Storypath system. The latter can be best described as a distillation of the former and certainly anyone familiar with the Storyteller system will find that it has a lot in common with the Storypath system, except that the Storypath system is simpler and streamlined, designed for slightly cinematic, effect driven play. The core mechanic uses dice pools of ten-sided dice, typically formed from the combination of a skill and an attribute, for example Pilot and Dexterity to sail a boat, Survival and Stamina to cross a wilderness, and Persuasion and Manipulation to unobtrusively get someone to do what a character wants. These skill and attribute combinations are designed to be flexible, with a character’s preferred method being described as a character’s Favoured Approach. So a character whose Favoured Approach is Force, would use Close Combat and Might in a melee fight; if Finesse, Close Combat and Dexterity; and if Resilience, then Close Combat and Stamina. 

The aim when rolling, is to score Successes, a Success being a result of eight or more. Rolls of ten are added to the total and a player can roll them again. A player only needs to roll one Success for a character to complete task, but will want to roll more. Not only because Successes can be used to buy off Complications—ranging between one and five—but also because they can be used to buy Stunts which will impose Complications for others, create an Enhancement for another action, or one that it makes it difficult to act against a character. Some Stunts cost nothing, so ‘Inflict Damage’ costs nothing, though may cost more if the enemy is wearing soft armour, a ‘Critical Hit’ costs four Stunts, and so on. Instead of adding to the number of dice rolled, equipment used adds Enhancements or further Successes for a player to expend, but the player needs to roll at least one Success for equipment to be effective.

Under the Storypath system, and thus in Dystopia Rising, failure is never complete. Rather, if a player does not roll any Successes, then he receives a Consolation. This can be a ‘Twist of Fate’, which reveals an alternative approach or new information; a ‘Chance Meeting’ introduces a new helpful NPC; or an ‘’Unlooked-for Advantage’, an Enhancement which can be used in a future challenge. Alternatively, a character gains Momentum which can be expended to gain an Enhancement or to activate a Skill Trick or an Edge.

The rules in Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart cover narrative and dramatic scale, combat—players roll an appropriate Resilience Attribute to generate Successes to be expended on Defensive Stunts, and procedurals such as information gathering, intrigue, influence, and so on. These are all clearly explained and all easy to use in play. In general, the Storypath system, as presented in this Jumpstart is clearly presented and quick to pick up. They feel simpler and faster than the Storyteller system and have a cinematic quality to them, especially with the availability of Stunts and Consolations in the face of failure.

Characters in the Storypath system share much in common with the Storyteller system. They have nine Attributes—Intellect, Cunning, Resolving, Might, Dexterity, Stamina, Presence, Manipulation, and Composure; a range a skills, some with associated Skill Tricks and Specialities; and Edges, Paths, and Aspirations. A Skill Speciality, such as ‘I Can Eat That’ for the Survival skill, adds an Enhancement, whilst a Skill Trick, like ‘Wayfinder’ or ‘Charisma’, require a point of Momentum. Of all of the aspects in Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart, what each Skill Trick actually is the least explained, so a playing group will just have to improvise. Edges are the equivalent of advantages, and for certain characters can be Faith or Psi Edges, whilst a character has three Paths. His Strain Path represents his history and strain of humanity, as well as his Strain condition; his Role Path is his occupation or what he is good at; and his Society Path represents his connection to a group or society. For example, one of the pre-generated characters is has the Strain Path of Retrograde, which means he has rotting skin due to excess radiation and consequently, the Strain Condition of ‘It’s Zed!’, meaning his appearance makes it difficult for others to communicate with him; the Role Path of Gunslinger, good with firearms; and the Society Path of Settlement (Philly del Phia). Aspirations are a character’s goals, and in the scenario are either short or long term.

The five characters included in Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart are a firebrand leader and sniper, a bruiser and paragon of faith, a cannibal tunnel rat and knife fighter, a charismatic scoundrel, and a physically disabled tech wizard and driver. Each is presented in full colour over two pages with the character sheet on one and an illustration and background on the other. The character sheets are easy to read and the background easy to pick up.

The scenario, ‘Trouble on the Steel Pier’, is a Macguffin hunt. The characters in the Big A.C., a glitzy harbour settlement , when they are asked by a contact from a Pure Blood family in Philly del Phia to collect a parcel of medical supplies from an incoming boat, the Harbinger. Unfortunately, as the boat sails into view, it comes under attack by zombies. The characters will have to get out to the Harbinger and save both her and the crew and find the medical supplies. Of course, not all is as it seems, but discovering that will require co-operation and investigation upon the part of the player characters. Each of the five scenes is very clearly organised with explanations of how the characters got there, what they need to accomplish, the opposition they face, and the goal of the scene all laid out for the Storyguide—as the Game Master is known in Dystopia Rising: Evolution. Everything that the Storyguide needs is laid out within each scene, making them easy to run. The scenes are a mix of action, investigation, roleplaying, and subterfuge. The story is linear, but that is not really an issue in a Jumpstart which is intended to introduce both setting and mechanics of Dystopia Rising: Evolution. If there is an issue with ‘Trouble on the Steel Pier’, it is perhaps that the scenario is a bit short and does not end on an exciting note. Nevertheless, there is plenty for the players and their characters to do, the characters themselves being nicely done to encourage roleplaying and show off what they can do.

Physically, Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart is a slim softback, done in full colour with plenty of illustrations depicting the grungy, worn world of a post-apocalyptic future. It could have done with an edit in places and perhaps a better explanation of some of the elements of the characters.

The good thing is that as much as Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart is a standalone, there is nothing to stop the Storyguide running its scenario with the full rules and characters of the players’ own creation. Its setting has a grim and grimy atmosphere, but does not over do either, nor does it overdo its zombies, so this is more than just a zombie roleplaying game. Overall, Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart is a good introduction to the Dystopia Rising: Evolution setting, a Post Apocalypse future still beset by zombies, its stripped down, slimmer mechanics of the Storypath system support its cinematic feel with its Stunts which give the players and their characters more options in play.

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