Thoughts on: The Expanse RPG Kickstarter

With two weeks still to go in the campaign the Expanse RPG Kickstarter by Green Ronin is on track to be a massive success. It’s blown through one stretch goal after another, having funded in under an hour and is currently nearing $300,000 in pledges. Yet despite being a big fan of both the novels and TV series I find myself struggling to build any enthusiasm for it. Spectacularly underwhelmed to be exact, enough that I felt the need to dig into why.

So lets start at the start: The pitch for funding. It’s professionally put together, contained achievable and realistic stretch goals and even had a short word from the creative force behind the novels, James S. A. Corey (yes I’m aware it’s a pen name for the two authors but I’m going to refer to them by that name as it’s the one they chose to use). It is, however, very light on the pitch. If I wasn’t already aware of the franchise then I don’t think I’d give it another glance, there is simply nothing that grabs me and screams PLAY THIS GAME! Or even that sells me on the setting beyond standard space opera.

One thing that I was very happy to see was that from the get-go they provided a free to download quickstart rules document. It has been professionally produced, looks great and provides both a breakdown of the core rules and a sample adventure. It’s the sort of release that I think all of the bigger RPG companies should include on their Kickstarters – it shows that they have put in the work beforehand. Rules are written, character sheets designed, artwork and layout styles selected. While it’s not achievable for most of the smaller indie companies it shows that they are serious about this game.

Despite this I was, once again, underwhelmed. There’s a similar lack of setting information, I could pick up what was included and drop it into a generic space opera game without really having to tweak anything.

Then there’s the system, which feels… generic. I can’t really put it any other way. Now don’t get me wrong, it looks like a solid and serviceable system but nothing about it stands out to me. I’m totally willing to accept that this may just come down to a matter of preference but overall the mechanics feel like they have barely iterated on design ideas from a decade ago. Stunts (one of the most exciting aspects of The Expanse RPG according to the quick start) are interesting and provide special bonuses but the non-combat variants seem limited with their value restricted to very specific situations. I was also disappointed to see that one of the stunts was ‘Knock prone’. Given much of the setting is in zero or low-G environments it felt like quite an oversight to not reword this. Simply renaming it Offbalance would suffice and it makes me wonder how much the system has been tweaked to fit both the setting and genre of the novels. The added Fortune and Churn mechanics also failed to impress (seriously, spending the equivalent of your HP to change dice results? Even if they recover quickly people will hoard them). They’re ok but they don’t set my world on fire.

So that’s my rambling thoughts on The Expanse RPG and its Kickstarter. I don’t know if I’ve really got across my point and I understand it comes across as excessively negative (which wasn’t my intention but I needed to write this to work through why I felt so uninterested in the game). It’ll probably be an ok game but only that, ok. Will I back it? I seriously don’t know, I’m leaning towards yes just to get the setting material but I don’t know if I’d ever run it which disappoints me immensely.

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Kickstarter: Choose your own Sci-Fi stock art by JEShields

If you’ve been following my Demon Hunters or Project Cassandra posts then one thing you might have noticed is a consistent art style for the characters. That’s because the vast majority of the artwork I’ve used to date has come from a single source, James Shields (JEShields). He primarily releases his work on Patreon and drivethruRPG but every so often runs a Kickstarter for larger projects.

His latest is focused on Sci-fi stock art, what makes it unique though is that the final images will be released as a series of mix and match components. Want an alien cantina but with a giant arachnid in place of the bounty hunter? Switch them out and create the new scene. The possible number of combinations is massive, especially if you go all in and pick up each of the five packs (weapons, ships, portraits, characters and scenes) on offer.

If the art itself wasn’t enough then how about bonus backer rewards of games and supplements donated by a range of indie publishers? I won’t go over the full list but suffice to say they really boost the value of the Kickstarter.

The Kickstarter can be found at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jeshields/choose-your-own-sci-fi-stock-art and runs until the early morning of the 15th June (UK time).

The Gamers: Humans & Households Episode 1

Continuing the theme with more Dead Gentlemen Productions genius I thought it would be worth bringing the latest entry into The Gamers franchise to the attention of more people. Humans and Households is a short 3 episode story that spins roleplaying on its head when a group of fantasy heroes sit down to play in a world of quiet desperation, a world where no one is safe from the dangerously mundane. Or in other words, our world. Having been in on the Kickstarter I’ve already seen all 3 episodes which are pure gold and absolutely hilarious. Now if only I could work out how to run a game in this style without my players realising…

Demon Hunters RPG Kickstarter: Link & Update

DHRPG_FB_Cover_KSA quick update on the Demon Hunters RPG Kickstarter given I wasn’t able to get online while I was away. First off the link for the Lickstarter is: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/deadgentlemen/demon-hunters-rpg-a-comedy-of-terrors (or you can click the banner above). Go take a look, watch the video and please consider contributing. The project is already over 2/3 of the way to being funded after only 4 days, given there are a further 26 days to go it’s pretty safe at this point to assume it will fund and that it’ll hit at least a few of the stretch goals.

So what’s on offer through the Kickstarter? Well the obvious focus is the main rulebook for the new game, which will be available as PDF, print on demand or deluxe print editions. In addition there will be PDF editions of a Players Guide, Adventure Guide and a sample adventure plus extras such as character sheets, adventure logs etc. On the physical side of things higher reward levels will include custom dice, a Brotherhood pin, reversible dice bag and even temporary tattoos of the Brotherhood or Order logos. All in all a pretty good set of options.

One of the big issues with Kickstarter though is the potential for deadlines to be missed or even entire projects to collapse after fully funding. Here I don’t think it will be an issue. Firstly the people running this are also associated with Zombie Orpheus Entertainment, who managed The Gamers Kickstarters (with The Gamers: Hands of Fate raising over $400,000). They’ve run into most of the Kickstarter issues already, including deadlines and distribution so I doubt this project will cause any problems on that front. Secondly a lot of the writing is already completed, which is always a good sign given the number of RPG projects that run into difficulties because contributors fail to hand in material on time (or ever).

There’s one final reason that I think you should back the project – because at least a few of my own Tau 19 will be showing up in the final material and I’d love to see them in print. Speaking of which here they are in a couple of quick wallpaper mash ups of their original pictures (same image, just different aspect ratios):

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Demon Hunters RPG Kickstarter

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Presuming I’ve scheduled this post correctly then today be the 16th September which means the Demon Hunters RPG: A Comedy of Terrors Kickstarter should be launching. I’ve posted more than once about the original RPG, so I am pretty psyched about the new game, which is going to be based upon the rebooted setting as is currently being explored in the ongoing webcomic. So why should you, unknown reader, think about backing the Kickstarter?

  1. The Demon Hunters setting is amazing, bringing together supernatural horror with comedy chaos. It can be played as a straight up parody of settings such as World of Darkness or Supernatural or you can turn the sillyness up as high as you can handle and go for pure slapstick comedy.
  2. It’s a brand new system based off of FATE but adapted to fit the setting, so it won’t be just a reskinning of FATE Core.
  3. The team behind it are none other than Dead Gentlemen Productions, who over the years have produced Demon Hunters, The Gamers (and it’s sequels) and JourneyQuest.
  4. I’ll be writing up a series of (completely unofficial, I have no connection to the Kickstarter other than being a fan) adventures for the game once I’ve had a chance to get familiar with the new rules.

Now unfortunately I’m going to be away during the actual launch so unless I get internet access if you want to check out the Kickstarter head over to the main site and search for Demon Hunters. As soon as I get a chance I’ll be doing the same, when I do I’ll post a direct link up here.

First Impressions: Romance of the Nine Empires

As I’ve discussed many times before on this blog I am a massive fan of Dead Gentlemen Productions / Zombie Orpheus Entertainment, in particular Demon Hunters but also their amazing Gamers trilogy and Journey Quest. The latest entry in the Gamers series, The Gamers: Hands of Fate shifts the focus from RPGs to CCGs or to be more specific a fictional CCG called Romance of the Nine Empires (R9E). Modeled along the lines of the popular Legend of the Five Rings CCG R9E is an ever evolving game with multiple factions where the winners of the bigger tournaments get to decide upon events in the storyline. True to real CCGs R9E tournament mashes together outlandish gaming staples (factions in the game include traditional fantasy, temporally displaced American G.I.s and aliens) and intricate tactics while also looking like it would be a great game to play. It’s worth noting that Hands of Fate also focuses upon the negative elements of our hobby (namely the idiotic idea of Fake Geek Girls and the general negative treatment of women) to which I’ll just point people to Nothing to Prove by The Doubleclicks and Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in videogames (which while focusing on videogames is just as relevant here).

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For those of us who exist outside of the Gamers universe a box set of the R9E game is available thanks to being one of the films Kickstarter stretch goals. Not only is it real it’s produced by AEG themselves who have drawn upon their years of L5R experience to produce the Romance of the Nine Empires 15th Anniversary Set which includes 5 faction decks, a full set of rules and additional cards for customisation of the included decks. Being the fanboy that I am I pre-ordered the game through Orcs Nest, my FLGS. I’ve not had a chance to play it yet but wanted to provide an overview of what’s included for anybody that might be interested in it.

WP_000151First up is the basic contents, which includes 5 faction decks representing the top 5 players from the GenCon tournament chronicled in Hands of Fate. Briefly these are:

Holden – A small but cunning and resourceful Kingdom.

Malchior – A proud and harsh warrior people living in the ruins of the ancient dwarven empire.

Ixhasa – An undead army risen from a sunken and corrupted empire.

The Displaced – A World War II battalion accidentally transported to this strange world by the Los Alamos atomic bomb test.

The Ord – An enigmatic and technologically advanced alien race.

Plus an additional pack of cards to modify each of the decks to your own preference. Also included is the main rulebook, an introductory overview and a set of cardboard tokens, a nice addition that saves on the need to track information through dice.WP_000152Each faction within the game, while sharing essential card types is unique and built around different themes and styles of play. Holden for example is a questing deck while The Displaced favour raiding enemy castles for food supplies. In keeping with the distinct themes and faction backgrounds each deck is designed with its own aesthetic feel with unique artwork and presentation even for cards that are functionally similar to those in other decks. As always for AEG products the quality of both the cards and the artwork is high, impressive given the game essentially exists as a secondary bonus attached to the movie.

WP_000153While I’ve yet to play the game reading over the rules makes it clear that a fair amount of thought has gone into not only keeping them consistent with the events of the movie but making them viable and interesting as an actual game. Each deck has different styles of play, with different strengths and weaknesses and the game itself includes multiple win conditions that align with those of the movie (renown, military and starvation). With only 5 factions included in the set there is also ample opportunity to expand the game through the inclusion of the four remaining factions should the game sell well or as stretch goals in future Kickstarter projects. The set has an RRP (in the UK) of £30 so I would certainly recommend it for anybody interested in CCGs but who doesn’t want to be continually shelling out for the newest set, especially if you can get a group to split the cost which makes it as low as £6 per deck.

Review: Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide

cortexplusThe Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide by Margaret Weiss Productions is, as the title suggests, a book all about hacking and tweaking the Cortex Plus system. The book collects together a series of essays written by both the Cortex Plus creators and fans and published following a successful Kickstarter project. It is available now through DriveThruRPG. As a big fan of the Cortex system and of hacking games in general this wasn’t a product that I wanted to miss out on so I got in early on the Kickstarter for both PDF and print copies of the book, though as seems to be the case with RPGs on Kickstarter the print copy has been delayed and has yet to be delivered. The Hackers Guide breaks is comprised on three main sections, Mechanics and Structure, Game Hacks (further divided into History and Fantasy, Modern Life, and Science Fiction and the Future) and Core Rules.

Mechanics and Structure

The first section of the Guide serves to introduce the concepts underlying Cortex Plus and it’s Action, Drama and Heroic variants then expands into the various ways of hacking the system. If you’re new to Cortex Plus or hacking systems in general then this is perhaps the most important section of the book, as it not only introduces the basic mechanics of the system but explains logic behind them in a setting neutral manner, aiding you in choosing which of the system variants will be right for your game. Following on are chapters on hacking stress and timed actions, a system for generating random features on the fly and finally chapters focused on learning the Drama variant of the game (which is the most complicated due to it’s use of the pathways map).

Overall this is the section of the Guide that I found most useful and I’d have liked to have seen it comprise a great proportion of the overall page count than it does. The Hacking Stress chapter was of particular value in prompting the would be hacker to think about the logic behind a change and highlights the fact that often simply picking the right name for a stress (for example a spy game might have a stress called paranoid) is often more appropriate than trying to introduce a new related mechanic.

Game Hacks

Moving on from the overview and general hacking are the three Game Hack sections, which provide a range of example games that can be achieved through hacking the system. The hacks presented are, in my opinion, a mixed bag. Some provide a good example of innovative ways to use Cortex Plus but a few come across more as ‘here’s how you can run my home game’ without any explanation of why a certain mechanic has been altered. In addition the examples presented are overviews, with a limited amount of space devoted to each none can go into extensive detail and the majority spend a large portion of that space detailing the composition of characters in the given setting. After the first few examples this does feel a tad repetitive. My recommendation to anybody looking to use this section of the book is to view it in one of two ways. First, if one of the examples closely fits the game you wish to run then use the material presented here as a very loose foundation, that will need to be shored up by details of your choosing. Second, if none seem to fit what you want to do, use these as very loose examples of what you will need to think about for the start of your game before making more extensive use of the core rules presented section of the Guide.

Core Rules

The final section of the Guide is something fans of Cortex Plus have been waiting for since Leverage was first published, generic setting neutral rules for the three variants which can be used as the building blocks for your own game. These cover pretty much everything that you could need for running Cortex Plus and include all of the material that you’d typically find in the rules and GM sections of a typical rule book. About the only thing that is absent is an extensive list of generic talents / abilities / pathways etc however, examples are provided for each in addition to notes on how to make your own. It’s worth noting here that the Heroic variant presented is Fantasy Heroic and thus not completely generic though the use of a limited setting does mean that there are more details provided for this variant than for Action or Drama.

Other details

Before I finish this review I want to just cover the non written aspects of the Guide. As you’d hope from a company with the experience that MWP has the book is professionally laid out, visually clear and easy to follow with each of the sections and chapters clearly defined along the edge of each page. The PDF version is well bookmarked, down to the level of subsections within each chapter and unlike some gaming PDFs I’ve look at recently the addition of notes or highlights haven’t been locked; given the aim of the Guide I expect it’ll be something that I highlight and annotate extensively. Visually perhaps the most disappointing aspect is the artwork, which appears to have been sourced primarily through stock photos and is used rather sparingly throughout the Guide.

Roundup

Overall the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide is definitely something that I’m glad I backed and that I’ll make use of personally. The Guide is aimed squarely at those that who want to tinker with the system and is, therefore, of limited wider appeal. I’d recommend it to those already familiar with the Cortex Plus system, if you’re new to the game however I’d suggest picking up one of the main rulebooks first before purchasing the Guide.

Overall score for a general gamer: 3/5

For the tinkering GM: 4/5