Category Archives: Reviews & First Looks

Secrets of Blackmoor

Yesterday evening I finally had the chance to watch “Secrets of Blackmoor“, the two-hour documentary film about the influence Dave Arneson and the Twin Cities wargaming community had on Dungeons & Dragons in particular and the roleplaying hobby in general.

Overall I found the film very interesting. It gave an in-depth look on the wargaming scene in the Twin Cities area during the 60s and 70s and you get a pretty good impression on how they played back in the day. Even though the movie sets out to prove that Dave Arneson was the real genius behind the phenomenon that is D&D, it actually paints a much more nuanced picture. What eventually became fantasy roleplaying seems to have many parents including David Wesely and his Braunstein games.

The two-hour film consists mainly of interviews with the “Blackmoor Bunch”, a group of people who played in Dave Arneson’s first fantasy roleplaying campaign. Listening to their stories, them sharing anecdotes, their love for the hobby and the late Dave Arneson, is what makes the movie shine. Regardless of who you consider the true “father of roleplaying”, Secrets of Blackmoor is a movie any roleplaying game fan interested in the roots of the hobby should watch.

Secrets of Blackmoor is available for purchase via Vimeo OnDemand and sets you back about $20. You can learn more about the movie and the story of Dave Arneson’s influence on D&D on the official Secrets of Blackmoor site.

A Quick Glance at The New Cypher System Rulebook

A while back Monte Cook Games released a revised edition of their Cypher System Rulebook. While the system itself is mostly unchanged from the previous book, its better organized and they added some of the changes introduced into the system by the new Numenera core rules and the Expanded Worlds source book. With 450 pages the new Cypher System Rulebook is a veritable tome of a book. So is this new version worth it or should you stick with the original book?

If you are new to the system, you definitely should get the new edition. You get more material out of the box, there is much more advice on how to tailor the system to your setting, and the organization is better.

The last point is a bit contended in the community though. Abilities have now their own chapter where they are listed alphabetically for easy reference. In the previous book the abilities’ descriptions were given where they were first mentioned. With the new organization character creation might need more flipping through the book, but on the other hand looking up abilities during play become easier. I guess you could just print out a copy of the Abilities chapter (if you have the PDF version of the rules) for easy reference during character creation.

The core rulebook now supports nine genres: fantasy, modern, science fiction, horror, romance, superheroes, post-apocalyptic, fairy tale, and historical. The sections on genres are mostly identical to the ones in the old core book or Expanded Worlds, but in some cases they’ve added new foci or descriptors.

Overall there are many small changes and subtle additions to the system, which might help to make it run more smoothly. I also get the impression that they changed a few things to make it easier to run games in less fantastical settings.

The question remains – is it worth it? I already answered the question for people who are new to the Cypher System above, but what about the “veterans”? This is much harder to answer. The differences between the two books are pretty small and if you already own Expanded Worlds there’s even less reason to pick up the new core book. I recommend you check out the printed book in your local brick & mortar store first (note: it hasn’t been released yet), or you can download the preview PDF from DriveThruRPG or the Monte Cook Games online store.

Even though I love the system, I haven’t run it yet (aside from its Numenera incarnation). The new rulebook has rekindled my excitement for all things Cypher and I hope I can finally put it to use in the near future. I’ll keep you posted!

First Look: Simple Fantasy Adventure

Retro-clones are all the rage nowadays but most of the games from that category are based on the grand-daddy of all RPGs: Dungeons & Dragons. Recently a few retro-clones of other games have appeared including Zweihänder which is heavily inspired by the original Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game.

Today I want to write about Simple Fantasy Adventure by my friend Audrey Grace Winter. It’s a modern simulacrum of LOR, Iron Crown Enterprise’s “Lord of the Rings Adventure Game” which was itself a simplified version of MERP (Middle Earth Role Playing) which was based on Rolemaster. Since LOR was heavily steeped in Tolkien’s lore, Audrey decided to take out all the protected IP, and split the character archetypes into race and class which can be freely chosen by the players.

Simple Fantasy Adventure comes in the form of a very beautifully laid out, 18-paged, free PDF. Instead of the game it’s based on, it doesn’t come with its own setting, but is meant both as a modern recreation of this classic ruleset, as well as a simple generic system for use with your own world.

Character creation in SFA is a simple process of picking a race and a class. After that you get to distribute 6 points among your character’s Attribute (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, Speed) and Skill Characteristics (Physical, Subterfuge, Arcana, Melee, Ranged, Defense, and Vitality) within some restrictions. For example you can’t put any points into Vitality and only two among the Attributee.

The available races are humans, elves, halflings and dwarves. Each race gets a bonus and a penalty to differentiate it from the other races. From their descriptions and abilities the races definitely have a Tolkienesque feel which is probably no surprise given the fact that SFA is a clone of LOR.

The available classes are fighters, rogues, rangers and mages. Classes provide bonuses to skills and determine a character’s starting Vitality points. If you have played LOR in the past you may have noticed that SFA deviates from LOR in a couple of aspects, but these changes were mostly made to keep the lawyers at bay. Mechanically SFA and LOR are pretty close, but SFA has definitely a clearer presentation.

SFA’s standard task resolution mechanic is pretty simple. The GM sets a target number (like 4 for routine tasks, 8 for moderate ones, or 18 for truly epic feats), the player rolls 2d6 and adds the relevant characteristic. If the result is equal or higher than the target number, the character succeeds. Simple, but efficient.

SFA’s lineage back to Rolemaster shows in its Combat Chart. When attacking you take the attackers attack skill (Melee or Ranged), roll 2d6 and look up the result on the chart. A number denotes the amount of damage caused by the attack, while C or C+ are critical hits. A critical (C) causes your roll result plus 10 damage, while a “double critical” (C+) causes twice the damage of a regular critical.

SFA includes a small number of magic spells and GMs are encouraged to create their own. Unlike D&D’s Vancian magic, mages in SFA can cast as often as they like, but each spell causes Drain which is damage. So a mage can easily knock themselves out by casting too many spells. The spells included are also not as flashy as in other games (like D&D for example). This fits very well with the feel of the game its based on.

Even though SFA is only 18 pages long, it is a complete game with all rules needed to play, including an extensive bestiary, a handful of pre-generated characters, and a list of common equipment.

The big question remains: is it worth your time? In my opinion it is. It’s a rules-light game, written with new players in mind, and with an undeniable charm. It’s also totally free and released under a Creative Commons license, so you are allowed to create your own material based of SFA as long as you share your work freely under the same license. Regardless whether you’re looking for just a simple game to try out or if you’re actually a fan of the game SFA is based on, I recommend you give it a closer look. You won’t be disappointed!