Category Archives: review

RPG Review: King Arthur Pendragon v5.2

Will Raves

It’s not fair. I mean, what game has a chance against Nocturnal Media’s King Arthur Pendragon RPG?

Am I giving away the ending? Oops. Please carry on.

The Review

I’m going to approach this review as if you know nothing about previous versions. That said, King Arthur Pendragon 5.2 is a mainly cosmetic update from KAP 5.1. I own both in PDF and 5.1 print-on-demand hardbound, and they contain mostly the same content. A few errata have been merged in, but otherwise, the two versions can be used interchangeably. Primarily, the changes relate to layout and art.

But, oh wow. The new art is impressive.


1.) Size and Production Quality 

The Pendragon book isn’t the most massive RPG book I own, but it’s nowhere near the smallest either. Most of my previous reviews have been of minimalist RPGs who’s rules could be distilled into a few pages if you wanted them to be incredibly dense. KAP runs 272 pages if you include the newly redesigned character sheets in the back.

The layout is improved from 5.1 as well. I can’t speak for the book quality since I’m still waiting on a hardbound copy from one of Nocturnal Media’s Kickstarters I backed last year. I’ll update this post when I have my copy.

At any rate, for $19.99 you can get the PDF on DriveThruRPG. It’s a decent price for a book this size. Once Nocturnal’s offset print run is available, you’ll be able to pick up hardcover copies as well.

9/10


2.) Art

The art in Pendragon 5.2 is masterful. It was pulled from the Spanish version of the game, where they also have additional updated products. I was lucky enough to flip through the pages of the Spanish versions of King Arthur Pendragon and The Great Pendragon Campaign on a recent trip to Spain, plus a fantastic GM screen that I bought tucked in my carry-on for the trip back to the US (pictured below), and they are all glorious. Full-color art and plenty of it, and that cover. Drool. I can’t wait to have it on my shelf.

spanishPendragon

P.S. That store in Barcelona had fiction and non-fiction books, RPGs, board games, Magic, and plenty of fun toys. They had a clean and pleasant atmosphere, friendly staff, and space to play (3 RPG sessions going on while I was in the store). The kicker? They had the absolute largest RPG section of any store I’ve ever visited in any country. Someone want to build one of those right down the street from my house? I promise to be a faithful patron– please?

10/10


3.) Content and Rules

Nothing new here if you are already familiar with perhaps the most excellent RPG ever created. I’ll summarize for those who may be unfamiliar.

KAP is, surprise, about ancient England and being a knight (male or female) and chivalry and romanticism and magic and a brilliant system for role-playing.

So aside from the fact you get to play a knight with the opportunity to make history, build a family and a legacy (all part of the rules), and potentially even join Arthur at the Round Table, there is also a deep and strange connection to Merlin and the magic of faeries.

However, for me, the system is the other standout element. It’s no wonder there are multiple games in production built from the KAP ruleset, including Paladin: The Warriors of Charlemagne and a forthcoming game set in feudal Japan. One of the things I love the most about the system is the Traits. I’ve never seen a game take a similar approach. Each trait is a matched pair like Prudent/Reckless or Valorous/Cowardly.

The total score of the pairs must always add up to 20 (e.g., if my knight has a 6 in Merciful, she has to have a 14 in Cruel). When a player decides to have their character act against their traits, the GM may ask them to roll. For example, if I want my knight Phillipa to spare the life of a peasant who caused her to be unhorsed and publically humiliated, I would have to roll under her Merciful score on a d20. If I fail, I will roll to see if I score under my Cruel score, if I do, I must behave cruelly. If I do not, I can choose for myself.

There are several reasons I like this approach as a player and a GM. First, it’s effortless to get into character when you know you’ll be rolling and facing the consequences of failure to follow your character’s natural path anyway.

There are also passions, skills, and attributes. All of them contribute to the effectiveness and demeanor of your character. Any of these stats may be raised over time, and as you gain glory (Pendragon’s experience… sort-of), you’ll have more opportunities to do so.

9/10


4.) Game Master Section

Considerable effort has gone into providing everything needed for a GM to run a game of chivalry, virtue, and bravery. The flavor of the game should be entirely apparent for players if you are following the guidance given here.

8/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

Ever want to fight a bear and become a knight and make “the leap”? I ran this adventure as a one-off RPG session for the first time a week ago for a group who’s go-to game is D&D. They loved it, with the exception that a couple folks rolled a few too many 20s. I’ve played this adventure as well, and I’d say its very well balanced and encourages the use of many of the Pendragon’s mechanics naturally and organically. It’s a good three hours at least if you run with the pregenerated knights from the back of the book.

8/10


Total Score: 44/50

I own almost the entire Pendragon library. Some books, more than one copy. It’s very high on my list of RPGs. The score feels good to me.

This is the first non-TinyD6 game I’ve reviewed. It held up well! Look for future Pendragon book reviews, and perhaps something Trek and/or Hobbit-inspired soon as well.

State Of The Writer’s Brain/Work

Hey all, it’s been a while since we’ve talked. I mean REALLY talked.

How’ve you been? Are the kids doing well? How about the dogs? Goldfish? Broom?

If you’ve been following along on Twitter or my Facebook page, you might have gleaned a few tidbits about what I’ve been up to. However, I think if you read on, you’ll find some surprises.

work-in-progress-2ohayi

What’s On Hold

The Galaxy and All Her Charms is officially on hold. What I realized is this: the story I have in my head doesn’t match what I’ve written. I’m not ready to write that story for many reasons. I readily admit, one of them is my lack of skill.

Good news though, I had some professional help to review what’s already written. I have some fabulous feedback I’m going to be working through, but for now, I have other projects taking precedence.

What’s Done

If you missed it, a second Clah tale is published. Clah Versus the Volcano: A Marshmallow Roast.

The first draft of parts 6, 7, and 8 of Rue From Ruin are in the can awaiting a revision and publishing here on the blog. I also had some professional feedback on the first few parts, and I’m going to do a bigger overhaul at some point and submit the resulting story to some contests and anthologies.

I submitted around 5000 words of RPG writing to be published in a forthcoming RPG game. I’ll keep the name of the game quiet for the moment. It’s due out later this year or early next, so I’ll share once there is something for you to see.

What’s In-Progress

My new novel, codenamed GIAO, is well underway. The draft is about 1/4 finished, and I’m writing on it regularly. This one is very exciting for me. I’ll write about some related topics as I go along. Maybe some worldbuilding posts and such.

Blog posts: I have one about paying for professional critiques (the short answer is: if you can afford it, do it). Also an RPG review a new version of one of my favorite games of all time King Arthur Pendragon. Finally, for those reading from work, I have several posts in various stages of completion on my tech blog: http://blog.dubmun.com

What’s Brewing

Another RPG project is in the works. This one is considerably more ambitious than the last, and I may be involved as more than a pinch-hitter. Very early stages, but I’m really excited about it. I’ll share more when the plans firm up.

I’ve also written up seeds of quite a few new stories and/or longer works. They aren’t worth sharing at the moment, but a couple of them are exciting.

Finally, I’m considering writing a webcomic. I’m talking to a few artists about an idea I believe translates well to the medium.

 

See ya around, and thanks for reading!

What I’m Excited About: Coal Belly

Hey folks, time to take a break from writing and discussing RPG games (and how I like them as creative tools for writers).

Now I’m going to talk about reading.

I try to broaden my reading horizons from time to time. Try is the operative word. When I had an opportunity to read some books indie-published by an author in my writing group that was firmly outside my usual reading coterie, I welcomed the opportunity with perhaps some minor trepidation.

K.M. Alexander’s weird fiction series, The Bell Forging Cycle, has three books so far. I didn’t relish telling a growing friend who gave great writing advice his style of writing wasn’t for me. What if I couldn’t bring myself to read book two (Old Broken Road)? Also, I’ll admit I wasn’t very excited about reading something “self-published”.  All I knew about self-pubs at the time was the worst FUD distributed by two types of sources. Traditional publishers and reviewers with obvious skin in the game continue to rail against self-pubs even today. Also, multiple people I know have read and reacted poorly to something written and published by a person (often their neighbor or family member) who clearly had no understanding of what is actually involved in the publishing process or frequently even the writing process.

It turns out, there was absolutely no cause for concern. I finished The Stars Were Right rarely putting it down over a single weekend. I’ve since read the rest of The Bell Forging Cycle, and I can’t imagine a sci-fi/fantasy fan who wouldn’t enjoy following along with Waldo Bell’s trials and triumphs in the strange yet familiar multi-tiered city of Lovat. It’s such a rich and intriguing world. I could imagine myself visiting Lovat, and I sure wish I could.

The Point–

K.M. has just finished a zero-draft version of Coal Belly, and I’ll be gnashing my teeth and wailing until I can get my hands on it. Coal Belly isn’t a new installment in The Bell Forging Cycle, it’s a new novel with a whole world of fascinating characters, stories, and ideas behind it.

Mr. Alexander can surely explain it better than I:

–REBLOGGED–

Last weekend, after a year and eight months, I finally hit print on the final chapter of my latest novel, Coal Belly. The first of what I hope to be a trilogy. Right now, it weighs in at 190k words, and I expect it to grow. Long time readers know this isn’t the first time I’ve written […]

via So, Coal Belly is Done… Sorta — I Make Stories

RPG Review: Tiny Frontiers

WILL RAMBLES

I’m not really in the business of reviewing role-playing games. Granted, I’ve been playing them off and on for 28 or so years. My generation lived in the time when this sort of make believe was frowned on. A time when the most parentally appropriate handling of RPGs was to sell them, throw them out, or burn them.

At any rate, now I play RPGs with my kids. Take that, irony! It’s a nice way to bond, have a good time, and do something intellectually stimulating. I also find it helps exercise the creative muscle in my brain that I use for writing. Playing sci-fi RPGs helps me think through scenarios in The Galaxy and All Her Charms.

THE REVIEW

Fair warning: I play RPGs with the author of Tiny Frontiers on a fairly regular basis. I might not me the most unbiased person to write a review of Tiny Frontiers, but I’m going to do my best.

Today I’m reviewing Tiny Frontiers by Alan Bahr of Gallant Knight Games.

tinyFrontiers

It’s a minimalist sci-fi RPG system, designed to play on the run, with new players, with kids, or just with your normal group when you are between campaigns.


1.) Size and Production Quality 

The Tiny Frontiers book isn’t huge. It clocks in at 136 pages in with black-and-white illustrations and layout. The sidebars contain call-outs. It’s well organized and easy to read. My only complaint is the binding on the standard Kickstarter edition. It’s not the best and I think eventually it will fail. However, if you can get your hands on a Deluxe hardbound edition (good luck) it’s binding is perfection and has a handy bookmark ribbon to boot.

At any rate, the standard book is priced at $15 and the PDF on DriveThruRPG is only $5 at the moment. For my money, a huge bargain.

8/10


2.) Art

The art is quite decent for a first Kickstarter. It evokes the sci-fi setting effectively and there is quite a bit of it spread throughout the book. It feels very thematic to the game and true to the original fantasy setting, Tiny Dungeon.

6/10


3.) Content and Rules

 

For me, there are two areas where Tiny Frontiers really shines. This is one of them. The original TD rules are a great minimalist take with only 3d6 required to play. The statistical curves are good and the simplicity lends itself to easy understanding for new players and kids. Take those original rules and add brilliant adaptations for alien species, cybernetics, space ships, and mecha. Now you have yourself a sci-fi bonanza!

9/10


4.) Game Master Section

For a minimalist RPG, the GM section is pretty short and sweet. Some decent guidance and nifty tables for random generation of everything from planets to enemies.

7/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

There isn’t exactly a pre-made adventure in Tiny Frontiers. Instead, Gallant Knight Games gives us something I really love: MICRO SETTINGS. Part of the stretch goals for the Kickstarter were micro settings written by sci-fi authors, rpg luminaries, and generally talented folk. People like Steve Diamond, Ryan Schoon, Marie Brennan, and Dan Wells to name a few.

Micro settings are an amazing way to wrap your head around a quick idea for a universe of gameplay and include several adventure hooks to get the story jumpstarted.

I love them.

10/10


Total Score: 40/50

So, I’ve never done this, but I think 40 is a pretty dang good score.

I’d purchase this game again. In fact, I’m backing a follow-up Kickstarter right now: Tiny Frontiers – Mecha & Monsters! The new game stands alone, but can be used in conjunction with the original. It also has full-color art! This is a great chance to get one of those deluxe copies, and Alan has told me he’s going with a better binding on the standard version as well.

You can read my review of the completed Tiny Frontiers: Mecha and Monsters here.

I’ll tease you with the cover art:

tf_mecha

I’ve Seen Stranger Things

I thought I’d take a minute to give you all some likely redundant thoughts on the Netflix original series, Stranger Things. Yep. I’m probably the five-billionth person to write a review with this exact same title. At least I’m still ahead of 1/3 of humanity.

stranger things titles

Unless you’ve been living under a rock on a planet in a different galaxy where they don’t get Netflix, or Internet service for that matter, you’ve probably heard of Stranger Things. You’ve probably also heard or read people gushing with praise for the series. I’ll be honest… I kind of brushed off the first couple of people who told me about it.

“I’m already in the middle of a Downton Abbey binge with my wife,” I said. Yes, I realize I’m a bit behind on that one. It’s a fantastic series for me right now because I have some scenes in The Galaxy and All Her Charms (keep an eye out for chapter one HERE very soon) taking place in a wealthy Arabritish family’s estate, and they share a few similarities. Enough to justify watching a fun series with a fun lady, at any rate.

So, I had what I felt was an iron-clad excuse to avoid getting caught up in another series. Until some of my more musically-inclined friend started in on me. As readers of the blog will know, I have a thing for music. Where is that understatement emoji? The music in Stranger Things has two things I love: moody, atmospheric, retro electronica, and dark, delightful 80’s pop/rock tunes. Needless to say, I caved, and I took Meri and her sister (who was visiting for a couple of days) with me.

To the meat of the review then.

strangerThingsWidePoster

How to do this without spoilers– I’ll start with the same comparisons I’ve heard from at least a dozen other people:

The Goonies
Stand By Me
E.T.
X-Files
Any good 80’s teen flick
Silent Hill (not the dumb movie– the excellent and suspenseful video game)

The visuals and cinematography are high quality while maintaining the feel of the period. Tension is managed well with the periodical release and build cycles that continue to ratchet higher as the show moves toward the eighth episode finale. Yes, there are eight one-hour episodes, so we have time to see real character development, and the writers don’t let us down.

Finally, the music. Well– you can see some of it for yourself if you have Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/netflixmusic/playlist/2X6z5kU0wMnKoar8i1RN6B

Unfortunately, the score is only on iTunes for now. Check it out there if you like, but really just go watch the show.

Now the shameless plug. If you like Stranger Things, you might enjoy my little piece I wrote recently called Clah and the Ship: a Bedtime Story. It has an element of the fantastic, with some creepiness, and hopefully a similar sense of wonder. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Also, I’d love you hear what you love about Stranger Things. Or where my review went wrong. Hit me up on Twitter.