Monday, April 24, 2006

Barony of the Damned Review

Good review of the new WFRP adventure, Barony of the Damned, up here on the Warpstone forums. I'd have to say that the book is sounding better than I expected; I had just been thinking about unleashing some Ghoul-ishness on my players at some point in the near future, and it seems that our flesh eating brethren play a large role in this new Brettonian adventure.

There seems to be a little confusion regarding this book; Amazon has it listed as part I of a series, as you'll see if you click the link above. This could just be some wackiness on Amazon's part; they also have Black Industries billed as Black Industires which, unless I'm much mistaken, was the name of an Goodyear dealership during the Harrapan empire.

On the other hand, keeping with the theme of damned baronies and BI's 'sourcebook + adventure' combinations, combined with the information about 2007's products, I wonder if there isn't a 'running theme' in the works. A Sylvania book could certainly make up volume II; if they're true to form, that would make volume III what exactly? Something set in the often-overrun city of Praag in Kislev, to go along with the rumored Kislev sourcebook? I'm not sure that there's an established region of Kislev that would go with the Barony of the Damned moniker, but the city descriptions from v1 included some fairly grim tidings regarding that particular location. We've also got the region around the Zombie/Blighted Marshes in Tillia, home of Skavenblight and who knows what other horrors.

Yes, there's truly something for every tourist in the Old World.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Help Save Palladium Games

Bad news from Michigan- Palladium owner Kevin Siembieda just published this open letter indicating that due to the hardships that they've faced over the past year or so (including some large-scale theft and embezzlement on the part of a trusted employee, as well as the failure of the Nokia N-Gage platform to bring the first Rifts video game to the masses), Palladium is facing the possibility of closing its doors in the next few months unless things turn around.

If you would like to see Palladium games keep going, Kevin has asked supporters to order this print from the Palladium store. They'll be numbered and signed by Kevin Siembieda, and everyone who orders will have their name included in a future Palladium product. More importantly, if Palladium received 4-5 thousand orders, they'll have the cash to overcome their recent troubles and keep the doors open.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Palladium is a unique player in the RPG market. More so than any of the other gaming companies that I've dealt with or bought from over the past years, what Palladium does seems like a real labor of love for Kevin and the other Palladium writers and employees. Take a look at Kevin's open letter, and see what you can do to help out one of the last of the great old ones in the RPG industry.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Palladium Memory Lane

I milled around a Barnes & Noble last weekend poking through a copy of Rifts Ultimate Edition that had shown up on the shelves at some point. I never played a huge amount of Rifts per se, but I got my start in the RPG world as a 5th grader playing Erick Wujcik's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG, and later Heroes Unlimited.

Rifts and the other Palladium RPGs don't seem to have changed very much over the years. They still, in my mind, encompass the best and worst of an earlier era of roleplaying games... On the 'best' front, I think that it is very hard to beat games like Rifts in terms of raw enthusiasm and imagination. Rifts is a total mish-mash of ideas that, honestly, belong in different games and even different game systems. It's the absolute triumph of the idea that if it's cool and it would be fun to play, there's a place for it somewhere. Ninjas? Vampires? Dragons? Psychics? Giant robots? Throw 'em all in there together. What do you mean it's not reasonable to put a psuedo-ancient Egyptian culture in a tropical rainforest and have them fight dinosaur riding spider-aliens? It's a game! It's cool! Once you've reconciled yourself to spending your afternoons pretending to be a dwarf or a Wookie, who are you to start nit picking about reality?

On the other hand, flipping through old Palladium books- and even quite a few of the current ones- gives you a good idea of some of the very useful developments that have taken place, as gamers and writers have learned more and more about the real nuts and bolts of running these games. Flipping through a lot of Palladium books is like being taught math by someone with ADD. You're hearing a lot of things, and you're sure they all relate somehow, but it's far from clear why your hearing anything in any particular place. Here's part of the character generation rules. Here's rules for drug addiction. Here's a section on skills. Here's vehicle combat. Here's alignment. Here's a section on character classes. Here's the introduction of a whole new rules system for performing magic and a list of 100 spells as part of a chapter on one particular character class. Here's 5 pregeneratred NPCs, and a list of major international conflicts circa 1989. Here's a highly detailed selection of hand guns. Here are the rules for flying a helicopter.

Palladium's rules were never really systematic in the way that something like d20 or Storyteller or the other modern universal systems are. Given the Rules As Written, there isn't a clear way to extend them to situations that you haven't encountered before. The standard for most systems is: take something from an attribute, and something from a skill score, and then roll some dice and compare that stuff with a number that represents the difficulty of what you're doing. Palladium worked on the 'look up an arbitrary percentile score for your skills' skill system, which never made a lot of clear sense. It's obvious that Kevin Siembieda and company have given a lot of thought to the individual elements of the game over the years; unfortunately, this isn't always apparent to the player, and instead we're just left wondering why someone who just learned to fish is better at fishing than someone who just learned to sew is at sewing, and why you get better at singing slightly faster than you get better at dancing, no matter what you're doing with your spare time. Not to mention that a first level character can easily have a 60% chance of defusing a bomb, and a 40% chance of successfully cooking lunch.

The depth of the character creation system was such that making even a 1st level character always seemed to be a multi-day undertaking. I was shocked when I made the jump to AD&D and could roll up a character in just a few minutes, and have him fully equipped and ready to play in an hour or so. I never GMed for a Palladium system game; I can't imagine the prep time that's involved.

But if it's fun, who cares? So cheers to Palladium for their 25 years of gaming, and for keeping firmly in mind that games being fun and cool are the reason to play them, something that some of us would do well to remember as we enter into heated forum arguments regarding the demographics of vampire infestations and the plausibility of self-sustaining Dwarf communities located miles beneath the surface of the earth. It's all a little goofy to begin with; better to accept it and enjoy it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

First Impressions: Knights of the Grail

I got a chance to start looking through Knights of the Grail over the weekend, and on the whole my impressions have been good. While Brettonia does have a very different feel from the Empire, it still seems like the same 'world', albeit with a more conservative and repressive aristocracy. The sections on Brettonian society and the profiles of the individual duchies are the highlights of the book. The new careers and monsters are likely the weakest part. More detailed maps would have been nice, as well as a few more location names, but not a major gripe there. The section on Grail Knights is reviled by some WFRP old-timers as an unwelcome intrusion of high-fantasy power from the wargame, but it doesn't dominate the book, and there's plenty of leeway for GMs to decide how much importance it is going to have on their game.

One of the biggest changes from the v1 background material is that Brettonia feels like a much less urban society than the Empire. The result is that in some cases some of the major Brettonian cities have lost a bit of their flavor compared to v1 (the descriptions are much briefer), but on the other hand it makes for a very different and new gaming experience; the Empire has long been dominated by Nuln, Altdorf, and (especially) Middenheim. Having a game spend a little more time in the countryside, without throwing it straight into the wild wilderness, represents a new tack that may be interesting to explore.

Full review to follow, eventually.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A Look Inside Games Workshop

This thread on the Warseer forum offers an interesting look for us groundlings at the inner workings (or at least bits of them) of Games Workshop and the Black Library. MvS's views on what it's like on the ground for the employees of Games Workshop and their fleet of retail stores are particularly interesting in light of the recent glum news from the retail gaming industry as a whole. It also gives some insight into why things are the way they are at Black Industries, with regards to the schedule, certain... 'shortcomings' in some products, and the occasional crankiness from Official Reps.

In unrelated news... the problem of retail niche hobby shops (and retail game sales) was once again driven home to me today as I set out to (finally!) pick up Knights of the Grail. I called my nearby friendly local gaming store; they had just sold their last copy. I called their satellite store, 15 miles further south; I talked to someone who didn't think they had the book in stock, but might have been looking in the wrong section (I have the damnedest time explaining the difference between WFRP and the miniatures game over the phone: "It's a RPG. It's usually in with the D&D stuff". "Oh, so it's D&D?" "No, it's Warhammer, but not the mini..." "Well, I'm looking at all the Warhammer miniatures, and I don't see that book..." :click:).

I called a less friendly, but also local gaming store. No joy. I used the joys of the Internet to search the inventories of my local Borders. Nada. It was available to be ordered, in which case it would arrive in a couple weeks. Finally, I bit the bullet, gave up on having a new book to flip through this weekend, and ordered it off Amazon. And because I had a gift certificate (credit card perk!), I ordered Forges of Nuln too. And Spires of Altdorf as well. For less actual money spent than it would have cost me to drive two blocks to my FLGS and buy just Knights of the Grail.

I placed the order around noon today. All three books already shipped. They're already less than eight hours drive from my apartment.

I think my FLGS's days might be numbered.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Serenity (now?)

Started poking through the (relatively) new Serenity RPG last night... Still not sure what my feelings are about it. It's clearly geared towards drawing fans of Firefly into RPGs, rather than the other way around. Consequently, the stats are relatively basic; PCs, which are supposedly the biggest and baddest of characters in the game, typically have only a half dozen skills or so and two or three edges and flaws a piece (here called Assets and Complications).

Intentionally or not, Serenity seemed to remind me of another Joss Whedon/RPG crossover, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG. Similarly streamlined stats, rules for varying levels of power in the game (typically on a 'crew wide') basis. Licensed RPGs, like licensed video games, have never had a lot of appeal for me. With a few exceptions (such as West Ends great d6 Star Wars line), they tend to feel a little sketchy. The licensee typically can't go to far beyond the background provided by the brand, and it often feels like the intent is to cash in a few bucks on a current trend.

On the other hand, there are some things about Serenity that I definitely like...For one thing, I like the idea of the ships in the game being characters themselves, with many of the same traits (like Assets and Complications) that regular characters have. It provides a neat way to customize ships, and makes them feel a bit like the creaky, temperamental hulks we know and love (like Serenity and the Millennium Falcon in a way that most vehicle customization schemes never really achieve.

The second neat idea in Serenity is the Plot Point system. Plot Points work like the ubiquitous luck/fortune/character/karma points that a lot of systems have, but with a twist. In addition to providing a mechanical bonus, like a bonus to a die roll or a reroll, Plot Points can be used to let players tweak the game by introducing minor wrinkles in the plot. For the price of a single Plot Point, the owner of a bar might turn out to be an old acquaintance when a character is broke. For a few Plot Points, you might manage to pull some additional, desperately needed resources out of your back pocket. For a big heap of the things, improbably circumstances will align to save your sorry ass from certain death. It's a neat idea; similar to Fate Points from WFRP, but with wider application. I've never been too thrilled with how Fortune Points work in v2, so I might just 'borrow' the idea at some point.