Tag Archives: review

Finishing A Project, Looking Back

Back in September I wrote a couple of posts about long running reviews. Well it is now 28th of December and I have just finished my series on HARP, High Adventure Role Playing. I started on 10th of September and finished on 28th of December and it took 13 posts.

Obviously HARP is not a new game but Rolemaster Unified [RMU] is and a lot of the ‘new’ features in RMU have come from HARP where they are tried and tested.

I am glad to have completed this project as I had made a point of mentioning that Jeremy Friesen’s read through of Stars Without Number had been the inspiration but had also seemingly stalled. I do not have any of the difficulties Jeremy has had in keeping my Rolemaster blog updated. Even without external pressures I was shocked at how long it took to get this completed. Part of the problem is that people who read the Rolemaster Blog are not necessarily interested in HARP. Rolemaster is seen as the grown up game and HARP is the smaller, lighter version. In reality HARP is a full standalone game in its own right and does a lot of things as well or better than Rolemaster. Doing the read through has taught me a lot that I would not have discovered at a single read through. The difference came, I think, from the readers comments and questions.

If I had written a single article I would never have been able to cover the game in the detail I gave it. I would never have got the level of user engagement and furthermore I got regular HARP players chipping in who had more experience I had.

Having completed the series I agree with Jeremy that a read through is a massive undertaking and a lot of work but it broadened the appeal of my blog to new readers and it proved interesting to the regular readers once they got over the fact that I was not talking about Rolemaster.

Would I do this again? I certainly would. As long as there was a directly relationship to my regular readers. I don’t think I could do that here on Stargazer’s World as it would be a huge imposition to bang on about the same game week after week.

I think the next one I do will be for a completely new game rather than something old and well known.

The Princess Bride RPG

OK, so to be fair I gave The Princess Bride Role Playing Game the fastest of once overs before discarding it. Remember that I am a Rolemaster GM at heart and it was fairly obvious that The Princess Bride was not going to give me bloody disembowelments and detailed character creation. It didn’t look like there was going to be a much necromancy going on either, which is a current ongoing discussion over on my own blog.

On the other hand, if I put my own wants and prejudices to one side I think The Princess Bride deserves a fair review.

The usual caveat is that I have only read the freebie Quick Start Rules and you can download them for free from RPGNow.

So obviously this game is derived from the 1987 movie of the same game and much of the art comes from the movie. I think this is a good thing in multiple ways. I like the movies with tie in games. It helps everybody envision the same settings, key NPCs and even magical effects. If you haven’t seen the movie there is a book of the same name which came first. I confess I have not read either the book nor seen the movie.

So The Princess Bride is FUDGE based, which is a good thing, but also uses a 3d6 to FUDGE Dice conversion so you can play without the dedicated +/- FUDGE dice. I think this is a good touch. For a quick start book especially, taking the weird dice requirement away makes the game much more accessible. I used to play Champions/Hero System a lot and I know that there is a very pleasing feel to 3d6 and the 18 is rare enough to have the special feeling but common enough to happen at least once a session at least.

The writers have gone with just three attributes, twenty six skills, fifteen gifts and ten inconveniences (faults). I like skill driven characters but I cannot help but feel that just three attributes is too few. It is not that I feel that more attributes add more to a game mechanically but in differentiating one PC from the next they can play an important role. It is not possible to play someone who is naive AND observant in The Princess Bride as both a single attribute overs all aspects of intelligences, alertness and perception. On the plus side in describing how the attributes work and their ingame effects are directly related to the movie characters as in “Your character can have a high Body level and simply be very fit, but not necessarily huge: like Westley, for example.

There is a skill in The Princess Bride called Blave. I had to google the word as I didn’t actually know what it meant. I was going to criticise the game for using such an obscure word for such a common skill. It turns out that every single definition of Blave relates directly back to The Princess Bride and quotes the book or movie. So this is a setting related word. If you are interested the Blave skill relates to gambling and bluffing and likewise Jouking relates to dodging.

So here is the first bit that I found truly cringeworthy. The Princess Bride has renamed FUDGE or FATE points to Grandpa, wait! Points. To quote the game “So if the dice just killed your character, there will probably be a moment of silence at the table. At that point, any player can say, “Grandpa, wait!” and push a token toward the GM representing a Grandpa Wait point.” I had to read that bit over just to make sure I had it right.

The Grandpa Wait points are a simple renaming of the standard FATE point mechanic in every other way except the cringy name.

The combat system as presented is very neat and tidy. I don’t really know the world of The Princess Bride but there are absolutely no mentions of non human foes or natural weapons so no guard dogs or other beasties. This is just the quickstart booklet so those rules could easily be in the full rules. I do like the damage track method of recording damage. As a way of recording damage it very neatly allows for escalating severity of wounds. The lightest wound is “It’s just a scratch” but once you have had that three times it automatically escalates to hurt, very hurt and so on. It is possible with a big weapon and a great roll to go from untouched to “incapacitated” which is one of the things I have always liked about my ‘home system’.

Up until this point in the rules everything in the rule book has been adjective based, skills are listed as Great, Good, Fair and Poor etc. When Situational Rolls are introduced these lead with numerical values -4 to +4. So for now it is numbers first. It then tries to massage the adjective labels into this system and it feels really square peg/round whole. I know that Situational Rolls are core FUDGE but in the core rulebook they get just a single paragraph and sits alongside tossing a coin or rolling a single d6 as aids for the GM to get random answers. I found that by leading with the numeric scale when everything else had been adjective based creates the impression that the adjectives don’t really work. The description of the adjective system then looks a bit laboured. If writers had stuck with the adjective system right from the off then this section would have been neater and less clunky.

On a personal note, I don’t think that resolving things by dice roll is to be encouraged. What I mean by that is; if a player asks ‘Are there any innocent bystanders on the street?’ then that is a potentially really important question. The Princess Bride says “You should usually roll them in the open, except in cases where it might reveal more information than the party would logically have.” So instantly the characters know that whether the person is there or not is just chance, but the next time if you say “Yes, there is someone standing on the corner.” They know you didn’t roll for that so it must be important. Logically then you would sometimes create red herrings of false information to stop your players inferring from what you rolled and what wasn’t rolled. So now you are sometimes rolling the dice when you know the answer to fool your players, sometimes you are rolling the dice because you don’t know the answer and sometimes you are not rolling the dice because they may come up with a wrong answer and the players will have seen the result. That last one is something like Player: “What are the chances of there being a horse I can hire?” Dice roll -4, GM: “Yes, there is a really impressive stallion just being walked out of the livery.” Player: “Really?!!” To be fair the rules do work but I personally do not think anyone should be rolling dice in front of the players. It is the GMs role to create a believable world and chucking the dice around does not do that.

The remainder of the The Princess Bride quickstart pdf is the a sample adventure and pregen characters. That I am not going to go into as I don’t want to give anything away but only to say that it remains true to the setting material as far as I can tell and is clearly aimed as a first adventure and new players and GMs.

As a final note I would like to point out that this looks like it is going to be a really popular game with its target audience. The kickstarter has over 1,000 backers and has raised over $78,000. You can be fairly certain that any problems with the game are more likely with me than with the game, if you are part of the target audience. There is just not quite enough disembowelling for my tastes.

Coriolis

I have spent some of my down time over Christmas reading up on Coriolis from free league publishing.

I was super impressed with Mutant:Year Zero with its beautifully simple skill resolution mechanics, the D6, D66 and D666 scalability and even a neat little combat system that was both fast to play yet had the graphic critical damage effects that move combat into the narrative.

If you read my take on Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed and the 2d20 system you will know I was far from taken with the game mechanics of that system.

So what do I think of Coriolis?

My background is very much in Rolemaster, that is what started this little tour of alternative systems. Coriolis feels like Rolemaster in miniature. By that I mean in Rolemaster we are used to a characters defined through their skills the same as Coriolis; Characters can have Talents and Flaws in Rolemaster whereas Coriolis has Talents and Problems; I am used to  a whole rainbow of difficulty factors for skill tests from routine to near impossible; graduated levels of success, in Rolemaster that is typically failure, partial success, success, absolute success, in Coriolis it goes failure, limited success, critical success. The latest Rolemaster rules use a 4 action point system per round and Coriolis uses 3 action points. Throughout the rules I have read so far Coriolis looks and feels like a D6 version of Rolemaster. The clever use of the D66 where needed bridges the gap from the granular D100 to the broad strokes of the d6.

I mentioned Conan earlier for one reason. There was a mechanic in that game that I detested, momentum and consequences, and that rears its ugly head again in Coriolis but this time in the guise of Darkness points.

In Rolemaster circles there is a concept of ‘flurry of blows’. The logic goes like this, a combat round is 10 seconds long and you are more than capable of swinging your sword more than once in 10 seconds. So the attack roll you make is not your only attack that round, it is the attack that was most likely to succeed. In reality you actually made many feints, parries and attacks in that 10 seconds. Flurry of blows is almost universally reviled by the players, partly because melee attacks are flurry of blows but spells are not, one fireball is one fireball, missile attacks are not flurries, an arrow is an arrow or a spear is a spear. The rules are not consistent.

Corriolis is based around flurry of blows and it suffers with the same breakdown in coherency when it comes to throws spears, axes or arrows which are quite clearly discrete. I agree that you do not need to count every bullet, Spacemaster used a count of bullets for guns that had small magazines but just a generic ‘burst’ for semi and automatic weapons. You didn’t need to know how many bullets were in each burst but you could still track when the magazine or bullet belt was empty. Coriolis uses the flurry of blows or burst of bullets concept for all the attacks and for me it breaks the suspension of disbelief. I end up feeling like guns are filled with miniature Schrodinger’s cats and until you check what is in the magazine or pull the trigger your bullets may or may not exist.

I know the argument is that if you have to track bullets then it is just more bookkeeping but the flip of that is that there are opportunities for dramatic tension when a player is down to the last few rounds and the enemy are at the door.

So that is quite enough about the game mechanics…

Coriolis as a game

I firmly believe that the setting is all important in a game. Coriolis uses a wonderful fusion of Sci Fi and the Arabian Nights to create a rather mystical FireFly-like game backdrop. I am a really enthusiastic about this set up. I read the Arabian Nights again earlier this year (2017) so I was already on board from the very first paragraph.

Now, here is an interesting thing. I played in a Spacemaster game last year and having read the adventure The Dark Flowers I am convinced that the adventure I played through was the sample adventure from Coriolis. So technically I have never played Coriolis, and you know I don’t feel that happy reviewing games I have not played, I have played the sample adventure. Now I am looking at it with a GM’s eye I think it is an excellent introduction. It also points to the quality of the Coriolis materials.

Incidentally, I don’t know if this is a coincidence but the ‘feel’ of the page layout and design is very much like Eclipse Phase from Posthuman Studios. It could be that this is just a page layout ‘style’ and the fact that both games are Sci Fi and relatively rules lite in my experience.

So over all I cannot really fault the game design, the quality of the materials, the setting or anything. There is one game mechanic I don’t like, but I would house rule around that if I ran the game. That is personal preference.

Finally…

If you have read my recent mini series on GM Emulators, I find it very interesting how the consequences mechanic from both Coriolis and Conan have so much in common with the plot twist mechanics in the GM Emulators. This may sound like a contradiction that I advocate GM emulators for collaborative play but when the same mechanics turn up in a game I object to it. The difference is that when using a GM Emulator there is no plot before you start play and the entire world is created and unfolds before you as you play. The consequences mechanic in these games on the other hand changes the reality for the characters explicitly based upon a bad roll. It just smacks too much of roll playing and not role playing.

And finally, finally,

Happy New Year!