Friday, January 20, 2017

Review: Army of Darkness RPG

I don't know...something about today reminded me that there is fun to be had is fighting mindless hordes of things that are dead inside.  Wait, I think I mean Deadites.  Deadites. Zombies. Alt-Right Douchebags. Same things really.

This is an older review but never posted here.

Army of Darkness RPG

Disclaimer: I have been a freelancer for Eden studios for years and have worked on a lot of their books. I have been an author or co-author on some and a playtester on many. But in this case, I had nothing to do with “Army of Darkness” other than purchase the book like everyone else.

Time to kick some Ash.

If nothing else the Army of Darkness RPG from Eden Studios (AoD RPG) will give your game group hours of puns like these or spontaneously shooting off quotes from the movie, if they don’t already do that now.

The AoD RPG is the latest offering from Eden using the Cinematic Unisystem rules. Cinematic Unisystem is a stripped down to basics rule set to foster fast play in a cinematic style game. That is not to say the rules are non-existent, just non-obtrusive. Cinematic Unisystem plays similar to its big brother Classic Unisystem, which powers such games as All Flesh Must Be Eaten, WitchCraft and Armageddon. If you want to use this game with those, no problem, not only is it very easy, but there is a great Appendix in the back to handle the details. AoD shares Cinematic Unisystem with Eden’s Origin’s winning Angel RPG, Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG and Ghosts of Albion RPG. Here taking characters from one game to next is easy and no conversions are needed. In fact one could conceivably play one game consisting of all four game books in one big, really bad world.

Rough parallels can be drawn between Cinematic games and Classic one. Buffy is built like a cinematic version of WitchCraft, Angel invokes the same feel as Armageddon, and likewise AoD takes on a lot of it’s feel from it’s older brother All Flesh Must Be Eaten.

If you like the movie Army of Darkness (or any of the Evil Dead movies) or any of Eden’s other games then you should pick this up. If you are not sure if the AoD RPG is for you then let’s get into the details.

Chapter 1 is the introduction with some Army of Darkness style fiction added in. It’s nice, but you will only read it once in your life. The rest of the chapter is pretty straight forward and reads exactly like every other Chapter 1 in any Eden book. This is both good and bad. Bad in the fact I have now bought this chapter at least 10 times now. It’s good because it also means that I can pick up any of those books and know immediately what to expect. There is a new part here though, one on the cosmology of the game. It’s not bad, but I am not sure if I will use it or not. Like most roleplayers I have a varied and complex mythos surrounding my games where the machinations of powerful beings 5,000 years ago shape my world today. Then again this is supposed to fast and loose and for crying out loud the movie depicted England with a desert, so heck with all that, what I really want to do is stomp on some deadites. I don’t care if they were sent by “The Old Ones”, Satan or Santa.

Chapter 2 is the meat for the normal gamer; how to create characters and give them some cool stuff. Again, some of this is ported right over from “Angel”, but that is not really that bad since it is really the best stuff with more added. Plus I want my games to be compatible, so I do want my “white hats” and my “mundanes” to be able to hang with the “primitive screw heads” and not bicker over which version of “Hard to Kill” to buy. There are some new qualities and a lot of new drawbacks to choose from. Plus the focus shifts from the magically empowered supernaturals of Buffy/Angel to the regular guys and gals doing what’s right of Army of Darkness. If you enjoy playing “normal” characters then this is the book for you. The skills are unchanged from Angel/Buffy in keeping with the Cinematic scope, but they are a little more defined. Let’s face it, Ash did more with his car in two hours than Buffy/Angel did in 12 collective seasons, so a little more attention is paid to what you can do. The archetypes are great and if you are familiar with the archetypes from Buffy or Angel you will recognize the style and art here. In general the archetypes reflect the focus of the game, normal guy or gal, way weird circumstances. I found them a tad hard to read with the colored background, but that could be my PDF. Loved the archaeolbogist (though her portrait has Appearance of at least +2 even if she doesn’t in the sheet) loved the Zorro guy, gunslinger, night stalker dude, and the roller baller. Adding the game designer might have been a little too cheesy, but hey I don’t blame them one bit and for this game it works. It also includes the original cast, but Ash is the main guy. For anyone that has ever wanted to know “who would win in a fight, Ash or ____?” well here is where you can find the answers.

Chapter 3 is also the same as many of Eden’s chapter 3s. It has the rules. Since the rules are not significantly modified from other games, some can skip this all together. But if you do you will be missing some good bits. First off Eden has learned from Buffy and Angel and this chapter is laid out a lot clearer. There is also the whole new set of rules covering land vehicles; a really nice addition to the Cinematic game universe.

Chapter 4 is really nice. Every Eden book has it’s true gem, the one thing that makes that book worthwhile. WitchCraft has it’s magic system, Angel has it’s demon creation rules, and Army of Darkness has it’s Battle System. This is mass combat system for Cinematic Unisystem but on reading it, it would certainly work for any Unisystem game. It keeping with the cinematic tone the rules are fast and free flowing, but like all of Cinematic Unisystem they are designed to maximize the fun and playability.

Chapter 5 is the information for the Directors out there. Not too different, and in this case that is not the best thing. I was reading it over and the whole time I keep feeling I was reading a chapter out of Buffy or Angel, with the talk of “episodes” and “Seasons”. Yes, "episode" is still a fine name and great workable game mechanic. But “Army of Darkness” is not a TV show, it is a movie. I would have liked to see how to set up a big epic battle or mimic the feel of a movie with some plot elements compressed. Like Ash said to Shelia “first you want to kill me now you want to kiss me”, things like love have to happen pretty fast, faster than TV. So what I would have liked then is to see the sidebar on “Other Ways to Do It” expanded into a full chapter with “The TV Show” set up as just one option. Granted, for those Directors planning huge AoD/Buffy/AFMBE/WitchCraft epic crossover campaigns, this chapter works to your advantage.

Chapter 6 sets up the who, what and where elements. All needed for this game where being sucked into a portal and waking up in England in the Middle Ages is normal. It is nice the see that one other movie is Eden’s most watched list outside of Army of Darkness and that is The Holy Grail. Or at least that is how I felt after reading this chapter because I sure as hell can run that Holy Grail RPG now with this book. It is a bit odd that some characters, Arthur in particular, got a full character sheet in Chapter 2 and a quick sheet here as well. Reason? Don’t know, see the disclaimer above. But I do know that it was spaced used that could have been dedicated to something else. No big. Moving on. I have to admit the title “Graveyard…of the Dead” made me laugh. The creatures are neat and there are a lot of ideas here for an AoD game or even adding them to your Buffy/Angel game. OR better yet expand these little nasties with the Angel demon creation rules.

Chapter 7, coughWorlds of Darknesscough is actually really cool. It is your typical “here's how you set up adventures”, but the examples given are more fleshed out that some other entire game worlds. There is an ancient Sumerian style adventure where you need to prevent the writing of the Necronomicon (you have to love any game that refers to Ereshkigal as a Goth Chick); a pulp-era stop the Nazi’s from getting occult artifacts adventure and future setting hinted at in the Director’s Cut of Army of Darkness. All are complete with more really cool monsters and vehicle rules.

Chapter 8 is a full blown adventure, I won’t talk about it too much here so as not to ruin it for potential players.

There is an Appendix of Unisystem conversion notes if you want to switch between this and Classic Unisystem. I nice detailed list on Character Creation, all the tables from the text including a comprehensive list of qualities and drawbacks from the book. Tables and charts for combat and weapons. The book ends with a solid index (the weakest part of ‘Angel’, not repeated here) and a nice character sheet. Sure you can use your “Buffy” sheet or even the Buffy or Angel character Journals, but this is a nice clean sheet. Since I have the PDF I printed one out on a B&W laser printer and it looked great.

What's Good: Overall the book is fantastic, a completely playable game based on Eden’s Origins award winning Cinematic Unisystem rules (Angel, Best New RPG 2003). Plus it captures the feel and the fun of the original movie quite well.

What's Bad: I have to admit I got tired of the informal tone of the book, but that could be just me. And let’s be honest, it is a perfect choice to go with the movie.

What's Missing: No magic rules. But they do acknowledge this and there wasn’t really any magic in movie that wasn’t used “off stage” or by the minions of evil. Want magic in your AoD game? Buy a copy “The Magic Box Sourcebook” for the Buffy RPG or get a copy of Ghosts of Albion.

UPDATED: Since I have written this review I have used AoD in a lot of my Cinematic Unisystem games. In particular for an army of undead fighting the Protectors of Éire in Ghosts of Albion: Blight.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

New Adventure, Character and Resources

Kinda buried at work this week.
So I'll share some resources and new adventure I am reading.

First up is the adventure.
The Witch of Monte Rosa is from Bill Barsh over at Pacesetter Games.
For 12 bucks you get an old-school like adventure and PDF.  This adventure is for low-level characters using OSRIC or your favorite OSR rule-set.
It is a sanbox adventure designed to be dropped into any campaign and is adaptable to higher levels.  The main focus though is the titular witch and the damage she is causing to nearby life.
There are some new monsters and some new magic items that look like a lot of fun.
The main antagonist is Helena, a "Cauldron Witch".
It would not take much at all to retune this to work with my Witch class.  "Cauldron Witch" becomes a tradition with some alchemy based powers.  Instead of Magic-User spells, give her witch spells.

Here is my take on her.

Helena
9th level Witch, Cauldron Tradition
Chaotic Evil

Strength: 15
Dexterity: 10
Constitution: 13
Intelligence: 18
Wisdom: 10
Charisma: 17

Saves
Death Ray or Poison:  11
Magic wand or devices: 12
Paralysis, Polymorph or Turn to Stone: 11
Dragon Breath: 14
Rods, Staffs, and Spells: 13

Hit Points: 50
AC: 7 (Leather Armor)
To hit AC 0: 16
Weapon: Staff (1d6+2)

Occult Powers
Familiar:  Cauldron*  (her connection to her cauldron is explained in the adventure)
Lesser: Immune to the Affects of Undead

Spells
Cantrips (6): Black Flame, Ghost Sound, Inflict Minor Wounds, Quick Sleeping, Spark, Summon Vermin
First (3+2): Bewitch, Black Fire, Burning Hands, Cause Fear, Charm Person
Second (3+2): Agony, Biting Blade, Blast Shield, Hold Person, Spell Missile
Third (2+2): Bestow Curse, Danse Macabre, Ghost Ward, Scry
Fourth (2+1):  Arcane Eye, Elemental Armor, Spiritual Dagger
Fifth (1): Death Curse

Certainly a worthy opponent!

What sold me on this adventure was that she was described as a "Witch Queen, long forgotten."
Kinda makes it perfect for my War of the Witch Queens adventures. So perfect in fact I am going to use this as the introduction to the series.


Going to be a blast really!

Here are free resources on witches and witchcraft.



Though if you are like me these are all very familiar sites.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

It's Swords & Wizardry Wednesday!

Was in the middle of a meeting today and my bell rang.  This was waiting for me on my front porch.



My Swords & Wizardry hardcover!

I mentioned in the past I wasn't keen on the cover art, but that has changed since then.  Now that I have it in my hands I can really appreciate it.

The interior art though is so freaking good.



There is more. A lot more.

The book compares favorably to its predecessors.



Both versions of the character sheets have their own unique charm.  I'll use both.


I have been thinking alot about S&W lately. How I am planning to do something with it for the Witch.

Expect to see more that in the future.

Whatever I do I want it to be worth your time and money to buy and worth my time to write.  Well...I know it is worth my time to write.  I enjoy writing about these things.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

New Releases Tuesday: Blue Rose AGE Edition

I always pictured her as a blonde
It's Tuesday. That means new releases all over the place.  Today at DriveThruRPG we have the new release of Blue Rose: AGE Edition.
I scooped this up before I even got to my second pot of coffee!

There will be a full review later, but right now I want to say this book is gorgeous! The art is fantastic and all 384 pages are in full color. It just looks so good.
But this is not a coffee table book, it is an RPG book.  Well for that it will take more detailed reading, but I love what I see so far.

Some highlights

  • The World of Aldea has moved forward in time. Some NPCs are gone, some are now married (!), and there are plenty of new and interesting NPCs to be had.
  • Blue Rose maps onto the AGE system so well that I might actually drop the True20 version.  In fact it seems (from my readings so far) it works BETTER.
  • A lot of the material from the True20 Blue Rose line made it to this book.  At 384 pages it is packed.
  • There are no True20 to AGE conversion rules that I have seen yet.  Personally I am taking the "Forgotten Realms" approach and having a particular event in the new book signal a shift in paradigm. Classes and levels though do convert on a one to one basis and so do many of the "powers".
  • The book is divided into a Player's Section, a World of Aldea Section and a Narrator's (GM) Section. 
  • The Narrator's section is the most expanded and updated.  Benefits of having 10+ years of game play.
  • The PDF is fully bookmarked (I know, that should be a given now-a-days, but you would be surprised how many I run into that are not).
  • Did I mention how gorgeous the art is?
Sea-folk, Human, Vata, Rhy-cat, Night Person, Rhy-wolf

Chances are if you liked the True20 Blue Rose you will enjoy this one even more.
I have both Fantasy AGE and DragonAge and there is a lot of material that would work well between all three books.  

The tone of this book is more swashbuckling adventure and acts of derring-do now. Not that it has moved away from Romantic Fantasy (far from it).  In fact the feeling is that Aldea is entering into a new age.  I would liken it to the reigns of Queens Elizabeth I and Victoria. The True20 version was the cusp of Queen Jaellin's reign and now this is a new Golden Age of opportunity and adventure. 

I can't wait to get into this book!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: Witch Child (2002)

“In the town live witches nine: three in worsted, three in rags, and three in velvet fine...” 

Witch Child by Celia Rees details the story of Mary Newbury and her journey from a witch trial in England that nearly cost her life, to her newNew England near Salem in 1659.  Told in diary format as a series of entries we get Mary's first-hand account of her grandmother's trial and her journey to the dangerous new land of America.

Reading this story I am once again struck how easily superstition can take ahold of an ignorant populace and drive them to madness.  We see this in England, on the ship to the new world and in New England as well.

Mary's magic is a subtle sort. Despite some fantastic embellishments the scenes with magic could be explained via science and imagination or they could honestly be magic.
The book itself is a quick read and the conclusion, while what I expected, was still enjoyable.  The story could have been set in the same time and place as The Witch, Eyes of Fire and the Daylight Gate.

I will admit the cover struck me. It reminds me of the cover of the WitchCraft RPG.

There is a sequel to this, but I have not picked it up yet.
2017 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge

2017 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Books Read so far: 2
Level: Initiate
Witches in this book: 3
Are Good Witches or Bad Witches: 3 at least.
Best RPG to Emulate it: Again, Colonial Gothic 3.0
Use in WotWQ: Maybe. I love the idea of the scared villagers as a potential "monster" here.
http://www.celiarees.com/books/witchchild.html

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lazy Sunday: Continuing Education Edition, Magic in the Middle Ages

It's Sunday. I am sitting here drinking my coffee and watching my son make sushi for lunch.
(Of course, I had some for breakfast!)

I saw another blog posting about a Coursera class on Magic in the Middle Ages.

For those that don't know, Coursera is an online MOOC, a Massive Oline Open Classroom. Professors from different universities around the world put up an online classroom to learn various topics.  They can be fairly fun and educational. I am a fan. (My second Ph.D. field of study was on how people build communities on learners online).  So I signed up.

The course is sponsored by the University of Barcelona ("Universitat de Barcelona") and taught by a team of professors and instructors.

It is a five-week course with video, discussions, reading and quizzes.  Now as a college professor myself I HATE quizzes for college age students, but for a MOOC you kinda need them.

The course looks like it is a lot of fun AND it is still open if you want to sign up as well.
https://www.coursera.org/learn/magic-middle-ages
Week 3, Magic to Witchcraft looks like the most fun for me.

The course is $49.00 (less if you have a code) or FREE if you opt for the non-certificate option.
I took the non-certificate choice. I really don't need any continuing education credits anymore.

I think it is going to be great.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Larina gets "Rather Gamey" (?)

So last year (snerk-December) I was talking with Shawn at +Studio Arkhein and the mad genius over at Rather Gamey. I really enjoy his posts and art and thought it might be fun to get some custom art in his style.

Well here are the fruits of his labor!



I have to say I am pretty thrilled with this.

She looks like she is getting ready for some moonlight dancing by the fires of Beltane.
Actually, the NSFW version on his site is more appropriate for moonlight dancing by a bonfire.

Love the little differences artists can bring to my character.

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