Sunday, September 21, 2014

Review: The Gaean Reach

Okay, so I haven't posted in a while.  I have been reading through quite a few RPG books I bought recently and am almost done with my cleric kits for the gods and goddesses for my Neo School Hack setting Anubia.  But that's not important right now.

What I really want to talk about today is The Gaean Reach, from Pelgrane Press, written by Robin D. Laws. The book itself is quite small, just 93 pages of text plus a lot of pages at the back with character sheets, etc.  But it is fully self-contained so you can jump in and play for under US$20.  The artwork is black-and-white only but I like that sort of thing and definitely enjoyed the pieces scattered throughout the book.

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, Jack Vance is my absolute favorite author.  This book takes his main science fiction setting and uses it for a futuristic detective series based on the GUMSHOE rules.  I noticed the mention of GUMSHOE in the burb but I was really expecting something like Traveler, just with a different setting and Vancian tone. And it does mention that you can use the rules for different types of campaigns.

The main premise of The Gaean Reach, however, is that the characters have each suffered due to the evil doings of criminal mastermind Quandos Vorn and have banded together to track him down and exact revenge.  They may or may not be members of an official interstellar law-enforcement body.  The campaign is also structured like a television series or  mini-series, with episodes, various plot devices, and a final end.  The game uses the GUMSHOE rules but borrows a little from Pelgrane's Dying Earth rules (gaming in the setting of Vance's Dying Earth novels).  There is a short but very interesting gazetteer section on the Reach with summaries of several planets.  At the back is a nice adventure which could be used to kick-start a campaign. The rules mechanics are very simple, putting the focus on the detective work, exploration, and role-playing over number crunching and "character optimization".

One thing you won't find here is huge lists of equipment.  In fact there are no equipment lists at all.  In this game items of equipment are either taken for granted, rolled for based on circumstances, or appear as required for the plot.  It's another example of skipping crunchy stuff which is really a distraction in order to get on with the adventure.

One thing I wasn't comfortable with  at first was how the GUMSHOE rules make most clue discovery automatic.  If finding clues and information is so easy then where is the challenge?  But I now see that it's a lot better this way than having to scramble to put clues back in the players' path following a blown investigation roll.  You make finding the clues relatively easy, but make analyzing them and following up the challenging part.  And it is possible for players to work to get more information beyond the initial discoveries.

The book includes character generation using pre-set cards or from scratch.  Each player also draws three taglines to use during play which are discarded when used and fresh ones drawn.  The taglines encourage players to use Vancian style dialogue.  Clever and appropriate use of the taglines garners tokens which can be spent during play to avoid death,improve rolls, etc.

Overall I'm very pleased with The Gaean Reach.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

#RPGaDay catch-up 12 thru 23


I've been very busy and distracted recently so I'm way behind on my #RPGaDay entries.


12th - Old RPG You Still Play / Read
Traveler.  I'm not sure why I'm still drawn to it.  The rules are clunky, the technologies unimaginative, and the setting boring.  We didn't even play it all that much.  But it was the first sci-fi RPG I ever bought and I have an odd nostalgia for it.

13th - Most Memorable Character Death
Actually the character death I remember most was due to the DM being a dick.  I went to a gaming club open house at the University of Maryland (probably 20 years ago now) and joined a session of D&D.  The rules were 2nd Edition AD&D, which I was not familiar with.  I think they just handed me a character to jump in but the main group of about eight players at the table with the DM already had full characters in the campaign.  Several of us were sitting in chairs away from the main table and I leaned over to quietly ask a player sitting next to me about some of the 2E stuff on the character sheet, like what the heck is a THAC0?  Well, the party was then walking along a narrow trail on a cliff side over a raging river.  The DM, annoyed that I was not giving my full attention to His Majesty, looked over and said "Your character falls in the river and drowns."  Just like that.  No reason for the fall, no saving or skill roll, nothing.  What a dick.

14th - Best Convention Purchase
My last memorable convention purchase was actually some anime art books by Masamune Shirow at Otakon several years ago.  I love art books but there are not a lot of specifically RPG art books out there.  I enjoy Shirow's work, although I wish he didn't feel compelled to make everything a fan service piece.

15th - Favourite Convention Game
Well, all the convention games I've played (only a few to be honest) were disappointing at best.  The closest thing to a favorite convention type game I played in was not actually an RPG.  Back in the early 90's some local wargamers put on a massive (massive) replay of the Battle of Borodino in 1812.  The scenario actually included armies which were in the campaign but far from the battlefield, just to make it bigger and include more players.  They had three tables which were 60 feet long and 8 feet wide with accurate terrain and tens of thousands of miniatures.  The sheer spectacle of the thing was amazing.  That's a game I'll always remember.

16th - Game You Wish You Owned
Anima, because the artwork is spectacular.  I probably wouldn't even play it, just put it on the coffee table so I can pick it up and browse the art.  I'm also drawn to Tribe 8 by Dream Pod 9 because it is a really cool setting with lots of deep material.

17th - Funniest Game You’ve Played
Basic Action Super Heroes, actually.  It's not specifically meant to be funny but the rules are so simple that you don't feel really attached to the character and thus are free to do wild and wacky stuff.

18th - Favourite Game System
As a GM my favorite to run is actually Big Eyes, Small Mouth.  The simplicity of the mechanics allowed me to pretty much memorize the gameplay rules in a couple readings. (Traveler is similar but has more fiddly bits and for some reason it just seems boring to me.)

19th - Favourite Published Adventure
The Desert of Desolation modules for AD&D, with the Shackled City adventure path (D&D 3E) as runner-up.  I ran the Desert of Desolation modules using Chivalry & Sorcery for my group in college and it was really fun.  I'm running the Shackled City now for my current group.

20th - Will Still Play in 20 Years Time…

At first I thought this would be a tough question, because 20 years is a long time from now.  But looking back 20 years I realize that I'm not playing much now that I wasn't playing then--albeit an earlier edition.  So I'm sure I'll be playing Call of Cthulhu, and possibly Pathfinder if my brain doesn't collapse under the crunch overload.

21st - Favourite Licensed RPG
Hmm, the only (probably) licensed RPG I have is the Dying Earth RPG.  Jack Vance is still my favorite author and I was thrilled to see his Dying Earth books turned into an RPG.  The mechanics are simple and work for the setting.  I have yet to actually get anyone to play it...but maybe someday.

22nd - Best Secondhand RPG Purchase
Ooh, this is a bit of a tough one.  It's a toss-up between the Forgotten Realms campaign setting for D&D 3rd Edition, Abyssals for Exalted, and The Plane Above for D&D 4E.  The Forgotten Realms is a solid high fantasy campaign setting which I would be happy to run or play in.  I also like the artwork, the overall look of the book, and the maps.  I almost didn't buy the Abyssals book.  The original Exalted book was about playing "special but flawed" protagonists mostly facing other "special but flawed" types.  It felt too much like a superhero game.  But the game setting was pretty cool and I finally spotted the Abyssals book at my FLGS (Games & Stuff).  This turned out to be a great book and if I every run Exalted it will be an Abyssal campaign.  The Plane Above was another of my may purchases of setting material.  Campaign settings are brain candy to me and I've been looking for something different.  The Plane Above is all about adventuring on the astral plane and I could definitely run an entire campaign based on this book.

23rd - Coolest Looking RPG Product / Book
The first one which came to mind is The Book of Ebon Bindings for Empire of the Petal Throne.  It's very simple, but looks exactly like the grimoire of evil summoning rituals it's meant to be. A runner-up, mostly for sentimental reasons, is the AD&D Fiend Folio.  A lot of the artwork in the earlier editions of D&D was atrocious.  With the Fiend Folio I immediately loved the Githyanki on the cover.   The interior art was a big step up from everything else I'd bought to that point.  It's the only AD&D book I still own.  It's a keeper.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Journal of Katherine, Entry 55

I am finally relieved of the anxiety I just witnessed.  I can record the events.  Let me start at the beginning of day three in the desert. 

We stop only briefly, for we enter the city before night.  The city seems buried in sand.  Only the tops of buildings show and some are damaged.  We see many animal tracks.  I imagine a pack of wolf-like monsters that would circle us and then wait for a chance and attack the weakest.  That would be Trevor and me.  Courage, we must not give in to fear.  Be strong, but be prudent, too. We notice a damaged dome, where animal tracks do not go.  We make our way there.  The dome seems like an ancient temple.  We find a way inside and down a hole.  Using rope, Brute lowers me and my light brightens this dark chamber.

We see many murals painted on the walls, depicting scenes from nature, implying this city was not always in the desert.  Also to support this, we see what appears as a map, and it definitely shows a river passing through the city.  One recurring image here is that of a spider.  I can guess that this temple was created to honor this spider.

We find a pair of metal doors in this room.  Brute pushes on the door, moving it slowly, causing sand and dust to stir.  We move into the corridor beyond.  It leads to a room with more murals and pillars and three doors, one straight, one to the right, and one to the left.  We open each door, ready for any ambush to charge out.  Behind each door is a room, but each room is different.

From the way we came, the middle door we choose first.  We see an unnatural darkness at the ceiling and grooves in the floor, and a door on the far side.  I pray to the Light, to see if this room has traps.  And there are.  But that does not help much, for we do not have a trapsmith to disarm the traps.

The next door we choose is to the left.  No ambush.  Here, there is a river, but not of water, instead of lava.  The river of lava enters from one side and exist along the other side.  And there are many life-like statues of people, made of stone, in various active poses.  Looking from my viewpoint, I get a strange feeling that these statues were not originally made of stone, but were once flesh and blood, then turned to stone.  There is a door on the far side, but there is no way to cross the lava.  The Light does not reveal any traps in this room.  So, before venturing into this room, we check the last, door, the one to our right.

The room beyond, has five stone statues of grotesque monsters.  And a door on the far wall, beyond.  Trevor and I wait at the entrance, as the others investigate.  Kull touches one of the statues, and it begins to move.  However, no others move.  This is good, for Brute and Kull work together to destroy this stone statue.  Then Ohm Uri joins the attack, by dropping from the ceiling, attacking from the back.  This makes an ordered attack turn into chaos, for another statue moves and attacks Ohm Uri.  Soon, the first statue crumbles to the ground.  But the disorderly movements by Ohm Uri, continually make other statues start moving and attacking.  Brute fails to dodge the claws a few times.  They also thrust with their horns on their heads.  These appear to leave deeper wounds, and Brute is injured many times.

Then the strangest thing happens.  Not sure if this new membership in the temple has altered his mind.  But Trevor rushes into the fight to help the fighters.  He should let the fighting be done by fighters.  This causes another statue to move and attack.  And it moves unchecked directly to Trevor.  He neither is fast nor as armored as the others.  Poor Trevor takes the hit on his back, and hit hard. 

I am distraught; I do not know what to do.  I just drop down on my knees to pray, to pray for help.  I see a bright flash through my closed eyelids.  I open my eyes and I see a heavenly angel.  He puts himself between Trevor and this monster. 

While the angel fights this statue, I move close, and I put my hands over the wound, but there is no blood from his flesh.  I ask the Light to bind his body.  The cut does close, but the wound is strange.  Brute, Kull, and Ohm Uri destroy the last monsters.  I find myself breathing hard and my heart racing.  I want to scold Trevor for his actions, as he could be injured more seriously.  But I am also in disbelief about Trevor.  He does not have blood like the rest of us.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Journal of Katherine, Entry 54

Day two of our sandy travel to the city. 

After I crawl into my blanket, I think of how all of these men have respected my privacy.  Much unlike most other men, Brute and Kull, especially, treat most women like their sisters, taking on a natural role of protector.  Brute already remarked about adopting Cass.  And make it clear to Ohm Uri, and Trevor too, that no one should harm Cass.  Cass is or now was the ruler's oracle, and she is staying with us at the mansion now.  I will tell that story later.  I fall asleep, gazing up at the stars. 

I wake to the sound of Brute's alarm of battle.  It is dark, very dark.  I jump to my feet, and focus the sorcery energy to shield me.  Within seconds, Trevor summons light to his lantern, revealing two giant beetles rushing the two of us.  The beetles are huge, about three feet wide.  I have never seen beetles this size before.  I pray for the Light to help.  A deafening sound hits the two giants and their armored shells crack and break, sending bug parts flying.  That is a close call.  Trevor moves the lamp around to reveal that the rest of the giant beetles were killed by Ohm Uri, Brute and Kull.  After my heart stops pounding fast, I crawl, a second time, into my blanket, to fall back to an eerie sleep.  What else is out there in the dark?

Before the sun rises, we pack and continue.  During our next break, I summon the water like before, only I notice under the water, the light concentrates in one area.  And this area gets hot.  Very hot, maybe, hot enough to burn. 

And today, Trevor does not seem to be effected by the heat, two days where he is fast and energetic.  The rest are sweating, and I am glistening.  It is very uncomfortable.  Brute confronts Trevor about having him use his spell on us to make us feel better, however, Trevor denies he did anything.  I suspect his connection to the mirror portal is somehow protecting him from the heat.

I omitted two earlier events and summarize them now:
Back at the house in Aden, the oracle, Cass, enters the house escorted by Brute and Kull.  She is dressed in Ohm Uri's clothes.  Brute has no end to the images of Ohm Uri walking through town dressed in some fashion of the oracle's attire.  I knew something happened!  Apparently, Ohm Uri had been foraging a feather bed for himself, and either picked the lock of her belt or paid a urchin to do it.  After the night, Cass, fearing for her life, takes Ohm Uri's clothes and gets far away from the ruler.  Then Brute and Kull find her.  Later, Ohm Uri, as guessed by Brute, enters the mansion wearing one of the dresses of Cass, including a veil.  I usually leave these types of stories out, but this time, someone must record this. 

For me, I try one more time with my temple.  I make true to my tithe vow and donate a handsome sum.  After a brief plea, they give me some divine scrolls.  I leave in favorable conditions, this time.

We camp for a second night, with the city of Andough much closer.  The sun sets behind us.  The rest of us are hot, exhausted, wet, dirty.  But not Trevor.  Its almost like he has an unearthly glow about him.  Gazing on his features, renews me of hope and strength.  Could this be the effect of the rune prayer I did before we left?  Could he really be a true believer in the Light?  It's times like this that are so precious.  If we make it back, we can remember ourselves here, and these thoughts.

Monday, August 11, 2014

#RPGaDay, Day 11: Weirdest RPG Owned

Okay, so catching up again and back on track for Day 11.  This is a tough one because I don't go in for weird games. But I do have two candidates vying for the honor of weirdest RPG I own:
  • Ponies for Pathfinder
  • Tribe 8
Ponies for Pathfinder is weird, but in the "Ha, ha, ha, that's awesome, I love it!" sense and it would definitely send many of the most hardcore gamers running for the hills in a panic. 

Tribe 8 is a very weird, very creepy setting which I need to start collecting and reading more fully.  It is it's own thing and very much a niche product.  I love it because it is so different.

#RPGaDay, Day 9: Favorite Tie-in

I think the only novel or game fiction I ever read which was a tie-in to an RPG (where the RPG came first) was the Forgotten Realms novels with the infamous drow ranger Drizzt in them.  They were readable enough but I've read a lot more fiction which later became a game:
  • Elric
  • Dragonlance
  • Call of Cthulhu
  • The Dying Earth
  • The Gaean Reach

(Not surprisingly, the last two are from novels by my favorite author, Jack Vance.)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

#RPGaDay, Day 9: Favorite Dice Set

I'm not "into" dice and don't have any fancy ones.  I suppose the only ones which have any meaning are my very first non-d6, which are a pair of d20s numbered 1-10 for use as percentile dice.  At the time, non-traditional dice (anything besides a d6) were extremely rare.  I bought them for wargaming before I was even aware of RPGs.  They were one white and one red.  I decided that the red would be the 10s and the white one the 1s.  Every since then I've always used a red and a white for percentile rolls.