Category Archives: Reviews & First Looks

Roleplaying music: “Dead Space”

Dead Space Soundtrack CoverDead Space is a SF-horror-themed third person shooter for the PC and several gaming consoles. I had the opportunity to play the game for a couple of hours recently and the first thing I thought was “Wow! This would make a great horror adventure for pen & paper roleplaying!” and shortly after that I decided I had to get the game’s soundtrack for my roleplaying music collection.

The Dead Space soundtrack was composed by Jason Graves and is available via iTunes (I haven’t found it as a CD release yet). The complete album costs 9,99€ and is available as DRM-free iTunes Plus.

The first two pieces “Dead Space Theme” and “Welcome Aboard the U.S.G. Ishimura” start off pretty slow and make use of violins and woodwinds. The music sets a serene but eery and foreboding scene. The third tracks “The Necromorphs Attack” gives you an idea of what to expect with 50% of the soundtrack. “The Necromorphs Attack” makes heavy use of fast percussion and sawing violins.

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Retro review: Traveller

TravellerI have to admit I own a lot of different roleplaying games. Some I haven’t even completely read, some I haven’t even tried out and there are a few that have very fond memories connected to them. One of these games is the original Traveller, that I bought probably around 1990.

My copy is the second printing of the german translation of Traveller that was published under license by Fantasy Productions. When you open the 160 pages paperback book you will immediately notice that this game hails back to 1977. It completely black and white and printed on matte paper. Compared to modern rulesbooks with glossy paper and many full-color illustration this book looks very bland. But it’s probably on par with other rulebooks from that time.

Traveller is a SF roleplaying game and possibly the first SF roleplaying game ever (correct me, when I am wrong). Although Traveller was intended as a generic SF roleplaying system that can be used with a lot of different settings, the rulebook contains the implied setting of the “Third Imperium”. The Third Imperium was heavily inspired by a lot of classic science fiction books like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series or Poul Anderson’s Polesotechnic League (two of my favorites). I am pretty sure you can run a Foundation campaign with Traveller rules without a problem. Just don’t use any aliens and you’re done.

The rulebook starts with the chapter about characters. Character creation in Traveller is very random. You start by determining your Stats (like Strength, Dexterity, Social Status, etc.) by rolling the dice, these stats are then combined into your UPP or Universal Personality Profile. The UPP uses hexadecimal values to give a shorthand for all stats. A possible UPP would be 747B85 for example. After that you roll on several tables to determine with kind of service the character enters, what skills he or she learned, if any special events happened or if he or she was reinlisted for another tour of duty. It is even possible that a character dies during character creation. When a character finally leaves the service he or she is ready for adventure. This character creation method creates some quite interesting characters. You don’t even have to come up with a background story since most important events where already rolled up during character creation. BUT you have almost no way to control what kind of character you roll up. Imagine you want to play a dashing navy officer but you end up with a dead space trader. Bummer!

The next chapter describes combat in Traveller. The combat system is pretty standard, perhaps a bit on the easy side but has some strange damage rules. There are no hit points but weapons damage the three physical attributes Strength, Endurance and Dexterity. If one of these value drop to 0 or below the character dies. For every point in Dexterity you lose, you have to reduce your combat rolls by one for example. The system works but I would have preferred to have some hitpoints or something like that instead. When I remember correctly that was one of the things I changed when I ran Traveller as a GM.

The following chapters give detailed information about space travel, trade, space ships and space ship construction, computer, space combat, worlds, encounters with animals, encounters, experience and many more. This part of the game still can be used today even if you prefer different rule systems. Travellers system for creating star systems helps even the science-illiterate GM to create believeable star systems. In many ways the classic Traveller rulebook reminds me of GURPS Space. And although Traveller was created with the “Third Imperium” setting in mind, you can easily adopt it to other science fiction settings.

The rulebook even includes two adventures, some details on the “Third Imperium” and a complete region of space for you to explore. But it also lacks a lot of stuff that is usually included in modern games. Although alien races are mentioned, you don’t get any details on how to create alien characters. There are no stats for common NPCs, so the GM has to do all the work himself.

If you are interested in running a SF campaign with an “old school” atmosphere, you can easily pick up and play Traveller. If you still can get a copy, that is. But you will probably have to plan in quite a few hours to prepare things. If a game from 1977 is a bit too old school for you, check out one of the newer incarnations of Traveller. But I am sure that there are still some people out there that enjoy a game of classic Traveller once in a while.

Playtest: WoW Miniatures Game

I have to admit I am an avid “World of Warcraft” fan. When the WoW Miniatures Game was announced I was sure I had to get my hands on one of the starter sets to try it out ASAP. Some time ago I finally had the opportunity to try this game out.

The standard starter box consists of four prepainted miniatures, a set of 10-sided dice, six detachable bases, a rulebook, character cards, ability cards and a two-sided paper map. The maps not only contain the play area but also a round timer and a victory point counter. The bases contain two dials used to show the miniatures current hitpoints and its iniative order.

The first thing noticeable when you open the box is that the miniatures are quite large and of better quality than most prepainted collectible miniatures. When you are a long time WoW player you may even identify the armor and weapons on the miniatures. The miniatures in the starter set are non-random. So you always get a draenei paladin, orc warrior, gnome mage and a blood elf priest. Each miniature comes with a character card, detailing its attacks and defenses, and two ability cards that can be used optionally. For our first game we didn’t use these abilities.

The game itself is similar to other skirmish tabletop games (like D&D Miniatures for example). There are two Victory Points on the map. You earn points for defeating enemies and for getting your miniatures to hexes adjacent these victory areas. The side that reaches a certain amount of points wins. Defeated miniatures respawn fully healed at the graveyard aka spawn point.

The interesting part of the game is the way actions and movement are handled. Each round is divided into ten “ticks”. When you make an action you adjust the “tick” dial on your miniatures base accordingly. At the start of the game every one has set his dial to 1. Making a certain attack costs 3 ticks, so you change the dial to 4. When everybody has moved and acted, the round timer is moved to the next tick. Imagine it’s currently the 3rd tick. Then every miniature which has set their dial to “3” may act. Since different actions cost different amounts of time, the iniative sequence is in constant flux.

Combat checks are made with pools of ten-sided dice. The attack of a unit has an attack of 3, the defender has an armor value of 2, so the attacker rolls 3 dice and his opponent two dice. Each die with a result of 4 or greater is an success. The attackers successes minus the defenders successes is the amount of HP lost. Magical attacks make magic damage that is soaked by Resist instead of Armor. A warrior for example may have some heavy armor but may be susceptible to magic damage.

The bases (called UBases) serve their purposes very well. They reminded me a bit of the combat dials from WizKids Games. But since there are only 6 bases in the box, you currently can’t do any larger battles as long as you don’t buy additional starter packs. The booster packs don’t contain any UBases.

Our first playtest lasted a couple of rounds. The games rules are pretty easy to understand (although it took us a while to understand the way “ticks” work) and the combat is fast and fun. We haven’t tried the optional Ability Cards, yet, that add some more tactical variation to the game. The game at this moment still lacks some variation in sceanrios you are able to play. Two maps are a bit few for my taste and some more interesting scenarios wouldn’t hurt. But I am sure Upper Deck has still some aces up its sleeve.

UPDATE: They have already released a free map kit and free tokens at their website, that you can download to spice up your game.