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Monday, July 29, 2013

Weird West Basic Roleplaying Game by Stuart Roberstson

At 8 pages and $1.00 for the PDF, Stuart Roberston's Weird West Roplepalying Game Basic Rulebook doesn't get more spartan, or cheap. But for some reason the price and style seems right.

Starting off the cover is cool, but is does mirror the art for A Fistful of Dollars which at the same time I appreciate being a fan of the trilogy. The whole PDF is in black and white and for some reason this works fine I think to give it a stark feel. The font used for the title Weird West is just right and of course the tentacle in the title of the game is cool however. It does have a watermark on it for your purchase. I would hope however that people don't feel the need to pirate a $1.00 PDF...

If you are looking for a ultra-light rule-set for your weird west games this is it.  I can't say that enough, it takes rules light to a whole new meaning.... A PDF with 8 pages, one of them being the cover and one the opposed fighting chart in the back so game in 6 pages, that has to be some sort of record. With all this said, for an experienced role-player the rule set is probably right up their alley. Certainly with years of judging a game a GM can easily wing those areas needed. A beginner woudl be lost in this as its not developed enough for beginners.

Characters four attributes and a path to guide one's character; it can probably fit on a 3x5 index card. The game is d20 based and utilizes the d4, d6 and d12. Levels and hit points make an appearance in the form of Stamina Points.

For one's character magic and weird west abilities are all lumped together, which in the interest of spartan rules and space probably makes the most sense.  There are spells like Electromancy and then skills which are treated as magic like Fastest Gun in the West. Later still is Shaolin Monk (which to me should be a skill, but its not my game). The playerr has 4 points to split amongst the attributes (Fighting, Grit, Magic and Skill), but must place at least one into Grit. Leveling is fairly simple the group deciding when to do so (usually between game sessions).

Initiative is handled with a simple mechanic: higher level characters go first. Combat is fairly straight forward using the familiar mechanic of rounds and an opposed role vs the defense. Modifiers are simple to understand with firearms ignoring armor, which is bit puzzling that armor is needed in a western... The Man with No Name in A Fistful of Dollars notwithstanding. Weapons are broken down by dice and with rifles doing the most damage at d10, the ever truty pistol  d8; lowest is unarmed attacks at d2. Further a character's path (aka class) determines what type of dice they have for unarmed combat: magicians utilizing the lowest and fighters the highest. Once reduced to zero stamina points in combat death is a possibility on a roll of a d6.

Skill checks are easy to resolve with examples of typical  tests appearing on page 6. Also on the final page of text are some pieces of advice for the GM and ideas on how to play.

The main criticism I have is it is not clear whether or not there is a traditional GM in the game. Only on page 6 does the word referee appear. The text seems to assume there is one previously, but its not until later that it becomes clear.

If I go too much further it will  reveal the whole game as its as mentioned it's so short. Suffice to say I like the system. All in all, it looks like an interesting game. I have no major plans to run it as I'm well into the creation of my own western game, but as a source of inspiration it was worth the price. It does have the honor of being one of only three western style RPGs I read while creating my own (the other two being Boot Hill and Western City).

Lastly for my game Hurled into Eternity will probably be a supplement down the road. (NOTE: as a update: my game is under a number of revisions right now and the version that is up right now has some new changes coming making the game even better, stay tuned.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

WFRP- 1st Edition- Small, but vicious dog

A few years back Fantasy Flight Games released the 3rd edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. At first, I thought about purchasing the latest edition. The problem was, that much like when WotC went to 3rd edition with Dungeons and Dragons the move to 3rd edition WFRP resulted in  a vastly different game, and hence no sale for me. 1st and 2nd edition Dungeons and Dragons are pretty much the same game and interchangeable, same for 1st and 2nd edition WFRP. 3rd edition in either case? Not so much.
Trollslayers are always cool.
In thinking about that new version, my mind harkened back to one of my best friends and the rousing games of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay that we played in his basement. We adventured through the Power behind the Throne series almost to the very end and had a blast in doing so (I played a rat catcher with a whose name I forget, but I do quite clearly remember his small, but vicious dog(s): Rat hammer and Rat hammer II, after the first one bit the dust fighting some Skaven. My rat catcher had uncovered the Skaven tunneling under Bogenhaufen quite by accident while cleaning the cellar of a noble family all on his own. My rat catcher and the dog killed two Skaven and I scored a magical dagger  that had a flame attack in the bargain, also made for some interesting trophies to his ratting pole.  No, don't ask me how I remember this stuff 20+ years later...

The Enemy Within campaign series for those not in the know, is basically the Games Workshop equivalent for the classic G1-3, D1-3, Q1 series for 1st Edition AD&D in terms of the "defining adventure of the system".  It is widely hailed as one the greatest module series of all time in the pen and paper RPG areana and I agree up until Power Behind the Throne. With the next module something Rotten in Kislev it started to come off the rails and especially Empire in Flames were let downs. Empire in Flames was pretty much non-canonical and even for the inconsistent GW its fluff and background really didn't mesh. Anyways instead of Empire in Flames, which is pricy despite its meh content there is the fan made Empire at War which replaces Empire in Flames

Come to think of it I should probably write a review of all of the modules.

As a system I think WFRP was a very good. Character creation was fast and didn't require a major amount of time which was a good thing considering the short shelf-life of characters in the game. The character races were certainly not balanced with elves and dwarfs being particularly unbalanced. The crux of WFRP is that a character engages in a career, and then improves his character with experience points that he gains through (and surviving adventures). From there each basic career has a career exit.

WFRP starts with all characters in the basic career paths ranging from Agitator to Woodsman with a focus on variety. There are even regular classes like Laborer and apprentices that real reinforce the idea of regular people who set out on adventuring, can't get much grittier then that. Funny because in many corners of the web gritty play is dejour; Warhammer is far more gritty and less high adventures then any of its contemporaries, yes, including 1st AD&D.

Basic careers run the gamut from some very weak, to some very powerful. The fighting classes are probably the way to go with a few other specialized careers with an eye towards spell casting in the advanced career section. Particularly the pit fighter, protagonist, squire, soldier and mercenary amongst others that are well suited for survival. In fact we remarked that we should have just run a game with all warriors and see what the results would be, but we never did. Of course we came to this observation after a number of our characters met untimely demises and the school copier was *ahem* "getting a workout".

One of my favorite parts of WFRP was combat! Unlike AD&D (its main competitor at the time) the combat system made logical sense: armor doesn't make a character harder to hit, it absorbs damage. That is not a knock on AD&D as it was the grand daddy of them all, it just didn't make sense. In combat and major wounds could happen with messy and amusingly graphic deaths via the critical hit charts. Characters even after several advanced careers where not unstoppable killing machines except for the "naked dwarf syndrome". Armor comes in three flavors: leather, chain and plate and reduces corresponding damage the better the armor. Not all weapons are created equal and require skills to wield them effectively.

Magic was the wild card in the whole thing and the fabled Realms of Sorcery that was supposed take the place of the "stop gap magic system" in the Core Rulebook. Players and GMs had to make do with what was presented for somewhere around 17 years, Realms of Sorcery comes out, and then the game moves to 2nd edition! In terms of magic items the game was fairly low powered certainly comapred to its main rival D&D. The supplement Apochrapha Now expanded the list. Players of D&D might be disappointed in the magic system which is not as high level as D&D nor as expansive of a list for magical items.But for a gritter or low adventure system you cant get one much better.

Monsters are well thought out and most of the major ones that one would imagine to be there are  in the setting. One thing I always wondered was did GW downplay dragons in the Warhammer pantheon of monsters on purpose given the prominent nature of them in D&D, at least in spirit if not in the actual game?

Perhaps the thing that kept bringing players back was the story of the Old Word, the setting. The Old World is a near approximation of Europe with the twist of the Old Slann changing the world to suit their creations. One of GWs greatest strengths has been their IP, and fluff, but as mentioned previously not something they always keep straight.

One of the great side benefits of 1st edition WFRP was the fact that one could use 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle, The Lost and the Damned and Slaves to Darkness all together. The Losta nd the Damned and Slaves to Darkness were great resoucres and certainly great values for the price (they are outragouelsy priced on Flea Bay now). While 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle was unwieldy it still is my favorite edition of the game. GW (in an instance of doing something right) actually gave the purchaser something for his value.

"Welcome to Nuln!"
Lastly to wrap it up the art across the line was consistently great: grim, dark and moody and violent. The art really captured the time in the industry and for the edition quite well. There is a mix of color and black and white throughout and while some of them are reprints that appeared in their line previous they are still cool to look at. Plus anytime John Blanche does art for a game system its going to be cool.

For my next post I might have to review Death on the Reik first as it is probably my all time favorite Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay module, (rather then start at the beginning of  Power Behind the Throne series: Shadows of Bogenhaufen) and ranks in my Top 3 of any modules, regardless of system.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Book Review- High Country by Peter Dawson

After my ultra heavy read of my last book, Atlas Shrugged- by Ayn Rand, I  needed something lite. I found it a my friendly local bookstore. It was in the form of Peter Dawson's High Country. I paid 50 cents for it so I can't complain and read it during my lunches at work. I was in the mood for a dime store novel western and found this one.I wasn't disappointed with my first foray into the genre.

I should start out with the writing was solid. And at 137 pages it was a breeze to go through (especially in light of the a fore mentioned monster Atlas). At points it's easy to see where the plot was going, but I was able to imagine the scenes quite vividly and the book was a surprisingly entertaining read. Dawson does a good job of making the images come to life in such a short space.

The book follows the exploits of Jim Sherrill, a drifter/rancher of sorts and right from the get go he has a problem: someone has stolen his horses and its up to him to get them back. The pacing is good, but its a bit light on the action as a good chunk of the book deals with the cast of characters that surround Jim, some good some bad, some stereotypical.  Thats not bad as each character gives you an instant feel for the Old West: A greedy wealthy southern land owner (the commodore) and his requisite southern bell daughter, plus a gang of outlaws. The main bad guy isn't blatantly evil which is a nice touch. In a way it's a bit more natural of a read as the villain(s) are believable and all in line with the 1940s view of westerns.

Jim has to take back what is his and gets some help along the way from his mountain man friend Jake who I especially liked and a few others. There is also an interesting love triangle with Jim in the middle and his affections for the vapid Ruth and the sturdy, but beautiful high spirited Jean. It doesn't take much to see where this one is going... I will warn you it is even complete with the requisite western ending meme...

In terms of the setting, the mental image I had of the town of Whitewater is a good one as is the distances of the involved. I pictured it as a river bank town in the vein of Big Whiskey from Unforgiven. I actually felt as if I was in the Old West along with the action, so the author did right by me there.

I won't go more into the story (as is usually the case) because if you are going to read it, I won't spoil it for you. And ass I'm fully back to my interest in westerns this short read fit right into my busy life. Also it was a good read to inspire me to jot some notes down for the first module that I have underway for my game Hurled into Eternity from Restless Rust Monster Publications (Icebiter Games Publications was too much of an in-joke.) And if you like where Im going with Hurled into Eternity please give me a like on Facebook to help spread the word about my game.

Lastly this book does reflect the times it was written in, namely 1947; so be forewarned: there are some racial stereotypes in the book as well as some words spoken by the characters from the south that are verboten today. 

(As I've been mentioning I'm trying to blog more and not just about my game I'm writing so keep looking out for an increase in my blogging activities. More short blog then massive sprawling ones).

Friday, July 19, 2013

Free! Lone Ranger Western Town!

That's what the ad said and I always wanted one, but I'm not sure why I never mailed away for it! If you were a comics fan like me there was lots of merchandizing out in 1981 for the release of The Legend of the Lone Ranger movie (which I didn't learn till later was an utter bomb).  It was on the back of nearly every comic book I had back then. But the problem was I was much more concerned with other toys. The problem was they occupied a time where I was getting into D&D, and was a huge Star Wars fan (and the toys) with the new smaller GI Joes just on the horizon. I wonder if this is an early precursor to the Toy Story movies? Lone Ranger supplanted by Star Wars in out national consciousness?

In any event, it was for the smaller line of Lone Ranger toys from Gabriel. I was not of the right age where toys were 13"  action figures. I'm fine with that however as the older toys always seemed "too big" to me. There was The Lone Ranger and Silver, Butch Cavendish and Smoke, Tonto and Scout, General George Custer (he was a Lieutenant Colonel at the Battle of the Little Big Horn folks) and Buffalo Bill Cody. Now, never having seen the movie I wonder how (and if) they crammed that all in?

In any event, I wanted the town and the action figures, but seeing the Lone Ranger the other week made me think of childhood memories of the last time the Lone Ranger was on the big screen with disastrous results.

But enough of that this was about a stroll down memory lane, all at a time where I was getting into RPGs too. I mean if you were around 8 as I was at the time, how cool was this? The answer is/was very.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013



Now that I have your attention, just who doesn't like the Zombie genre? Not many people considering the obsession with the zombies on TV and at the box office (although I'm protesting World War Z).

Now if you don't like them get the hell outta here, Zombies are cool! In RPG land there are a few good choices for zombie horror survival, but for me I'd probably settle on using All Flesh Must be Eaten (fans shorten it to AFMBE) a second choice would be to use Savage Worlds and use the Weird War campaign setting an modify it from there. Savage World rule system would be perfect for zombie adventures using Weird War II rules as I like the feeling of the supplement and they sanded off the rough edges compared to the previous installment.  Lastly, there is also the Battlefield Evolution with the Apocalypse Z supplement, but bear in mind that is a tabletop battle miniatures game first and foremost.

Released in 1999 AFMBE is still the standard for Zombie RPGs out there. With a number of supplements the line is well supported. While there are other systems, I think All Flesh Must be Eaten does the best job of capturing the feel of the genre. The rules are not cumbersome (or "crunchy") which might be off putting to some gamers but I like the ability to use in many types of settings from traditional end of the world trope "Rise of the Walking Dead", to voodoo zombie lords "Dawn of the Zombie Lords" to space aliens zombies "They came from beyond", to name but a few. Seriously, if you are a GM and you can't come up with SOMETHING in this genre, it's time to hang up your your GM Screen.

Back to characters three basic types (Norms, Survivors and Inspired) each with their own built in advantages (for the most part). 6 stats on a point system and away you go. Grab some qualities and drawbacks (here is where I think Savage Worlds is better) and you are off. Also in the character creation chapter I especially like the Archetypes section as it gives a good feel of the tone of the design of the system.

Equipment and vehicles are well handled and I also like the sections for different types of zombies (Apocalypse Z does this as well).  For a game with only one and really defining monster some variation is needed and with the system presented its simple to do so: take the base profile and add to it for variation. Boom, done.

One thing I did not like (I have the revised edition so I cant speak to the original) is the graphic design. I like the look at feel but a lot of it looks like it was low-res quality scans, making it look bit muddy. Even if they are not, that's how it looked.  Shame in an otherwise fine presentation.

In closing I recommend the game. I can't imagine playing All Flesh Must be Eaten for really long periods of time but I can certainly see it for a beer and pretzels type of gaming. Anyone else out there with thoughts on this RPG?

(as a blogger's aside: I want to make sure I keep blogging so be on the lookout for more posts about games that I've been collecting over the last few years as I get back/up to speed with the modern RPG scene. Some Warhammer blogging might be in order as well, stay tuned).

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Lone Ranger- Movie Review

Despite getting scathing reviews I have to get one thing out of the way first: I enjoyed the Lone Ranger. There I said it. This post will not be about the story; Ill leave that to you the reader when you see the movie.

Being that I’m not a child of the 1950s who grew up with the iconic Hi Ho Silver, away! I come from a vastly different viewpoint. I didnt watch many of the reruns because by the time I was old enough to watch them the show had been of the air for at least 20 years. I was weaned on the gritty revisionists westerns like Unforgiven, High Plains Drifter, and Pale Rider.

So with all that said what is my reaction to a traditional “White Hat” western? It was a fun movie. Each in his own way turned in very good performances: Johnny Depps Tonto and Armie Hammers Lone Ranger.

The Good:

  • The pacing was just about right and at no time did it feel like the movie was plodding.
  • Special effects were for the most part good and only one instance were they noticeable.
  • The soundtrack was excellent. Of course no Lone Ranger movie would be complete without the William Tell Overture which they used skillfully early one and then during the finale.
  • Clever reason for the naming of Silver.
  • Shoot outs were gripping
  • Finale was awesome.

The Bad:

  • At one point I was going to bring my kids to see it but the problem arose with the Captain Dan Reid scene involving Butch Cavendish. I read about it before hand and decided to keep my young kids away. This in part explains the issues with demographics I outline below.
  • The Lone Ranger as played by Hammer seems wimpy. Contrast this with the performance of Depp as Tonto and he is certainly overshadowed. I found Hammers awkwardness as the Lone Ranger well done and well acted. Some people have said he was wooden and had no charisma; again that is personal preference.  

I can see where Lone Ranger falls into issues with finding the right demographic for this movie but Im not entirely convinced that its the movie thats at fault rather then Hollywood as a whole. Right now it seems that Hollywood is fixated producing mega hits to maximize the return on every movie. I get that one should always strive for this in any business but at the same time it’s myopic. Not every movie is going to be Avatar. So rather then go for small returns the studios are attempting to hit a grand slam everytime the are at bat. The question that Hollywood will have to ask themselves is it better to say clear 50 million on movie or be 150 million in the hole? This is to say nothing of the every spiraling cost of movies themselves that will only acerbate the situation. Its getting to the point where they only see returns of 1 billion as the only outcome worth pursueing.

Another interesting point is that last two times the Lone Ranger has been out on the screen (the Legend of the Lone Ranger- 1981) and this time out the critics savaged it. I get that the 1981 version was bad, but this time the critics seemed to decided they didnt like it before it even came out. I fully anticipate that "box office bomb will or already has been ahem saddled to it. In a way it might end up much like the movie Heavens Gate, another western that did poorly against (for then) very high production costs but in later years the directors cut has been seen as actually a quite good movie. Of course its hard to mess up on the true story source material: The Johnson County War

I dont think westerns as a genre is dead per say, but rather they have an imagine problem. In a world worn out and now wary about anything American, uniquely America focused movies will have a much tougher sell outside of the US. This has always been a problem but has become more of an issue the last few decades.  Now Hollywood makes movies with a global audience in mind as it offers a bigger return when it appeals to the entire globe. Problem is trying to be everything to everyone is not going to fly in most cases, or only very rarely.

In closing I can think of many, many more movies that I wanted my money back after watching them at the theater, this wasnt one of them.  Id give it 3.5 out of 5 stars, its not perfect by any means but its not Mars needs Moms or 13th Warrior bad.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hurled into Eternity Revamp

Ok, been away for a bit, but I have been diligently working on my game, Hurled into Eternity. Over the last few weeks I ran into several snags with it and "went back to formula" with it. I didn't revamp the game totally by I excised the d100 mechanic and brought it to be fully based on a deck of cards. The Judge (GM section) still uses RPG dice for random events, but is not critical to the game.

Now the game and its core mechanics use what I call the "Wild Card System" where character values range from 0-10, with Jacks, Queens, and Kings initiating redraws; Aces are always successes. The funny part I thought it up quite by accident when looking at a suit spread out before me from the deck. Instead of thinking in terms of a score going from 1-13 (13 cards in each suit) I thought about groupings and thus the Wild Card System was born.

The next step (aside from editing) is some serious play testing before it even gets to the stage of a campaign. I'd like to see how all of the mechanics fit, everything from character creation to combat.

Once that is completed I anticipate making the text more friendly (I'm not the worlds best writer, but I try), and from there getting it ready for graphic design. The ultimate goal  is to get it to a point where it can be printed via Lulu or other print on demand formats., then after a period of time, PDF. I don't anticipate getting rich from this, but I think a selling it for a nominal price will be well worth it. All without a Kickstarter? Outrageous.

In any event here is the latest, 2.0 Alpha. Alpha is a bit of a misnomer as its well developed. My guess is that I've probably missed some spots where it calls for a roll of the dice rather then draw a card.

Latest version to download here:

EDIT: Ive also done away with Icebiter Games, from now on produced by Restless Rust Monster Publications.