Tag Archives: rpg

RPG I Love You: Cold Shadows

WILL RAMBLES

Hey folks! It’s been a while. I’ve been avoiding writing “reviews” since I officially joined the indie publisher club. This is not an RPG Review (although I’ve had one queued up for Cold Shadows for a while). I’m doing a new thing I’ll call an RPG I Love You where I’ll point out games I love and the reasons I love them. Honestly, I’ve never reviewed an RPG I actively dislike… it’s not really how I roll. Maybe there’ll be some mention about the things I DON’T love in an RPG I Love You, but that’s not the focus. Oh, and one more thing, the rating system I’ve done in the past is gone. Kaput. Finito.

Now that we’re done with the meta stuff, let’s see if I can still do this…

Cold Shadows is one of the games whose Kickstarter ran while Gallant Knight Games was an imprint of Nocturnal Media. Sadly, the death of RPG industry legend and luminary Stewart Wieck of Nocturnal came before the final product delivered. As fans of role-playing games, we are all in debt to Stewart on a level similar to that of Gary Gygax and Greg Stafford and the other progenitors of our favorite hobby. Mr. Wieck’s contributions are multitude, and when he was at White Wolf, he changed the industry forever with the World of Darkness line of games.

This RPG I Love You is dedicated to Stewart.

ColdShadows

I LOVE YOU, COLD SHADOW

Today I’m looking back on the Kickstarter edition of Cold Shadows, the narrative Cold War spy roleplaying game by Gallant Knight Games.

Cold Shadows enables groups to tell John LeCarre-style spy stories full of tense scenarios where agencies are the greater whole and agents serve the agency’s purposes– mostly.

It’s based on the Blood and Honor ruleset by John Wick Presents. I’ve played that one as well, and I’d recommend it for groups looking to tell narrative samurai stories. If your tastes run more toward samurai noir during the industrialization of Japan, you should also check out World of Dew by Woerner’s Wonderworks. Ben Woerner was heavily involved in Cold Shadows as well.

This game, like its predecessors makes certain assumptions about both the group and the GM and their capability to narratively describe things on the fly. Additionally, its focus on Agency first and above all is not just lip service, it’s driven both mechanically and thematically throughout the game.

If your game group likes a realistic spy stories and a good roleplaying good challenge, you’re in the right place!


Size and Production Quality 

Very nice book with quality semigloss paper and good binding. It’s not the biggest RPG in my collection, but there is plenty of content between the core book and the additional goodies (Cities in Shadow and The Black Book). Probably approaching couple hundred pages total in digest size format. Additionally, the page layouts are very thematic and aesthetically pleasing.

Art

The cover art you seen. Interior art is mainly photographic and thematic. It fits the style well. I’m a big fan.

Content and Rules

The theme of the content is very nice, although it can be challenging to find what you’re looking for in the book. Luckily, it’s not huge, so a little page flipping won’t be too painful. As previously mentioned, the rules are based on Blood and Honor. It’s a roll and keep system I haven’t seen in any games besides this line.

The gist is this, you have a pool of D6s for a given task based on your character’s setup. You’re going to choose how many you want to roll to try to hit your target. The remainder you keep, and each one allows you to say true things about your success (provided you did succeed). It can be a lot of fun when the group gets into this.

There are also subsystems for all sorts of assets spies might have access to in and around their bases of operation. This is a lot of fun to peruse and set up.

Overall, I think the system is extremely cool, but I’ll also allow that it may require an adjustment period for some players. Dropping a group of murder hobos into Cold Shadows probably won’t lead to a satisfying experience.

GM Tools and/or Pre-made Adventure

There’s a ton here, and I’m sure to miss something. Between Cold Shadows, Cities in Shadow, and The Black Book, there is plenty of content and information to run a game set all over the world and in varying time periods. I won’t go too into depth, but I will say if you have a historical campaign based in this world, there’s a ton of good content here written by some very talented folks. For the game itself, there are lots of fully realized agencies and cities you can put on the “board” for your players to explore.


Final Thoughts

I’m happy I was a backer of Cold Shadows. I even had the opportunity to do a bit of writing for The Black Book. It’s an excellent game (the best spy game on my shelves, and yes, I have a few). I had a chance to play a short campaign run by one of my teammates at work. Super fun time.

If you’re having trouble finding a copy, Cold Shadows and its supplements can be found on DriveThruRPG.

TOR No More

I can’t write this without the feels.

The One Ring Roleplaying Game (and its 5e ruled companion, Adventures in Middle Earth) by Cubicle 7 are soon to be no more. TOR 2e was fast approaching, and is cancelled. We’ll never see the glorious Moria boxed set we were promised.

I am heartbroken. Some of you may remember the review I wrote for TOR. It’s one of my favorite games of all time. https://liamwrites.com/2018/01/10/rpg-review-the-one-ring/

This is all apparently due to some licensing dispute whose details remain wrapped in shadow. https://www.cubicle7games.com/unexpected-tor2-update/

The elves (Cubicle 7) are leaving Middle Earth.

It’s taken me nearly a full day to recover enough to react. Now it’s Thanksgiving in the US, so I’ll try to end on a positive note.

Everything TOR and AiME is on sale via the Cubicle 7 website at a steep discount, and this is the last chance to own it. The game line is fantastic, and I already own everything in it. Maybe you could too? https://www.cubicle7games.com/?s=The+One+Ring&post_type=product

The What and Why of Crowdfunding A Roleplaying Game

Crowdfunding is new in the grand scheme of things, and completely new to many of my family/friends. I’m going to do my best to explain it, and why spreading the word to anyone you know who likes roleplaying games (RPGs) can be a huge help in our Zorro campaign.

Zorro: The Roleplaying Game is crowdfunded on Kickstarter (we get the money we need to make the game from people who want to see it made) AND funded (we have the minimum amount of money we need to publish the book). This is great! People love both Zorro and RPGs!

However, we have quite a few additional things we’d like to add to our game book if we had a little more money for economies of scale (printing books is considerably cheaper the more copies you make and we are making a gorgeous full-color hardbound 200-page book).

These crowdfunding campaigns fail or succeed based on the interest of a few people who want to see them made. Right now we have about 500 people backing for an eBook or hardcover copy. Every additional person who backs puts us that much closer to our stretch goals.

So, what would help?
Spreading the word to anyone you know who likes RPGs.
Being patient with my continuing crowdfunding posts for a few more days until we are done with the Zorro Kickstarter campaign.

For those playing the home game, here is a nice link you can share!

Adept Icarus Launch

It’s been a spell. I’m not ignoring you, loyal readers. I’ve been busy working on something I think many of you will enjoy.

I launched an indie tabletop game company!

You can read more about the company and such at https://adepticarus.com and the press release of the launch is HERE.

For those who may be wondering what this means for liamwrites.com, I’ll lay it out plain and simple.

  1. I’m still going to post here. This is a place where I talk in my own voice and keep it pretty informal. You won’t see duplicate press releases from Adept Icarus.
  2. I won’t be writing “reviews” per se of products that compete directly with Adept Icarus. I’ll probably still gush about stuff I love. You can’t stop the love!
  3. I think that’s it? Please check out Adept Icarus, and watch for new game announcements in the coming months. We have quite a few things in development!

-Will

RPG Review – WEG Star Wars 30th Anniversary Edition

WILL RAMBLES

Here’s a fun one. Star Wars The Roleplaying Game by West End Games was one of the first non-TSR games I played. It was so long ago, and I was so young and broke, I never even owned a copy.

Some very fortuitous circumstance came about to make this project a reality. West End Games was purchased by Nocturnal Media, but they no longer held the license to produce RPGs based on the Star Wars intellectual property. Fantasy Flight Games is the current license holder (after a stop at Wizards of the Coast). At any rate, Nocturnal, FFG, and LucasFilm all collaborated to bring this 30th Anniversary Edition to light. The core book has a lovely posthumous dedication to Stewart Weick as it would not have been made without his efforts.

As a fan of both the game itself and of anything Nocturnal Media was involved in, SW:tRPG30AE was a no-brainer purchase for me.

SWTRPG_30th_2

THE REVIEW

Today I’m reviewing Star Wars The Roleplaying Game 30th Anniversary Edition by West End Games. This is a reissue of the classic RPG in a slipcase with the quintessential Star Wars Sourcebook. The review will cover the entire product as a whole.

1.) Size and Production Quality 

Sitting on my desk next to Star Wars Edge of the Empire, a modern game I’ll likely never review because I don’t love the dice system, SW:tRPG30AE is similar in size and weight. However, in terms of pages, SWEotE is 400 pages and change, while both 30th Anniversary Edition books combine for just under 300 pages. This isn’t to say the reissue isn’t packed with content, the font is smaller, and in the style of most older games, there isn’t a ton of graphic design taking up space.

Where I’m just a bit disappointed is with the paper. I’d hoped Fantasy Flight would have sprung for nice smooth semi-gloss pages, but instead, we get the same type of paper the original game was printed on: flat white paper slightly rough to the touch. Yes, the same twelve full-color glossy pages are sprinkled throughout the core book that were in the original. The Sourcebook has none, although it’s pages are the same iconic black+blue of the original.

That said, for the price, you’re getting two hardbound books in a gorgeous slipcase. I’m not that upset.

I recommend picking it up at your friendly local game store. Retail price is $59.95 (or a few bucks less on Amazon).

8/10


2.) Art

By modern standards, the art is still decent. It was fantastic for its time. I love those twelve glossy full-color pages so much. Everything else is black and white, and high quality. There’s also quite a lot by the standards of the time. As I flipped through SWEotE, a game with the gorgeous art Fantasy Flight is known for, I didn’t see a significant amount more than these books have.

7/10


3.) Content and Rules

Here’s a neat thing about SWtRPG30AE if you don’t already have a copy, it’s entirely rooted in the original trilogy. If episodes IV-VI are your jam, this is magnificent news. The Sourcebook is jam-packed with details about ships and other vehicles, locations, creatures, enemies, and info about your favorite characters.

And THEN, there are the rules. WEG D6 system was developed for the original Ghostbusters RPG and adapted for Star Wars. These rules hit a note I love and something you’ll see me talk about when discussing TinyD6 games. They are simple, not stupid. The rules have been remarked by some as having a bit of a scaling problem at higher levels, making it difficult for GMs to challenge their players. I can see that being partly true, but a good GM should be able to deal with it. Hopefully with WEG D6 2e is released, it will deal with those issues because I love this system and would love to see more games developed with it.

8/10

4.) Game Master Section

The book is laid out a bit funny. The “Gamemaster Section” is really just the game rules with GM tips and some fairly prescriptive guidance sprinkled throughout. The “Adventure Section” has some additional thoughts on running and creating adventures. Overall, meh.

5/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

There is an iconic, four-episode adventure included in the book. It’s pretty good, and I’d run it as an intro to the game if you have four sessions or an all-day affair. Also, there are ten “adventure starters” that show some of the variances of the Star Wars universe. Most of these would make fine one-shots or additions to an ongoing campaign.

On the toolkit side of things, the SWRPG Sourcebook has all kinds of good stuff you can use to put together a long-running campaign.

8/10


Total Score: 36/50

If I were adding points for nostalgia, Star Wars The Roleplaying Game would get an extra five at least. It’s a solid game.

You made it to the end! Have a fun pic of Harry, Carrie, and Mark with some stormtroopers as a reward.

harrycarriemark


A Final Note About My Reviews

RPG reviews are among the highest viewed articles I write, and I’m glad people seem to like ’em. I stick to games I enjoy, have played, and usually have run at least once. I avoid reviewing RPGs I’d score low because frankly, I can’t care enough about a game I don’t dig to write a full review of it. Life is too short.

I don’t accept review copies, but for full disclosure, I do use affiliate marketing tags on my links to DriveThruRpg and Amazon. Thanks for reading. See you again soon for another review!

Running One-Shot or Demo RPG Games

I’ve run my share of demo RPG games for old-school games like King Arthur Pendragon and Stormbringer as well as newer systems including multiple TinyD6 games and The One Ring.

For a time, I was part of a group that held one-off sessions for a different game every month. The glory days.

While I enjoy campaign play as much as the next person, there’s always something that draws me to cracking open a new game, rolling up characters, and taking a new set of rules or setting out for a spin.

Not every player likes one-shot sessions, which surprised me at first, but I guess some folks want to get into a character and see them progress either as a person or just “level up”.

For me, sometimes a one-shot is just the thing.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about running successful one-off RPG sessions (and I think you’ll find a lot of it holds true for campaigns as well).

Nothing universe-shattering, but I hope these thoughts aid your games or even help you bring new players to one of your favorites!

Set Expectations

Make sure your players know what to expect. Failing to set proper expectations can result in anything from disappointment to outright disaster.

Find out player time constraints if not prearranged, and consider your planned content. Make sure you’ll have enough time to hit the major plot points.

If the content could be offensive to folks, provide a warning. Also, word to the wise, avoid scary or messy props. You don’t want to get punched or puked on.

At least, I think you don’t?

If you don’t want folks checking their phones in the middle of the game, make sure they have that guidance. If you are planning regular stretching, snack, and bathroom breaks, let the players know so they can wait for the foreordained moment.

Above all, set the appropriate social contract. Personal attacks are NEVER ok. Are there any other lines in the sand you need to draw? If you’ve never used the x-card, it can be appropriate when you’re running games at cons or for any group you don’t know. Use your best judgment.

Do What Your Players Want

If everyone enjoys character creation, don’t set them up with pregens. If you aren’t sure how they feel, ask! This may not make sense for games with involved setup, but talk about it.

Talk with players about what kind of game they want to play. Sometimes the group just wants to focus on comic relief and tell jokes, and other times they may be in the mood for a serious or darker game. Try to oblige as possible within constraints of the rules and setting, and if that isn’t possible, maybe you’re playing the wrong game for the group.

Don’t Do What Your Players’ Characters Want

It’s human nature to struggle. Make sure to seed conflict and difficulty into the session. If a risk of character death doesn’t exist in a one-shot, you may be doing it wrong.

I’m not saying TPKs and broad use of GM fiat are necessary. Just don’t make things too easy. That way lies boredom, one of a gamemaster’s worst enemies.

Minimize Up-Front Explanation

When you’re going to run a multi-session campaign, it may be ok to do something of an info dump during the initial sessions. For a one-time game, you’ll have to keep this to a bare minimum.

Instead, keep your session tight and introduce rules and setting as much as possible through the course of the game. Does this mean you don’t tell the players about the Camarilla if you’re playing Vampire the Masquerade or about Uther’s more arbitrary/mistrustful tendencies in Pendragon?

Maybe. If it’s central to the adventure, find a way to work it into a conversation with an NPC so the game can get going.

Don’t skip telling folks what type of dice they need. I’m just saying that if you’re playing a Fantasy Flight RPG with all those custom dice, you may just want to guide them through the roll resolutions and gloss over the 17 pages of dice rules (or don’t play a game with 17 pages of dice rules).

Another helpful option for more complex games is to download or create rules cheat sheets for players. Give them something to refer to while they are planning action. While they are great for many folks, I don’t always love cheat sheets. Some players can get too focused on the tool and miss what’s going on in the game.

Me. I do this. Ugh, I’m the worst.

Anyway, know thy players.

Keep The Story Tight

Most games either have a couple strong themes or they are more generic and can work for a variety of scenarios. In either case, stick to a strong idea even if you have to develop it yourself.

When playing Planet Mercenary, it’s mayhem and next-grunt-up comedic violence. When it’s Pendragon, you’re talking chivalry and romance. For a game like Tiny Frontiers: Revised, pick a micro setting and run with one of the adventure prompts or develop something fun on your own. Same for Savage Worlds, select a setting you like that’s thematic and shows off the rules.

Nothing will kill a one-shot faster than giving too many options to inexperienced players. Sandbox games can work great, as long as you have veteran players and they understand the setting.

An alternative, if your game supports it, is to involve the characters in some quick worldbuilding and plotline creation. Tough to do in limited time, but I’ve seen it work. There are toolkits to support this approach if your game doesn’t do it out of the box. I even have one I’m thinking about developing.

Sample The Game

Some micro RPGs and minimalist systems lend themselves to covering everything in the one-shot format.

When talking about a 400+ page core book (see Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Zweihander, Mage, and countless others), you won’t show everything. Still, if the game contains combat, make sure there is an encounter so players can see how fighting works. If there is sneaking, make sure they have cause to sneak. Basic mechanics are a must, as is direct use of primary abilities.

When the title has special or unique mechanics, make sure they take center stage. The One Ring’s hope and shadow and travel rules are good examples.

If the central concept of the game involves characters taking control of the narrative at times, make sure they do that. Horror/madness aspects, etc. should all be built in if relevant.

Pacing

There are entire series of articles, dialogs, and diatribes about pacing in RPGs as a whole.

If you’d like more detail, I recommend reading what Justin Alexander has to say on pacing for starters. I’m not going to attempt to duplicate that knowledge here, but I will say this: pacing is vital in one-offs. I’ve outlined a few of the component elements above, but I’ll to boil it down to what makes the most sense to me in a one-off session.

Don’t let your players get bored.

If everyone loves the role-play elements, they might have a great time discussing reactions to a philosophical quandary you’ve placed before them for some time.

If your players are action-oriented, make sure to keep the action flowing.

When you inevitably have a mix of role-play and “roll-play”, then you’ll have to use more tools from your GM toolbox to keep things moving along.

The key is to keep an eye on the group and minimize time where people seem disengaged.

Have Fun

This shouldn’t be the last point, but somehow it is.

Don’t forget, if you’re having fun, odds are the players will be too. If it’s clear to them that you aren’t enjoying yourself, that mood can rub off on the whole group.

A little Leadership 101 for you: a leader (this means you, gamemaster) tends to influence those around her/him like Patrick Stewart in a room of Trekkies. He can’t help it, but you can bet he’s aware. You can bet Sir Pat knows that if “Captain Picard” loses his cool on a group of fans, it will result in a negative experience for all involved.

Make sure to use your GM influence with proper intent. Be aware of your own feelings and use them to the advantage of the game. Keep them in check otherwise.

A great storyteller having fun will always attract players. I learned this watching my friends Alan B. and Mike S. pack their living rooms with diverse players repeatedly through the years.

——-

Thank you: Ben, Michael, Brett, Alan, Tyler, and the others who saw this article at varying stages of completion and helped me mold it into something I hope was worth your time. Your contributions were amazing, and any remaining silliness is just an artifact of my weird and possibly disturbed psyche.

Please share your stories of running one-shots with me in the comments or on Twitter. I’d love to see your ideas on running the format or just some fun stories from your one-off games.

RPG Reviews and Review Copies

For Immediate Release (Heh. I always wanted to say that.)

Be it known here and throughout the realm: I do not accept review copies of games in exchange for performing reviews.

It’s not you, it’s me. I only review role-playing games I’ve bought personally. Mostly only games I’ve actually been a game master for, but I may also occasionally review games I’ve only played.

but

If you’d like to enhance the odds of my reviewing your RPG, the only recourse is to invite me to play your game with you. I may or may not accept, but if I do, odds are I’ll buy a copy, and likely write a review.

I recognize there are sites out there doing this, it’s just not me.