October 15, 2013

[Review] Fate Core System

This is the review of the Fate Core System by Evil Hat Games. The book is available both in PDF (in the Pay-what-you-like formula) and physical copy (25$ + shipping) on the official website.

THE GAME
The Fate Core is a rule system mixing some traditional RPG's stuff with a lot more innovative things, with standard GM/players roles in a Customizable setting. 

PLAY RULES
The Fate Core is a task resolution system where you add Skill to the result of 4 fudge dice. The game is also based on the economy of Fate  oints. You can spend Fate Points to invoke an Aspect (a descriptive attribute of your character, of the scene, of the campaign, etc...) gaining a numerical advantage and you can gain Fate  oints making someone invoke one of your Aspects, causing you troubles. Everything can have permanent or temporary aspects and you can (and will) create a lot of them. Combat is based on one or more stress tracks and consequences (like "Breathless" or "Broken arm") If you deplete one of your stress tracks, you are taken out. You can also concede a fight before being taken out, accepting the loss but mitigating the negative effects. 

Elegant, easy, fun. You don't need more from an RPG mechanics.

CHARACTER GENERATION RULES
The Character generation process is a cooperative process. You define your concept with an aspect (like "troubled gunslinger" or "lost prince of Atlantis"), your trouble ("Easy to trust" or "Addicted gambler") and three more aspects, normally related you your past AND the setting AND the other players. Then you choose your skills. then you make up your stunts, neat tricks make you unique, but beware that more stunts mean less Fate Points at the start of the session.
You can also go with the fast rules, naming your concept, your trouble and your peak skill and figuring all the others info during play.
With a similar process you create all together the setting and the main NPCs.

WOW! Making characters is really fun, shapes the world around you and gives to the GM a ton of stuff to build upon.

SETTING
In FATE Core there is no base setting.
You and your friends will make up the setting at the start of the first session or at least the relevant parts. It's an easy process that will use something like one hour in the worst cases. The settings is defined by aspects. The NPCs are defined by aspects. 

It's really strange for me to like this much something without a clear setting, but the rules to define this during the first session are brilliant and, thanks to God, way easier than in the Dresden Files RPG.

GM CHAPTERS/YOUR FIRST ADVENTURE
GM are guided step by step into the Fate experience with a lot of how, a lot of because and a gazillion examples. The GM part covers almost everything you need to know from NPCs to adventures, from settings to special rules, from procedures to rules to customize your game.
There is no adventure but it's for a good cause: the book will explain to you how to write in a whim an adventure (or the start of an adventure) based on your players and only on them. 

This is simply one of the best rulebook I've ever read. Everything is super clear and there are lots of examples. The mechanics are really easy to grasp and everything, EVERYTHING, in coherent. The GM part is well written, really helpful and a pleasure to read.

THE BOOK
I got the PDF from the kickstarter campaign so I can't talk about the book quality, but I can tell you that the artwork goes from decent to good but is never extraordinary.

THE JUDGEMENT (obviously an opinion)
I've read this book twice and this is one of the games I just WANT to play. Really, go searching for an available GM to play with. Let me give you an advice though: if you are not an indie/new wave player play this game with an experienced GM the first time, not because this is somehow difficult, but because your worst nightmare is to fall into the old traditional habits. it's ten times more fun if you let go and enjoy the Fate Core for what it is: an indie game disguised.

November 5, 2012

[Review] 6d6 Core + Outbreak!


This is the joined review of the 6d6 Core and of the adventure Outbreak! by Chris Tregenza. I review them as a single product because I brought them together in a bundle and Outbreak! is the introductory adventure normally you will use to learn the system. Also because I love zombies.
Right now there's a kickstarter to help Chris and 6d6 fireball to release the second edition of the 6d6 Core and a lot of stuff in the upcoming year(s).
You can find the kickstarter here.

THE GAME
The 6d6 Core is a traditional RPG with somewhat GM/players roles with no setting (like, for instance, GURPS) that you can use to run adventures in any settings you can imagine. Western? Check. Horror? Check. Sci-fi? Check.
Outbreak! is an horror adventure in a zombie apocalypse world, for 3 to 6 players + one GM.

THE SYSTEM
The 6d6 Core bases his system on cards that replace the traditional character sheet. Every player uses a deck of cards to know what his character can do and how well. The system is a task resolution system and every time you do something you activate every card you can and want and roll the sum of dice listed on them against a target number or another roll in case of an opposed action. Every card you use can have a value between 1d6 and 1d6+6.
Availability of cards is regulated by two factors: Potential and Flow.
In this system you can't use all your advantages and powers in a single action but you must use just what you put your mind on in a given moment; potential is the number of cards you can have ready all at once (normally 4). Flow is the ability to refresh or replenish cards in your potential pool (normally 2/round). If you do the math if you go all out with cards in a given round, the next your potential will be very limited, simulating the need to get your shit together sometimes. Combat, with the same principles, becomes really interesting as a resource balance exercise, because if you spend lot of cards on defending, you will have less cards to attack with (or to defend with).
There are exceptions to this basic, like cards who doesn't get spent using them or cards who don't use flow to be readied again, but basically it works like that.
Cards will determine also how much you can withstand pain: if you get hurt you discard Life Cards; the more you have, the harder to kill you are.
Given that combining cards is a creative process and there is no right way (or wrong way) to do it, the authority to decide if something is possible or not is handled in a somewhat peculiar way: the GM (here called Game Leader) is not the unquestionable judge of the game. The group, including the GM, is supposed to decide if something is viable in a particular situation. The GM is there just to avoid the game stalling for too long.

In the system lies the best and the worst of this game. For players everything is easy and immediate: the game borrows mechanics from card games and makes them plausible for an RPG. Explain this game to a new player is fast and easy and that's the gold at the bottom of the barrel. On the surface (of said barrel) GM is prospected with a ton of work for every session he wants to run. Cards must be made, monsters must be assembled, plots must be written, maps must be drawn. If this isn't enough, you must be prepared to have serious physical space issues, considering every monster will require part of your playing area to be laid down. Cards, remember?

CHARACTER GENERATION RULES
To generate a character the GL puts on the table the cards available for the setting and you get some points that you can spend on buying cards. Each card can be brought at different levels, form a value of 1d6 to a value of 1d6+6. You can buy a lot of weak cards or just a bunch of really strong ones, choosing how much you want to sacrifice versatility to specialisation.

The 6d6 Core is a game that gives his best with players: create characters is easy and fun and make you do the minimal math possible. I like that in this game.

SETTING
As said before, the 6d6 Core is an engine you can use to play in any setting you want, so there is no setting at all in the book.
Outbreak! is a modern zombie story, so the setting is implicit (cars, cellphones, shotguns, no spaceships and so on)

GM CHAPTERS
The GM chapters are focused on the creation card process, given that for every setting you must provide the cards available, but even on that aspect the help isn't much.

I can't stop stressing game publishers that we need help running your games if you don't want we run them like D&D. This is really a big issue in this book, given that all the shared authority thing is just sketched and feels like something added later in the game.

YOUR FIRST ADVENTURE
Outbreak! is an adventure where you try to survive from zombies and reach safety before it's too late. Like any good horror story you run from zombies in the beginning, you get to a safe heaven, you discover the safe heaven isn't safe and isn't heaven, you run some more with the time running out, you have a big final fight while trying to escape. PCs are fixed and distributed at the beginning of the session. That's all.

Outbreak! is the main reason I buyed this game and was a major disappointment. Simply it feels like something written in '95, with players struggling to figure out what's the "right ting to do" for the GM. There is no sign of the shared authority promised in the core book.

THE JUDGEMENT (obviously an opinion)
I'll cut the chase: in my opinion the 6d6 system is a quick and fun game made for demos and conventions that requires an hard working GM. Outbreak! is just a bad adventure, made to show how the system works.Don't get me wrong, I like the immediateness of the system for players, the nice idea that you can focus just on some of the things you know how to do in a single round. I even like the covers of the books (mixed opinions about them on the Internet). If this is'n enough, with the Living Document Promise, you get all the updates of what you buy for free, forever. And this includes any future edition, no matter what radical the changes will be. That should be a standard! On the other side the you-must-do-the-right-thing-to-go-on approach of the Outbreak! adventure is killing me and the amount of work you need to create cards for everything is overwhelming. It's a game probably I will not refuse to play, but never volunteer to GM.

October 29, 2012

[Review] Über RPG: Steampunk

This is the review of the Über RPG: Steampunk by Über Goober Games. The book is available both in PDF (15$) and physical copy (25$ + shipping) on the official website.

THE GAME
Über RPG: Steampunk is a traditional RPG with standard GM/players roles in a Customizable Steampunk setting. Über RPG: Steampunk includes also the rules to make this game a LARP.

PLAY RULES
The core is a task resolution system where you add Attribute + Skill and roll the result in d6. A 5 counts as a success, a 6 as two and a 1 as a failure. This number can be compared to another roll in opposed actions or to a target number. The difference between the two numbers will be used to determine a degree of success (or of failure). Combat works mostly like that too, always opposing an attack roll to a defense roll. Characters have no hit points, they are just fully functional, stunned, dazed, wounded, incapacitated or dead. There is also a mechanic that grants PCs a hero point at the beginning of each session that can be spent to increase or decrease by one success a roll or to lower the damage sustained by one step.
All these rules are summarized in a three pages chapter at the beginning of the book.

I like the fact rules are summarized in just three pages. I don't like most of the rest of the system. The combat is shifting between freeform and sqared grid and I like my games make cloar choices.

CHARACTER GENERATION RULES
The Character generation process is a point based one. You get 20 points for skills and feats, 20 for attributes and some more bonus. You can get one or more packages that spend you points in a fixed way (Automatron, Scientific Subject, Rogue, Drifter, Detective and so on). Skill and attribute costs are non-linear so you have to refer to a small table to to your shopping. Skills, flaws, feats, attributes and powers are A LOT. Just the skills are 70! The process is easy but GM dependant. Everything must be approved before being purchased.

Packages are a good idea, making character creation quicker and this game needs a quicker character creation process.

SETTING
In Über RPG: Steampunk there is no fixed setting, at all. The book starts with a small guide to the steampunk genre, that makes you customize the world you are playing in. Is it fantasy? How works the steam engines? Is time travel possible? And so on. Steampunk is a vast and pretty much undefined genre and this book acknowledges this unspecifity and try to help you define your world. Sure there are lots of sample stuff (cities, characters, etc...) but you have to to 99% of the work on your own.

I'm torn between liking the steampunk setting configuration and disliking the total absence of a setting.

GM CHAPTERS/YOUR FIRST ADVENTURE
There are no such things. 

This is the biggest issue with this game: there is no help at all in running it. If you know how to play, you can play it, if you have never played an RPG, this is not your game. In addition, the lack of GM guidelines will mean that if you have previous experience with another game, you will play this game exactly like you played the other one. This is a recipe for disaster, in my book.

THE BOOK
The book is a softcover, black and white, 160 pages long tome with illustrations of varying quality and some steampunk themed photos. Nothing exceptional, but acceptable.

THE JUDGEMENT (obviously an opinion)
I'm not happy to say this is an uninspired game. Often, when you pick up a game, even a bad one, you can still figure out why someone wanted to write that specific game. In this case the game is not bad, but is clearly (for me) lacking of a soul. The system is simple and yet not elegant at all. There is something I like here and there like the setting customization chapter or the packages in character creation, but this is not a game I'm eager to play

September 29, 2012

[Adventure] Dog eats dog - Monster of the week

This is the second mystery I wrote for Monster of the Week. I used it for a demo that turned out to be a campaign (yay!) Hope you enjoy it. BTW, comments are welcome!

Dog eats Dog - A Monster of the Week Mystery



Concept
In Fredricksburg, Texas a chupacabra, used to feed on livestock, is forced to change his habits. He’s getting sick feeding on cows pumped with steroids by a ruthless vetherinarian. 

Hook
Michelle Hedges (20) was attacked while walking home, by night. Someone pushed her to the ground, bite her and paralysed her. She thinks that was a vampire attack.

Threats: Monster

Name: El Chupacabra
Type: MONSTER/Devourer
Motivation: to consume people
Powers: Really fast, Super Stealthy, Paralyzing Bite
Weaknesses: Steroids, Sunlight
Attacks: Bite 3-harm, intimate, quick
Armour: 1-harm
Harm Capacity: 8

When you get bit by the Chupacabra roll +cool.
On 10+ you can go on normally.
On 7-9 you choose one:

drop something from your hand 
get -1 ongoing for the rest of the scene
On a miss, you are paralyzed for the rest of the scene.

When you try to free yourself from the paralysis roll +tough
On 10+ you are free.
On a 7-9 you can either
speak
move the legs
move the arms
On a miss you are still paralyzed. Sorry.

Bystanders

Name: Timothy “Timmy” Dalton (9). He feeds his “new dog” every night. If he’s not rescued, will be killed by the same dog.
Type: BYSTANDER/Victim
Motivation: to put themselves in danger
Notes:

Name: Michelle Hedges. (20) Blonde, flirty, waitress, very cute, dumb as fuck. She belives in supernatural. Blames vapires for the attack(s) with an “I’ve told you so” attitude.
Type: BYSTANDER/Witness
Motivation: to pass on rumours
Notes:

Name: Robert “Bobby” Dalton (39) Father of Timmy, brown hair, head of the local community. He’s helpful. Can show the PC around if thinks this can be useful
Type: BYSTANDER/Skeptic
Motivation: to deny supernatural explanations
Notes:

Name: Fred Dalton. (19) Michelle’s boyfriend, he’s not friendly with the hunters. Maybe with some friend can try to push them out of the city.
Type: BYSTANDER/Busybody
Motivation: to interfere in other people's plans
Notes:

Name: Dwayne Boyd (45) is the veterinarian who’s pumping the livestocks. He started to increase meat production to compensate the misterious deaths. Now he’s getting greedy.
Type: BYSTANDER/Witness
Motivation: to reveal information
Notes:

Locations

Name: The hole in the rock
Type: LOCATION/Den
Motivation: to harbor monsters
Notes:

Name: Michelle’s House. Little house. She lives alone. Here, if a PC befriend too much Michelle, you can have the showdown with Fred.
Type: LOCATION/Crossroads
Motivation:to bring people, and things, together
Notes:


Mistery Countdown

Day. Bobby sees something going around the house, at night.
Shadows.  Michelle get killed
Dusk. Fred blames the PC.
Sunset. Timmy disappears, being caught by the Chupacabra.
Nightfall. The chupacabra kills another victim. Maybe Fred
Midnight. The Chupacabra eats Timmy

September 27, 2012

[Review] Monster of the Week


This is the review of Monster of the Week from Generic Games. Monster of the Week is another successfully crowdfunded project that came to life a few months ago. the author, Michael Sands, asked for $750 and got $4,665, even if some of the themes of the game are overlapping Monsterhearts and both these games are "powered by the apocalypse" (meaning using the same engine of Vincent Baker's Apocalypse World)


THE GAME
Monster of the week is a modern game (opposed to traditional games like D&D) with GM/players roles in a urban fantasy setting. The main goal of the game is to stage the adventures of a group of monster hunters (Supernatural, Buffy the vampire slayer, etc...) with the classical TV structure: investigate a mystery, recognise the monster, find his weaknesses and kill him. Monster of the week is a game with a minimal preparation by the GM (here called Keeper) and the storytelling responsibility partially shared with the players. Monster of the week is not a game for long campaigns. a normal campaign will last for 5-10 game sessions before reaching his natural ending.

I was waiting a game like this for a long time. Buffy and Supernatural are great and this game is great in building both these kind of fictions. Kill monsters, have fun, be a hero! Gosh, it's liberating. Beware that this game is not all heroic stunts; suffering and feeling miserable are also a part of an hero's journey.

PLAY RULES
The core system is a conflict resolution system (opposed to task resolution systems, as explained here) based on a 2d6+stat roll. With 10+ you got a complete success, with 7-9 a partial one, with 6 or less a failure. With failures the Keeper can do "hard moves", meaning he can act upon the fiction, making the story go forward. Basically, if you fail a roll, something bad is going to happen. More the rolls, more the risks. You have Luck points that offer you to cancel a wound just suffered or be successful in a roll BUT Luck point doesn't regenerate and when you have no more of them you are just out of luck. It's a simple mechanic that offers you a nice way to manage when you reach the endgame (both as an individual and as a group).

Monster of the week is powered by the Apocalypse (eg. is a Vincent Baker's Apocalypse World hack). If you have already played Apocalypse World this is enough to know rules are easy, fun and stable. Michael Sands has done a great job in twisting them to adhere to the fiction of reference. Rules are easy for a complete novice, everyone will learn everything is needed in the first session and no prior RPG experience is needed.

CHARACTER GENERATION RULES

Like in Vincent Baker's Apocalypse World or in Joe Macdaldno's Monsterhearts to create a character with Monster of the week you have too choose one from many booklets (called skins). Every booklet is a conventional type of character, with fixed features and customizable ones. In Monster of the week you can be The Chosen, The Expert, The Flake, The Initiate, The Monstrous, The Mundane, The Professional, The Spooky, The Wronged. Please notice that you are non A Professional, but THE Professional. Every skin is traceable to some iconic monster slayer of the fiction (the wronged screams Dean Winchester and the mundane is perfect to create a Xander Harris-like character). The character creation process must be done together with all the group that will be playing, both because there is a mechanic to set what's happened between the characters before the start of the game end because it's part of the fun and helps a lot in making the game start with a bang. The whole process takes one full hour, then you can jump into play. 


Character generation is one of the most amazing things of this game. Before playing you could argue that the options are pretty fixed. After the first game you'll have learned that this allows you to create a coherent and credible monster hunter that will sprung to life in no time. Characters are, by system, deeply intertwined and this makes possible to start right after the character generation process with an interesting session. 

SETTING
The premise of the game is "a contemporary group of monster slayers". Said so, everything is decided at the table, during the game. There are no setting chapters, premade monsters, notorious NPC or a chronology of the world. It's our world, our time, right here, right now. If you need a map, there's Google Maps.

GM CHAPTERS
More then  half of this book is devoted to Keeper's sections, from how to guide your friends into character creation, to how to run your first game, from what to do when you want to create story arcs. Monster of the Week is a game meant to be played as is written (opposed to games you are meant to play as you are used to, like D&D). A Keeper must read his section and follow literally the principles he's instructed to follow. A Keeper is not an all-powerful entity and must follow rules exactly as players must. Everything you need to run a Monster of the Week campaign is covered in this book. 

I know, if you are not used to indie/new-wave/whatever-you-wanna-call-them games it's frightening a disempowerment of the GM role. Just trust this book. It's for your own sake.

YOUR FIRST ADVENTURE
There is an introductory adventure, but is there just to show the keeper how to write his own introductory adventure. The process is explained beautifully with nice and clear examples and takes something like 30 minutes to create every adventure (for real!) unless you are a coherence addict like me that needs to study a lot before starting to write. If you are like me plan 1 hour for every full adventure.

Normally I'm strongly against games that doesn't provide an introductory adventure. In this case the adventure provided is clearly just an example and the right choice is to write your first adventure by yourself. I've given that approach a try, considering the process looked easy enough. That was a complete success. Give this approach a try, I don't have regrets doing it.

THE JUDGEMENT (obviously an opinion)
This game is addictive, trust my word. I've run a demo as Keeper for my regular D&D group and they loved it, now in less than a month I've run 5 demos, two of them turned into full campaigns. Being a Keeper is easy, being a player is fun. What do you want more? Trust me and buy it, you will be pleased.