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Critical Role KS Criticism

I have to admit I haven’t really followed the discussions surrounding the Critical Role Kickstarter project. Heck, I haven’t even checked out the project itself until recently. So what is all the fuzz about? Matthew Mercer and his motley crew of voice-acting friends, famous for their D&D actual play series Critical Role, are raising funds for the production of a animated TV series called “The Legend of Vox Machina”. In no time, they reached the set goal of about 666.000€ and at the time of this writing they have raised over 6 million euros. This is HUGE! I don’t think any roleplaying-related fundraiser had ever raised that much money.

Quickly criticism was raised (Check out this article on Kotaku). At first people from the industry were obviously miffed that streamers like Critical Role make more money off of RPGs than the people actually designing those games. In a way I can understand the frustration. Making money in the RPG business is extremely hard. There are only a few designers out there who can live off RPGs alone.

But in that case it’s IMHO an apples versus oranges situation. Critical Role is raising money for an animated TV series. A lot of the people interested in this series might not even be roleplaying game fans themselves. I have watched a couple of episodes of both seasons of Critical Role and I can see the appeal of taking part in their adventures as a spectator. It is possible that some of the backers have never played a roleplaying game in their lives. Perhaps they heard from friends about the show, or they know Vox Machina from their cameos in the Pillars of Eternity 2 video game. Will some of the people backing Critical Role now eventually throw money towards roleplaying game creators? Possible. My point is that the show might have a larger appeal than just people playing D&D 5th Edition or Pathfinder at the moment. In the long run the success of Critical Role will probably lead to more sales in the RPG industry.

The second criticism raised is about diversity. While this particularly group of friends is not entirely male, like way too many roleplaying game groups, the lack of persons of color is noticeable. We all know that representation is important. Critical Role has become a kind of ambassador for the roleplaying hobby, and so it would be great if their cast included persons of color.

But things are not that easy. Before Critical Role was a hit show on Twitch and YouTube, the members of the group were just friends enjoying the game. There have been several guest players on the show and perhaps they might actually add a non-white person to the cast. Since the show evolved from a fun past time to something greater, calling for more diversity and more representation of minorities on the show might not be unreasonable, but it’s not something we can force. Change is slow. But I think we are on the right track.

With their popular and financial success comes a certain responsibility. The future will show if they use their power to do good for the whole community or if they are more interested in increasing revenue for themselves. From what I’ve heard so far, Matt Mercer and crew are good people. They’ll hopefully do the right things. And if not, we – as fans and fellow roleplayers – can nudge them into the right direction again. It’s the same in live as it is in roleplaying games: It’s not only one person’s job to ensure everyone is having a good time. This responsibility falls to all of us.

What are your thoughts on the criticism regarding the Critical Role KS? Please share your thoughts below!

ZWEIHÄNDER

I have spent the past seven weeks reading the Zweihänder core rules cover to cover.At nearly 700 pages this was not a small task. The reason for this was purely for review purposes.

Over on my own blog I have done a chapter by chapter read through as inspired by Jeremy Friesen’s SWN series. I did the series on my blog for two reasons. The first was that there are potentially useful elements in Zwei for Rolemaster fans as both are d100, detailed and gritty games. Zwei by comparison is brand spanking new and shiny but most to of my blog readers are old hand Rolemaster GMs playing a game that is 30 years old or so.

The second reason is all about word count. I think I have written something like 12,000 words about Zweihänder in the past two months. That is fine on my own blog but it is a little presumptuous to monopolise Michael’s blog just to review a single game.

So enough about the how and why, what do I think of Zweihänder?

Mechanically, it is a simple enough game. It is a well written and simple game using a roll under mechanic on a d100. Some of the things that immediately appeals was that there are no levels and no hit points.

What Zweihänder lacks is survivability. It is written in that players are expected to hold a stable of characters and swap in a new PC when the current one dies. This is something that I struggle with. I find it hard to invest in a PC that I know is almost certainly going to die. I know that PCs die all the time but a great many fantasy games include Raise Dead, Resurrection or Life Giving which means that death is not necessarily the end. Of course if death is a real possibility it means that choices have meaning. If death is an almost certainty it goes too far the other way.

That is probably my only gripe.

On the plus side there is a lot of really good stuff here. I personally would have said that the magic system in Zweihänder is one of the three best magic systems I have ever used. The other two are Hero System and 7th Sea. Hero is simply the most flexible system imaginable and 7th Sea is the most integrated into the setting and by extension the most flavourful.

Zweihänder has a very simple critical system, both for critical success and critical failure. This same system runs through skills, combat and magic. The way that critical failures are applied in magic is that the successes and failures are explicitly described in each and every spell. You don’t get any of this bland “You failed so your spell doesn’t work.” Take this spell as an example.

FEAST FOR CROWS
You conjure forth a murder of crows, which harry and harm your
enemies.
Distance: Any one place you can see
Reagents: A crow, sacrificed (expended)
Duration: Instantaneous
Effect: After successfully casting this spell, you can conjure
a flock of murderous crows that swoop about your enemies,
dispersing only after tasting blood. All those who are caught
within the Burst Template suffer 2D10+[WB] in Damage.
Critical Success: As above, but those caught in the Feast for
Crows begin to Bleed.
Critical Failure: You call forth a flock of murderous crows –
armed with iron beaks and dagger-like talons – not from the
Material Realm but from the Abyss! They swoop about you
and you suffer 2D10+[WB] in Damage and begin to Bleed.

You can see from the spell description how those critical successes and failures are unique to each spell and add to the flavour of the spell. That runs right through the magic system. Everything feels really tight, slick and polished.

The next thing that I think is good is the bestiary. This is not the biggest bestiary in the world but the way it is structured and the breadth of the monsters included is more than adequate. They are also all the most iconic of monsters. Zweihänder also uses a system of true names. So where some games may have seperate stats for a Frost Giant, a Jotun and a Nephilim, Zweihänder uses a single base creature but rather than creating numerous variations it integrates the monsters into its folklore skill. So a Frost Giant is a nephilim as is a Jotun as is a Giant. The actual monster stats are kept secret but the characters can learn, through their skills and game experience interact with just the local names and local monsters.

Zweihänder also has a feature and mechanic for corruption. This also integrates with the bestiary with its mutants and corruptions. The lasting impression is that everything in Zweihänder is, just like the magic, tightly, slick and polished.

So my conclusion is that I like Zweihänder. Right now the game is $14.99 on DTRPG but it is about to disappear. Grim & Perilous Studios have signed a publishing deal and will be disappearing from all the OBS websites. You can preorder the printed books through Amazon and apparently Target and Walmart if you are that way inclined but the price is going to be an awful lot more than the PDF pricing.

It seems like the world and his brother already own Zweihänder but if you don’t and you think it could be your thing then I would get it sooner rather than later. If you really want to read about it in depth then you can head over to the RolemasterBlog and search for Zweihänder there and you will find my read through.

Happy New Year–Plans for 2019 and A Look Back

After taking an extensive break over the holidays I am back at work. This is also a good opportunity to give you an update what I have been up to lately. Without further ado, let’s get started…

Forbidden Lands and Shipping Woes
In December Fria Ligan’s latest roleplaying game called Forbidden Lands was finally ready for shipping. It’s a sandbox fantasy roleplaying game which I backed on Kickstarter in 2017. When the game finally was done it was already a bit delayed but that’s something you get used to when you regularly support projects on Kickstarter.

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Sometimes things don’t work as planned. Unfortunately, the shipping of the Forbidden Lands boxed sets quickly turned into a total disaster. Backers started to get grumpy when it turned out that the books and boxed sets were already done, but the distributor had to delay shipping because of another Kickstarter fulfilment. Continue reading Happy New Year–Plans for 2019 and A Look Back