Showing posts with label pulp. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pulp. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Mail Call: Horror and Pulpy Good Fun

Some new Kickstarter in the mail this week. Let's see what we have!

Pulpy mail goodness

Up first is Swords & Chaos.

This is a pulpy OSR-adjacent game. It does use the OGL and has the feel of old-school D&D.  The game is what I would expect if Barbarians of Lemuria and Crypts & Things had a baby and Hyperbora was its Godfather. 

Swords & Chaos

Swords & Chaos

Swords & Chaos

Swords & Chaos

It looks like a lot of fun to be honest, but I have not had the chance to really dive into it.

Up next is one from a long time friend and co-worker, Richard Ruane. 

Roseville Beach

Moonlight on Roseville Beach is largely inspired by the covers of pulp gay and lesbian novels of the 1950s. I think I can pinpoint the exact moment on Twitter discussing the books of Ann Bannon when he came up with this idea.

Moonlight on Roseville Beach

Moonlight on Roseville Beach

Richard and I have worked together at various day jobs in academia over the last 20 years. He is a great guy and has a solid game design CV. This new RPG is a lot of fun. Combine 20s and 30s pulp detectives with the gay and lesbian romance novels of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, sprinkle in some cosmic horror and you have Moonlight on Roseville Beach.

It works as a game on its own (as it is designed to do) or even as a mini-campaign for other games. Though Richard doesn't know yet that this is what I will use it for!

Can't wait to find a place for both of these on my gaming table.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Featured Artist: Margaret Brundage

Margaret Brundage
Margaret Brundage is another artist you may not know by name but certainly by her art.  I will go out on a limb and say she was one of the most recognizable artists of the Pulp Era.

Margaret Brundage, born Margaret Hedda Johnson was born December 9, 1900, in Chicago, a place she would call home till her death in 1976.  

She was looking for work when she found  Farnsworth Wright editor of "Oriental Tales" and then "Weird Tales" Brundage would paint covers for both magazines and sign them "M. Brundage" so no one knew it was a woman doing all this art of scantily clad or nude women in peril. 

Her artwork became part of the image of Weird Tales in the 1930s with some authors, Seabury Quinn notably, not only requesting her work but working in scenes of her art into the story.  Others like Clark Ashton Smith and H.P. Lovecraft were less pleased with her work.  But there is no doubt that her covers sold magazines.

Often her covers also had to be toned down for publication.  Her other works were even more risque.

She would go on to do 66 covers for Wierd Tales. Some have gone on to become classics.

Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover

Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover

Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover

Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover

Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover

Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover

Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover

Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover

Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover

Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover

Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover

Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover

Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover

Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover


Friday, July 10, 2015

The Refrigerator for Hollow Earth Expedition/Ubiquity

Taking a a quick break from reviews on Ubiquity books till next week when we head to space.  Today I want to try my hand at another NPC, this one a Mad Scientist.

A while back I introduced you all to Dr. Andreas Gelé, aka The Refrigerator. He is a socially stunted misanthrope with mommy issues and the intellect to act out in the worst ways possible.
I thought I might stat him up for Ubiquity and Hollow Earth Expedition in particular. He seems particularly well suited for this game.  Here is some background.

This guy came, literally, out of a nightmare.  Around 1982 or so (I was 12) I was hit with a double shot of women being frozen alive, the movies were "In Like Flint" and "Kiss the Girls and Make them Die".  It really bugged the hell out of me and gave me nightmares for a long time.  Still kind of bugs me.  Of course later I learned there is a whole creepy fetish thing related to this.  I think my issue is far more basic.  I hate being cold and think being frozen is quite possibly the worst thing ever.  Then recently I found a cover from the pulp magazine "Horror Stories" from 1937.

The cover is by John Newton Howett and typical pulp tradition it was reused for the first issue of Startling Mystery. That picture deserves a villain.  I have not found the issue yet so I can't say if there is a story that goes with that cover. But I have enough of my own nightmare fuel.

History of The Refrigerator
Dr. Andreas Gelé was born to wealth and privilege but never to love.  His father was a was a rich industrialist who made his money on the work of others and his mother was a noted and beautiful stage actress.  From his father he gained his intellect and from his mother he learned lessons in cruelty.

As his mother aged she became more and more cruel.  In his mind's eye he saw her as beautiful. This was reinforced by all the pictures of her on the wall of their estates where she was young, beautiful and happy. Frozen in time.  Gelé began to work on a process to forever keep the beautiful women young.  He was drawn to beautiful women, and his prestige later as a doctor and his wealth made that easy.  But he never could talk to or relate to them having grown up socially stunted.  So Gelé embarked on a plan so he could have his desires met.
His first experiments in cryonoics were failures. Animals would not return to life when frozen and even when he perfected the process they still had damage.  Finally through a combination of fluids and gases at super cooled temperatures.  He tested it first on his hated father. He died soon after he was free of the ice, but Gelé expected that since the old man's heart was now weak.  He froze his mother next. He was overjoyed that the ice preserved her remaining beauty.
All his research though has left his fortunes depleted so he robs banks to keep himself funded for more research and to keep his "beauties" on ice.

Dr. Andreas Gelé

Archetype: Scientist
Motivation: Power (Preserve Beauty, he seeks power over something he can't control.)

Style: 2 Health: 5

Primary Attributes
Body: 3
Dexterity: 3
Strength: 2
Charisma: 1
Intelligence: 5
Willpower: 3

Secondary Attributes
Size: 0
Move: 5
Perception: 8
Initiative: 8
Defense: 6 (3 + 3)
Stun: 3

Skills (base + level)
Science: Engineering 5 7 12 (6)
Science: Cryonics 5 8 13 (6)* Not in any of the books.
Medicine 5 7 12 (6)
Firearms 3 4 7 (3)

Skill Mastery Science

Weapon 1 (Freeze gun: +1 bonus to stun opponent)
Refuge 1 (Secret laboratory: +2 Skill bonus when inside)

Mental, Obsession: Obsessed with preserving beauty in young women.**

(**  There might be issues with setting his Flaw so close to his Motivation, but I would play his Motivation to build better freezing machines and steal more money.  His Flaw causes him to seek out attractive women even when he could be caught easier.)

Freeze gun 4 N 0 8 N (4) N
Punch 0 N 0 0 N (0) N

Freeze Gun
Special weapon
Can do lethal on non-lethal damage.

Still playing around with the stating of characters.  But I am getting the hang of it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Reviews: Hollow Earth Expedition Supplements

Today I want to go through some of the supplements for Hollow Earth Expedition.  Each of these adds something I think necessary and needed to the game.

Secrets of the Surface World
I won't lie. I really, really like this book.  I am reviewing the PDF at 167 pages.
Secrets of the Surface World is the guide for all characters really.  There is a lot going on *on* the Earth without ever having to go *in* to it.
Chapter 1 covers Characters. Here we have a host of new archetypes, motivations and skills for your characters.  The big add here is the inclusion of Martial Arts and Brawling skills. So now you can make your own "Kwai Chang Caine" character.  Though for me the jewels are in the Talents.  Here we have Magical Aptitude and Psychic Ability.  Personally I think these should have been in the core book, BUT I do see why they are here.  HEX is really more about science, or more often SCIENCE!, and magical powers don't really help that.  But I am sorry I just love to see magic in my games.  Don't worry, fans of Weird Science have plenty to look at here as well.   There are more Resources as well.  Flaws are also covered, but so are Severe Flaws.  These are obviously worth much more.   We are also given Mental Flaws.  Plenty of Role-playing fun with these.
Chapter 2: Supernatural Powers is why I got this book to begin with!  Yeah, I like a certain kind of game and this chapter turns HEX into that kind of game for me.  The Supernatural powers are divided up into Psychic Abilities and Magic.  The system is pretty straight forward to be honest.  Psychic abilities are divided into various talents, each one must be purchased separately.   Magic is a single talent, though there are different Traditions, and a skill.   Spells and Rituals must be uncovered or found.  Not a lot of magical traditions and spells are given, but there is enough for me to take it and run with it.
Chapter 3 Secret Societies continues where the HEX core left off.  Everything from the Thule Society to the Mafia are covered here. Like the core some NPCs are also presented here. My favorites are Aleister Crowley and Edgar Cayce. It is a great contrast to see the two different supernatural styles together.
Chapter 4 The Surface World covers more parts of the world not touched on in the core book.
Chapter 5 T. F. Arkington's Lifestyle Emporium covers more gear.  A lot more gear.
Chapter 6 Weird Science.  I said there was going to be more for the fan of Weird Science and I meant it.  Want to send giant Nazi mechs against your characters? Ok. We can do that now.  Really.
Chapter 7 Vehicle Combat continues the material from the Core book. Though more detail is given. In truth you might not ever need this chapter since the core covers it so well, but it is nice to know it is here.
Finally we end with a sample adventure Prisoner of the Reich.
All in all a satisfying book.  I can't help but think that some of this should have gone into the core book, but the magic stuff is so different than the rest thematically I see why it wasn't.   I got this for the magic, so I am pleased with that.

I have so many plans for this book.

Mysteries of the Hollow Earth
Like Secrets of the Surface World is for well, the surface world, this book is all about the Hollow Earth.  Create native characters from all over (under) the Earth.
Chapter 1 again deals with Characters.  At this point you know how this all set up.  New Archetypes include Barbarians, Beastmen, Guardians, Healers, Mystics, Natives, Outcast and Warriors.  One thing should be pretty obvious now, not only can you use this for a Pellucidar-like game, but it sets up a Barsoom game nicely or even a Conan/Hyborean Age game.  A Pulp game in a Pulp setting, how nice is that!  There are some new motivations, and plenty of new talents. There are also some new flaws.  This book feels more like a true supplement rather than a book of "left-overs"; some thought and research went into this.  I was reading through it all and mentally substituting things I had read from Edgar Rice Burroughs or Robert E. Howard.  That's a good sign.  Plus you can mix and match talents to create Panthermen, Hawkmen, Reptile-people (always a plus in my book) and dozens of others.
The pre-gen Archetypes are great.  The Amazon Warrior makes me want to play a Xena like game now.
Chapter 2 takes us back to Supernatural Powers.  We start with more details on sorcery including more modifiers.  We also are given Shamanism and Alchemy which is really cool.   This chapter plus it's twin in Secrets of the Surface World gives me no end of ideas.
Chapter 3 covers Natives. This is a great and fun chapter to be honest.  If anyone asks me why run a game in the Hollow Earth I am directing them to this.  It is an odd mix of Pulp, post-Victorian occultism and fringe science.  I love it.  I have seen other games take the same elements, but the assembly here is fantastic.  Is it the only way to do this? No, the same elements appear in many other games (Amazons, Atlanteans, lost titans...) but here it works rather nice.
Chapter 4 Beastmen covers the others living in the Hollow Earth.  Natives are largely human, beast men are something else.  The usual suspects are here; Apemen, Gillmen, Lizardmen, Molemen (natch), and Panthermen (or at least a cat-like humanoid race) but there are some great newcomers like the not often seen Hawkmen (should be more Egyptian in my tastes but hey, happy to see them) and some insectmen and the new for this genre Green Men which are more plant like.
Chapter 5 covers the Hollow Earth.  It includes some basics (healing, getting out) but mostly devoted to various locations.  Atlantis for example is here, as is El Dorado (the City of Gold), Shangri-La,  and Blood-Bay where the Pirates hang out.  That is enough to keep you going for a while really.
Chapter 6 adds a more monsters to the Bestiary.   There are more dinosaurs here (always welcomed!).  There are prehistoric reptiles that are not dinosaurs, such as the Archelon and the Plesiosaurus among others. The science geek in me appreciates the separation.  We also get a great collection of prehistoric mammals.  Giant insects, giant apes, and other creatures fill this section.  There is even a guide for creating your own creatures. Which is good, because the one monster I wanted wasn't there.  The book has plenty of pictures of Dimetrodon, but no stats.  I might have to make my own now.
We end with a sample adventure, Fate of Atlantis and an Index.
There is so much here that any half-decent GM could find hours and hours worth of game materials for their own Hollow Earth games.

Perils of the Surface World
This is a collection of adventures that takes the characters around the world.  Adventures are harder to review than games in general since the real proof in both is the playing.  Adventures only more so.  This book contains four separate, but loosely connected adventures.
Each one also contains some added crunch or rules to the game.  We get Faith and Miracles, Horror, Infection and Sanity, New Sorcery Rituals, Artifacts and Vehicles and lastly (what might be the most fun) some Martial Arts powers.
No spoilers, but if you need some ready to go adventures then this is the book you want.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Review: Hollow Earth Expedition

The Hollow Earth has always been one of those fringe theories that always sounded like a lot of fun in a game.   I loved the Jules Verne tale "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and the movie based on it.  My exposure to the idea for a game came originally from the old Mystara campaign set, The Hollow World.  Later I discovered the "Shaver Mystery" and the Pellucidar series.
While I know there is no basis whatsoever in scientific fact for a Hollow Earth, it is a lot of fun.  I have even contributed to a Hollow Earth book myself.

So it was with much excitement that I picked up Hollow Earth Expedition.
Full Disclosure: I did write a Hollow Earth book for a different publisher.  I avoided looking at or reading this book till long after my own ms was sent in.
Full Disclosure 2: I am reviewing both the Hardcover and PDF versions of this game.

Let's begin.  What is Hollow Earth Expedition?
HEX, as it is known, is the first Ubiquity powered game on the market (as far as I know).  The setting is "Pulp-era" which I have always roughly translated as the time between the two world wars.  Others might have a more nuanced view on this, but this has served me well enough.  If gumshoes walk the streets, Indiana Jones is still working at the University and fighting Nazis and cults then this is the time.
HEX is two things to me.  It is a new game system (Ubiquity) and a new game setting (Hollow Earth).  I will deal with each in turn.

The HEX hardcover is a gorgeous book. It is 260 pages, mostly black & white (which I want to address) and some color inserts.  The PDF is set up in similar fashion.  Ok, so the interior is black & white.  You know what else is? King Kong, Bela Lugosi's Dracula, Tod Browning's Freaks.  All the movies I associate with this era are in black & white as well.  Save for Journey to the Center of the Earth and Raiders of the Lost Ark. To me, along with the fantastic art, it  really sets the stage for the story I want to tell.   So giving the book "the flip test" ie just flipping through it, it has passed well.

Chapter 1: Setting sets us up for the rest of the book.  We learn a bit about the Pulp Era, the time; it;s 1936, the obligatory "what is Role-playing" section and a brief overview on the book.  Then we get right into it with the setting.  We start off with an overview of the last 25 years or so from the character point of view.  In particular I rather like the section on what characters would know and the speed of information in 1936.  Case in point, one of the films mentioned in the game, Becky Sharp, was considered one of the highest tech films made at the time. I can look it up and learn it was a landmark of cinema. I can even watch it at my leisure.  But not everyone in 1936 saw it, and not everyone or indeed most people knew what a landmark it was.  A lot of people knew it was special. It was color after all, but that was it.
The chapter continues with some great overviews of the world post WWI with WWII looming large and frightening on the horizon.  There is enough here for a game it's own right and indeed there are many games, good games, out there that never go beyond this.  But for HEX this is stage dressing.  The real setting is yet to come.

Chapter 2: Characters covers what you expect. Character creation.  This is where we are introduced to the Ubiquity system for the first time.  Character creation is a point-buy affair like many games.  In this though they recommend you begin with an archetype in mind.   Not a bad place to start really.  To me Pulp is about two fisted action.  So, and I mean this in the best possible way there is, the characters are often well...stereotypes.  "Big Game Hunter", "Gumshoe", "Silver Screen Starlet" and so on.  This is Pulp and here it works.  Not to sound to cliched, but the difference between a character and caricature is the player.  So choose that archetype and embrace it.  We are doing more next.  Next step is choose your motivation.  This is your character's reason for adventure. Quite literally their raison d'être.  Next are your Primary Attributes.  There are the customary six and you have 15 points to spread between them.  These are very similar attributes you find in Unisystem. They are even on a similar scale. The names are different for a few, but the translation is one to one.  Ok, to be fair, there is not of a lot things you would call these and it could be said that they are the same as D&D too.  So it gets a pass, but I am watching you Ubiquity!   Secondary attributes, which are derived.  Skills, which are bought with another 15 points. The max is 5 skill levels at character creation.  Like d20 (but unlike Unisystem) skills are tied to a particular attribute. You can then choose a Talent or a Resource and then a Flaw. A Flaw gives you a Style point.  You are then given another 15 points to spend on Attributes, Skills, Talents or Resources.
I don't mean to do this much, but "point wise" this puts a starting Ubiquity character right around the same level as a starting Unisystem character.  This is good if you like to move from system to system like I do.  (NOTE: I ran a Ghosts of Albion adventure using Ubiquity characters and system and it worked great.)
What follows are archetypes and motivations.  There is a lot here really and it works well.
Attributes are next.  Attributes are scored 0-6 with 1-5 as the range of normal humans, 2 being average.
Skills are discussed at length.  Ubiquity has 30 skills with some having many specialities.
Talents are something special about your character, so aptitude in a particular skill, or a natural ability.  Resources are something you have.
The section ends with the color pages of various archetypes.  If you are short on time you can grab one of these as a your new character.  There are plenty of great choices to be honest.

Chapter 3: Rules does exactly what it says on the tin. Covers the rules.  This is where we are introduced to the Ubiquity dice.  Now normally I shy away from games that require me to buy a another set of special dice.  But these dice are the most part just d8s.  Some are numbered a little differently since they mimic the rolling of 2d8 or 3d8 on one die.  The mechanic is simple.  Roll a given number of dice (dice pool) and then each even number is a success.  So in this respect you can roll anything, d6s, d12s, flipping a coin.  The number of sides needs to be even.  The successes are added up and compare to a difficulty level.  "Easy" would be 1 success, "Average" is 2 and so on.  Impossible is anything higher than 9 successes.
How many dice do you roll?  The number of points in your Skill or Attributes + Skill.  So if I want to check the authenticity of a scroll I could use Academics.  I'll say I have a 5 in that. Let's say I am a nerdy academic type (yeah real stretch I know) and I have specialization in this, I add +1 so I can roll 6 dice.  But say my GM has set the difficulty at 4.  I would need to roll 4 or more successes in order to pass it.  If I didn't have this skill then I base it on my Intelligence and then -2.  There are other modifications to my dice pool. It's sounds difficult but it plays fast.  There are also situations where I can "Take the average"; if a situation will result in a success 50% of the time the character can take the average and succeed. There is no style or flair in this, but not everything is a deed of derring do.
Like many simple mechanic systems it does fade into the background with play.
There are also degrees of Success and Failure. So if you gain 3 successes over what is needed then that is a "Major Success".  These extra successes or failures are typically role-played.
Style Points are also gained and spent here.  Style Points can be added to pools. You gain style points in various ways.  My favorite is "bringing the treats".  Hey. Every little bit helps.

Chapter 4: Combat covers a very specific sort of ruling of the rules presented in Chapter 3.  The basic mechanic is the same, but there are other situations.   This chapter could have been folded into Chapter 3, but I see why it is seperate.

We take a brief intermission for an Example of Play.  This is rather handy to be honest to see how everything comes together.

Chapter 5: Equipment covers all the gear and weapons your character needs.  This is a pretty robust chapter to be honest.  If you never play HEX but play other Pulp games then it is worth having a look at this chapter anyway.  The costs of weapons alone is very helpful.

Chapter 6: Gamemastering details the setting.  Ah if the previous chapters were the meat then this is the...well...other meat with more gravy. Ubiquity is a fine, but a system without a setting is an experiment or an SRD.  This setting is what makes the system shine.  They could have cleanly split the book in half at this place.

Chapter 7: The Hollow Earth covers the setting in detail.  There is a great mix of all the myths, legends and stories of the Hollow Earth here.  Regardless of your familiarity with those myths there is enough here to get you going and get you playing.  Let's be honest, you have always want to hunt T-Rexes while running through the jungle with a shotgun. Suspend your logical 2015 mind and take on an adventurous 1936 mind and load up.

Chapter 8: Friends and Enemies details what is going on on the Surface World and the Hollow World.  This covers the world and presents some important NPCs and their organizations.  Yes. You get to kill evil Nazi cultists and Interior Sea pirates.  If you are lucky in the same adventure.

Chapter 9: Bestiary is our manual of monsters. We have dinosaurs (and a proper Brontosaurus, no Apatosaurus), Ice age mammals, giant versions of nearly everything, sea monsters, and killer plants.  There are no "magical" animals or monsters; no dragons, no centaurs and the like.   This is 1936 and magic has given away to reason and to science.

Another break for a Sample Adventure.

We spend the last few pages with an Appendix on Pulp Resources and Inspiration.
Lots of great resources here including books on the Pulp Adventure Era. Yes, Lovecraft is present here, but there is not much in this game that is "Lovecraftian" as it typically defined.  This is a good thing in my mind.   Books get the most treatment.  Comic Books, Movies and TV series get lists.

There is also a rather good Glossary and Index.  There is a character sheet for your use as well.

All in all a great game.  I have played it a few times and it is really, really fun.
The setting is gonzo but without the crazy.  I could have a lot of fun with this.

The game sits nicely between Unisystem and Savage Worlds in terms of playability for me.  Though I will say that HEX does everything I wanted from Savage Worlds, it just does it better in my mind.

Tomorrow I'll talk more about Ubiquity and Unisystem and how I convert between the two.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

July is Ubiquity Month

This July I want to spend some quality time with the Ubiquity system.  This is a "generic" system that goes after the same sort of games and crowd that Savage Worlds and Unisystem target.
I tend to like Ubiquity a bit more than Savage Worlds, but a little less than Unisystem.

The Ubiquity System was created by Exile Game Studios for their Hollow Earth Expedition game.  It has since been used in other games by other companies.

These are the games I am going to be looking at in detail:
Hollow Earth Expedition RPG (Exile Game Studios)
Hollow Earth Expedition: Secrets of the Surface World (Exile Game Studios)
Leagues of Adventure (Triple Ace Games)
Space: 1889 (Clockwork Publishing)
Revelations of Mars (Exile Game Studios)

I am also working on a couple of NPCs to help feature some of the game rules.  A few I really want to do are Dracula and Sherlock Holmes.

When I first was getting into Ubiquity I started with Leagues of Adventure, which is like an alternate universe "Ghosts of Albion".  While in GoA magic is supreme, in LoA it is weird science and steampunk.   I like to think that every character in GoA has an LoA counterpart and visa versa.
In fact I ran my Ghosts of Albion: Dinosauria adventure under Leagues of Adventure with no problems.  I had to fudge the magic a little, but now I think I could a much better job.

I will talk more about Leagues later in this week, but suffice to say I am rather fond of it.

Hollow Earth Expedition is a game I knew I was going to love, but one I did not buy till very recently.  I was working on a Hollow Earth book for Battlefield Press and I didn't want it to enfluence me.  I am happy to say that the HEX book I picked up was both similar and very different than what I did.  It was obvious we drew from the same sources but went in different ways.

Space 1889 and Revelations of Mars were both Kickstarters I gladly backed.  I am not getting the PDFs buy am missing the hardcover of Mars at the moment.

All of these games together have given me a lot of ideas on various games.  One is one I have mentioned before, "1901: An Æther Space Odyssey".  HEX is firmly Pulp Era but LoA and Space 1889 are Victorian science fantasy.  I am going to take the median here and go with the dawn of the Edwardian Age as one of Space Exploration.  Despite the implied settings in Space 1889 and Revelations of Mars, I am likely to go more Barsoom with my my Mars; though I am leaving War of the Worlds open.

Looking forward to it! Hope you are too.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Amazing Adventures Companion

The Amazing Adventures Companion is now out. If you enjoy the Amazing Adventures game (and I do) then this is great news.   The book is 162 pages with covers and OGL statement.  Beyond that it is packed with all sorts great things.

Book One covers Astounding Action Heroes, or ways to improve your characters or make them closer to your vision.  Abilities above 18 are covered and even how to get them there.
Each class is also presented and tips on how to play "other classes" with them.  For example The Gadgeteer can be refocused into a street-level, Pulp Age Superhero.  Think Batman in his early days.  OR take the Gadgeteer and make his gadgets into potions and you have The Alchemist.   The Gumshoe can give you an Ace Reporter (something I have really wanted) or the Consulting Detective.  Play that aging Sherlock Holmes if you like.  No new rules are needed for these since the rules are largely flexible enough.  But....if you really want new characters then you are covered here as well.  The Companion introduces The Acrobat, The Archer, The Duelist, The Gunslinger, The Pirate and The Soldier.  What they do should be fairly self-explanatory.
The next section is one I was really looking forward to reading.  This discusses porting over the classes in AA over to a Fantasy game like Castles & Crusades.  While there is nothing shocking here it is a good set of guidelines.  With the new classes, say like the Alchemist, Archer and Gunslinger it is nice to have so guidelines.
Next we have AA multiclassing, which is a port of the C&C "Class and a half".
We dive into equipment next which includes an expanded firearm list and how to use "classical" armor in an AA game.

Book Two covers Advanced Action Heroes.  New rules for your Pulp Character. This includes some new generic class abilities. My new favorites are Occult Library and Wild Talent.

Book Three is Mysteries of Magic, Mentalism and Gadgets.  It's like it was written just for me!
More information is given on Magic and Sanity; with caveats of what sort of game are wanting to run.  A game where magic is dark can include Sanity and then some spells are removed, others added. We get a few pages of new spells, some tips on adapting C&C spells and then some revised Spell Lists.
For Mentalists we get some new Psionic Powers. For Gadgeteers we get some new gadgets and powers.

Book Four is Astonishing Stories. This covers some basic and advanced rules including contested rolls, Fate points,  "Movie Physics",  and various issues regarding damage and healing.  It's kind of a catch-all chapter, but the overall theme is making your game more cinematic when you want to.

Book Five is Spinning Strange Tales.  While it does feature a kickass Snake-headed monk get ready for some kung-fu fighting there is more to this chapter than that.   This chapter covers different types of games you can play with AA and what alterations are needed.  Most times this is about which classes to include and what equipment to use or not.  My favorite might be the "Science Fantasy" section.  I mean really, what is more "Pulp Adventures" than Edgar Rice Burroughs?  Seriously. Reading this section suddenly I want to give up all my current games and play a Barsoom game using AA/C&C.
Of course I have to mention the section on "Tales of Swords and Sorcery".  The author, Jason Vey, has honestly forgotten more about Conan and Robert E. Howard than I'll ever know.  He makes some great points about using AA to emulate a Conan style game.  Ok. Conan on Mars. That's what I want to play now.

Book Six is our Rouges Gallery. NPCs and Groups. This includes the historical (Harry Houdini) the semi-historical (Robert Locksley) and the comics.

All in all if you are a fan of Amazing Adventures or the Pulp Era in general then this is a must buy!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Review: Amazing Adventures

Amazing Adventures RPG

I am woefully behind on reviews.  So I want to do one I picked up at Gen Con and it has been sitting on my desk, taunting me to review it.

First off some disclaimers.
* I do know the author Jason Vey and we have worked on projects together before.  This is not one of those projects.
* I did read a playtest version of this game some time ago.  This review is on the published version of the book.
* I did not get a free copy of this. I pledged in Troll Lords pre-order program and picked it up at Gen Con.

Ok.  All of that is out of the way.

Amazing Adventures (hereafter AA) is a new Pulp Action RPG based on the same SIEGE Engine that runs Castles & Crusades.  Unlike other SIEGE games, this one is 100% compatible with C&C.  So much so that I plan on using them together, but I'll get to that.  Right now let's talk about what the book has.

Upfront we get our OGL declaration including a lot of Open content.  This will make it easy to make "Pulp d20" supplements or use this for other sorts of games.

We move right into an introduction to what Pulp Roleplaying is.  I know Jason, I know he knows Pulp quite well.  Reading this then is like reading Steven Kenson on Supers Roleplaying; I know he gets it at a level above me.  In this case yes, but Jason still brings it down to the peasants like myself to understand.  For me I am constantly defining Pulp by old movies or, more to the point, what it isn't.  It isn't Victorian, it isn't 50's Atomic Sci-Fi (yet) or Ultra Modern.
There is a brief introduction on the use of magic.  Something I'll get to again in a bit.

Book One deals with Characters. Note, there are not multiple books, but divided withing the physical book.
If you have played, oh, ANYTHING in the last 40 years then you know what this is.  The same 6 attributes of all d20 games and C&C.  They are described with a little more information given to languages.

There are Classes. This is based on Castles & Crusades afterall.  The Arcanist (who reminds of the Harry Dresden covers), are our magic users.  What I like about them is that they choose how their magic works.  So a "wizard" may memorize spells and choose Intelligence as their Spell-casting Attribute. Or Wisdom if it is deep understanding or Charisma if it is force of character.  I like this. A lot.  The Arcanist is a bit tougher than your d20 wizard with d6 HD.  More emphasis is given to cantrips/0-level spells and less on really high level ones.  Makes sense really.
The Gadgeteer is used to make all sorts of high tech gadgets.  Your Howard Hughes-like characters.  You hard-boiled detectives are well represented by the Gumshoe.  The Hooligan is your all purpose neer-do-well, from street urchins to thieves and generally all purpose bad guys.  But that doesn't mean your character is bad, no he/she could have a heart of gold and be down on their luck. ;)  The Mentalist is a great addition given the fascination that the time had with Mentalism/Spiritualism. If the Arcanist is a "magical" character then the Mentalist is the "pyschic" one.  I also want to point out here that the Mentalist is a PERFECT class to port over to C&C if you want to do psychic/psionic powers there.  The Pugilist is your bare knucks fighter. We have these chaps in the Victorian era games too, but these have some nice features.  There is the Raider for your big game hunters or Indiana Jones types. Finally the Socialite.
There are some good rules on multiclassing as well, which is great for this Socialite/Hooligan I want to make.

The same Alignment system is in play as C&C.  Personally I would have liked something different. The nice thing is that it is completely optional.  I think for anything other than a D&D/C&C game I would drop it.

Next up are Fate Points.  These work like Drama or Hero Points.  The characters gain them at a level increase, but chances are they will spend them faster.  I have ported this over to C&C and other d20 games and they work great.  There is a lot you can do with these above and beyond normal "points" and they really add to the Pulpy feel of the game in my mind.  The main character doesn't die in Chapter 1 or Reel 1, and he doesn't die at Level 1 either.  Fate points are the "To Be Continued!" of the game.

The book on Characters ends with some equipment from the Pulp age including when they were introduced (good) and pricing for the times.

Book 2 is Advanced Character Customization
AA is not just about leveling up characters, there are other ways to advnace and customize your Pulp Hero.
Characters can have Abilities (like Ace), Backgrounds (like Scientist), Skills, and Traits.  Traits are bit like Feats and a bit like Qualities and Drawbacks in other games.

Since there is Arcana and this Pulp there is a chance the characters will run into something that will break their little minds.  So we have a section on Sanity.  These rules are simple and solid really.  There is not too much detail to read like the latest DSM but enough for a game.

There is also a section on Wealth which is dealt with not as money, but rating based on class.

Book 3 deals with the Paranormal
In particular this chapter details the differences between psionics and magic.  Again, this would be great to port over to C&C.   The basic mechanics behind using psionics and magic are also detailed.  Frankly I am really, really glad that Psionics are different from Magic.  They should be and they should feel different. One of my disapointments with D&D3x (and 4e) was Psionics were treated just like another form of magic and they shouldn't be.

Spellcasting is based on Mana points which is a good change really, and fits with the Pulp period more in my mind.   Spells are largely treated the same way as other d20 products so adding new spells is actually pretty easy.

What is interesting about both the magic spells and psionic powers is they both have associated Ability scores.  So a spell might require Intelligence or Charisma.

Book 4: Rules of the Game is next.
It is what you would expect it to be.  Maybe a little more information on non-lethal and unarmed and two-fisted fighting.  There are some more gadgets here, in particular modes of transportation.

Book 5 covers the Bestiary
In pulp literature there were still unknown lands to discover and many of those lands had never been seen by man before so who knows what sorts of beasts would dwell there?  Well not really dinosaurs or giant apes, but in your game you can.  We get a nice mix of classical monsters, atomic-horror giants, undead creatures and aliens.  It's crazy. But crazy in a good way.  Since the monsters are standard format you can even pull out any monster book for C&C (or d20) and use those monsters too.

Book 6 Running a Pulp Game is next.
Details the pulp 4-act adventure (for contrast I typically run 3-act adventures for Buffy and 5-act ones for Ghosts of Albion).  For your benefit a sample adventure is included.

We end the book with a Character Sheet.

There are plenty of support files from the author:

This is the errata for the first printing (dark cover):

A Character sheet:
And expanded Firearms.  These are in addition to what is found in the books:

Ok. Judgement time.

Science Fiction Double Feature
I like this book a lot.  I am not sure I would ever play in a pulp setting, but I think it is a great update/replacement for Modern d20.  Truthfully while reading this what I REALLY want to do with this is something along the lines of 50's and 60's monster movies.  So aliens attacking the earth, giant insects and kaiju.  "This Island Earth", "Forbidden Planet", "Them", "Day of the Triffids" and the like.  I know this is not what the book was designed to do.  But it sure works great for it to be honest.  Actually better than great.

I have a lot of Pulpish, 2-fisted  adventure, games.  This one is great for Pulp, but to ignore the flexibility in this game would be a crime.  Plus the 50s are an under-represented time in RPG games.

Stand and Deliver!
Another thing that this game is PERFECT for is as a supplement to Castles & Crusades.  Not only do you get an updated Arcane class, you get a perfectly workable Psionic class with powers.   Even if you don't use that try using the Fate Point system with C&C.

One of the nice features of this game is the use of just using a +5 for Primes.  Instead of a TN or 12 or 18 like C&C, AA gives you a plus to your roll.  We housed ruled this for C&C a while back and I understand it is fairly common.  I like it better than the core C&C rules and will use this instead.

There is something else that this game would be perfect for.  I have had this desire to do a game based in 16th to 17th Century England where I could cover such topics as Queen Elizabeth, The Stuart Kings and Queens, Shakespeare, Sir Francis Drake, Guy Fawkes, John Dee, Highway Men, sail and conquest.  This plus C&C minus many of the D&D trappings would be perfect.

I am thinking of modding the vehicle combat rules for Highwaymen on horse back and coaches-in-four.  Stand and deliver indeed!

What is missing from the book that I think would have been nice are some Archetypes/1st level NPCs.
Also a supporting cast might also be good.  What level and class is Police Officer O'Hara at Precinct 9 where you get all your good tips?

A couple of adventures from the publisher would also be nice.  You could put a few of them into one book.

Also missing, but something that I can easily find, is a map of the World circa 1930 with so travel times and costs. I would have liked some more information on the world too.  I guess that is the one thing that this book lacks.  Granted, these things are typically covered in a Game Masters' book or a Campaign book.   I ignored it up to this point because I was so drawn in by all the things I want to do with this that I never considered missing.  I am hesitant to count off for it since a.) I only noticed it now despite having had and played around with this game for a while and b.) I was not then and am not now likely to even use it.

So where do end this?
Well I really like this book.  Even if I never play it as intended there is just too much good stuff in it to ignore.

Buy this if... like Jason's other books.  This is his style through and through. like two-fisted pulp action adventure. like Castles & Crusades and are looking to turn it up a notch or add Psionics or a Fate Point system. want a flexible modern system built on a system that is tried and tested for years. want easy to use vehicle combat rules.

My imagination is really grabbed by this system.  I think there is a lot of potential here and a lot I want to do with this game.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Amazing Adventures!

I picked up Amazing Adventures at this past Gen Con and I have been having some fun with it.

Despite my fondness of Victorian and Modern games I am not a big "Pulp" gamer.  I am however a new(ish) big fan of Castles and Crusades.

I have had this idea of mixing the games for some time now.  AA has a lot of features I like.  For example I like the idea of some mad science in my "D&D" like worlds.  I like the AA sorcerers as well since they save the effort of coming up with a lot of new magic types (which I enjoy, but is time consuming).

I also like that one of "my" favorite house rules is now part of the game.  Instead of the 12/18 split for primes for CBs AA has a flat CB of 15 with bonuses (and this gives it more of a cinematic feel in my mind).

This gives me the feel of a more pulpy-cinematic style C&C game.  I mean that is how I played it in the 80s anyway, fresh out of Raiders of the Lost Ark!

Has anyone else picked this up?
Are you using it, mixing it with C&C or any other game?


Thursday, February 9, 2012


Some new reviews from various products I have picked up lately.  Mostly horror, but also some others I have used recently.  All really fun.

Fear and Faith Horror Rules
A great little miniature skirmish game. The rules are fast, simple and easy to learn on the fly. Some situations tend to work better than others, such as an attacking zombie horde or a bunch of vampires in a grave yard, but all in all I like it. I actually plan to try it out in conjunction with other Horror RPGs and see how well they mesh. They game was not designed specifically to do this, but it certainly can be easily adapted to this. And even to make it perfect there is a list of links of where to get some quality horror minis.
5 out of 5 stars

Dread: The First Book of Pandemonium
Here is my basic problem with Dread: The First Book of Pandemonium.
Why haven't I heard more about it? It is an extremely easy, almost light, game for all sorts of horror. The execution is extremely well thought out and has such an indie charm to it I am a little confused as to why I haven't heard more about it. Let me go over the book a bit.
The Art and Layout. The art is a mixed batch of photo art, line art and a mix. Instead of looking chaotic it comes together as a whole. It reminds me a bit of the various "investigator notebooks" style layouts that are popular in modern horror games today, only no where near as cluttered. The layout is clean, neat and easy to read. In fact the near "sterileness" only adds to the horror feel to be honest.
Characters. The best part. The characters of Dread are damaged goods. In this respect I am reminded of Kult or other games where the characters start out already in deep trouble. In many ways the characters of Dread are like that of The Matrix. Outside humanity, but fighting for it. It is the extensional fight of WoD or Kult, with the actual fights of Armageddon and the chance of survival of Call of Cthulhu.
Characters do not have a lot of stats. Again this game is light, but there is more than enough here and really the focus of this game is more what you do and not how hard you hit it (though that is pretty important sometimes).
The magic system is likewise as light, but it is not lacking in spells. The guide lines are also pretty simple that making new ones is easy.
Between Magic and Combat is appropriately Exorcisms. I can't recall a game that devoted an entire chapter to this before. Another plus in it's favor.
Combat is also designed to be simple. Interestingly enough you roll to attack and to defend.
A section on role-playing and a quick start round out the first half of the book. The rest is for Directors only.
There are rules sections (not much) but then what follows is a true gem. Page after page of new, completely original demons. Nothing cribbed from the Monster Manual or some moldy document from the Church. Demons, their habits and how to take them down. Honestly worth it for this alone.
The book finishes off with some sample scenarios.

All in all a great game. I can't wait to try it out with a group that would really appreciate it.

Don't get this game if you like a lot of rules or crunch or want to have a number next everything your character can (or can't) do.
Don't get this game if pick up a horror game only to play it like "XXXX" tv show, book or movie. Dread is it's own thing.

Do get it if you like a fast moving game. Do get it is you have tried every other horror game out there and want something new. Do get it if you just want to try something new.
5 out of 5 stars

Devilish Duos: Smoke and Mirrors
Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Ed
I love well worked up characters for supers games. I love supernatural characters. And I love products that have appeal across games. While this is an Icons product, I see there are M&M versions out as well. That beign said the value here is in the character write-ups and those can be used anywhere.
Smoke and Mirrors are two such characters. Though I have to think it was just a quirk of chance that made them as they are and but a change in the same fates could have made them...well not good, but certainly not villains, though Smoke could have been had she been allowed to live her life. And that is the key here. Not that these are well stated out or the art is good (true on both counts) or even that there nice little paper minis to use (there is and they are a nice touch) but that they are characters I would want to get to know to use.
Actually I want to use them in a horror game. There they would shine.
The Mutants and Masterminds version includes Hero Builder files.
5 out of 5 stars

Toy War
Have kids?  Do they love to play with anything from stuffed animals to toy robots or action figures?
Do want to introduce them to the world of RPGs?  Well then this might just be the perfect game.
Well, not perfect, but really, really, really good.
Toy War takes so very simple rules (and also teaches kids how to use a ruler) to bring their favorite toys to life.   Each toy has a purpose and something it does well.  In one session we brought in a baby harp seal (was cute), a toy Dalek (can shoot), a space ship and some D&D dragons.  We came up with this idea to rescue some fish and we were off.  The adventure is fast and fun. In the end we saved the fish, only to have them eaten by the baby seal.
Depending on your kids this could be a game of structured make believe or even an on-going saga.  Or it can be a great diversion for a rain or snowy afternoon.
Worth every penny and then some.
5 out of 5 stars

Supernatural Adventures
Five adventures for Supernatural.
They are actually set up well enough that they could be used with just about any Modern Horror game, but they do have the feel of the show.  Not perfect adventures mind you, but certainly well written.   My favorite is "Hell Hound on My Trail" since it can be slotted into any ongoing arc with plenty of room to expand it for future use.
"Synchronicity" is good as well and might be my favorite in terms of how it was written.
4 out of 5 stars

BASH! Ultimate Edition

BASH! is a fantastic little game of Super Heroes.  Instead of a huge book of powers or effects, BASH instead focuses on "What do you want to do?" and "What kind of hero are you?", Simple, but powerful questions.
The game achieves the near miraculous feat of being simple to use and learn and yet powerful enough to keep you interested and coming back to the game.
The mechanic is kind of an odd one with multipliers (but I think it works for supers) and exploding doubles on 2d6, which I admit I like. It also has a cool FASRIP-looking chart for die results, so it gives it an old school feel (something all old school supers games had were charts, lots of them!). I like that the main Abilities have been reduced to just three; reminiscent of Tri-Stat, but these a Brawn, Agility Mind (BAM!), which appeals to me.  Everything after that are skills and powers.
It has it's legions of fans and I can see why.

BASH is a nice alternative to M&M or Icons, both very fine games, but BASH is easier to get going in.  Yes, even compared to Icons.
In addition to all of that BASH has a great power leveling system to play everything from Street Level Mystery Men to Cosmic "New Gods".

It's not perfect.  BUT just like like the comics would sometimes have huge cross-over events, so can games.  If you are happy with your current Supers RPG, great, but maybe the characters fall into a wormhole-spacetimebridge-cosmicsink and end up in a BASH universe.  At  under 10 bucks it is totally worth it.

I have a quibble with the "Bruce Timm" inspired-art.  I am not really sure how they got away with that.
Now mind you, I like the art.  I like Supers games to looks like comics or supers cartoons, but this seems a bit odd to me.

No matter.  Bottom line. Great game. Great fun. Great sorry, Great Price.
If you like supers games then get this.
5 out of 5 stars

Twilight 2000

Twilight 2000 was always one of those classic games of my post-D&D youth.  Back then I grabbed anything that wasn't D&D.  TW2k was fun, but not a game I ever got into for any length of time.
In today's eyes it seems a bit dated and even maybe a little silly, but this was a big deal in the 80's.

What I like though is using this game as a precursor to the GDW Traveller books of around the same time.  Then this game improves in my mind as a link to the Traveller universe.  Sure it was not really designed that way when Traveller first came out, but it certainly was the assumption I got.

The game though is still a classic and maybe one day I'll give it a go again. Or maybe as part of a larger Traveller campaign.
4 out of 5 stars

Forbidden Kingdoms: Modern 
Forbidden Kingdoms: Modern is a slimmer version of the full FK book.  This one uses the D20 Modern rules to cover the heavy lifting and leaves the rest of the book to focus on what is just Forbidden Kingdoms.
The Pulp Era is not one I spend a lot of time playing in, but it certainly tailor made for adventures.  You have many of the advantages of a modern society and still have large areas of land that mysterious, unknown and ready for imagination.
Forbidden Kingdoms (any version) is actually one of my more favorite Pulp era games.  It is also the game that helped me see the value of D20 Modern.
The background information covers the end of the Victorian age till WWII and has a great overview of history. Not perfect of course, but perfect for a game.
If you like the Pulp era or any of the books that came out then, then this is a great game to have.  I am using it for the history sections and the adventure hooks alone.
4 out of 5 stars

Dweomercraft: Lich

Liches are the ultimate bad guy in D&D.  All the liches we know, we know by name.  Dweomercraft: Lich helps you create those monsters and make them into some more; villains.
At 106 pages (plus additional maps and files) this book is filled with everything you would suspect.  There is a chapter on what a Lich is and how to create them. There are discussions on how the different races approach lichdom.  Lots of lich-related knowledge is also presented with appropriate DCs. There are plenty of new skills, feats, spells and monsters.  Additionally we have undead familiars; for undead wizards natch, and Lich prestige classes.  Sure to scare your characters to death.
Most importantly there are Lich NPCs.  Something that no book should be without.
I can't help but to compare favorably to the old "Blueprint for a Lich" Dragon article.  It would mesh nicely with this book.  I also comapre it to the old Mayfair "Lichlords", which this present book is better.

A properly played Lich should be able to stand up to an entire party of characters.
A properly played Lich out of this book should be able to wipe them out.

4 out of 5 stars