Sunday, June 17, 2012

Free RPG Day - The Haul

Happy Father's Day to all the dads, step-dads, grandfathers, etc. out there! Without our, pretty much none of us would be here. We should all feel grateful for that.

On the other hand, being as this is my second Father's Day as a father, I feel most grateful for my own son, who allows me to celebrate the day as a "dude of honor." He's just such a joy!

Taking a break from my magical musings for the nonce...yesterday was Free RPG Day and I was down at Gary's Games bright and early (9am) to pick up the latest-greatest. Skipped the Pathfinder and 4E offerings as I'm totally uninterested in those games (to put it mildly). Here's what I DID get:

ConspiracyX Introductory Game Kit (think of a mash-up between Men In Black and the X-Files): if you're into alien conspiracies as entertainment, this might be an RPG to check out. If you're not whole hog on the idea, the pedestrian plot and fairly boring mechanics might not be enough to juice you on it. I found the ESP mechanics/concept to be the most noteworthy think in the kit; definitely an interesting and cool design choice.

Battletech: A Time of War Quick-Start Rules: This appears to be Catalyst Games' attempt at remaking Mechwarrior (the original outside-the-mech RPG of the BT universe. As far as I'm aware, this would be the first official remake of MW since FASA's original went out-of-print. The mechanics are a little jazzed up (i.e. "more complex") as might be expected as they are based on the latest version of BT: Total War, and yet some things (like the damage monitor) seems stream-lined (no hit locations) even as they add a separate "fatigue track" (something I've always found problematic in practice with multiple RPGs). I don't know...I liked MW but could never get around to playing it because, well, if you're playing BattleTech then you generally want to be stomping around in giant robots. However, I will say A) the mechanics are fairly close to the original (which is a plus), B) the "Edge" mechanic (an additional attribute that acts as a drainable "luck" resource pool) is cool, and C) all the sample characters are neat and look like fun to play, i.e. role-play. The adventure's kind of neat, too, as a one-off.

Shadowrun Quick-Start Rules (on the reverse side of the Battletech QSR): Since I've heard nothing about Shadowrun coming out with yet another edition, all I can figure is this a promotion for the current (4th Edition) game from Catalyst...something to get the word out, and get people to come on board. So it's pretty much the same-old-same-old with the addition of "complex actions" versus "simple actions" and yadda-yadda with a lot of recycled art (all stuff from the basic book or prior adventure supplements). For me, the most interesting thing about the QSR is its length: 19 pages (not counting a 6-page adventure and 8 pages of pre-gen archetypes). I wrote whole game dealing with a lot of the same subject matter with little more than 3x that many pages.

Cosmic Patrol Quick-Start Rules: The Kahn Protocol (also, surprisingly, from Catalyst): Cosmic Patrol actually has all the look and flavor of an indie-game, in that it is whimsical (1930-60s pulp know, bubble helmets, rocketships, Martian axe-women, etc.) and story oriented. Traditional GM duties are shared between all players in a rotating "Lead Narrator" role, the game works in rounds (my term) where everyone contributes to the story at hand while attempting to hit plot points and accomplish mission objectives to create a coherent narrative. At the same time, the game can't get away from "standard" RPG tropes: each player has a character, with standard attributes (brawn, brains, fighting, luck), health points, weapons, armor points, and equipment (though that last one is actually more of a metagame mechanic than actual "gear").

The funny thing about Cosmic Patrol is it is extremely similar to my first attempts at a "story now" game, even down to the subject matter (spaceship crew), when I was first introduced to the concept a few years back. As with so many of my projects, this one never quite achieved "lift-off" and part of the reason was difficulty finding a way to reconcile a narratavist agenda with typical RPG systems. I'm not sure Cosmic Patrol pulls this off (in many ways, it reminds me more of a story-telling game say, like Once Upon A Time, than an actual RPG), but it's pretty ambitious that they'd put this together, and I wouldn't mind giving it a whirl and seeing how it works.

Only War: Eleventh Hour (an intro to Fantasy Flight's latest WH40K-themed RPG): This appears to be the game I thought Deathwatch was supposed to be...basically, the 40K version of WHFRP but with non-space marines. I don't know...maybe that's what it is. The pre-gens are Catachan Jungle Fighters and Ogryn (i.e. Imperial Guard troop types for those who know WH40K) with all the usual ability scores (including Fellowship) plus skills. Yay, skills. In all seriousness, I know I have a hard time being impartial with games like this because I love the idea of playing military sci-fi RPGs...but I could only wish the character profiles looked a little simpler to put together, as I would hope that any 40K RPG makes it exceptionally easy for PCs to meet horrifying, messy, and/or grimly amusing death. Look, the armies of the 40K universe are terrifying individuals, they're even less "heroic" than an old school D&D adventurer. That doesn't mean they can't attempt...or even missions of "heroic" proportion. But let there be no tears shed for the fallen members of the Imperial Guard...and certainly no tears shed by players forced to go through a drawn-out chargen process to create a new Guardsman.

Dungeon Crawl Classics (that's the title of the Free RPG Day offering, but it's not the RPG itself): This is a pair of single-session adventures for use with the DCC system, plus an adventure design competition (and a chance to win some money). The adventures are titled The Undulating Corruption and The Jeweler that Dealt in Stardust and I've yet to read either (my playtesting of the DCC Beta convinced me that DCC isn't a game I'm interested in playing). So why bother picking up a copy? Actually, I picked up TWO - first because, though I don't like the DCC system, I love the game's style and themes (very pulp sword & sorcery) and want to see if anything here could or should be translated into my D&D Mine system (which I hope to run in a very S&S fashion myself...once it's at the point of running anything). Secondly, a buddy who was in Eastern Washington over the weekend asked me to pick him up a copy since he wasn't able to make it to the shop.

Aaaaand that's about it. Gary's took the opportunity of Free RPG Day to clear some shelf space and so I was able to pick up a copies of Agent X (free) and Coyote Trail (half price), but those are full RPGs that I haven't had the chance to read; if I have anything useful to say about 'em later I will, though I believe both are out-of-print as of this date. It was quite a pile of goodies I brought back from the store Saturday...a good way to kick off the weekend and Solstice.

Have a good week, folks!
; )


  1. I too have got all that stuff on Saturday, and I must say I am favourably impressed with Cosmic Patrol. Seems an interesting concept, and the "crunchy" parts of the game look really simple.

    What I didn't like, the Mechwarrior RPG. Meh. TOO complex, in particular if you compare it with the 2nd edition (but apparently simpler than 3rd edition.) The Edge stat was already present in 2nd edition, and the game was much better integrated with the Battletech rules. The new edition is definitely more polished graphically, but the 2nd edition is IMO the pinnacle of MW rpgs to date.

    Also the WH40k game IS complex; I had the Dark Heresy game, and it's essentially the same core of rules. Although the characters are not as fragile as they seem, creating a character is a pain due to having to navigate tons of options. And if one happens to like more than one of these settings, it's supremely pissing spending money to acquire a huge chunk of rules AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN.

  2. Hopefully some of these will make it out as pdf downloads in the near future. As I don't have a local game store to visit, and the comic store that sells rpgs, didn't participate this year.

  3. Wow, seems like your FLGS didn't have any restrictions on how many items you could take! I was only able to take two items (picked up the Harn map and the DCC offering). Brought the kids so they picked up two free minis each that the store owners put out to spice things up a bit.