Tuesday, January 31, 2017

RPG Review: Feed


Welcome to a review of Feed by Kris Newton, a vampire themed RPG that certainly presents some interesting ideas to the genre. Take or leave it, Feed is a sandbox and in this reviewer’s opinion, a game with a bit more sand than box. Personally, I like my sand with a game or two of beach volleyball, and three or four martini's, but to each their own. What the vampire characters will be; the setting they roam and even the disposition of the game is determined throughout a very involving process. So put those fang files away for the time being and let’s begin.

Disclosure: Links to product pages in this review, include my DriveThruRPG.com affiliate identification. I receive token % in compensation if you purchase something on the landing page. This review is property of Kenzer and Company, republished here with permission, and may have been modified by the author. The PDF of Feed was purchased for the purpose of this review.
The game starts with the players getting together and crafting a story profile by the Collaborative Method, which is at its essence sitting down, sharing ideas and taking notes. Alternatively, a Game Master can opt for the GM Method which is exactly that, with the GM deciding on the setting and scope of the game. The beginning of the story profile is defined by three key questions: Who are the main protagonists? What is the story’s setting? What is game play going to involve?

I’ll leave you to your thoughts…
A specific Strain of vampirism is communally decided. In short, one possibility is to gather all the vampire movies, books and any other media you can think of and cherry pick what you liked best. My words, not the authors and you’ll have to decide the game context later, so stick those ideas in your pocket for the time being, as we move to the next section and read the Two Commandments:

Vampires Feed & Vampiric Nature Opposes Some Other Nature: The first one is a given-the second however, is both the strength and weakness of this RPG. The Vampiric Nature in Feed opposes human nature-so I was unclear about the author’s choice to word it this way.
Next the Basic Elements are decided on. These elements will define the characters more specifically such as, Aging, Appearance, Cure, Feeding, Physiology and Transmission. Each of the Basic Elements has a rating of strong, neutral or weak. Though they’re no rules to apply or implement balance based on rating. The GM and the players decide as they see fit, though there are options that more than two Stains of Vampirism is possible.

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As suggested by the game, a GM who is tasked with creating something like an opposing group of NPC vampires and does not want to implement the same Strain, might consider balancing the two against each other. Each of the basic elements has four general suggestions but the players can invent (pull those ideas from earlier out as well as for the next sections) their own ideas as well.

Gifts & Weaknesses are presented (special abilities/disabilities) of which there are a five and four respectively. The Gifts are Personality, Physical Perfection, Regeneration, Spirit and Success. The Weaknesses are Compulsions, Tells, Vulnerabilities and Wards.
What is presented for these is a very basic outline. For instance, a character might have the Gift of Physical Perfection but the Gift isn’t specific as to what Physical Perfection entails, beyond a die roll bonus and the gaining of a (which comes later) Hunger Trait. Interestingly, Gifts & Weaknesses are not; or seemingly not written as opposable. The fluffs for these, as well as most of everything else are left to the player group to fill in.

Next is developing a Strain, which is a Special Rules section which gives examples of special circumstances that players and GMs may decide to award dice bonuses, such as specific tweaks in regards to action as well as for dramatic flavor.
Last for Strain is the Vampiric Trait Section which mentions a vampire’s addiction to blood and addiction is mentioned throughout (examples) and is a core mechanic of the game. As blood is usually considered subsistence rather than addictive in regards to vampires, it took me awhile to get past this concept and understand that it is the most important mechanic of the game. Addicted to blood? Feed assumes it so.

The Vampiric Trait Section, at best it feels incomplete. The heading “Trait List” is a section with two paragraphs about how you might develop some traits based on the theme of the game and most notably… No list! No love for shapeshifting or enhanced senses, which could have been written here or under Gifts and Weaknesses. What could have been an awesome section of the book falls flat on its spine. It would seem appropriate that a section titled “Trait List”-should, or at least it might be prudent to have an actual list of traits… “Just-sayin.”
With the Strain developed we move to Character Creation and I already know I’m running out of space to cover it appropriately… (Note: for a published article anyway)

The short of it is that for Character Creation, players pitch character ideas to the group and when all are approved-sixteen questions are answered to the individual player’s liking for character development. The answers clue key personal traits (human traits) in regards to the characters before they became a vampire. Human Traits are segregated equally into four categories; Personal, Physical, Spiritual and Public. Each of these human traits is assigned a sliding scale die pool by player preference, which exhibits strengths and weaknesses in ability.   
Characters are then… (Deep breathe…) Degenerated; which entails swapping human traits with vampire traits. Characters may start with as many as seven but each brings with it an Addiction Point which we shall cover the basics of in a moment…

A session of Feed relies on three key events Anchoring, Compulsion and Temptation. Behind this are the ideas that blood is addicting to vampires, Vampire Traits and Human Traits are in conflict, and that Hunger (technically a trait) is something to be resisted.
Before we get into this and without specifically going into dice pools, Feed is a game without typical hit points; instead characters take Trait Damage. A weakened trait can be attacked by a fellow player or GM; a failure by the target of this attack indicates that the trait is swapped with a vampire trait. This is called Compulsion. Feed is much more of a story building game than you might think a more typical RPG, as players are not necessarily opponents but in a situation such as this roll against each other.

(Disclosure: This review is property of Kenzer & Company and republished on this blog with express permission.)

Anchoring allows characters to go off scene to renew one Human Trait. Anchoring lowers hunger and in essence helps the character to maintain their Addiction at a manageable level. Temptation works as a dynamic for a GM to plan a future Compulsion, against a player character’s weakened human traits (remember traits can be damaged).
The more Vampiric traits inhibit a character, the less “in-control,” that character is of both the Addiction and Hunger. This key is how conflicts will be resolved, though it’s an implied understanding, because if it’s written within the book-I missed it.

Does the last six paragraphs sound complicated?

Good, because it is. And a game that attempts to toolbox the setting and from a certain perspective the game mechanics, will be…   

I place a high value on originality and for that alone, Feed is one of the most original RPGs I’ve seen in a long time. Certainly their are elements of world of darkness (Vampire Etc.), however this game occupies a strange space, while in concept being utterly brilliant-the game is totally blind to itself.
The game concept is interesting but the tone and theme of the game is depressing. You’re addicted to blood but if you give in, you’ll become a monster. Think of yourself as Louis at the beginning of Interview with a Vampire, but to a certain degree you’ll never get past being him. As brilliant and original with how the game mechanics actually come into play, the scope of how this plays out is in part limited to, “bad things.”

A vampire game which assumes you don’t want to be a monster. So, if you don’t want to be a monster… Why play Feed? The answer is (and not my personal bread & butter for gaming) to create vampire stories with a unique approach to toolbox play.
In Feed the mechanics are designed to drive the story more so than other RPGs. Most importantly the mechanics change the characters. Other games have this as an interesting option or limited feature but Feed pushes the concept to the foreground. Interesting to say the least, but this also impedes the scope somewhat and is counterintuitive to toolbox play.

In regards to content, the writing suffers a bit from a couple of pitfalls; sentences that run on unnecessarily as well as key sections that reference page numbers (to other sections) instead of explaining how something should work within the section it’s most relevant. Using the PDF I didn’t find this appealing. Though the writing is decent, the book isn’t well organized or easy to comprehend. There is also no example of gameplay, which would have gone a long way to making this a better RPG. The cover is beautiful in that it fits the mood of the game perfectly and the interior art ranges from mundane to spectacular.
Feed is no ordinary game. Its toolbox and its mechanics aren’t typical. The game suffers from overwritten sections that essentially say, “hey, your group can make up anything you want and apply it here,” while sections that could have/ should have been detailed were apparently eaten by the hounds of hell. This is game that is more of a story engine toolbox than an RPG, but the game may appeal to some, and to those it does (and quite literally so) more power to you.
Now if you’ll excuse me, thumb-keying this review has put me in the mood to hack something…

Used for this review is the PDF version of the book which is available on drivethrurpg.com, at the suggested price of $10.00 with the Pay What You Want program.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

RPG NEWS: Rifts Board Game?

Rifts Miniatures Board Game Poll 

Palladium Books is measuring Kickstarter interest, on their home forum (via a poll) for the Rifts Board Game. This tabletop/miniatures board game will be the first creation of Rogue Heroes a company founded by Palladium Books author Carmen Bellaire who seeks to capitalize on the success of the Savage Rifts Kickstarter and the Rifts IP. According to Mr. Bellaire he has owned the rights to produce Rifts Miniatures for three years, so this project has been a long time in the making. Rogue Heroes is based in Windsor, ON across the way from Palladium Books home in Michigan. The project is estimated to be up on Kickstarter by late first quarter or early second quarter of this year (2017).

The timing of the Rifts Board Game Kickstarter (KS) is under a number of criticisms. Chief among these is that this project will happen well before Palladium Books finishes delivery on their first Kickstarter Robotech RPG Tactics (RRT), which is three years late. Updates on RRT at Kickstarter, which are coming fewer and farther between, contain little relevant information or show if Palladium Books has any remaining commitment to complete the project. Palladium Books decided to break delivery of RRT into two waves (Update #128, though the project is listed as delivered by KS mind you), but delivery of the second wave and the actual completion of the project, has no end in sight.
Former and current PB customers on various forums; the most interesting of which is on DakkaDakka and on the RRT Kickstarter page, comments at each have (as one bad turn deserves another) called into question, the legitimacy of Rogue Heroes. Carmen Bellaire's close associating with Palladium Books and his reputation as a fan/friend have made many wonder if he and his company is in truth, a separate entity. It might be fan fluff, but There are is also a question of authorship being raised, both in regards to the books he's written for Palladium Books and the development of RRT. I note it because Palladium Books own history of controversy and the lack of professionalism (Bill Coffin, Josh Hilden)  in handling relationships with freelancer's, suggests that there might be truth to the claims being made on DakkaDakka.  

Most important and in my view relevant is that Mr. Bellaire's name is prominently displayed on the RRT box as a creator/developer. While we could argue that human beings learn more from mistakes than successes, Carmen Bellaire's experience with Kickstarter is a lingering turd. A big one which won't flush and is endlessly swirling Palladium Books silver toilet bowl. While Mr. Bellaire claims to have provided little input to the financial and project management aspects of RRT it's still the only Kickstarter (that we know of) experience, he has.

Is there any reason to separate Rogue Heroes from Palladium Books?

Many are not.    

Carmen Bellaire's board game geek page is here
Carmen Bellaire's Palladium Books credits can be found here

Thanks to Steve Dubya who posted on the Palladium Books forum, asked a series of excellent questions and ascertained the address of Rogue Heroes.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Submissions Open: The Rifter

Rifter #62
The Rifter is a quarterly publication by Palladium Books, which has been publishing game content for the last twenty years. The rate of pay is approximately $10 per printed page of text, which-typically, at best guess (at approximately 800 words per printed page of text), works out to about 1-2 cent(s) per word.

The Rifter publishes a wide variety of game content under Palladium Books in-house dice mechanic system, coined the Megaversal System.

My experience in publishing material with Palladium Books was mediocre, for reasons I won't discuss. I'd recommend you look over their publishing agreement before writing/submitting content. The company is notorious for making changes to what their freelancers produce (and such I might add, is within their right via their publishing agreement).

You can take a closer look at what they are looking for in regards to writing submissions Here and their freelancer agreement is here.

Note: Submissions Open intends to be a freelancer's resource for the RPG Industry. If you're a publisher or game creator and interested in promoting a need for freelance writers or artists, drop me a line and I'll post your company data here on this blog. If you're a writer/artist looking for gigs click away.

Disclosure: The banner below includes my affiliate identification. I receive a token % if you purchase something and doing so supports this humble blog-thank you.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Review Burp: Apocalypse Prevention Inc., 2nd Ed.

Disclosure: Links to product pages include my DriveThruRPG.com affiliate identification. I receive token % in compensation if you purchase something on the landing page.

My review of Apocalypse Prevention Inc., 2nd Ed. is featured with Indy Game Scene in issue #239 of KoDT this month.

API2 is an action packed RPG designed to offer a Hell Boy or Men in Black sort of roll playing experience. A silver seller over at Drive Thru the PDF is absolutely worth the asking price.

Monday, January 2, 2017

RPG REVIEW: Breachworld

Welcome to a review of Breachworld, published by Jason Richards PublishingBreachworld is currently available for purchase at drivethrurpg.com and rpgnow.com in print as well as Portable Document Format (PDF). Breachworld offers an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic theme and features a system with a light approach towards game mechanics.  
Disclosure: Links to product pages include my DriveThruRPG.com or RPGNow.com affiliate identification. I receive token % in compensation if you purchase something on the landing page. Breachworld was provided free of charge for the purpose of this review. 

Breachworld uses a system known as Mini Six. I had heard about Mini Six, but until this review had never read or utilized it. Mini Six is a variant of OpenD6, licensed under the Open Game License (OGL). Like most D6 systems, the dice mechanics are rules light and meant to provide simple and fast game play. You can get a free PDF of Mini Six Bare Bones Edition at the above mentioned locations, produced by Antipaladin Games, or at their website. As you might guess, the mechanics do in fact involve the exclusive use of six sided dice.
What is appealing about the Mini Six system are that all game actions or conflicts are essentially resolved in similar fashion. A player’s dice roll is used to determine success or failure. The number of dice rolled is based on skill ability and attributes with a Target Number (TN) determined by the Game Master (GM) to reflect how difficult the specific task is. On the crunch scale, this system is indeed very light.


What isn’t appealing is that some small gaps do exist in the system. This will be especially noticeable for players who prefer medium to heavy crunch RPGs. Some of this is reflected in Breachworld though it is certainly not a game killer. Overall I have very few criticisms of Breachworld (though I certainly have one) as a whole and really enjoyed the post-apocalyptic world that Mr. Richards has created.  
Apart from system and which is the strongest aspect of Breachworld is the setting. Stargate meets Rifts is a pretty accurate summation. I’ll let the game speak for itself:

“The Earth is an untamed wilderness, unrecognizable from centuries ago when humanity enjoyed a Golden Age of peace, abundance, science, and art. This era of enlightenment was brought about by the discovery of a new global teleportation technology known as Gates. The end of human society was brought on decades later by the sudden, total, and catastrophic malfunction of this technology, when control of it was lost and the Gates opened random doorways through space-time. These permanent, uncontrolled rips in the fabric of the universe are known as Breaches…”  (Pg. 9)

Even for its post-apocalyptic theme, Breachworld does an excellent job of toeing the line between giving a good amount of setting detail, while leaving a good amount to the imagination. There are also some aspects of the writing that seem in my opinion, be closer to what “would” happen within such a setting. A short example of this is the lack of monetary currency. There are no credits (or currency) in Breachworld-goods and services rely on a barter system.

There is also a wealth of material that will assist a Game Master (GM) with getting a game or campaign going. The basics of a world overview are highlighted by three town-settings, all of which are mapped a ready for game play. The Breach Creatures section is a bit light, though the majority of creatures therein are original concepts each with its own full color art.
For now, let’s move on to rolling up a character.  

What’s really cool about character creation for Breachworld is the number of humanoid character races that are available to the player. Not to mention the art and writing that brings them to life. Choices-choices; should I be a Tusk, River Folk, Reptilian Raider, Pathos, Morlock, Machine Man, Holy, Grim, Elder, Dru, Demonkin, Climber, or a Human? That’s thirteen playable races.
What’s great is that each race offers something unique, written and stated out in a way that promotes playing them. Certainly, plenty of kitchen sink post-apocalyptic games (boy that’s a mouthful) provide plenty of playable races, but none I’ve read as of yet make each as equally appealing.

Characters in Breachworld have four attributes: Might, Agility, Wit and Charm. Races have a number of dice (12-14) which are distributed among the four attributes. The player chooses how to distribute these dice. Each race has a minimum and maximum amount of dice for each attribute. Earthlings (humans) have twelve dice while Elders have fourteen. An Earthling’s minimum for any one attribute is one dice, while the maximum is four.

At character creation a player also has the option of distributing the dice as pips and some races also have pips to include with attributes. Pips explained, are +1’s or +2’s and roll over to an additional dice at +3.
Example: Lorraine has the distributed eleven of her attribute dice for her human character, Salapang (MGT: 3 AGL: 3 WIT: 3 CHM: 2) and is deciding how to distribute her twelfth and final dice. She could provide any attribute with one additional dice; and increase (Charm to 3 or Might to 4) the attribute one full die, give three “+1’s” to three different attributes, or give a “+2” and a “+1,” bonus to two different attributes of her choosing.

Rounding out character creation each race has a number of skill dice they can distribute among skills, a move rate, as well as racial perks & complications.
Some skills give a short list of specializations which the player can buy with skill points. A specialization is a sub skill of a main skill, such as a specialization of Athletics is Climbing. A point of criticism however, is thou there is an explanation of how this works and how dice are spent; the description is unclear in its application, beyond the example itself. Certainly what’s provided could/should have been less specific, with a description of how this generally applies.

Racial Perks can be gained by spending skill dice or are included as part of a Player Race, while Racial Complications can be chosen are as well a part of the Player Race. The selection of two of each category is recommended. Racial Perks are just what that, perks. Ways in which a character can get bonuses with specific actions as well as some meta-game bonuses. Racial complications award Character Points (CPs) when role-played within a gaming session.
Character advancement in Breachworld breaks away from typical level advancement. Character Points (CPs) are awarded by the GM at the end of each session and these points can be spent by the player for character advancement. The Breachworld experience point system allows for just about any advancement of any ability that works as a mechanic in the game. The more accomplished the ability the player wants to advance, the more CPs a player will have to spend to advance that specific ability. The section is clear, very well lined out and an interesting take on the experience point system.

Beyond character creation a good amount of game rules cover all manner of game/role play situations. One interesting aspect is the lack of character alignments. I’ll be honest; I’ve never been a fan of light crunch games and being more of an old schooler with a medium to high crunch preference. I have been looking over more than a few dice exclusive systems (D6, D10) lately and good deal of them “light” or “flexible” systems-Breachworld is on par in this aspect. Mini Six is light and flexible.

(Disclosure: This review is property of Kenzer and Company, republished here with permission, and may have been modified by the author.) 

If I have one major criticism it has more to do with Breachworld as a product. This may come off as nitpicky-and neither does it change my opinion that Breachworld is still worth the asking price. The writing is excellent. The layout is professional. The art is a mix of very good to awesome. The features and descriptions are spot on. But-there is this, quoted from the beginning:
“The core volume of this RPG was not written specifically for novice gamers. For the sake of brevity, I would refer anyone new to role-playing in general to www.breachworld.com and the introductory document and example of play found there as a free download. Pulling out the basic “how to” for beginners allows this RPG to be packed with as much gaming material as possible.” (Pg. 12)

My first problem is that an RPG should be a product unto itself, especially one with the subtitle, “A Complete RPG.” My second and third problems are to create a book which references the internet for an example of play, then leaves me in the dust, because if such a document exists-I’ve yet to find it. Keep in mind I wanted to be fair on this, so I did spend a couple of hours looking for said document. I’m aware that referencing the internet is something that is common even among larger RPG publishers, but (and get off my lawn-while you’re at it) it’s not a strength. If my opinion, exposes my age so be it.

I hope that doesn’t come off too harsh. My criticism of Breachworld has nothing to actually do with what is contained within game itself. Being fair this is probably more to do with the budget decision of a small independent publisher. That said-and example of play is an important aspect to players new to roleplaying games-an audience that Breachworld was not specifically written for…
For the most part, Breachworld is a very well put together RPG. Gamers who enjoy rules light systems or are looking for an alternative might do well to give Mini Six a look. Breachworld provides a unique post-apocalyptic setting that I’m certain, many can enjoy.