Category Archives: Other Systems

Let's Have A Look At Everywhen

Everywhen by Filigree Forge is a 145-paged genre-agnostic roleplaying game using a modified version of the Barbarians of Lemuria mechanics created by Simon Washbourne. Barbarians of Lemuria is one of my favorite roleplaying games even though I haven’t played it as often as I’d liked. Its rules are simple and it can be easily hacked. So I had some high hopes for Everywhen when it came out. Let’s have a closer look.

The game is available both as a PDF or as a print-on-demand softcover or hardcover book. The interior artwork is in black-and-white only but of a decent quality. From what I’ve seen all the artwork was created by a single artist especially for Everywhen. That’s actually quite rare when it comes to indie RPGs but helps to set a certain style. The layout is a standard two-columned one. Everywhen might not be as fancy as the latest Paizo release, but it’s still a good-looking product, especially in print. I think I should also mention that the PDF version is fully bookmarked and there’s a two-paged index at the back of the book.

The rules of Everywhen are – at their core – rather light and extremely flexible. Unfortunately a lot of the simple mechanics from BoL have become quite bloated during the process of making them genre-agnostic. While Everywhen characters look a lot like in BoL, the devil is in the details.

Characters are described by a set of four attributes (strength, agility, mind, appeal) which are ranked between -1 and 3, four combat abilities (initiative, melee, ranged, defence) and non-combat abilities which are either careers or specializations. In a standard Everywhen game characters start with four points they can distribute on their careers (like noble, merchant, engineer, etc.). These careers are basically a catch-all for all skills and abilities the character may have acquired. In games in which all players share a common career, specializations are used. The example in the book is a game set into the Vietnam war, where everyone plays a US Marine. In this case specializations like marksman, medic, etc. are used. Mechanically both careers and specialization work the same.

The book provides players and GMs with three example career lists. Unfortunately the authors didn’t include lists for more generic settings of various genres, but instead used their upcoming Everywhen settings as examples. Blood Sundown (weird west), Neonpunk Crysis (retro cyberpunk), and Red Venus (communist rocketpunk) sound quite interesting, but not everyone wants to play in those settings. It’s not a big deal, but the decision left me scratching my head.

Aside from attributes, combat and non-combat skills, characters are described by a set of derived values: lifeblood (basically hit points), hero points, arcane points, faith points, psionic points, credit rating, and resolve. Arcane, faith, and psionic points only apply when the setting includes these supernatural abilities, credit rating and resolve are optional.

Hero Points are what players can use to “bend” the rules a bit. You can spend these points to attempt rolls without having an appropriate career, defy death, re-roll dice et cetera. Arcane, faith and psionic points are spent to use Arcane, faith, and psionic powers respectively. Resolve is the mental equivalent to lifeblood, while credit rating is used in settings where you don’t want to track every coin spent.

Last but not least characters get so-called boons and flaws. These traits grant characters additional dice in certain situations, or grant them other advantages or disadvantages. One boon is free, while every additional one has to be paid by taking an additional flaw. The book provides us with a quite expansive list of boons and flaws – no complaints here.

The core mechanic of Everywhen is extremely simple but effective: roll 2d6, add an appropriate attribute and either a career or a combat skill plus any difficulty modifiers. A result of 9 or more is a success. A character’s boons and flaws may add bonus or penalty dice which means you roll with 3d6 and sum up the two highest or two lowest results respectively. Nice! Rolls in which both dice come up as six or one are treated as automatic successes and failures respectively. In certain circumstances automatic successes will be counted as Mighty ones which grant additional advantages to the characters. These may be further leveled up by spending a Hero point. Hero points can be gained back when a player decides to convert failed rolls into Calamitous failures, which add additional disadvantages for a time.

If you need a little bit more granularity to the results, there’s also a simple method to determine the margin of success. Everywhen also contains rules for “Success At A Cost”, group task rolls, opposed rolls, and projects (think of Skill Challenges from D&D 4th Edition).

Personally I think that sometimes less is more, and I think Everywhen would have been better with some of the optional or more complex rules left out. For me this became evident in the combat rules which are way more complex than they needed to be. While melee combat is quite straightforward, especially ranged combat adds a lot of – in my opinion – unnecessary detail. When it comes to distance to the target, Everywhen even distinguishes between Gunpoint (3′ or 1m) and Point Blank (6′ to 2m). Seriously? I also didn’t expect rules for various fire modes, recoil (!!!), bypassing armor, etc. in a game based on Barbarians of Lemuria. Sure, there are people who enjoy this level of detail, but I think the designers somewhat missed the point of Simon Washbourne’s original design. Don’t get me wrong, Everywhen is not a bad game – far from it – but it is definitely way more complex and detailed than the game it is based on.

One of the things Everywhen definitely gets right is that there are rules included for every genre imaginable. You need mechanics for radiation damage for your post-apocalypse game? It’s in the book. Cybernetics? Sure. Arcane Powers? Of course. Vehicle and mass battle rules? Yes!

But there are also a few weird omissions. Rules for adversaries are included, but there are only two (!) example NPCs aside from the ones given in the example settings “True Brit Vampire Slayers” and “Broken Seal of Astarath”. The section on how to create your own settings is also extremely short. Since they also didn’t include a list of truly generic careers, you either have to do the heavy hauling yourself, or rely on the settings Filigree Forge is selling. Hmm.

The example setting “True Brit Vampire Slayers” is a rather quirky urban fantasy. The premise of the setting is that after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. the British monarchy ended and with it the magical defenses tied to the Crown were destroyed. Now the UK are beset by all kinds of supernatural assailants from Vampires to the Unseelie. The setting is not really detailed but there are examples given for fitting careers, NPCs, gear, and optional rules appropriate for the setting.

“Broken Seal of Astarath” is a high-fantasy setting in which all the races of the land must take up arms against a Demonic Horde. Like in the case of “True Brit Vampire Slayers” not much information on the setting is given, but there are various ancestries for the players to choose from (including elves, dwarves, and the like), fitting careers, a short list of NPCs, etc.

The book concludes with a glossary, various useful charts and tables and – as mentioned before – a two-paged index.

When it comes to Everywhen I am truly torn. On the one hand I love the idea of a multi-genre adaption of Barbarians of Lemuria, but on the other hand I think that the game suffers from too much unnecessary complexity. I also get the impression that Filigree Forge sees Everywhen more like a vehicle to sell their own settings instead of a toolbox for GMs. Perhaps I am a bit too harsh. Perhaps I am disappointed that Everywhen is not exactly what I hoped it to be. Even though I had some criticisms, Everywhen is not a bad game. If you don’t mind some tinkering you can easily hack it to fit your needs.

Everywhen is available from DrivethruRPG as a digital download, soft- or hardcover book (POD) and sets you back $10, $23, or $28 respectively.

Star Trek Adventures: Gamma Quadrant – A First look

A while back Modiphius offered me a review copy of their latest Star Trek Adventures sourcebook, Star Trek Adventures: Gamma Quadrant. Since I haven’t touched Star Trek Adventures since I got the core rules when they first came out, I initially didn’t take them up on their offer. This weekend I watched the first episode of the new Star Trek: Picard series on Amazon Prime. With my interest in all things Star Trek renewed I decided to have a look at Modiphius’ new release after all.

Star Trek Adventures: Gamma Quadrant, is – as the name suggests – a sourcebook about the Milky Way’s so-called Gamma Quadrant. The Gamma Quadrant has initially been unreachable by Federation ships because of its distance. Eventually a stable wormhole near Bajor (and Deep Space 9) was discovered which opened up a whole new region of space for exploration. The events leading up to and following this discovery were the subject of one of the most popular Star Trek series: Deep Space Nine.

At this point I have to admit that while I watched some episodes of the series, I never watched it in its entirety. So if I get something wrong regarding the accepted canon, please don’t be too harsh.

Star Trek Adventures: Gamma Quadrant is a 128-paged book or – in case of my review copy – a 128-paged PDF containing all the information you need to run a game set into the Dominion War era. That’s right, you don’t just get information on the mayor players in the Gamma Quadrant, its species, etc. but the sourcebook also moves the games’ default setting’s (which is TNG) timeline up a few years. If you want to run a game in earlier eras this book might not be as useful, but creative GMs might still be able to get their money’s worth out of the book.

The production values are on par with other Modiphius products and with what you’ve come to expect from the Star Trek Adventures line. The LCARS-like look is definitely pretty but is not particularly printer-friendly. Luckily the digital version of the book comes with a printer-friendly version.

The majority of the book is taken up by Chapter Two: The Dominion. The Dominion is the major power of the Gamma Quadrant, a millennia-old nation, controlled by the so-called Founders. Chapter Two of the book describes the Dominion in some detail including but not limited to its history, its political structure, and the major Dominion races like the the Founders, Vorta or Jem’Hadar. There are detailed descriptions of the major Dominion worlds, as well as the Dominion’s allies and enemies.

The biggest section of Chapter Two gives an expansive overview over the Dominion War, from the Cold War before even first contact between the Federation and the Dominion was made, till the end of the war in 2375. The book gives hints on how you can use especially the Cold War era as a setting for your adventures. Especially if you are into cloak-and-dagger stories, this might be an interesting era to play in.

Chapter Three is all about the species of the Gamma Quadrant. Argrathi, Changelings, Dosi, Drai, Karemma, Lurians, Paradans, Rakhari, Skreeaa, Son’a, Tosk, and Wadi are added to the already quite extensive list of playable species in Star Trek Adventures. To my surprise neither the Jem’Hadar nor the Vorta are given that treatment, especially since these species – aside from the Changelings – are the only Gamma Quadrant species I recognize from the few episodes of DS9 I watched. Unfortunately I couldn’t find an explanation why these species were omitted. Perhaps they just weren’t considered fitting for a roleplaying game where you’re supposed to play the “good guys”. On the other hand it’s possible they were already included in one of the earlier sourcebooks.

Chapter Four provides players and GMs with a slew of new starships from both the Dominion and the Alpha/Beta Quadrant species who fought them in the Dominion war.

The book concludes with Chapter Five called “Encounters and Adversaries”. This chapter provides the GM with a lot of hooks for their own games and a slew of non-player characters fitting the kind of game they want to play. Two themes of play are provides here: a game focused on exploration of the Gamma Quadrant and one focused on the Dominion War.

Star Trek Adventures: Gamma Quadrant contains a two-paged index, and the PDF is fully bookmarked.

So, what are my thoughts on this sourcebook? If you are a fan of both DS9 and Modiphius’ Star Trek Adventures, this is a must-have. But if you are more interested in earlier eras of the Star Trek universe you might not get that much out of it. Even then, about 14€ are a fair price for the amount of material players and GMs get with this book. You can get Star Trek Adventures: Gamma Quadrant directly from Modiphius, your FLGS, or digitally from DriveThruRPG. The printed book is about €30, while the PDF sets you back about €14.

Thoughts On Night's Black Agents Solo-Ops

I’ve played countless tabletop roleplaying games over the years, but only a few experiences come close to what Night’s Black Agents Solo-Ops by Pelgrane Press offers. What sets NBA Solo-Ops apart is, that it’s not your regular multiplayer roleplaying game, but it’s meant to be played by one GM and a single player. As I’ve already pointed out in my article about Cthulhu Confidential, another game powered by Gumshoe One-2-One, this is a very intense experience. Please note that this article contains spoilers.

In Night’s Black Agents Solo-Ops you – as a player – take on the role of Leyla Khan, a former MI6 agent who recently managed to escape from the influence of a Romanian vampire – at least if you are playing the official adventures included in the core rulebook. Players and GMs are of course free to create their own characters and come up with their stories.

Last year my friend Ralf ran the first adventure called “Never Say Dead” for me, which started with Leyla waking up in hospital bed with no memory of where or even who she was. During the course of the adventure I traveled to Budapest, uncovered some information about my character’s past, and avoided forces sent both by the vampire who once “owned” her and one of his rivals.

We completed the adventure in a single session and I not only managed to kill my former master, but I also escaped Budapest with a special artifact which supposedly helps against vampiric influence. Yay! Usually I am no huge fan of pregenerated characters but in this case it wasn’t so bad. Aside from some background Leyla is pretty much a blank slate (amnesia helps) and you can mold her into the character you want to play.

During the first adventure I was pretty much on the run all the time. Paranoia was high and most of the time I felt quite helpless, although Leyla is quite a skilled agent. Especially when dealing with mortal foes and regular opposition you feel quite competent, but – oh boy – things change as soon as you have to deal with the supernatural.

The second adventure, which we started playing last Saturday, is called “No Grave For Traitors”. This time Leyla is in Spain following a lead which may eventually lead to uncovering more about the vampire conspiracy. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this time I attended a drug boss’ party, fought members of a Moroccan drug cartel while wearing high heels and a little black dress, continued my research in London where I eventually tried to track down a former Hungarian scholar who was obviously under the influence of another Vampire.

As last time I had a lot of fun. If I hadn’t had a train to catch, I would have loved to continue playing. Playing Leyla Khan slowly becomes second nature and I am curious to see where my investigation leads me. I am a sucker for a good mystery, and the one spun by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is definitely an intriguing one. The game also makes you feel like a competent spy. You can truly be badass in this game, even though obstacles and opponents still feel like a threat. Having such a balanced experience is rare and I applaud the people at Pelgrane Press for pulling this off.

I also love the Gumshoe One-2-One mechanics, which I described in some detail in my Cthulhu Confidential post. The push mechanic is definitely more interesting than the spending mechanic from regular Gumshoe. I am glad Pelgrane Press decided to introduce it into their newer multiplayer games as well. Overall I am extremely happy with my Gumshoe One-2-One experiences. Cthulhu Confidential was great, but IMHO NBA Solo Ops is even better. One reason is that I get slightly tired of the Cthulhu Mythos, but I also just love the technothriller-meets-Vampires setting of Night’s Black Agents. My recommendation: if you have the chance to play Night’s Black Agents Solo Ops, don’t hesitate, but grasp the opportunity. It’s well worth it!