Long Running Reviews

In my last post, here, I discussed serialising reviews. So in a ‘putting your money where your mouth is’ move I tried this for myself. Over on my own blog I have started a series of in depth looks at an existing game. My blog is all about Rolemaster and the new version of Rolemaster is approaching completion under the working title of Rolemaster Unified. Rolemaster Unified is generally referred to as RMU in Rolemaster circles.

The Rolemaster community is somewhat fragmented for a couple of reasons. The original version was MERP which morphed into 1st Edition and that evolved into 2nd Edition, generally referred to RM2. When the original publisher, ICE when bust the reborn company lost the rights to many bits of the game written by freelancers who had not been paid and that sort of messy stuff. So a new version of RM2 was released that was backwardly compatible and this was called Rolemaster Classic.

When RM2 was at its peak it turned into a sprawling system that had grown rather organically and with no clear structure. To resolve that a new version was released called Rolemaster Standard System or RMSS. When ICE got into trouble the rereleased version was called Rolemaster Fantasy Role Playing or RMFRP.

So already you can see there are loads of different names for what are essentially two very similar but parallel versions of Rolemaster.

The latest incarnation of the ICE brand want to only support a single version of Rolemaster. This makes producing supplements and companions easier and brings their market together. This is what the Unified in RMU stands for.

The problem is that the RM2/RMC community want RMU to be more like RM2/RMC and the RMSS/RMFRP community want it to be more like RMSS/RMFRP.

The publishers have also taken the opportunity to make the rules much more streamlined and reduce the number of tables in the game.

Some of these streamlining changes come from another game in the ICE stable is HARP, High Adventure Role Playing. HARP is often referred to a ‘lite’ version of Rolemaster but that does it an injustice.

So although HARP is not new most Rolemaster Players have not played HARP as it could be seen as a retrograde step from Rolemaster to HARP and most HARP players do not play Rolemaster as they can already have all the best elements of Rolemaster build into HARP.

Now though HARP is of interest as some of the best bits of HARP appear to have found their way into RMU.

So that is the rational behind doing a detailed read through of HARP as a series in a blog aimed at Rolemaster readers.

There are a few things I have learned doing this. Firstly, it is really popular. I have written four posts so far and between them they have garnered 33 comments. If we extrapolate that forward the entire project could easily have well over a hundred comments or more. There is no way that a traditional review would get that level of feedback.

Secondly, the original inspiration for this was the TakeOnRules blog review of Stars Without Number but that series seems to have faltered and failed. They were publishing just one chapter a month. I think this is too slow. It didn’t seem to have any real momentum. I have been publishing two a week so far and also mixing in other posts as well. Some people really are not interested in either RMU or HARP so a few other posts help keep them interested. It really doesn’t take that long to read a chapter or two of a rule book. It is not the same as reading a 300 page rule book and then just getting a single 600 word review from it. As we are really looking at the quality of writing, the game mechanics and how these related to Rolemaster and RMU I am reading eight to twenty pages and getting a 1000 word article from it. As a blogger this is much more efficient! That sounds callous but we are people too with jobs and lives beyond the blog. In a typical year I publish half a million words of unique content on the blog. If I had the wit and wherewithal to write a novel I could have shelves full of books by now!

Next, if this process was for a new game then you, the reader, could read as much as you liked around the new game. I reckon a new game review would probably run to something like 10 to 15 articles given the  ratio of reading to articles. Some games have huge lists of skills, spells, monsters or vehicles. We do not need to detail them all but rather just explain how they are handled and the scope of the options available. If I published two or three articles a week then that review would be at the top of the list of latest posts for a month or more. That is great exposure for the game producers.

I cannot see a downside to this and so far my followers seem to be liking the series. So looking at Michael’s last review of Stellar Adventures at the beginning he said “Only on a second look I realized that Stellar Adventures is actually a game based on Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Edition, a roleplaying game inspired by the Fighting Fantasy game books of old.” If you don’t know Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Edition then Michael could just as easily have expanded on what that really means in practical terms. Stellar Adventures is 10 chapters of which the second and third are Hero Creation and Rules of the Game after the obligatory introduction. Seeing detailed reviews of those two chapters as standalone articles I think would be really valuable. On the other hand the chapters on equipment, robots, vehicles and starships could possibly be rolled into a single post. I think the game could have a really in depth review in two weeks, which considering that Michael really rated the game would be great for Stellar Adventures and Arion Games.

I also think, more than ever, that this bridges the gap between the reviewing a game you have only read and having to play every game. So yes the game has only been read but as reviewer you are demonstrating your depth of understanding and with community feedback and questions even more detail can be added if people want to know more.

I defy any publisher or writer to complain about the review being shallow if it runs to 15,000 words or more and two weeks of questions and answers!

First Look: Stellar Adventures

imageI was looking for a simple science fiction roleplaying game on DTRPG when I stumbled upon Stellar Adventures. It especially piqued my interest since one of the authors listed in the credits is none other than Jonathan Hicks aka The Farsight Blogger. Only on a second look I realized that Stellar Adventures is actually a game based on Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Edition, a roleplaying game inspired by the Fighting Fantasy game books of old.

Stellar Adventures itself is a 130-paged PDF containing all the rules you need to run games in basically every scifi setting imaginable. The core rules itself are pretty easy and straightforward. Each time the outcome of an action is uncertain you roll 2d6 and compare the result with your SKILL value. Is it lower or equal than your SKILL, you succeed. Otherwise you fail. Characters can learn special skills, that grant bonuses to their SKILL rolls. There are also talents which grant the characters special abilities beyond mere bonuses.

image

All-in-all characters have four characteristics: SKILL, STAMINA (basically hitpoints), LUCK, PSIONICS or TECH. The latter is only used with robot characters and is a measure of the technology used to construct them. It should be obvious that the mechanics are not as deep as in something like Starfinder, but they are perfectly fine for one-shots, online or convention games, or even short campaigns. What really surprised me, is that Stellar Adventures contains basically everything you might need in a SF game: there’s an extensive equipment list, rules for robots, starships, sector and planet creation, rules for designing your own aliens, mutations, cyberware, and much more. It’s not only a simple SF game but actually a complete toolbox. If you wanted to run a game inspired by Star Trek or Traveller, you should have no problems at all. Heck, the warp drive described in the rules is basically the Traveller Jump Drive with serial numbers filed off.

The layout and artwork of Stellar Adventures is definitely old-school. It looks like something from the early 80s, but luckily it’s better organized and better written than a lot of the games from that era.

So should you get a copy of Stellar Adventures? I’d say yes! Aside from its old-fashioned looks it’s a small gem. The simple rules are perfectly suited for online and convention games and on 130 pages you get a toolbox full of material! If you also own the Advanced Fighting Fantasy rules, you can even combine the two since the mechanics are fully compatible.

Stellar Adventures is digitally available from DriveThruRPG and sets you back $14 or your local equivalent. Print copies are also available from local and online stores.

Is reading enough to review?

Michael recently republished his post on review writing. I have come to review writing rather recently, particularly compared to the experienced hands of Michael and Sunglar.

I thought I would share a few thoughts.

Stars Without Number is a game that I know has had very good reviews. I haven’t played it and I haven’t read it. I am not about to review it.

So traditional thinking falls into two camps. Either you read the rules and then try and convey the feel of those rules, probably by comparing it to other popular games and also comment on the quality of the material and art in the final package.

The other camp has you play the game and then describe how the game played.

Part of the problem with the former approach is that a game may look like an ugly duckling but turn out to be a swan or its production values may be terrible but at the table a great game comes out. I am part of an facebook group of RPG writers and many refuse to use page layout tools or art as these increase costs and slow down production times. There is little or no money in RPGs now for indie developers. If GMs expect games to me almost free then you will get what you pay for.

The later approach or actually playing a game is fraught with difficulty. My all time favourite game is Rolemaster and although it is a dangerous combat sort of game combat is the real problem with the system, in my opinion. The game system breaks down when PCs get to about 20th level. Many fantasy games have the stereotype of magic users are really weak at first level but become really powerful at high level. Rolemaster has this model but the ‘really powerful’ end turns out to be ‘really, really powerful so that the GM cannot easily challenge you any more.” So given that ‘design flaw’ can you ever expect a reviewer to  play a game so that his players reach 20th level before he has sufficient material to write an informed review? I think that is a little excessive?

Going back to Star Without Number there was an interesting solution to this balancing act on the TakeOnRules blog (https://takeonrules.com/2018/07/07/lets-read-stars-without-number/) So rather than reading the rulebook and posting a 1000 word review Jeremy Friesen has done a chapter by chapter dissection of the rules. So far he has published eight posts, each dealing with a chapter of the rules. We are looking at something like 8000 words published so far with plenty of examples of how the mechanics work. If the game isn’t for you then you would realise that after a post or two. If it sounds fascinating then you can keep on reading if you haven’t grabbed your own copy already.

I think this works. The game lost me when it was described as build from a foundation of Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons. I have that up decades ago and do not feel the urge to go back there.

Since I have been looking at a wider range of games I have invested hundreds of hours just reading games. Most have never formed the basis of a review. I think it is a case of “If you cannot think of anything good to say then say nothing at all.” Many game have some really merit even if they are not for me. I suspect that SWN is one of those games.

Some games I have read cried out to be played but my players do not feel the same. These I tend to resort to solo rules for. This is a far from perfect solution from a reviewing perspective but at least I can honestly say I have played the game. Reading The Princess Bride left me feeling vaguely dirty and needing a shower. Playing it to test its mechanics revealed its implementation of FUDGE to be very well done. What turned me off was the setting not the game rules. Once I separated these the nature of the game was completely changed. If you like the background to The Princess Bride then the setting would not have turned you off.

So whereas I agree with Michael that there is no perfect way to review a game and reading the rules is not the same as playing and sometimes reading is the only option I would contest that actually there can be other, quite creative, solutions to the whole RPG game reviewing problem.

A Roleplaying Games blog

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