17 Jan

Back Under the Glowline

So, time to return to Glorantha I feel. It’s been years, maybe a decade or more, since I’ve gamed under the Red Moon, faced the terrors of Thanatar and charged with my Enlo against Blue Moon Moth Riders. You know what, I kinda bloody miss it, and purged of all the accumulated cruft of the Glorantha nerds and the mismatch between myself and Hero Wars, it’s time to worship the Dark Mother, riddle with Nysalor and embrace the endless history of Darra Happa.

But, and this is lovely, there are so many choices.

Firstly, and I don’t mind saying this, there is HeroQuest with the tailored match between the the recent setting books, all redolent in simple d20 keywords and meshed neatly between culture and game. There is some truly lovely stuff in the sources that meshes with HQ, and yet.. I’ve never really enjoyed a game of HQ, although a lot of that might be from the Hero Wars action point economy that bored me to tears. Also, and although I can enjoy the depth of Glorantha cultural minutia, it has been what turned me off the setting for so long. I am, and always have been, more of a greatsword swinging Zorak Zorani than a Lhankor Mhy, and so I don’t think it’s HQ for me.

Secondly there is RuneQuest. We approach a time of possibly the best moderately complex version of RuneQuest that we’ve ever had, one that fixes the old issues about divine magic, montheism in a polytheistic world, makes a bloody good stab at sorcery and delivers a folk magic that actually feels folksy and useful to a carpenter or potter. We don’t have Adventures in Glorantha yet, but Hannu Kokko and the Finns are making a very good stab at it with their proto-cult write ups and the joy that is the RuneQuest Encounter tool online.. a party of Chaos cultists heading out from SnakePipe Hollow, I don’t mind if I do. Only problem, I think RQ6, like earlier RQs, doesn’t scale to Heroic, which is, after all why HeroQuest was first conceived.

Thirdly, and this isn’t as mad as it sounds, is OpenQuest. Combined with the RuneQuest Classics RQ2 reprints from Rich Meints, or a selection of RQ3 adventures, one can run an OQ game in Glorantha with barely a flutter. The spells have the same names, the stat blocks are very similar, and OQ is lighter and involves less rethink that RQ6. I know Simon Bray runs all his Glorantha with OQ these days and if that isn’t a recommendation I don’t know what is. So, possible and do-able, but one also can’t help wondering if maybe a copy of RQ2 or RQ3 might also fit in this camp, they’re easily pickupable in the UK on ebay, if you haven’t already got them all on the shelf, which I have.

Fourthly, and here the ZZ beserker in me wails in joy, 13th Age Glorantha! This riot of a d20 game that won me over to D&D after 34 years just made me think of Orlanth, the Red Goddess, Kyger Litor, Yelmalio, etc. as I turned the pages. This is a game for the Heroic, and by setting it in the Hero Wars when Argrath wages devastation on the Lunar Empire, and the Red Moon wages it back in an apocalyptic frenzy that cracks Glorantha from Choralinthor Bay to Valind’s Glacier, is the time for the power and crazy that is a 13th Age player character. So, and this is a defininte, the d20 will come to my Glorantha table, but it will be rolling high and not low.

But that’s not all.

Oh no.

I have a steadily growing collection of skirmish minis and skirmish rulesets. I know Sandy Petersen is playtesting a Gloranthan Gods War game, and I suspect that like his earlier Cthulhu boardgame, this may lead to a big fat bunch of 28mm Gloranthan minis.

So how to skirmish in Glorantha?

Well the Glory Geeks, that brave band of Gloranthan wargamers, have valiantly field Hordes of the Things Gloranthan armies in the HOTT fields of war, and indeed Rich Crawley’s Goranthan HOTT bands are great to play. Just ask him, or Jane, for army lists and where to get the rules and you too can be playing Gloranthan battles in under an hour a time on your dining room table. I am odd though, I don’t like to base my figures in blocks, since I am a roleplayer first I like them singly based. So, not HOTT for me, although always up for a game.

Rich and I have been enjoying Song of Blades and Heroes from Ganesha Games in recent years. A fast 28mm/15mm/any scale skirmish game free of any tie in with any minis maker, SoBH or SBH is enjoyable, wonderfully generic, quick to learn and play, and leaves your minis free for any other use since it has no basing needs. I know Rich has done Glorantha with it and I was almost there until I saw..

Of Gods and Mortals, or OGAM. Published by Osprey this is in fact a superset of SBH, where gods (40mm+), avatars (28-40mm) and their forces (28mm) battle it out on the field of war. What could be more Gloranthan? Cacodemon and his warband facing down Storm Bull and his? It’s appealing isn’t it, and I think I shall have to lay down the ten quid to get OGAM and see how it’ll work if and when some good Gloranthan minis come out, so come on Sandy!

And that’s not all.. after all, if Sandy P does get the Glorantha boardgame going, is there any chance of resisting that?

Must go, Cragspider is calling..

The Troll

HQ: http://www.glorantha.com/product/heroquest-glorantha/
RQ6: http://www.thedesignmechanism.com/runequest.php
OQ: http://d101games.com/books/openquest/
13th G: http://www.13thageinglorantha.com/

SBH: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3080 … and-heroes
OGAM: http://www.northstarfigures.com/list.php?man=159&page=1

And then this:

05 Oct

Crucible of Dragons review for OpenQuest rpg


What this book contains within 144 pages, black and white interior, colour cover.

A sandbox setting for OpenQuest rpg, which is Greek, Hellenistic, largely fantasy classical but also clockwork tech, with a very Harryhausen clockwork owls jazz happening. The palette is deliberately limited to humans, dracorans, beastmen and dragons. This allows for a focused setting with a wide range of potential conflicts and alliances between and within the various groupings, all lightly detailed so as to allow low level gaming that can escalate to high level. PCs could become kings, liberators, oppressors and heroes, or just stay as dirty murder hoboes for hire.

Gaming in Pherae
This chapter gives players an outline of the setting, and character generation rules for characters from the island. If the player characters are from the island the “What the Trader told me” section is what they know about the setting at start of play.



The Land of Pherae
This chapter details the island, giving an overview of its history and inhabitants. A full gazetteer is included. This is simple, the style is very of the RQ/Glorantha tradition where the social setting is key, and yet here the society is quite low level, and at a turning point, like all good rpg settings this is a time and place where great things have happened, but now something different is coming..

What went before is a world ruled by dracorans who enslaved dragons and overthrew the Elder gods (conflict), which was then overturned by humans who dealt with demons and created the hybrid race beastmen (conflict). Humans then lost control of the demons and their spawn and had to fight to suppress the demonic forces (conflict). Society starts to decline, and a dragon seizes control of the main city whilst the dracorans and beastmen rule the island core. Oh, and there are some dwarfs..

The City of the Dragon
The city of Draxa, its inhabitants, a selection of very important people, districts and notable buildings are detailed in this chapter. I found this chapter a little chaotic, jumping from places to people and back again but quite manageable. It’s worth pursuing since the interplay of the human bureacracy and competing Ministries, set under the dominion of the ruling dragon (who can also shapeshift to a human like dragon lady) is a potentially key driver of missions and intrigue that the PCs can interact with, at first as pawns but later maybe as ‘players’.

Of Gods and Magic
The religions and magic systems used on the island are covered in this chapter, which also includes sixteen new cults and fifteen new magic spells. The gods of this setting may or may not be declining, and the authors are clearly allowing the GM and players to decide that for themselves. If you want a classic d100 cult based game then you have more than enough cults here, and a nice selection of new magic. I liked classic d100 so for me I’d embrace this set wholly, those you want a less ‘theistic’ game may keep this for NPCs or something to slowly reveal in play, perhaps even by the PCs breathing a new evangelical flame into religion on Pherae.

Heroes and Factions
Ten new organisations, which provide access to magic and skills, are detailed with their history and aims alongside a selection of eleven important heroes and villains who can be encountered as the player characters explore the island. This is the meat of the matter, along with the city of Draxa in chapter 3, these are the organisations that will hire the PCs, or the PCs will join either at campaign start or in play. Of particular note to me were the “The Guild of Artificers”, the clockwork mechanics, and “The Sodality of Adventurous Antiquarians (aka The Cache Collectors)” who despite their grand name are a right old bunch of tomb looters under Kholincles, their leader. Each organisation has lore, skills, personalities and even magic, so that they can be used as much as cults as the primary social units for play. Note that some of the groups here are interlinked with the Lands of Pherae section.

Men and Monsters
A “stats digest” of the common inhabitants of the island, both monstrous and human. Which the Games Master can create encounters at the drop of a hat during play or use them as the basis to create fuller non-player characters for their own scenarios. Also includes rules for creating unique and individual demons and full encounter tables for the island by region.

This is a sandbox game but it also provides structured adventures. The first is in fact a very loose structure based around tax collection, in other words: an excellent excuse for some sandbox exploration. None of the adventures assume how the PCs will respond to the physical and moral challenges and choices they are presented with, and almost every group of players will leave each adventure with different tales and sagas to tell.

I like Simon Bray’s artwork, it is a very deliberately primitivist style that I appreciate and enjoy. There are great images of heroes, dwarfs, dragons and beastmen through the book and I like the coherent styling. There are some very nice if idiosyncratically legended maps.

Newt likes a simple layout, with white space and no extra embellishments. It works fine although in Chapter 6 there are some open areas of abandoned space that I think might have been handled better. I found the Draxa Chapter 3 was a little chaotic, jumping from places to people and back again but quite manageable.

Very few, which is good news since d101 can be prone to them. One or two mangled sentences, and one contradiction between Chapter 2 and Chapter 7 where the headman of the Town on Yanos isn’t and then is “Varbos One-Eye”, decide for yourself..

Crucible is a very well crafted setting book. It reminds one of all the best of Griffin Mountain from Glorantha’s RQ past, offering enough of a detailed set of social organisations: cults, the city of Draxa, and the factions to paint a convincing backdrop, but makes none complusory and their relative importance one for the GM and/or players to determine. The history develops all sorts of relationships between a nicely limited set of species and factions, offering a flexible set of conflicts. These can be as nuanced or as black and white as the players/GM wish. There are a lot of good resources for a GM to write top down scenarios, and there is enough of an empty map for the game to be randomly arbitrated in play. There is a good set of stats, spells and ‘game’ stuff to add a localised sparkle to this OQ setting, or to be stolen for your own. It will therefore be enjoyed by modern gamers (loose flexible mutual game development), top down auteur gamers (there are metaplots here that can be exploited) or that terribly nouveau group, the OSR crowd who want a hex map and a randome encounter table. It’s good value, it’s illustrated in a nice primitivist style and it’s a quick read: it has just enough and not too much.

It’s available here.

I have added my affiliate code to links in this post and I may get a few shekels if you click and buy.

22 Jul

TomCon 2013

I had a good time, it was great to see old friends and new, and I am pleased that the house accomodated everyone well.

We started at 4.30 on Friday when the Sheffielders arrived (right on time, well done Simon).
Ann provided a buffet and then some of played the rather fun if esoteric game [i]Princes of Florence[/i] which was a Renaissance game of conspicupus patronage and prestige. It was good, Id play it again. Then we had a couple of games of Guillotine and happily executed many tumbrils of aristos' in this great beer and pretezels game of revolution. Fat was then chewed in a late night chat and drink session.

Saturday morning, Neil G joined for bacon and sausage butties and then we walked to Jesmond, then Metro to Tynemouth where we explored a flea market, had a walk to see Admiral Collingwood's monument, have a panoramic view of the Tyne, then fish and chips and back to Heaton for some more chilling and the usual gamr chitter chatter about new editions of FATE, old editions of Chivalry and Sorcery, Kickstarters for Esteren and Exalted and whether Graham had a date for Wednesday night. Andrew W and Duncan R had joined us by then and after a truly awesome meal of slow cooked lamn, potatoes and butternut squash, the evening games started.

Sadly Elaine wasn't with us so we were unable to have the true joy of game sign up sheets, but we managed. I played in [i]Edge of Empire[/i] run by Pete G, and as Neil says, it is a lovely gritty post Order 66, scum and villainy level of game. It took me half the game to understand the dice, but once I did they seemed intuitive. The combat was suitably close, as befits a fantasy game, and the product was beautifully made. What would put me off would be the sheer cost of starting up the game, but then again, we're gamers, when has that ever really stopped us?

Upstairs Simon B ran his [i]Stiff Upper Lip[/i] FATE game and I'll let those guys report on that game. Then we stayed up far too late drinking and eating cheese with Ann discussing the relative importance of exact conformance to current grammar norms versus ability to convey meaning.

Sunday started with a (as yet undisclosed) breadcake shortage followed by emergency situation gamma-4, e.g. Sainsburys closed when Neil got there so we deplouyed emergency plan alpha-16, and Graham popped around to Tescos for some some baps to put the sausages in.. ooer missus.

I ran my [i]Stormbringer[/i] game which was a multiversal plane hopping game in which Prince Yyrkoon, Sir Gawain of Lot and Orkneys and Brother Juan Claros of the Reconquista (??) of Iberia had to do lots of plane hopping to get stuff. I think I'll not say what since some of you may get to play a revised version at a con in the next years. I enjoyed running Elric! again and it reminded me that it is still my favourite BRP ruleset.

Downstairs Andrew W ran what seems to have been a very successful [i]Dungeon World[/i] game based on the Fighting Fantasy classic [i]Deathtrap Dungeon[/i].

Ann served up her Beef and Black Ale pie and all went home well fed. I had a kip.

I can only repeat my thanks for Ann's sterling work in providing vittals, and also to my fellow referees for running games, Andrew S for introducing us to the new boardgame and to one and all for being great roleplayers and convivial company!

21 May

Why I like(d) RQ more than D&D

When I talk about D&D I mean B/X D&D and/or AD&D 1st edition (PHB and DMG and MM). I did see the White Box once but it was on a shelf as an archived thing even in 1979.

I disliked the core D&D rules system. Not for being ‘serious’ but being outrageouslt flawed as a combat simulation, and BRP being closer to how I imagined combat. The more time I spend with people who do combat recreation with metal swords, the more I realised that combat is just a touch too complex for any rpg to simulate wholly, but that BRP is closer than D&D.

I disliked the core D&D rules system also for it’s class/level approach which meant that the world was oddly solipsist, it always mirrored the class/level structure of the players. So 1-3 level PCs had 1-3 level adventures, and when they got to 4-6, the world jacked up to 4-6 around them and so on.

I disliked the very wide power range of AD&D onwards. The difference between levels seemed to become broader and broader, and the sheer power imbalance between a 1st level wizard and a 10th or 20th level character made the world seem increasingly imbalanced.

I wanted skills. D&D didn’t have them until 3e.

I disliked the haphazard nature of rules in D&D, the fact that the game appeared to grow rather than be designed, the fact that some rules followed percentiles and some a d6, that it wasn’t possible to master the system by learning one or two core mechanisms. The unique nature of each class and between races and between PCs and NPCs and monsters irritated me.

D&D was very preachy. Well let’s be clear, Gary Gygax was very preachy and prescriptive, which given the ‘not exactly perfect’ nature of the game bugged me.

I liked a magic system that allowed player choice in how to use resources to power spells, and D&D had a Vancian spell system that exacerbated the problems of low level characters and limited magic.

I didn’t conceptually like the difference between player races and monsters. It appealed to me far more to be able to play any sentient creature as a PC, and with the same rules as any other creature. This came very much from playing T&T, but also my egalitarian and inclusive social views. Monsters are people too!

I liked unified resolution systems and BRP had one (actually two if you use the resistance table), it appeals to my love of simple system design and analysis in real life, which I also accept is a reductionist tendency that makes me paper over minor variations and/or cross influences.

I wanted to play in a society based game that had a culture and the players existed and interacted with it to gain benefit and make their name, whereas default D&D seemed to be about groups of mercenaries looting tombs in an analogue of the Wild West. I accept that this wasn’t the only way to play D&D, but RQ offered a culture led game out of the book, so it worked for me.

The fact that in BRP it is just possible for a David to bring down a Goliath appealed to my view of the inherent danger of combat, and also my delight in the ‘little guy’ bringing down the behemoth with all the advantages.

I had no problem with playing ducks, trolls, scorpion-men, minotaurs, wind children, etc. any more than playing halflings, tieflings or ewoks.

As I grew up and tried other games that also took similar and different game designs, as ideas such as binary advantages and disadvantages (feats) and a lighter and lighter approach came to rulesets, and simulation was increasingly not seem as a benefit I came to 3e D&D, which had skills and a more unified approach (in the core books, I ignore the panoply of add ons) I ran it for 3 years every other week.

Much of my issues still exist, the class/level world, the very wide power level range, the likelihood that as a group of 1st level characters you couldn’t take down a 10th level fighter. On the other hand, it had skills that worked, I quite liked feats, and we had a lot of fun playing it.

At the same time I was well aware of the issues around BRP, it’s inherent fragility for characters was upsetting for many players, the full hit location based combat sequences were taking too long for a modern game, and the magic system with regard to POW driven divine spells was looking stingy compared to MP driven spirit/battle magic. There were too many skills and the ‘tick hunting’ was a problem for many refs, although not myself.

Most of these were fixed in OpenQuest and RQII and RQ6, but I also had a look at the OSR retro clone games. They were either exact copies of games I hadn’t liked decades before, or they were “homages” like Castles & Crusades. I politely walked away.

Did I use to hate D&D? Yes. In my youth it seemed to really annoy me and I disliked it a lot. When I saw good settings shoe horned into the d20 system it annoyed me.

Do I hate it now? Not in the way I used to. I can relax and take it as something people enjoy a lot. I could play and run core Pathfinder and have a good time. I’d give 4e another go, it seemed a fun skirmish game. I’d try Tru20 if anyone wanted to play it or run it.

But I’d always play systems that IMHO are better designed games.

So was RQ a refuge? No, it was one of the game systems (along with T&T and Traveller and HERO and others) that offered differently designed games that appealed better to my personal likes and dislikes about roleplaying, society and system design. Was it my favourite? Probably, and yet that’s because of the tight link between society and game, culture and PCs, and in reality that’s achievable with many game systems, but more difficult with the power ramp of D&D.

26 Mar

Heroes and Other Worlds

I have been on a bit of a mad rpg frenzy. Work has just got some heavy and so dense that I had to take a holiday in my head, so I've put in 17 hours playing Torchlight, read about 6 rpgs books straight, 4 graphic novels, and oh yes, stopped watching TV.

On the way I bought, read and have been playing solo adventures using Heroes and Other Worlds which is a retroc clone of the old Steve Jackson game The Fantasy Trip, a clear precursor to GURPS.

The game is simple, it's definitely evoking an OSR feel, and yet with a ruleset that I never owned or played, although I have played and run GURPS.. but it wasn't popular with my friends. Essentially you play an Adventurer or a Wizard, and it's cheaper for a Wizard to buy spells, and cheaper for an Adventurer to buy dexterity based skills.  There are 4 stats, STrength (ST), DeXterity (DX), Intelligence (IQ) and ENdurance (EN). Basically ST allows use of weapons, is the pool of hit points or magic points to either withstand damage or power spells, IQ is the default stat for which spells you can learn, how many spells/skills you can know, and the base stat for thinking type checks, DX is the go to stat for most physical stat checks. EN wasn't in TFT and is a fudge, it's a pool of easily recovered points to power spells and absorb damage. It seems to be a PC only stat, NPCs don't have it. As I said it's a fudge stat, but I can see from the solos and the stats of NPCs that without it a PC would die far too often to be fun.

There is an extensive spell list, many of which are short sweet and suited to the tactical combat nature of the game. There is a simple combat system that delivers a good hex/square based tactical game that is satisfying and yet not slow. The author delivers a bestiary that is clearly as influenced by D&D as anything else.

The referee section, ominously barred from player's eyes, is very good. The game is not billed as an rpg but as an "adventure game", and the emphasis is on adventure base upon combat, treasure, monsters and the ref section has a very good random dungeon system, a good random plunder system, a solo adventure (good luck keeping the player's eyes off that, and a well crafted adventure. Noticeably, although the author makes stance against emotive roleplay, the system neither supports or prevents as much narrative ham acting as you like, which is often the point made my OSR supporters. [Bit like Traveller.]

So, I created 4 characters and we launched into the solo adventure, alright, the 'programmed adventure', which is written by Dark City games. Wow, what a retro rush. I've not played a solo in years, and this, with it's hex sheet cleverly laid out to setup all the combats, it's multi PC style, and the simple flow of the story was great fun. Ann did laugh out loud when she saw me at my study desk "playing figures with myself", but it was fun.. dangerous and deadly for one of my PCs, but fun. Last night I downloaded another freebie adventure from DCG, The Sorcerers' Manor and bished, bashed and looted my way through.

So, what do I think? Well, the text is fine, albeit with a few rules issues that need a gentle tweak for newbies (I never played TFT so I suspect that the author sometimes assumes knowledge), one or two explanations need moving around, but the system is light enough that a competent reader can judge what's what, and in fact it's well drafted. The fudging of EN is necessary due to the inherent low power base of retro starting characters, but also since the development curve for the PCs is quite slow, and in this clone the core stats cannot be changed, which is a potential problem if, like one of my wizards, he really isn't clever enough to cast his spells, and will never get better. [There is a curious bit of text which implies that there is a skill bonus to spell casting but I can't see where from.].

Combats are tactical, finely balanced, and magic can play a really big role, which shows the TFT roots as a tactical game. The combat is a straight forward roll under stat+skill to hit, opponent may react with a parry/dodge but lose next move, and then damage is rolled, armour is subtracted from that, points come off EN or ST. The plunder rules are light and fun, generating interesting treasure, the spell lists are enjoyable, and the layout and illustrations of the core book are nice and redolent of the source material.

I like the idea of the Old Skool Revival, of playing simple fun games that recreate the hobby's youth. However I never really liked D&D mechanically, so for me this is a nice reminder that there were other games out there that are worth another look, have a similar 'feel' but had mechanics that IMHO were better. [Hey, like Traveller.]

So, expect an old skool game of Heroes and Other Worlds from me at a con.


Contacts: http://heroworlds.blogspot.co.uk/
http://www.mediafire.com/heroworlds [there's a short rule set in the Caludron 0 magazine]

07 Mar

Outer Veil – Spica Publishing



OUTER VEIL  is a new setting book for the Traveller rpg published by Mongoose. Traveller has a pedigree going back to the very root of roleplaying (1977) and has a well developed setting that has emerged, somewhat organically, over the intervening decades. This setting, which is usually referred to as the Original Traveller Universe (OTU) is set very far in the future and has a very decentralised feel with a light feudal oligarchy ruling over it. It also has some anachronistic touches, and despite being millennia in the future it often feels oddly like 1972!

Spica Publishing, founded in July 2006, have published a wide range of support material for the current Mongoose edition of Traveller, and yet in the past they did have plans to publish an entire sector in the OTU. This seems to have been somewhat derailed by the new licence, although not by any active intervention by Mongoose or Mark Miller, and it seems that they have turned their hand to a new and independent setting.


OUTER VEIL is a near future setting, the game date is 2159, and yet mankind has explored a full sector, divided into the dense Core, the growing Frontier and the thinly settled Outer Veil. The pace of technological progress has been consistent and IMHO more acceptable for a SF genre project. From 2033 to 2159 Earth has moved from TL8 to just TL11, with Jump-1 ships developed in 2068, and Jump-2 in 2150. The history of the setting is well developed and addresses a lot of the usual issues about Traveller, e.g. Why doesn’t knowledge spread evenly and how can barbarism exist a week away from abundance and ultra technology? In OUTER VEIL the whole of space is nominally TL10-11, and if you have the money you can buy equipment at that level. ICT is cheap, pervasive and wireless, and as the text says “storage is effectively limitless with 22nd century technology”. That’s not to say that backward colonies don’t exist, indeed on the Veil some goods are imported in a lower tech form just so they’re easier to maintain. Gravitics is a new technology and although it has replaced aircraft, ground vehicles are still wheeled, tracked or waterborne. 

The history and the setup of OUTER VEIL has been done extremely well, so as to be believable, consistent with the core Traveller rulebook, and yet also to deliver a style and feel that is far more Firefly or Aliens than some SF games you may have played. Essentially space was colonised by Megacorps that seized political control through the Inter Stellar Trade Organisation (ISTO) after various corporate wars. Eventually the nation states rebelled and after a civil war established the Federated Nations of Humanity in 2131. The government structure of Humanity is rather similar to the present European Union, a ruling Executive of three members, an elected Assembly, and Commissions of civil servants that manage the broad decisions of the other two institutions. The wider structure of Member Nations and Colonies mirrors the colonisation of North America by the U.S.A., with Colonies similar in form and type to the Territories, and the Member Nations like full states. The Megacorps still run 60% of the economy, the FNH actively runs 25% with the balance in the hands of Independents. There is a wider variety of ‘actual’ governments the further away from the Core that one goes, and there are good rules on setting up new Colonies: indepedent, corporate charter world and government colonial projects. The political system is dominated by three broad coalitions: Stability (conservative), Progress (expansionist) and Unity (lefties), all of which can provide excellent flavour and motivation. In addition there are Secessionists, militant and peaceful; pirates, privateers and raiders, unsanctioned colonies and a whole grey zone in which dissidents and outcasts can dwell.

Military concerns are not pressing for the FNH at the moment, they keep a Core Navy, a Marines Corp (FNHMC) and planetary armies. Few warships above 1000 tonnes are seen in the Frontier and the Outer Veil, most smaller than that. Mercenary units exist and are licensed, and in the Frontier and Outer Veil illegal corporate wars still erupt. Meson guns haven’t been invented, combat armour isn’t known, and this and the small size of ships means that a referee need not use High Guard or Mercenary, although they could.. This is not a setting for huge naval battles or a Honor Harrington “ship of the line” style campaign. It is well suited to brush wars, black ops by corporate teams and possible bug hunts. I say possible, but not yet.

The economy is well explained in the setting, the role of the Megacorps allows for Outlander or Blade Runner games, but as the scale diminishes in the Frontier and the Outer Veil, then the Free and Subsidised Traders start to play a key role, allowing a Firefly or classic small scale mercantile/troubleshooter game. As mentioned above, the possibility to start colonies is covered, and colonial games have great potential for economic gaming. The nature of travel and the distances to HQ mean that even the largest Megacorps can get very entrepreneurial on the borders.

The culture is Neo-Modernist, most religions we know now are extant, although they have to have adopted an explanation for multiple worlds, and the evidence of alien intelligence, not to mention psionics. From the dense activity of the Core to the abandoned ‘land grab colonies’ composed of a single ethnicity or culture, most SF cultural diversity can be extrapolated and encompassed.

Did I mention aliens and psionics? Well there are no aliens, but there were. Ruins exist of the Monument Builders and the Ascraeus Civilisation, but these are ancients and no current non human sophonts have been encountered. The Ascraeuns were a TL13 humanoid species and through their artefacts humans discovered psionics, although it requires a psionic amplifying device to be effective.


OUTER VEIL is well written, it uses concise but rich text to build a good overview of what is a huge setting, and it does so in 8 key chapters:

  • The Outer Veil, which is a summary of the overall setting,
  • Outer Veil Characters, which provides eight careers suited to the setting:
    • Citizen,
    • Colonist,
    • Elite,
    • FNH Marine Corps,
    • FNH Navy,
    • Justice Commission,,
    • Planetary Army,
    • Scout,
  • Starships of the Outer Veil:
    • 14 ships that cover the full range of Traveller core ship types with deckplans,
  • Belting, as it says, mining rocks
  • Astrography:
    • The full sector, mapped and detailed at the level of about a page per sub sector, so similar to Mongoose sector write ups,
  • Referee’s Information:
  • Outer Veil Patrons: four of them,
  • Brotherhood and Justics:
    • An introductory adventure.


OUTER VEIL is a very good product. It is well written, the setting is meshed into and out of the core Traveller rulebook, and by being written from the ground up it is consistent, believable and allows for many excellent gaming opportunities. It will suit players who want an SF game that might happen in fifty years, where society has changed but the culture is recognisable and the tech is still within human comprehension. It allows for dystopian, corporate, colonisation, first contact (hey add your own aliens), and frontier games. There is no meta plot, no 300,000 year history, it’s new and it’s all up for grabs.

On the other hand, it’s Traveller. It carefully doesn’t break anything. You can grab a ship from a Mongoose book and as long as it’s TL11 or lower and doesn’t have a meson gun, it’s fine. You can use High Guard or Mercenary or Agent or Robots or Cybernetics. Nothing you have in your Traveller collection is redundant, well maybe that TL16 Twilight Sector book, but that’s the opposite end of the spectrum.

The book is simply laid out, readable, and illustrated with neat CGI images that fit the feel of the setting whilst not setting any hearts a flutter.

Should you buy it? Yes: if it sets your teeth on edge explaining away OTU’s tech levels and historical absurdity, or you don’t want aliens, or you want a new brave frontier. No: if your lOVe the OTU and are happy and love the depth and scale of all the existing material. Maybe: if you fancy a read, might port some of the ships and careers to your game or back to OTU, and since it doesn’t really break Traveller, just like the idea of diversity.

Am I pleased I have it? Hell Yes!

Outer Veil – Spica Publishing | DriveThruRPG.com http://bit.ly/zs5olW

07 Nov

Low Tech Local Traveller

There is a growing range of 3rd party Traveller that focuses in on a future that is a long way away but in a timeframe that seems more appropriate for the relatively low technology in the Traveller game.

There is Cthonian Stars, which is set in the Solar System in the near future, and has the usual Lovecraftian underlay that seems to be so mired in so many rpgs. It could be a good game and fun if you like that kind of thing, and even if you don’t like the Cthulthu stuff it may be a good source for a gritty game set in our system alone. Here

There is, of course the opus that is/was 2300AD, returning in Traveller format. This is a much wider setting with 32 worlds in 3 ‘Arms’ of space colonised by mankind, and has the opportunity for cyberpunk, interstellar war, and some ideas about biotech that were never fully developed in the last edition. Here

Far from the Home Worlds, the Far Avalon region was for many years an underdeveloped backwater. Now, it may be the only enclave of humans left in the universe. With the inexplicable failure of the Lubeck Conduit, the people of Far Avalon must find their own future. Some seek to build empires, some search for a way home, while others have less obvious plans.

Far Avalon is a region in turmoil, a place where a handful of daring individuals can make a distance. A new order may emerge, or chaos may descend. Perhaps some external threat is about to fall upon the people of Far Avalon… or it may be that the greatest danger comes from within.
Far Avalon is a complete science-fiction game setting created by Martin J Dougherty. It seems to be a system less setting in 3 books, and the last book is the “Traveller system” book. The author has a great rep. in Traveller circles, but this is perhaps the least “imminent” of all the settings. Here

From old friend Tim Bancroft’s Sceaptune Games comes Hyperlite: The Sirius Treaty, forged between the star-faring species to prevent a galaxy-wide war. It had a simple aim: to prevent the deadly, interstellar conflict spiraling out of control. Its intent was more sinister – to constrain and leash the newest species in the galaxy: humanity. But the United Nations of Earth and the Core Worlds of humanity need to expand, need to find new planets to colonise. Resources remain scarce so the conflict still goes on, though in a different guise and monitoried by the ever-vigilant Invigilators, the sinister force set up to enforce the tenets of the Sirius Treaty. Players take the role of UNE Special Forces legionnaires tasked with troubleshooting, exploring new planets, seeking out vital resources and searching for Precursor artefacts. They have all the technology Earth can give them: cranial implants, library jacks, subdermal armour… and they are equipped with the finest swords, shields, bows and armour that the UNE can supply. Here


From SPICA, comes a game with a similar scale to 2300AD, but using core Traveller concepts, The Outer Veil: Written by Omer Golan-Joel with Richard Hazlewood, with art by David Redington and Michael Thomas, Outer Veil is a completely new game universe for Traveller, set in 2159 AD in the space around Sol. As mighty as they are in the Core Worlds, the Federated Nations of Humanity government and the Megacorporations cannot act directly on the Frontier, which is a month or more away even for the brand-new Jump 2 couriers. To exert their power to these distant stars, they need you to go there on their behalf and act as their eyes, ears, and hands away from home. The FNH government needs reliable administrators who can think on their feet, loyal military officers to project its force, and determined Justice Commission agents to uphold the law where the colonial authorities cannot.
Written by Omer Golan-Joel with Richard Hazlewood, with art by David Redington and Michael Thomas, Outer Veil is a completely new game universe for Traveller, set in 2159 AD in the space around Sol.
As mighty as they are in the Core Worlds, the Federated Nations of Humanity government and the Megacorporations cannot act directly on the Frontier, which is a month or more away even for the brand-new Jump 2 couriers. To exert their power to these distant stars, they need you to go there on their behalf and act as their eyes, ears, and hands away from home. The FNH government needs reliable administrators who can think on their feet, loyal military officers to project its force, and determined Justice Commission agents to uphold the law where the colonial authorities cannot.Here

So, a huge opportunity, games that are set in just the Solar System, a wholly new setting from Martin Dougherty, games that see mankind just setting out from Sol into galactic space, and one where Man has emerged and been contained by previously existing ancient space faring civilisations.

All very exciting, I have a strong wish to ‘boldly go’..

29 Jul

Long Live Mordor

Let’s take the viewpoint that LoTR is a rose tinted piece of propaganda for a romatic view of pre industrial Britain that ignores the inequities and squalor of real life. That’s what Kiril Yeskov did with his book, The Last Ringbearer, reviewed by Laura Miller on salon.com:

In Yeskov’s retelling, the wizard Gandalf is a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies because science “destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!” He’s in cahoots with the elves, who aim to become “masters of the world,” and turn Middle-earth into a “bad copy” of their magical homeland across the sea. Barad-dur, also known as the Dark Tower and Sauron’s citadel, is, by contrast, described as “that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic.”

The protagonist of “The Last Ringbearer” is a field medic from Umbar (a southern land), who is ably assisted by an Orocuen — that is, orc — scout, who is not a demonic creature like the orcs in “The Lord of the Rings,” but an ordinary man. They’re given the task of destroying a mirror in the elf stronghold of Lorien before the elves can further use it to infect Middle-earth with their alien magic. Meanwhile, the remnants of Mordor’s civilization fight a rear-guard guerrilla campaign to sustain the “green shoots of reason and progress,” in opposition to the “static” and “tidy” pseudo-paradise of Middle-earth under the elven regime.

The translator Markov has a less literary and more interesting explanation, just as likely to appeal to gamers, methinks:

More than 15 years ago Russian scientist Kirill Yeskov tried to settle certain geographical problems in Tolkien’s fantasy world. One thing led to another, and he tackled a bigger project – what if we assumed that it’s no less real than our world? His conclusion was that in such a case, the story of the Ring of Power is most likely a much-altered heroic retelling of a major war – but what was that war really about?

It’s free online and I am downloading it to the Kindle now..
Russian version here.

20 Jul

Song of Blades and Heroes

song of blades and heroes cover
It seems I have found my favourite skirmish wargame! I have always enjoyed wargaming, and have played and enjoyed a lot of Hordes of the Things [HOTT], a fantasy wargame at the unit level, playable in 45-60 minutes on a small table. Enjoyed, but never loved, it always has the touch of a boardgame to me, and the rules never seem to stick in my mind, even after twenty years I struggle to remember just how they work.
So I am delighted to say I have found my game, Song of Blades and Heroes, a skirmish game with the speed and ease of HOTT, but at a skirmish level and with rules that I was able to master and memorise in about an hour, including a battle. As the publisher says:

Song of Blades and Heroes is an exciting set of fast play fantasy rules that can be played with your existing miniatures.
EASY: simple rules that you learn in one game;
EASY MEASURING: no counting inches or centimeters: SBH uses three measuring sticks to measure all distances;
FAST: A game lasts 30-45 minutes. Play a mini campaign in a single evening;
INEXPENSIVE:5-10 models per player are needed;
CONVENIENT: a 2’x 2’ play area is enough. Bring all your armies in a shoebox!
MULTI-SCALE: any single based miniature, in any scale;
HEX-FRIENDLY: play on hex grids if you prefer;
NO WEIRD DICE: standard six-sided dice only;
READY TO PLAY: 180+ monsters and heroes included, and you can create your own!
CAMPAIGN RULES: your warband grows more powerful after every battle;
Six scenarios included.

Matthew and I sat down, read the rules in about 20 minutes each and played battle after battle for two days more or less solid. Best five pounds I’ve spent in a while and we’ve made more use of my disparate collection of 28 mm minis that I have in decades.

The rules are simple at the core, with a great activation system that balances troop Quality with risk when activating, and then a series of attributes that troops have which amend or adjust the core rules. As Wikpedia says: “Song of Blades and Heroes uses three six-sided dice per player to determine the outcome of a characters actions. Each character utilizes basic statistic points, Quality, Combat and Special Abilities. Points refer to how many points it costs to use the character within the game. Quality statistic is used to roll against for actions. Combat is the statistic you add to a six-sided dice roll when performing a Melee or Ranged Combat. Special Abilities cover any Special Abilities that the character may have. Players take alternate turns in activating models from their warbands. The miniature’s are activated one at a time. The player can choose to roll one, two or three dice versus the mminiature’s Quality. A successful roll entitles the player to make an action, such as an attack or a move. If two or more failures are rolled, play will then pass to the opponent.” The publisher is quite honest when they say there is no book keeping in play, and you can either use the army lists in the rulebook or there is an online troop builder to point build your own troop types. The aithor is Italian and there are several language versions of the rules available.

The feel is very ‘fantasy’ and one can easily imagine the battles as congruent with Tolkien or Moorcock, or D&D or Runequest. The granularity is low, so you have to accept that a dragon is a shooter just as a goblin archer, and that all mages behave the same, but the ‘chrome’ comes either in your mind or from the minis you use. There are also several expansion books, and variant games, of which Song of Gold and Darkness which includes new magic using types, and dungeon rules or Song of Wind and Water which brings the forces of Nature to the game. I have SGD so expect a new review soon.

Great fun, now for an expansion or two and then stat up some of my Gwenthia armies and start doing some wargaming in my own world. Oh, and I could do with some more scenery.. better ask Rich how to make some rivers and woods.

From Songs of Blades and Heroes
From Songs of Blades and Heroes

Gallery of our numerous battles.

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

17 Jul

RuneQuest 6 is announced, new life breathed into Gwenthia

Peter Nash and Loz Whitaker, the people I’d trust most with RQ, are to publish RQ6!

Its with great pleasure and excitement that I’m able to announce that The Design Mechanism, the new company formed by myself and Pete Nash, has successfully reached an agreement with Issaries Inc to become the new licensee for RuneQuest.

The full Press Release can be found on the RuneQuest page at www.thedesignmechanism.com along with a detailed Q&A sheet for those who want to know more about what we have in store for RQ.

Greg Stafford, Issaries President, had this to say on the agreement: “RuneQuest is an old, highly respected brand that requires creativity, dedication and knowledge of the product. I know that Loz and Pete have that, plus enthusiasm and professionalism that will keep up the reputation and good name. I am pleased.”

Clearly its early days for both Design Mechanism and RuneQuest’s 6th edition but we have exciting plans for the game building on the work Pete and I have already done with Mongoose’s RuneQuest II and we look forward to sharing them with the roleplaying community as we develop the new rules.


Pete and Loz essentially rewrote Mongoose RQ I (the 4th edition of RQ) and fixed and mended and made it whole again in MRQ II (the 5th edition). Then Mongoose decided it wasn’t working for them commercially and have let the licence go and so Loz and Pete have formed a company (yes using the name we used for the Gwenthia development, they did ask and we all said “yes”. Combined with a deal with Moon Design, who now do all Glorantha publishing and the rights to publish a wide range of Glorantha material, for example 2nd Age Glorantha (the period Mongoose did) and 3rd Age Glorantha (the original period published by Chaosium in the olden days), plus I suspect that since Moon Design publish HeroQuest materials for Glorantha, we’ll see dual statted products in the future so you can choose a strong semi-simulationist rules based rpg if you want or a very loose narrativist one, or switch between them and use the same source materials with no work.

Pete and Loz were part of the team that developed and wrote Gwenthia, and indeed had started to do d100 rulesystem work before the project stopped in a mix of my illness at the time, disagreement about rule systems, the lack of will to manage the conversion to a commercial project from me, and the simple fact that we’d had a lot of fun and we all had lives. Loz has said clearly that Gwenthia will probably have a role in RQ6 and I for one would be delighted if that could be the case, with Loz and Pete clearly in the driving seat commercially and management wise.

So.. a portentous day.. I can’t wait to buy the new edition and start statting up my AurUrbis religions and running some Gwenthia with the new ruleset. Now.. given that the new ruleset will probably be very close to the previous edition, I may set myself the task of some cult write-ups this summer as a bit of solo mind relief from work.

Having also fallen in love with Songs of Blades and Heroes as a skirmish wargame ruleset I am starting to look for minis that I can do Gwenthian skirmish games with, first step has to be to find masked minis for the Zhari of Mull..