Thursday, March 23, 2017

Heroes & Villains: Superior Swashbuckling Souls for Scenarios

John Wick Presents has released Heroes & Villains as the first book after the core. I thought that an odd choice, but the more I considered it, the smarter it seems. Heroes & Villains is an NPC book, something we don’t see as much of these days. It offers a solid, useful resource for 7th Sea players & GMs. It helped me hugely when ran the game online. I could pick out a wide variety of pre-gens for players. Instead of immediately drowning players with new source material, options, backgrounds, etc, JWP offers a book to help us get to the table.

Here’s my assessment before I dive in: Heroes & Villains is a dynamite book and one of my new favorite rpg sourcebooks. I have the pdf, but I’ll be buying a physical copy when it comes out. I also liked it enough that I interviewed Lead Developer Elizabeth Chaipraditkul for The Gauntlet Podcast.

WHAT IS IT?
Heroes & Villains has write ups for 40 Heroes & 40 Villains. These characters, for the most part, come from nations detailed in the core book. I hope later on, once we’ve seen a few regional sourcebooks (like the recent Pirate Nations), we’ll get a second volume with characters from those.

Heroes & Villains opens with consideration of the nature of heroism (and villainy). It presents a villain’s redemption as the highest heroic aspiration. It even includes a new advantage tuned to that. The Heroes section drills down on these ideas. It opens with advice and admonitions for playing Heroes (Care About Other’s Stories, Create Ties to the World, Be Clear and Transparent). It then has parallel advice for GMs (Leading the Table, Challenging the Heroes, Acting as the Referee). It’s a small thing, but I love the way this book sets up structures and maintains parallelism. Three points for each half, done with similar depth. Throughout H&V smartly aids the reader and keeps the material tight.

HEROES DELIMITED 
The book breaks Heroes into five broad types: Indomitable, Deft, Tactician, Steadfast, and Trickster. These generally tie to the character’s key trait (Brawn, Finesse, Resolve, Wits, and Panache). Each section has a half-page introduction and then a page with guidelines for playing the archetype. That includes their impressions of the five Villainous archetypes. Not all characters in a section have the associated trait as their highest. Instead it’s about how they face situations. For example not all the Indomitable Heroes are muscle-bound warriors. But they all take a physical approach to deal with foes.

Each Hero gets two page. First, there’s a character sheet with standing portrait. That CS includes all the relevant details, including the wound track and space to write in stories, so you can easily print & play from them. Advantages are listed with page references, but the Quirks, Virtues & Hubris entries have the full details. The book adds four new advantages, a new dueling style, a background, a new brute squad type, and two new effects for Mother’s Touch Sorcery. These are listed at the back. Not all of the Quirks come from the core book, many are unique and tuned to the character. I haven’t checked if some of the Arcana entries are new.

A hero’s second page has a one column history, three goals, and notes on playing the character. I loved reading the backgrounds and picking out connections across sections. Many of the archetypes presented here would never have occurred to me. The goals offer concrete motivations for GMs using them. A player could easily use them as a starting point for their own advancement-generating Stories.

It’s a strong collection. Everything’s done concisely. It material offers players enough to work with while leaving them imaginative space. Splitting these entries into a character sheet and history page helps. You can just hand out the CS and let them go. The history page has a richer story. At first I was a little wary about how set these characters seemed into particular places and events. But really this is the GM side. They could use these as story starters or motivations for as NPCs. If players wanted more ideas about how to play or create a Story for the character, the GM could give them all or a part of this.

MY FAVORITE HEROES:
  • Catalina Morta (Indomitable) A Castillian captain and a nice illustration of a ship-bound character.
  • Bietrix de Veau (Deft) Accidental explorer and archeologist. There’s something about how she’s drawn: dirt on her face and clothes.
  • Szymon Naumov (Tactician) I love the idea of playing this retired, elder military character.
  • Cadha Mag Raith (Steadfast) How could you not love this giant warrior? She embodies one of my favorite quirks from the core book, Farmkid. “Earn a Hero Point when you solve a complex problem in a simple, tried and true method from back on the farm.”
  • Ludwig Schlammmann (Trickster) I love it because the name made me check to make sure it wasn’t misspelled. Nope, that’s how it appears throughout. An amnesiac hero covered in mud.

VILLAINY REBOUND
The Villains introduction parallels the Heroes’, but offers two really useful additions. It presents rules for structuring villains’ Schemes as you would players’ Stories. This gives them steps they can work through to gain benefits. I like this. It feels easier to work with at the table. The section also includes notes on lesser villains and how brute squads can gain promotions. Finally it has an extended example of play for a showdown duel between a Hero and a Villain. It’s long. It implies playing it out at the table would take serious time. But as a highlight scene, it might work. In any case, this example helped me grasp the Dueling mechanics.

The book breaks Villains into five types: Beast (Rage), Chameleon (Deception), Mastermind (Manipulation), Juggernaut (Desire), and Deranged (Isolation). Each section intro describes what that means, how they view the different Hero archetypes, and how to play these foes at the table. It also has a short list of example Schemes suitable for these Villains.

Each Villain gets two pages. The background page has a rich history and three schemes arising out of that. The “character sheet” page has an illustration, quote, and stats (Strength, Influence, Rank). It lists the Villains’ advantages, along with page references. Nicely for GM it includes the full text of the NPC’s Virtue & Hubris. There’s a short paragraph on Servants & Underlings (if any) as well as roleplaying tips. I especially like that the sheet includes how a Hero might go about redeeming this character. Some can’t be, but for those who can change, it offers insights the GM can reveal to players over time. I like these sheets; they’re well-laid out and nicely parallel those of the Heroes with small changes. More angular text boxing, red as the background color instead of blue, and the history placed before the CS instead of after. Small details, but they pull this whole book together.

VILLAINS I MIGHT USE
  • Julianna Onesta (Beast) Twisted by the Inquisition, but vulnerable due to a compassion even she’s unaware of.
  • Tassine Bullet (Chameleon) A criminal guild leader driven by a twisted romantic ideals.
  • Facio Contarini (Mastermind) A classic manipulator from Vodacce.
  • Isentrud der Chegir (Juggernaut) She has a creepy story of magical corruption and interesting plots. 
  • Ludwika Krzyżanowska (Deranged) This villainous archetype can be tough. They’re difficult to redeem and can seem inhuman. I like this one because I can visualize how I’d put the players in contact with her plots.

OVERALL
Heroes & Villains has a strikingly diverse cast. It has characters from every region presented in the core book. It mixes that up with different focus traits, kinds of Sorcery, and duelist schools. When I picked pre-gens for my online sessions I went through and made a chart of archetypes, nations, genders, who had sorcery, and who had a duelist school. I wanted to ensure broad choices for the players. It was easy, since the book had already done much of that work. Beyond that Heroes & Villains gives us characters of various ages, physical forms, skin tones, and orientations.

I like NPC books. The presentation of NPCs in the Citybooks and The Armitage Files are my favorites. Both supplement simple backstories with tools and dials for the table. The former has plot for each one; the latter has how to play the NPC in different modes. Heroes & Villains is as good, if not better. When I bought it, I read it in one evening. I rarely do that. But then Sherri picked it up and did the same thing, despite not being a fan of the genre. She found it that compelling.

It’s solid and highly recommended, useful both for 7th Sea and other rpgs in a similar vein.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Shadowrun Anarchy: My Take

This is going to be a terrible review. It’ll be scattershot, disorganized, unclear, overwritten, and contradictory.

Like Shadowrun Anarchy.

Catalyst calls Shadowrun Anarchy an “Alternate Ruleset.” We’ve seen other companies try variations on this: White Wolf’s Storytelling Adventure System, GURPS Lite, Rolemaster Express, HARP. It’s a great idea. Make it accessible for newcomers and bring back the fallen. Shadowrun’s among games with a rich settings and a major barrier to entry: a dense system, often expanded over multiple sourcebooks. See Earthdawn, Fading Suns, Iron Kingdoms. But Shadowrun’s an easy and vivid pitch: cyberpunk with Elves & Orks. Over decades multiple publishers created an amazingly cool world. Every sourcebook looks hot.

So an easy, rules-simple, player collaborative version excited me. I hadn’t played Shadowrun back in the day. I’d been among the Cyberpunk 2020 snobs. But over the years I’ve bought SR supplements. I even tried a couple Fate Accelerated sessions to get a feel for it. I wanted Shadowrun Anarchy to be good and I bought the physical copy and the pdf. I read through it multiple times. I tried to distill the rules. I ran a couple of sessions. You can see the AP for those online (Session 1, Session 2). 

And it feels like a massive missed opportunity. It didn’t work for me.

LINE CROSSING
On the one hand I didn’t care for the way Shadowrun Anarchy actually played. My players didn’t dig the structure and I felt like the rules fought me. That’s about the kind of game SR ends up being. On the other hand there’s the concrete problem of the presentation. Let’s leave aside that they had errata immediately and the print version doesn’t have corrections. The writing makes SRA more difficult than it needs to be. The text actively works against the reader. It desperately needs a strong editorial hand to go back to the start and rethink how to convey these concepts.

There’s also a conceptual split in the rules. There’s the structural approach- making the game a conversation. That’s intended to make this collaborative, more modern, and narrative-leaning. But then there’s the actual mechanical approach. As agile as Shadowrun Anarchy’s scene framing mechanic may be, it the system then bolts weights onto it. That’s a problem.

Finally there’s the split between what this book could have been versus what it is.

WHO IS IT GOOD FOR?
Shadowrun Anarchy isn’t clear about its audience or purpose.

If we’re trying to bring in new players, then I can understand the amount of setting summary in the Shadowrun Anarchy. I can maybe even understand the large number of sample characters. But the rules themselves are unfriendly. They’re text-dense, disorganized, and barely highlight important rules.

On the other hand, if we’re trying to bring in current Shadowrun players with the dangling offer of lighter rules, then a large chunk of the book’s wasted filler. 33 pages of setting background and Seattle description. Even the number of sample characters seems overdone alongside the rules for character building.

Or perhaps they’re trying to get fallen trad Shadowrun players. The highly story-game structure’s going to be a hard sell. And rather than illustrate why this approach works with Shadowrun, the book buries things under stats and mechanics.

That crushing weight means Story Games will be put off by the sheer mass of stats and numbers. Add to that complex and opaque character sheets. Often your CS is your best hook for new people. They’ve got great illustrations for the sample characters, but there’s so much going on within the actual sheet.

In trying to serve so many audiences, Shadowrun Anarchy serves all of them poorly. It swings between approaches.

TAKE YOUR CUE
Shadowrun Anarchy uses the Cue System, previously seen in Cosmic Patrol and the Valiant Universe RPG (my look at the latter). The basic idea is to put narrative power into the hands of the players. Each turn begins with the GM’s and then in a set order we run through each player’s Narration. On your narration a player can describe what their character does and what’s happening in the world: things that show up, people you meet, changes of circumstance, etc. If something they’re doing has a chance of failure they stop to roll dice. There’s no hard limit to what someone can do on a narration, except in combat. There they can only make a single attack action on a round.

The limits of player narrations are unclear. What level of abstraction are we working at? Are we playing out a whole sequence- “OK, I go to talk to the Fixer to get info on this and he tells me some things” (move to a roll) or are we breaking things down further than that? “I go in and scope out the Fixer’s location, and I see X, so I…”. Note that if another player wants to interrupt someone’s narration to take an action, they have to spend a Plot Point to do so, one of a couple game resources (we also have Edge, Karma, Armor, and Damage). While it’s not explicit in the rules, I expect if the narrating player wanted to bring them in to act, they could spend a point. That economy’s necessary because the game hard a set turn order. You have to either work your narrative around that or take steps to break it. I’m used to hard ordering in combat, but not outside.

To be fair, the game does say you can explicitly engage in Talk Time. Someone has to declare this and get table agreement to move into this mode. This can only cover freewheeling discussion. Once a PC gets to any test they have to return to the standard order. It’s a split that reinforces how the game locks down the usual narrations. Players can kibitz on others’ turns, but otherwise one person leads everything at a time.

WHAT ABOUT THE GM?
“On a player’s narration, the GM only has the following responsibilities.
*Deciding whether an action requires the player roll a Test
*Declaring what modifiers (if any) apply to a Test
*Determining what Attribute(s) applies to an Attribute-only Test
*Roleplaying NPCs
*Making defense rolls for NPCs
*Knowing the information in the Contract Brief
*Arbitrating rules discussions
*Declaring that a player’s Narration is finished (such as if a Narration has lasted for too long)
Many other elements that might be considered traditional RPG gamemaster duties—describing the scene, detailing what NPCs are doing, having enemies appear, and so forth—fall to the player who is currently giving a Narration.”
Rich Rogers has described this approach as “putting the heavy lifting on the players.”

The GM starts each turn and has their own narration. There they give a run down of the current situation and “advance the plot.” Exactly what that means isn’t clear. Again, there’s little guidance for scale or scope. Like Valiant, you play Shadowrun Anarchy with a pre-set adventure, called a Contract Brief. That has the setup, pitch, objectives, backdrop, etc for the mission. It also has the scenes you’re expected to play through. They’re written concrete and linear, though elsewhere the book says they can twist.

It’s another case of the rulebook being unsure what it wants. If they intend these to be flexible, why not write them more flexibly? As it is they’re tiny sections of railroad track. In most of them, Scene 2 is contingent on certain things happening in Scene 1, and so on down the line. They provide little guidance about scale.

THE DANGERS OF CHOICE
The book’s also massively unclear about who should see these Contract Briefs. In the rules section, it says the group looks through the Briefs and picks one. It specifically mentions that info there is for the players. But when we get to the Briefs chapter, it’s marked as GM only. Which one is it?

So here’s the freaking thing that bugs me. In several places, Shadowrun Anarchy tell us “this is how we play.” OK, I’ve got that in my head. That’s the assumption I’m taking on in reading the rest of the rules. But then much later, we get a “this is how we play” contradicting or swerving the earlier rule. Now I have to go back and re-read in light of that.

Because there’s a pretty big difference between a game that assumes the players know what scenes they’re angling towards in their narration and one where they don’t.

Oh man, this game.

BURNING CHROME
On the other hand you have Shadowrun Anarchy’s mechanics.

Charles Picard wrote about Mutant Year Zero this week and he said something that stuck with me. “When I refer to narrative or story games, I’m talking about games that (and I’m speaking very broadly here) build their mechanics to focus on the unfolding story of the game, rather than mechanically simulating aspects of the game world.”

Shadowrun Anarchy has a weird clash between the story framing and mechanical side. SRA does a lot of consolidation and reduction of the game’s earlier mechanics. According to SR vets, players roll smaller pools of dice—usually now 8 to 12d6s. All powers have been lumped together as Shadow Amps. The book has a list of examples, but also has a point cost system for buying these abilities. So they’re closer to GURPS powers and more complicated versions of Fate’s Stunts. But a major point of contention has been that the sample characters break these rules.

Despite that mechanical reduction, it’s still complicated. Lots of stats and skills, weird exceptions sub-systems, several calculation steps. Any test, for example is opposed. If there’s a rolled test, the GM’s rolling dice either for the active opponent or the passive difficulty. So both player and GM have to choose and form pools, roll, activate additional powers, count successes (usually 5 or 6s on each die) and then compare those. If we’re in combat, we take that margin of success plus the weapons damage and apply that to the character. They then apply that to their armor and then to their damage track which has several levels with rising levels of penalties.

Combat’s not fast for several reasons, including the rolling. Here’s an actual example from our play. Sledge, our Ork street samurai goes in to attack a group of corporate security. He’s swinging a Mono-Katana around. He rolls 10 dice for this attack (skill plus A ((Agility because they use one letter abbreviations for the stats…)) for dice #). On average, he’s going to get three successes. He gets to reroll one die because it’s an Agility test. So let’s be generous and give him four successes. The Corporate Security rolls A + L (Agility + Logic) for 7 dice. That means an average of 2 successes. So Sledge has a margin of 2, he adds that to the 6P (Physical) damage for a total of 8 points. Awesome.

Except the Security Guard doesn’t drop. The SG has Armor 9, which he marks off, leaving him with one point left. Let’s say on the following round Sledge swings again for the same amount. The SG’s still up. They lose their last armor and then take 7 damage. They have 10, so they remain up with 3 points left. But now the GM has to track their die penalties (-3 in this case).

On average a stock standard guard will take three shots from a PC to take down. That’s assuming luck holds. Don’t even get me started on a Small Drone, which is even tougher to take down. In the GM section there’s a small passage suggesting from time to time you could handle opponents as mooks. But, “While this shouldn’t be embraced very often in an RPG setting, as that approach would most likely make an evening’s gaming a tad too boring, the GM should be willing to embrace this type of scenario every now and then…However, this option should be used sparingly.” When the rules stop off twice in a paragraph to warn me about doing something, there’s a message.

JUST CHANGE IT
But that “mook aside” is one of many rules changes you speed-bump over. Shadowrun Anarchy has tons of alternate rules, optional mechanics, and different systems. They pop up throughout the rules text. “You don’t have to do it X, you could do it Y.” I’m all in favor of optional mechanics. I played Rolemaster for years FFS. But there needs to be a clear, solid statement of the base rules first. Instead we have rules thrown in a blender

There’s more. The writing’s opaque in places. We jump from section to section on dense pages without a good map of where we are and what rules we’re working through. That makes it horrible when you have to go back to find something during play. I felt like I was back in the 1990s: text heavy pages, poor use of headings and callouts to guide, verbose writing requiring parsing. The rules have weird implications and odd placements. For example, you have to pay a Plot Point to move twice on your narration. But we only get this idea of switching from tactical to larger scale in the movement section.  It creates an even larger break between the narrative side and the weirdly crunchy resolution and combat side.

And there’s no example of play.

I repeat: there’s no example of play in the entire book. We have all that setting and 60 pages devoted to NPCs, but not any example of play.

YOU KNOW WHAT’S COMING
Shadowrun Anarchy didn’t work for me as a GM. I found the rules badly written, making it hard to figure out exactly what they intended. I tried my best to GM Shadowrun Anarchy, but it felt like running through molasses. I wanted to like it and thought I was open to different systems. I’m running point-heavy Mutants & Masterminds, tradindel rpg Mutant Year Zero, Fate, and PbtA. Look at the variety of stuff I’d run for TGIT Gauntlet Hangouts.

Let me give my gut feeling about Shadowrun Anarchy, purely gut. It chickened out. As I said at the start, Shadowrun Anarchy doesn’t do a great job defining its mission. But certainly the lead-up buzz talked about a rules-light, accessible, and narrative focused rpg. That’s a great goal. But Shadowrun Anarchy can’t let go of all the systems and crunch. There’s elaborate chrome and a deflated version of the original systems. Rather than fully rethinking those mechanics, they just put them in a dehydrator. They couldn’t take the leap: recognize the strength of their IP and find a new system approach.

Other games have managed that shift. I’ll point to Mutant Year Zero as the best recent example. But I’d say Mutant Chronicles, another branch from the same tree, manages this while staying crunchy. 7th Sea’s another example of an older game pulled into the modern era. Shadowrun Anarchy’s not in bad company though. As I’ve mentioned before I’d hoped Feng Shui 2 would be awesome and modern. But it kept some core concepts about initiative and actions that make it as game I don’t really want to play. I’m half hopeful, half nervous that the new edition of Scion will give us a lean and accessible system.

Shadowrun Anarchy’s hobbled as well by its presentation and writing. It needed an editor the caliber of Amanda Valentine or John Adamus to bring coherence. Games have gotten better about this in recent years. I think Urban Shadows, Tianxia, Coriolis, and 7th Sea offer strong examples. I think rules should be accessible, logical, and easy to reference. SRA’s anything but.

I’m not fond of writing negative reviews- I’d rather point people to things they should be looking at. That’s doubly true for something I wanted to like. That being said, if you’re enjoying SRA, more power to you. I’m glad it’s serving your group. I didn’t work for me.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Year in Post-Apocalyptic RPGs 2015 (Part Two: STALKER: gra fabularna to Winter Eternal)

SHUT UP AND TAKE MY BOTTLECAPS
We had a surplus of salvage this year. So much so I had to split this list into two parts. I'm always glad to see that-- especially when we get new core products. You can find the first half of the list-- Catalyst to Shayō-- here. I looked at PA themes in movies and TV last time, so how about in other games?

Board gaming saw some expansions, but many completely new products. Miniature-rich Zombicide released Season 3: Rue Morgue and Angry Neighbors. The first’s a stand-alone game; the latter offers an expansion into the suburbs. CMON also released Black Plague, a medieval version of this zombie game. It's nuts how much there is out there for this line as a whole. Dark Age Z covers the same medieval Z-territory with more of a Euro game approach. Lock-n-Load Publishing revised their All Things Zombies strategy game to include dealing with gangers and others survivors, creating a stronger post-apocalyptic feel. Bang the Dice Game, already a spin-off, released a spin-off version BtDG: The Walking Dead. That even got an expansion.

In non-zombie apocalypses, we saw Terminator Genisys: The Miniatures Game released, hoping to capitalize on the movie. So sorry. In more classic post-apocalypse, we saw three striking products. Bright Future is a card-driven rpg-esque game. You send characters out into the tunnels searching for equipment and technology. It can be played co-op or competitive. Night of Man offers a tactical battle against aliens after the devastation of Earth. It's a toolkit for this, including various scenarios and a point-buy game creation system. Posthuman is a huge, over-produced game which chronicles the journey of survivors across ravaged zones. It got an expansion the same year, increasing the player count to six.

In video games, we have the titanic Fallout 4. The gives you another sandbox game in the same setting, but now with a massive community-building sub-system. However, you can’t clear corpses from your town. To create hype for the game Bethesda released Fallout Shelter, a Vault-simulator app. It garnered mixed-reviews (at least among my group). Wasteland 2, a spiritual cousin to Fallout, sticks closer to the original tactical rpg mechanics. It got a PS4 release in 2015. Mad Max, based on the MM: Fury Road license, didn’t get traction. Reviewers liked some of it, but found it repetitive.

Two zombie apocalypse-games stand out: H1Z1 Just Survive and Dying Light. The latter combines parkour with horror survival. It’s striking and hard to watch at times. We also saw a lot of zombie-based shovelware. On the other hand we got three striking apocalyptic scenarios. Submerged has characters wandering through the ruins of a sunken city, searching for medicine. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, a “walking simulator,” has you wander through an aftermath. Finally Bloodborne has an overrun city infected by the attentions of otherworldly beings. Your character mediates between the real world and annihilation.


ANOTHER SETTLEMENT NEEDS OUR HELP
I focus mostly on core books here. I include Kickstarter projects if they actually released in 2014. I give pdf-only releases their own entry if they’re notable, of significant size, or come from a major publisher. I’ve consolidated a ton of material into several ”Miscellaneous” items at the end. I’m sure I missed some releases. If you spot them, leave me a note in the comments.


This is a self-published, pseudo- unlicensed, electronic-only product from Poland. But it has a weird enough story to warrant a mention. We've seen another "Roadside Picnic" aka STALKER-based game, Stalker, the officially licensed one from Finland. It released in 2008, with an English translation in 2012. But STALKER: gra fabularna is an earlier game. RPG Geek translates the publisher's blurb thusly:
They came unannounced. They were gone without a single word. All that was left was traces of their presence.
STALKER is a complete role-playing game based on the novel "Roadside Picnic" by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Set in a near future, in a year 2014. The world if ruled by international corporations. Alien artifacts of incredible and incomprehensible powers are being extracted from the Zones surrounding alien landing sites. There are stalkers, who enter the Zones and bring back alien objects, defying corporate monopoly and ownership of extraterrestrial technologies.
The rulebook contains the rules, setting description including alien artifacts, an introductory scenario and rules regarding the use a special deck of STALKER cards
STALKER is a long lost Polish game that was announced at the end of the year 1996. It was to be published with a permission from Boris Strugatsky by Wydawnictwo S.R., at a time a publisher of Strugatskys' works in Poland. Unfortunately the publisher encountered financial difficulties and the game was never released.
STALKER resurfaced after almost 20 years. The text of the game along with almost all original illustrations (apart from a set of card deck art which was lost) was published in February 2015 as a free PDF file under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence."
For a more extended statement (in Polish), see here.

I placed Ten Candles on my horror list, but it bears mentioning here. As I described it there, the world's ending. You're survivors trying to eke out a last few minutes, hours, days. You're going to fail. Your candle will be snuffed out. That’s the game.

Yikes may be the understatement of the blog.

What kinds of horror can you evoke at the table? Dread, as in the eponymous Dread with its terrible anticipation at the table? Cosmic horror, perhaps? A nihilistic reaction to things more massive and uncaring? Shock horror done with blood and gut? Its sibling body horror or revulsion ? Jump Scares? Perhaps even the subtle horror of the uncanny as seen in some fantastic stories?

And then there's Ten Candles’ existential horror. You're not monsters dealing with your inhumanity. You're people. I don't know if I could handle this game. I don't know what kind of bleed I'd have, especially given the current climate.

My description doesn’t do it justice. If you want to read an excellent explanation and review, check out this post at Bluestocking's Organic Gaming.

Another repeat from my horror lists. The End of the World series feels like they could be played either way: as the horror of devastation or as fighting against the world’s fall. Fantasy Flight has a well-deserved reputation for slick products and smart packaging. Edge of the Empire and Warhammer FRP 3e illustrate how they've been able to elevate rpgs into hybrid projects. They don't stick with the conventional. The End of the World series doesn't head off into pseudo-board game land. Instead it takes another unusual approach while remaining a more conventional rpg than other recent FFG releases. Some of that may come from TEotW's origin as a Spanish language rpg series, El Fin Del Mundo (2013).

Each volume of The End of the World offers a complete game with a complete apocalypse. In 2015 we got Alien Invasion, Zombie Apocalypse, and Wrath of the Gods. The final volume, Revolt ofthe Machines, dropped in 2016. All share a simple basic system: six stats in three categories rated from one to five. Features expand the details (i.e. flaws/assets). Players roll a pool of positive and negative d6s. Matching negatives cancel out positives and every remaining die under the relevant stat counts as a success. Those rules take up 30+ pages of a 144 page book.

Each volume then each offers a set of sketchy scenarios, each with a slightly different twist on the events. In some cases they give clear bridges between those, but in others the elements feel like they exclude one another. If you're expecting a toolbox for developing the themes, you might be disappointed. As well if you buy multiple volumes, you're repeating much of the basic material (about 25%). You might be better served by a sourcebook or dedicated game.

However The End of the World has one big hook: you play yourselves. Scenarios have flexible starting locations so you can tailor events to your own hometown or city. There's even a mechanic for painfully deciding your own stats. That works with TEotW’s fairly simple system, both easy to pick up and get running. But a large part of your enjoyment will rely on how much you like playing yourself getting murderized. I burned out on that long ago. If you remove that element, then you're left with a fairly standard set of light rules with a bog standard Armageddon.

Based on Mini Six, a hyper-light implementation of the d6 System. Has a basic layout with rough artwork. Twilight Fall offers a kitchen-sink apocalyptic setting: "Plague Zombies, Alien Horrors, Insane Robots and Computer Programs. The population of the Earth never stood a chance." It has the look of a house campaign put together for general consumption. Could be interesting for Open d6 gamers who want ideas for their own post-apocalyptic games.

A Brazilian game from 2013, translated into English in 2015. It has a great title and a creative commons license. In the early part of the 21st century, alien invaders quietly arrive. They make no demands, instead using an EMP weapon to disrupt and devastate. They land and begin to extend their reach, taking territory from shattered humanity. But no one has actually seen the aliens and survived. You're part of the resistance, struggling to survive against terrible odds. It bills itself as a game of "desperate combat and scarce resources."

UED has several really interesting pieces of game tech. Each attribute has a dice pool. When you roll a die from that, you remove it. When you run out you have to return to rest, take shelter, or resupply. I'm curious to see how that works in practice. GMs vary hugely in how many rolls they call for; that might change that tension. Success on missions can also impact the morale of your haven. Good results allow you to upgrade that base. The actual resolution system's pretty lean- simple rolls or opposed tests to resolve points of serious challenge. UED includes an appendix with optional rules for more detailed combat. They're decent, but more granular than I want out of this.

I'm kind of amazed I hadn't heard of UED: You are the Resistance before I started assembling this list. It's very well done: good layout and smart graphic elements. The system's interesting and handles resources in a novel way. It also includes pre-gens and a sample adventure. Recommended.

This third-party setting for Savage Worlds calling itself "post-post apocalyptic." That's a clever way to phrase an approach we've seen before, what I've called Civilization in the Ruins games. In this fantasy world, the sun exploded, devastating Azegar and Ehlerrac with natural catastrophes. Then the freeze came, forcing survivors into tight settlements sustained by magic. Sorcerers recast heat & light spells every morning on globes suspended each city. Several hundred years later, explorers have discovered a new resource, shards which convert light into great heat. That's spurred tentative first steps into steam and industrial technology. Now the peoples of the eight cities have begun to venture out and reclaim the cold, not-so dead world.

It's a decent concept. Is it too close to another popular SW setting, Hellfrost? The designer says no, they're nothing alike. Winter Eternal focuses on urban adventures and changes wrought by rising technologies. Winter Eternal's neat for coming from a South African design group. Pinnacle's press release mentioned this being their first licensee from Africa. Some further hunting tracked down that designer Morné Schaap's based in Cape Town, South Africa.

16. Miscellaneous: Zombies
I mentioned End of the World: Zombies up above on the list. But this year saw other Z-games and sourcebooks. In AFMBE lingo GURPS Zombies Day One’s settings are Deadworlds. They're a collection of zombie set ups and scenarios ranging from fantasy to video-game style to space bound. It includes a couple of "aftermath" type approaches. Fear the Living offers a standard zombie survival game. It does have a couple of interesting twists, particularly collaborative zombie apocalypse creation. But that’s a short section, with a few example. It isn't a massive toolkit, but it’s an interesting idea and one you could port over to other Z-games.

The pitch line for AZ: After Zombies doesn't show what sets this apart from other undead outbreak rpgs. It mentions the percentile system, lack of character classes, and that it’s the brainchild of an industry veteran, Charles Rice. The game itself is a done-in-one rpg clocking in at 144 pages. They've released a couple of modules for AZ as well. Characters have eight stats, three derived attributes, complimented by backgrounds, traits, and optional disadvantages. Each character also has at least two skills. The base system uses random rolls to determine these, but you can simply take an average instead. The art's quite good, but I'm not sure what the killer app is here. There's mention of Unity as a group stat in the preview, and that's an interesting concept. But this year in particular saw a ton of zombie games, so I fear AZ got lost in the shuffle.

TROPES is intended to be a new basic system, and it launches with TROPES: Zombie Edition as its flagship. It's a light, d6-driven game. Characters have three stats (muscle, agility, wits), a background/ profession, and a descriptive sentence. A character's background gives a die bonus for related tasks. Those mechanics only take up the first 16 pages. It's pretty conventional, though I like the concept of exceptional rolls giving you the equivalent of fate points. TROPES: ZE does have good simple toolkit for building an outbreak. That's a decent resource and I'd like to see more of that. That's followed by NPCs, some zombie listings, and inspirational sources. TROPES: Zombies offers a quick, simple zombie game. If you like Z-horror and want something you can get to the table quickly, it fits. If you're curious about it, there's an artless PWYW version available. Small Niche Games has also released a companion and a scenario.

Finally Outbreak: Undead 2e moves this line back to classic zombies from the company's foray into generic sci-fi horror (Outbreak: Space). It touts its use of cards but they aren't integral to play. These come in three flavors: encounters, character trait, and injury reference cards. The encounter cards also include survivors so you can pick one of those and play right away. Optionally you can take an online quiz, the “SPEW AI,” and generate a version of yourself. Outbreak: Undead survival. You track your resources encumbrance. In this regard it leans towards The Walking Dead side: life in the aftermath. OB:UD doesn't focus on backstory, instead it assumes you have that in mind. ("Zombies are here. What's next?"). While Outbreak: Undead looks simple, there's an array graphic icons and color coding in the rules, as well as the use of d5's. I didn't like the first edition’s messy, collage-filled approach; this new version cleans that up. While you can't turn off the layers in the pdf, the page backgrounds aren't too intrusive. It feels like a much stronger game with significant mechanical changes.

17. Miscellaneous: Revisions and New Editions
18. Miscellaneous: Supplements
  • Alfieri di Ferro and Schiavi delle Maree: Both for the Italian game, Nameless Land. The former's a sourcebook for the Southern Continent. The latter's a large volume covering the seas of the New World, including San Francisco and Ordo Pacific. Has material for running an ocean-based campaign.
  • APOCalypse2500 GM’s Campaign Guide & Bestiary: Big book of GM tools for this rpg: optional rules, reference tables, new foes, and setting details.
  • Chaos Earth: Resurrection: An expansion for RIfts: Chaos Earth, that adds zombies (?). Might have been inspired by the success of Dead Reign.
  • Creatures of the Apocalypse Codex: Large collection of monsters for Mutant Epoch. It brings together previously published beasts and six new ones. Each entry includes loot & encounter tables, mutation listings, victims & locales, as well as a full page image to use as a handout.
  • Legacy: Echoes of the Fall: Adds three new playbooks, ten sample technologies, and a variety of threats for use with this PbtA game.
  • Post-Apocalyptic Vampire Wars: A Starbright release. Caveat Emptor. This time they've gone with WaRP as their free system of choice.
  • Ruins of Atlanta: An unusual sourcebook for the superhero game Bulletproof Blues. In the setting's "Kalos Universe" Atlanta has been destroyed by the superhero Paragon. This gives info on running a campaign in those now lawless ruins.
  • Scraps of the Rust Empire: Regional supplement for the tabletop version of Dystopia Rising. Focuses on "Oilberta, the Pacific Providence, the Under-Sea, Bridge City, and the Lilac City." I remain curious about this sourcebook series. I think I'll have to break down and pick one up to see how they're presented.
19. Miscellaneous: Modules
  • Cthulhu Apocalypse brings together three Trail of Cthulhu post-apocalyptic modules/toolkits previously released. It expands that with eight new scenarios. It's from Gareth Hanrahan and Graham Walmsley, so how can you go wrong?
  • Godchild: Two adventures, Eldruden and Hell Storm for this strange game. The blurb for the first one includes: "Angels of a God Reborn is the story of Amadi Dialla, the Eldruden, Jehovah Incarnate as Son of Man. The adventure begins with Amadi within Gul Gugorroth, subject to Grand Prafectae Madhiem's cruel experiments for the secrets of Jehovah's mind, contained within Jehovah's memories, or, Soul Mind." Also I just noticed the designer’s credited only as Gemmon (also the name of the publisher).
  • Metamorphosis Alpha: We got releases, not for any of the later editions, but for the "collectors" version of the first edition: Death Ziggurat in Zero-G, The Level of the Lost,
  • Mutant Epoch: Several modules including One Day Digs: Hunt in the Dark, Lilac Towers, and the double feature Beneath the Spire /Tunnels & Skulls. We also saw a much larger adventure sourcebook described as "multi-path,” The Flesh Weavers.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Year in Post-Apocalyptic RPGs 2015 (Part One: Catalyst to Shayō)

BURN HOLLYWOOD BURN
This turned out to be a great year for the apocalypse. So great I’ve reluctantly had to split 6K words into two parts. On the plus side, I only had to write one post this week. On the minus, it was four times my usual word count. Anyway, let’s look at 2015’s apocalypses in other media.

In television we saw a few things. 12 Monkeys is and isn’t a post-apocalyptic show. We’ve seen that trope elsewhere: time travel to prevent catastrophe. But I don’t think we’ve seen that as an rpg. The Messengers also had characters attempting to prevent disaster, this time the Rapture. (BTW is the Rapture supposed to be preventable?) In SPOILER territory, Wayward Pines has an ambiguously apocalyptic backdrop. Last Man on Earth may be the first even vaguely funny post-apocalyptic comedy (aside from the Quiz Show sketches on That Mitchell & Webb Look). The Man in the High Castle is good but falls more into dystopia. We do have one big winner. Probably the most classic and interesting post-apocalyptic program to arrive was Into the Badlands, combining a wuxia feel with a fallen world.

In film we had Z for Zachariah, about a love triangle after a nuclear war. That came and went quickly. Hunger Games: Mockingjay 2, Divergent: Insurgent and Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials all offered new installments in their respective YA dystopias with hyphens. The terrible Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse mercifully seems to be one of the year’s few Z-films. Disney’s borderline Randian Tomrrowland references the apocalypse. The same could be said for the underperforming Terminator: Genisys. Of course the crown jewel of 2015 is Mad Max Fury Road. It’s amazing. It also harkens back to one of the most influential films on post-apocalyptic games, The Road Warrior.


I SMELL A RIOT
I focus mostly on core books here. I include Kickstarter projects if they actually released in 2014. I give pdf-only releases their own entry if they’re notable, of significant size, or come from a major publisher. I’ve consolidated a ton of material into several ”Miscellaneous” items at the end. I’m sure I missed some releases. If you spot them, leave me a note in the comments.


That’s a bad name for a post-apocalyptic game. It's generic enough I assumed at first it was a universal system (ala Spark, Omni, Paragon). There's already a Catalyst Games, a pretty significant rpg publisher. There’s also the venerable Catalyst series of supplements from Flying Buffalo. The publisher could have easily tagged on another word reduce confusion (Fallen, Armageddon, World of…just something). 

This is the first product from the Cherry Picked Game and they unusually went with a boxed set. That's less common these days. I wonder if the availability of places like The Game Crafter will make that more common. Catalyst’s box includes a 270 page manual, a deck of 142 action cards, and a link to the companion app. Another interesting step forward, and one we might see more of. Catalyst also has a live action trailer on their website. Let’s say it doesn't do the game any favors.

The actual Catalyst setting goes with a tried & true Demon Invasion/Magic Returns disaster. Plague devastates humanity and now you’re among the survivors fighting back. The system uses d6's plus character stuff vs. a task number to determine success. Good, basic stuff. But Catalyst also touts their ‘card-based combat’ in promo materials. From what I can tell these aren't actually part resolution. Instead you use them to state and reveal your actions. That’s intended to create tension and potentially have players working at cross-purposes. I guess that means a limit on at table chatter? Those cards are an intriguing idea, but I'm curious how much work that makes for the GM. It looks like the GM picks cards for all the NPCs involved in a scene. 

Despite the box and app, Catalyst looks like a first product. Most of the graphic design chops went towards those cards. The core book has walls of text in places without headers. That makes reading more of a slog. Add to that the choice to make the page margins as narrow as possible. It looks weird. While that doesn’t completely undercut the product, I'd recommend checking out the game's website as well as the downloadable material to see if it fits for you. In particular see the sample, the character sheet, the GM advice, and the printable cards. The company's supported Catalyst with several supplements, including Fourth World. I point that out because this is a modern-magic game using a term suspiciously close to one closely identified with another big techno-magic game (“kof” Shadowrun “kof”). And that’s made by the company with the same name as this rpg. Deliberate?

Fragged Empire calls itself post-post-apocalypse. It’s a cool way to describe something we’ve seen before. 10,000 years in the future a galaxy-wide war devastated societies. After a 100 years of 'tribalism', four genetically engineered peoples have banded together to head forth into space. There's tension between the four, but all know they need the other to survive. It sounds of a highly developed version of Cascade Failure, one of my favs. The quickstart does a great job of setting up all this in just a couple of paragraphs. The cover art's striking so I had high hopes going in.

There's a lot to like right out of the gate. They have crisp layout and smart use of icons. The art remains nice throughout. They mention non-linear character building and a focus on sandbox play. The actual resolution system's 3d6 plus character stuff vs. a difficulty. Description can add a roll bonus (or penalty). While you're looking for a total number, each 6 rolled can be used to power special effects (ala Dragon Age, Mutant Year Zero). All good.

Then there's Tactical Miniatures Combat.
“This ruleset includes intuitive tactical combat in which you will need to react not only to your environment (cover is your friend), but also to your opponents’ actions. It also includes optional rules for miniature-free combat (pg: 30). GMs are encouraged to make combat a part of the story and to reward intelligent play. As there are no perfect, statistically balanced encounters, the players’ creativity, skill, and teamwork will be the key to victory.”
Not my bag. It used to be my bag, but then I put that bag in the attic. Fragged Empire isn't the crunchiest game I've seen. We don't have ten different details for the guns (just seven). But we do have grid examples showing range increments and spread fire. The mechanics take a sharp uptick in number of things we have to roll and calculate. You have all kinds of maneuver and actions choices. The combat rules take up 22 pages of a 42 page quickstart.

It does have optional "Theatre of the Mind" combat-- very, very abstract. It’s a race to accumulate combat successes. Think Fate contests with more damage fallout. That's great and I appreciate the inclusion. But it does mean that much of the game's given over to rules and mechanics that I'd have to jettison. The character sheets are massively built for this kind of tactical combat, so you'd want to redo those. In the end, the setting and backdrop would have to be amazing to make me do that work. Don't get me wrong- Fragged Empire’s cool and looks good, but I didn't grab me with something new and striking about the world. On the other hand, if I liked tactical combat I think I'd be all over this. What it does, it does well. Plus the company has supported it an Antagonist Archive, Protagonist Archive, and several adventures.. If you're at all interested I recommend checking out the free quickstart.

I had a chance to play this at Origins in 2015. It's an rpg-board game hybrid. Players control a character and randomly draw relationships to the characters seated next to them. This builds the fiction of the group and opens with a quick collaboration. Then the PCs wander, hoping not to die before the end conditions arrive. On a turn a player draws from one of the terrain decks, showing where the group’s moving. These cards have an event, choice, challenge, or some mix of these. Players try to maintain your Hope and not get bad status cards, so they may have to call on group resources. Many of the choices cause bad effects for other players instead of or in addition to the lead player. Hope Inhumanity banks on mad, desperate semi-cooperative play. It's decently fun and probably much more a board than role-playing game. I like the GMless, card-driven mechanics. The designer has released an updated version and an expansion (Martial Law) recently, but I haven't picked those up yet.

As has become apparent over these lists, I'm no historian. I've placed a few games in a larger context than simply the year. Mostly I like to get the timing right; to see what came before and after. Translations and Kickstarters complicate that. I've no hard and fast rule for the former. If I've seen a concrete pub date referenced, I usually go with that regardless of language/edition. For Kickstarters, I try to place them in the delivery year rather than campaign year. Some companies, shall we say, have a flexible delivery date, but still put out press releases as if the game's actually in people’s hands. 

So I have Mutant: Year Zero on my 2014 list, but I've also heard that it delivered in early 2015. (Ignoring the original 2012 Swedish release….). That gives me an excuse to mention the main game here. That’slucky because I posted a lengthy piece last week on how how awesome it is. MYZ's an example of a great game and a great rethinking. Some systems have made incremental changes over editions & reissues- you could argue that for D&D. Others have successfully rethought their approach for modern designs. Mutant: Year Zero and 7th Sea are examples of that; we'll see if the new Paranoia delivers on that promise. Some don't really change, while others miss the point (Shadowrun Anarchy). 

There’s a definitive MYZ release in 2015, even if I’m wrong about the original core book. GenLab Alpha dropped, the first sequel game for Mutant: Year Zero. It deals with genetically enhanced or uplifted animals in the same world. They're broken into multiple factions by species and held in Paradise Valley. Robot guards oversee and contain them. Scientists subject them to arbitrary experimentation. Dissent is crushed and calculating forces work to keep the groups divided.

Genlab Alpha uses the same mechanics as MYZ, with small changes to reflect these characters' nature. That makes it completely compatible with the first game, but allows it to stand alone. You choose both a species and a role for your character. Animals have their own powers, rather than mutations. When these go out of control, that character's likely to go feral or revert to instincts. The system doesn't feel like a reskinning; it feels complete and coherent. 

Perhaps most importantly, what you’re doing differs. Survival's a different question here. You're less concerned with mysteries and exploration because you know the land at the start. Instead you're trying to figure out how to escape. The parallel to Mutant: Year Zero’s Ark system is the Resistance Sheet. You’ll be be building connections, making deals, and trying to stay under the Watchers' radar. There's a clear metaplot campaign here. At the same time, the game supports just adding these animal characters to an existing MYZ campaign. In that case, you assume that the breakout occurred and they're out in the world. Or as I've done in my game, a few freakishly got away, but the vast majority remain trapped in the valley. 

Another 2015 release Zone Compendiun 3:Die, Meat Eaters, Die! assumes that escape happened a while ago. It has five new animal-based settlements for the MYZ PCs to encounter. The publishers released several other smaller support products in 2015, including a couple of pdf-only zones and a card set for GenLab Alpha. As of this writing, there's a third gamebook on Kickstarter, Mechatron. That covers robots. There's also the promise of a fourth volume dealing with Human survivors. Overall the MYZ series is solid and highly recommended.

I love the phrasing of this subtitle, "Techno-Fantasy Roleplaying." The last Mutant Chronicles came out in '97, an almost twenty-year gap. It can trace a line back to the original Swedish Mutant rpg. In 1993 the company dumped an explicitly cyberpunk version, Mutant RYMD, and republished with Mutant Chronicles. Instead of the noir and street cred of cyberpunk, they delivered an ass-kicking, testosterone powered rpg that smells more than a little like Warhammer 40K. Mutant Chronicles spawned a strong line: card games, miniatures, video games, multiple editions of the rpg, and even a Ron Perlman film. (one of seven RP movies that have rpgs associated)

Mutant Chronicles has a wild and distinctive art style, though you can clearly see the influence of Games Workshop on presentation and design. The new Modiphus edition keeps some of that, several covers come from older products or the original artist. You can spot those. They're the ones where everyone looks about to go into full 'Roid Rage. The newer covers are hit and miss, with a couple of different looks.

In the bleak future of Mutant Chronicles, a dread supernatural force known as the Dark Legion has been unleashed. The battle with these corrupting, undead and demonic legions has devastated the solar system. Humanity itself splintered into distinct factions- each with agendas and secrets. While it might look as over-the-top as Rifts, Mutant Chronicles has a strong central setting and premise. It is a gonzo military rpg. While other missions are possible, the presumption is a team of hardened heroes waging war on corruption (either human or Necrophage). Later books open that up further. 

Mutant Chronicles 3e uses the 2d20 mechanics which have become the house system for Modiphus (powering Conan, Infinity, and Star Trek). It's a crunchier system, reflecting the emphasis on combat and tactics in these settings (well, maybe not Star Trek). Successes generate momentum which can be spent to power other effects. The GM has Dark Symmetry points to power their actions. Action types, hit locations, crit tables, range calculations…there's a lot of stuff in this game. But I suspect enthusiasts will be looking for that in their play. 

Overall Mutant Chronicles 3e feels like a solidly built game. I like that we get female representation on the core book’s cover, but the boob plate's a bit much. Modiphus expands the original setting by including material for play during the emergence of the Dark Apostles. The publisher also strongly captures a dieselpunk look without making the pages muddy and unreadable. Modiphus has supported MC3 with many supplements. Five big sourcebooks came out in 2015 (The Brotherhood, Capitol, Imperial, Mishima, and Player’s Guide). Almost a dozen more released in 2016. If you're interested, check out the free quickstart.

Numenera remains the post-apocalyptic game at the top of the head. It has a very different frame and tone than its nearest rival, Mutant Year Zero. On earlier lists I've spoken about the difficulty of placing something like Numenera. It takes place so far in the future that the various destructions are a memory. That makes it a little like 13th Age, which also has the idea of older civilizations and eras buried, waiting to the uncovered. But that's a minor note in 13th Age, whereas recovery and engagement with the weird relics of lost civilizations is central. That play always reminds me of early Gamma World, that’s what it was all about.

This year saw continued support for the line with major books, pdf supplements, physical add-ons, and third party releases. Ninth World Guidebook delineates and explains even more of the land. It reaches beyond the borders of the core book's map. It's for those who like more support and presented information. Into the Night goes even further afield. This covers the moon and space beyond the world. Smaller products included maps, cards, dice sets, adventures, and Weird Discoveries: Ten Instant Adventures for Numenera, an adventure collection. 

Dread Unicorn Games released The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady, a follow up to their earlier adventure. Ryan Chaddock published The Wander, a collection of locations, encounters, and other miscellany. It's good to see some third party support, though that hasn't transformed into a movement.

Or as Google translates it, "Shrieking Planet." A French game which seems to have been supported through a crowdfunding site called ulule. The designers call it a cross between Conan, Elric, and Gamma World. It definitely has a weird & visceral sound to it. You live on the artificial world of Cyanide, in the wake of the empire of the sorcerer kings. Factions battle over relics left behind and search the wastelands for power. Tectonic plates constantly shift, forcing communities to remain on the move. Cities roll across the landscape powered by magic or weird tech. It's like sword & sorcery Numenera in some ways, with more thews at least. Planète Hurlante's built on the Microlite 4 rules, a streamlined d20 variant. You can see more about it at their ulule page.

ALL CAPS. Reality ripped asunder. Things come in; guardians fight back against them. Uses the Open d6 mechanics. Has a kitchen-sink look to it, despite the generic name.

9. Shayō
Post-apocalyptic samurai, but very different from Motobushido, the first rpg to carve out this territory. When I first saw Shayō’s cover, I thought someone'd released a Tokugawa grimdark game. Then I looked again. Now I saw the gas mask cleverly worked into the armor, the ammo clip on the belt, and the bullet holes.

Shayō is a French post-apocalyptic samurai rpg. In the near future, a series of disasters devastates the planet. After a time of conflict humanity discovers new powers and in many places returns to older, archaic ways and cultures. Japan becomes Hi-no-Moto, under the Chrysanthemum Throne and the watchful eye of the Shogun. Now the world of this neo-Shogunate is stalked samurai, tech hunters, and priests. Mutants and mad powers roam, echoing ancient legends.


Shayō has neat concept and system looks like the middle-weight complexity we’ve seen from other French games (Kuro, Polaris, Les Ombres d’Esteren). It has a point spend system, with characters built on archetypes. The resolution system seems to be d10 with roll & keep elements. I'm unsure how much Shayō looks like L5R-systemwise. Maybe I’ll eventually get a chance to find out. The game had only a core book and GM screen released in France. I really, really want to see this game in English, but the announce Kickstarter date keeps getting pushed back. At this point I'm uncertain if it will ever come about.

Part Two