Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Red and Pleasant Land: RPG Review

Welcome to a review of A Red and Pleasant Land, a bizarre and beautiful setting book for Lamentations of the Flame Princess or just about any earlier edition (best for Basic or 1st Edition), or clone of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) you might be playing. This review concerns the portable document format (PDF). For reference, I have a first edition in print as well. A Red & Pleasant Land was released in 2014. In 2015 it was awarded four ENnie awards; two gold: Best Writing and Best Setting, and two silver: Product of the Year and Best Adventure. The PDF is available at and The print version is available on the Lamentations of the Flame Princess site (, among other places. The company is based in Helsinki, Finland.

A Red & Pleasant Land
Disclosure: This review includes affiliate links to I receive a token % if you make a purchase through the landing page. Thank you for your support.      

“Some women and some men and most children know that dreams leak. A lifetime of thinking it that way in your sleep can make drawer on a drafting table three or four inches wider on a side.”
“But there are lives longer than ours. And longer dreams.”
(PG 7)

A Red and Pleasant Land is a difficult book to review, but thankfully not for the usual reasons. First, it is unique. Second, the maps and the illustration style are more impressionistic and almost abstract in spots rather than clean. Third and arguably most important, the book doesn’t endorse, nor does it resemble your Grandfather’s or your Dad’s D&D setting. It is a mash of strangeness, inspired by Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking-Glass, with vampires replacing the principle ruling class, for reasons of which I’m uncertain (other than, why not). In case you are thinking it, the book is not of your favorite D&D setting (Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms etc.) meets Ravenloft, by any sense of comparison. Honestly, it doesn’t even try to do this. As a product, it is a very specific and very strange sort of thing. It is thoroughly, an interesting book cover to cover.

A Red and Pleasant Land is a setting and adventure book. If Lewis Carrol, Bram Stoker and John Eric Holmes decided to take a road trip in a Cooper Mini, because what else would these fine time-traveling gentlemen have to do on a random Tuesday… A Red & Pleasant Land would be the title of the made for TV movie, about such an adventure.

The setting is the war torn Place of Unreason, formerly known as the Land of Voivodja. In the north is the Card Castle, the rule of the Heart Queen Elizabeth Bathyscape. To the south, The Looking Glass Castle; the red house of the Red King, Vlad Vortigen. A war between these two vampire houses has gone on an indefinable amount years, months, or days upon the player characters arrival. The cause of the war is unknown. And to the last two points, and like so many other features of this book, these elements are left open for the Referee (Ref) to determine as they choose.

Wherever The Place of Unreason fits in the Ref’s campaign world, it is hidden and difficult to access. To the north and east it is shadowed by the Carpathian Mountains, while to the south and west forested by the Terrible Goblin Wood. The human population has been severely decreased by the vampire presence. The setting is a strange caricature (of an already strange land) of Wonderland, the world as its best represented in Lewis Carrol’s novels, Through the Looking-Glass and less so, Alice and Wonderland.

The terrain is divided by square-like a chessboard, though unlike Through the Looking-Glass the means of division are more to do with the altitude or height (or lack thereof) of each square, rather than by division of hedge. The terrain is left to the Referee to decide how these varied altitudes connect or even if they connect be it by portal, bridge, stair, ladder or earthly passage. The squares are unique unto themselves, the characteristics of which will be mostly left for the Referee to fill in via useful series of tables.

Through a looking glass is the Quiet Side (the above mentioned is the War Side), which is a mirrored reality. It is a place the gods can’t see (so clerics can’t cast spells) and where vampires don’t exist (lack of reflection). Only the Red King and his Red Brides can cross to the Quiet Side willingly, for but a moment. The Red King uses this ability, and falls to immediate to sleep there, and so that his rest is safe and undisturbed. Lesser vampires use mirrors to call out and lure humans from the Quiet Side for a meal. The Heart Queen can make an appearance if her name is called three times. The Player characters are very limited by the amount of time (mere seconds) they can inhabit the Quiet Side; the silence drives them mad, but like the Red King they too can keep their sanity if they can will themselves to sleep… Rest, keep their sanity, and hopefully be rescued. Almost every being who exists on the War Side has a Quiet Side equivalent and still does even after they are slain.

The Land of Unreason is a rich with unique character and monsters encounters. Most of the outlandish interactions, which are natural choices to those familiar with the fictional works of Lewis Carrol are therein, and have a chapter (and stats) dedicated to them. Admittedly, while it had been sometime since I’d read Alice and Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, (which, I did blow the dust off both) the author has left few stones, if any, unrecycled. There is even an opportunity for player characters to make an Alice, the settings only offer of a character class, but one that is more than worthy and a perfectly quirky fit for the setting.

Review Featured in KoDT #247
Adventure and nonsensical randomness, is generated through a respectable amount of tables. While use of these tables is enticing, but not required, their utility is indisputable; and entirely built to strengthen the setting. Many of these can be stripped of their nonsensical elements and reutilized for any system, but the most impressive thing about them is the way the author has reversed engineered Carrol’s work for use as an RPG supplement.
While a good deal of the land, and basic plot points of the interior locations are left open for the Ref, both the Card Castle and The Looking Glass Castle are thoroughly detailed. Each space or room is described with a bullet point of three or four features on average, and if relevant the purpose of each space. In design, both castles are meticulously laid out and are very much like a dungeon. Some of the strangeness within these castles is occasionally anticipated, but great deal is unique. Some of my favorite elements are the little things:

One instance of this is that items are occasionally referenced with the following descriptor, I’m paraphrasing: “Items or furniture of this room are worth two or three times their weight in gold.” While this descriptor might be an affront to old school sense or game ability (coin = experience), its use made me put my put my Dungeon Master hat on (don’t you have one of those?) and ask why? After that, I found myself imagining the Red Kings favorite arm chair (the one worth three times its weight in gold) recently gone missing and the player characters hired to find it. Or reading the line straight to my player group, just to see what they would make of such a simple, yet odd concept. Was this what the author intended? Am I a reading a bit too much into this simple turn of phrase? That’s likely. But still, and like Carrol’s work, a weird and well placed phrase (or unsolvable riddle) is a perfect fit for this strange and dark world. And better than this, it gets the reader or in this case the DM thinking.

There are two print errors of note: the handouts for Fragment 6 and Chess Puzzle are missing. If you pick up the second printing I have no idea if these were amended. With the PDF these errors are nonexistent.

In conclusion, A Red & Pleasant Land is certainly strange and has some awesome features that with a little, “do it yourself,” you can plug and play with most RPG systems. The stranger elements don’t really journey to far from the inspired source material. The specific way these elements were engineered for the purpose of an RPG supplement is very well done. At the same time, if you’re in the market for a product with a more standard old school approach, the niche and strangeness of the Through the Looking-Glass setting, with vampires added in for flavor, might not appeal. Apart from all the above, while the review style for this column doesn’t usually point out the finer and more subjective aspects of composition, this book is literally one of the most unique and interesting RPG products that has graced my table… And (I cannot help myself, but) unlike D&D 4th Edition, the awards are well deserved.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

RPG Review: Simple Superheroes
Simple Superheroes RPG
This is a review of the portable document format (PDF) of Simple Superheroes, undoubtedly a superhero themed role-playing game (RPG). Published and written by Joshua John Kitz of Compose Dream Games. Simple Superheroes is available online at the RPG Market Place ( and my new favorite seller site, Indie Press Revolution ( in print as well as PDF. Compose Dream Games is a small indie publisher, which brought this RPG to life via Kickstarter at just over $4K internet bucks. Simple Superheroes was provided by the publisher free of charge, for the purpose of this review.

Disclosure: This review includes some affiliate links and references.

I’ve been reading over a lot of superhero RPGs lately. My live group is making a push for an alternative game and superhero RPGs are at the top of the pile. I blame Marvel Studios. My player group (of gentlemen grognard scholars) started with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but when the original Dungeon Master bowed out, and I couldn’t sell them on HackMaster 5e (which is why I’m not in sales), we reverted to yours truly running a hack of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) Basic. Personally, D&D Basic is my favorite for obvious reasons, simplicity. So, three such (simple) superhero themed RPGs are at the top of my reviewer slush pile and will most likely serve the purpose for our fill-in game. These are: Save the Day by Okum Art Games, OneDice Supers by Cakebread & Walton (reviewed for EN World here) and this very title, which is about to come under review.

Simple Superheroes features a unique system and via character creation is a bit of a sandbox. There are also some optional features in the rules as well, which push it a bit away from its simple theme and I suspect the author is a fellow number cruncher at heart. Honestly, I don’t mind sandbox elements, as long as the writing does the job of defining the elements for use within said RPG. While many gamers have different ideas of what is a sandbox is, mine are as follows. A sandbox has a box. A written framework, while the “sand” should consists of the ideas, which fill the box and like sand, should be plentiful, but because of the box, not overflowing. Even a decently framed sandbox, is usually the opposite of simple, because sandboxes are meant to cultivate ideas, rather than limit or streamline them. I’m not saying a simple sandbox is impossible, but I’m getting off track and I’ll leave that thought for the conclusion…

As far as its Sandbox elements, Simple Superheroes does this pretty well. The author defines the framework and is none too shy with examples which help color this in. Owing to simple, the book starts out with Character Creation, defined in brief within one page, The Rules defined in one page. And one page, which features Options and Special Actions. This organization is a bit disorderly to what is usually common clicking off the first few pages, but as a rough guide to the system/game itself, it’s decently presented while at the same time, will serve as a useful reference point for new players.

Character creation is anything but straightforward, yet is well defined. The most important and crunchiest aspect of this is selecting an Array. The choices which determine the type of superhero character being created are Well-Rounded, Standard or Focused. Each Array has a specific number of Talent Ranks and Relation Ranks, which will correspond to how many dice, are rolled when a specific talent/superpower/skill is performed. Well-Rounded characters will have a broader Array of Talents with more utility with Standard being the medium, and Focused characters… Being well, more focused!

Players and GMs will essentially be defining each character’s superpowers (Talents) as well as the overall superhero type, from scratch. In Chapter 3: Powers and Common Foes, there is a respectable amount of detail provided to assist with this process. Most information is based on what you’ll find familiar in superhero fiction, but the writer translates these ideas for the purpose of a RPG, without being reliant on other IPs. A collection of guidelines and tables, round this section out, providing a good starting point for how the ranks of superpowers or Talents apply.

 In place of alignment or disposition common to most RPGs, Simple Superheroes builds character personality through two short sections: Relations and Values; Description and Weaknesses. These elements are presented in brief, but mostly encourage players to create concepts or description(s) which will outline their superheroes history, personality, faults and flaws. I’ll let Relations and Values sections, speak for it-selves:

“Relations can be to a person, place, thing, activity or even a Value. The rank reflects the relative importance that your character places on each Relation. Relations are not meant to be used between player characters. They represent how much your character cares about something, not how much someone else is willing to help your character.” (PG 12)

 “…Heroes can take a VALUE instead of a Relation. A Value is a tenet, precept or belief that the hero cherishes and upholds. Because Values tend to be broader than Relations, a hero should only get to roll a Value once per session.” (PG 12-13)

I like what is presented in these sections. Ode to building character for a character’s sake, always gets a nod in my book, as it doesn’t delve into the pitfalls of alignment for a superhero themed RPG. What can I say? A superhero is always the good guy so time is usually better spent developing a backstory. This might be a personal hang-up of mine (in regards to superhero RPGs which focus on alignment), so let’s talk a bit about the system, while I contemplate that.

Simple Superheroes is a dice pool system, which utilizes d6. When characters are using a power or skill and need to resolve a conflict, the number of dice rolled is expressed by the Array Rank of the relevant Talent. For instance, if the player selected the focused Array, one of their powers will start with a rank of 5. If that power is say… super strength, they will roll 5d6 to determine if their task (using super strength) is successful. Like any dice pool the GM sets the difficulty, or the amount of successes required, which in Simple Superheroes a basic success is any die with a result of 3 or higher.

Except, the game also allows the GM to increase the difficulty, by raising the number of individual die as well, such as instead of a success being a 3 it might be a 4 or higher. Unfortunately, while this idea had my RPG mechanic-gear works turning, beyond a few play examples the idea (a good one mind you) doesn’t fully expressive itself. I found myself re-reading over sections just looking for it, doing key phrase searches… It also doesn’t keep to the simple theme, so perhaps this is why the idea isn’t further explored, but this also leaves me to wonder why it was included at all.

This Review Featured in KoDT #246
The true gems of this product are among some of the Game Master (GM) sections. My favorite was a simple questioner with the section Building Your City, which engages the GM to fill in some of the more mundane details of the city setting. Admittedly, this is something I do, when the city itself is important to the campaign or in the least, the player characters will be returning. Details are important for the backdrop of a mundane setting (as well as for the GM to know and create ideas on the fly) and I was delighted to add a few of the author’s questions to my own series. Also as to the GM sections, there is a nice presentation on conflict and how to use it, as well as a short collection of adventure hooks and pre-made superheroes, both of which should assist in getting the dice rolling.

The PDF upon my screen features black and white illustrations and is mere 119 pages cover to cover. Honestly, it reads a lot bigger than it is and much of it speaks not only to running this game, but superhero RPGs in general. The writing is in (RPG) standard double column format, which includes hyperlink references throughout text as well as The Table of Contents. I’m really starting to appreciate publishers who include this as a feature. It makes the material much more searchable and certainly assists with ease of comprehension in regards to new players and aided with this review.

Overall, this is a decent product. If I had to make a choice based on the layout, I would certainly recommend the PDF, rather than the dead tree version. The search-ability of the PDF is a plus, while the layout in book without digital tools leave a bit to be desired. Despite not liking the layout, the writing has craft in spots and the GM sections are articulated very well. In the download section over at Compose Dreams Games ( you can get a better idea with five page sample (here) of what Simple Superheroes free, by downloading The Heart of Simple Superheroes.

While no doubt, there are certainly easier systems I can only think of very few which have also attempted to merge the concept(s) of simple and sandbox. While I wouldn’t say the authors attempt is a complete success, I certainly do think the game has achieved a medium between the two and might provide some nice variation from your old RPG, go to systems. This product is worth a look if your player group likes creating their own superpowers and needless to say, especially if you are in the market for a superhero RPG.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Mechanika: RPG Review

This issue is a review portable document format (PDF) of Mechanika: Empires of Blood and Steam; by Xaos Publishing. This product was provided free of charge for the purpose of this review. Mechanika funded for just over $9k, via Kickstarter in 2013, with the final push for delivery, fulfillment, and eventually availability at and, occurring mid, 2016.

Disclosure: This review includes affiliate links to I receive a small percentage if you decide to purchase something from the landing page. Thank you for your support.

Mechanika is a bit of an odd duck as far as RPGs go. While I wouldn’t disagree that its theme is steampunk, the more I read and as the pages went by, less did this game feel like a steampunk RPG. When I brought out the dice, for character creation, and to test some of the mechanics all heck broke loose!
As the author admits, Mechanika is a bit of a mash or perhaps a rehash of many other RPGs. There is certainly a bit of Fate Core here and a bit a Savage Worlds there. Add in a hint of gothic fantasy, a little (non-plushy) Call of Cthulhu and that about sums it up. I’m a bit on the fence with this one, but it is less about what this game is and more about what it could be, which admittedly doesn’t give credence to the idea of paying money for it. Steampunk isn’t an RPG genre I’m too familiar with, but setting wise this RPG is absolutely a mash of many elements other than steampunk. Gamers familiar with Fate Core or Savage Worlds might consider giving it whirl, but at the same time Mechanika, is very different from those RPGs.

Mechanika utilizes the Xaos system. Dice mechanics are performed with percentile dice (d10s) and FUDGE dice. If you not familiar with FATE CORE, FUDGE dice are six-sided die, which are faced with icons instead of numbers. The icons for Fate Core & Mechanika are plus (+), minus (-) or blank (_); two of each icon on a d6. Needless to say, but easy enough to simulate on a standard d6 as well, assigning two numbers to each icon.
Beside the basic rolls which entail those improved by character skills/attributes/perks, or challenged by flaws, the Xaos System allows for degrees of success and failure. In other words, meeting the target number set by the GM is a success, but exceeding the number may count towards a special success. As such, rolling well below the target number may count as a “special” failure. Either occurrence encourages the GM and the players to incorporate some narrative story elements. The Xaos system also features a luck mechanic for dice rolls called Destiny Points. Those familiar with Savage Worlds and Fate Core will recognize it, as this mechanic allows rerolls as well as enables players to “edit a scene,” avoid an untimely death and a couple of other things. Destiny Points are rewarded to the player by the GM, mostly in regards to good character play. These points roll over to experience points for the character if unused at the conclusion of the session. Speaking of character, let’s make one.

Character creation with this RPG requires players to create a persona. The concept of this persona is then mitigated by two character concepts the “higher” and “lower” self. In essence instead of alignment we have a default character personality tag. The higher self is just as it seems, your character at his/her best, or most selfless, the lower self being your character’s worst or most selfish. Players are charged with creating these three tags and putting them together in a way that is somewhat reasonable. There are plenty of examples (for newbs) to get you started, and the concepts in this section are well presented.
Next is selecting a race of which there is a unique variety. Humans make up 80% of the current population of this alternate earth/steam punk setting, but my beloved dwarf is available (so I made one), as well as goblins, moreauvians, sylvans and Dhampyrs. Moreauvians are human/animal hybrids and of many varieties, sylvan are plant or tree like humanoids and dhampyrs are the spawn of vampires. Races have a high number racially specific, drawbacks and benefits. The race template is a bit overloaded in this regard. Thankful I located a pencil that Harley the cat, hadn’t yet had the pleasure of chewing on (don’t ask).

Step three is assigning attributes and wounds. Attributes in Mechanika are the physical and mental aptitude however, a score of zero is considered the human average. With creation, player characters are provided five points to distribute among these attributes, as well as some attributes may be further modified by the race template. Mechanika does not use a typical Hit Point system, instead incorporating a (meticulously written) wound system, which includes three different types of wounds, to show damage.
"Every character in Mechanika has their limits. Every character has a breaking point. This is illustrated by the Wounds system. The Wounds system gives you a visual representation of how injured you are by using damage grids. Each character has three different grids, one for each type of wound you can sustain in Mechanika.” (PG 46)

Character’s in Mechanika can take physical damage (Constitution), stress or mental damage (Willpower) and ego or social damage (Presence). The severity of injury for each type of damage is further divided into three additional ranks, each being more severe. The different sorts of damage will play more into the story building aspects, but also have mechanical significance providing penalties and the like.  
Next in character creation, is the odd combination of assigning wealth and designating the number of actions available. There is really nothing to choose here, so it is really more of a “to make you aware section.” All characters are suggested at starting out with a -1 wealth rating or in other words, not very wealthy. Characters start the game with three sorts of actions, but may receive more if they have the appropriate ranks in agility attribute.

Rounding it out is selecting skills, perks, and flaws. These sections are pretty standard as far as RPGs go. Skills are linked to one or two designated attributes and help define what characters can and presumably, cannot do; all of these are based on character knowledge/education. Perks are divided into three categories: regular, supernatural and by race (race: listed with the race template). Likely my preference for old school games, but some of these read in line with what I would say was a skill, others are seemingly genetic graces and more in line with what I think a perk might be. Flaws can be taken at character creation, and award Experience Points (EPs), which you can put towards additional perks and skills during character creation.
Review Featured in KoDT #245
The setting of Mechanika is earth with an alternate timeline and a mash of several themes. At some point in this timeline the Old Ones (H.P. Lovecraft style) arrive plunging the earth in fifty years of despair. The effect of their presence causes disease, mutation and misery. The Fae arrive; from where the text isn’t clear. They fight the Old Ones offering humanity servitude, claiming themselves the saviors of the human race. The war between the Fae and Old Ones continues and somewhere in there the dwarves and goblins arrive. The dwarfs work both sides for profit, the goblins are mostly combat fodder. The Great War spans 250 years, until the Fae gain dominance. For one thousand years the Fae are worshiped unchallenged, when without explanation they disappear. There is a bit of unrest between the three lesser races as they via for power. And this is the setting Mechanika is subtitled and player character will explore: The Age of Blood and Steam.
Likely the best material to get a feel for Mechanika, are the chapters to do with machina and magic. Interestingly, there is about twice as much content on the chapter for magic then there is for the chapter on machina. That said… the chapter on machina is pretty interesting. Both magic and machina rely on Flux, which is the source of magic energy. For the most part this section provides a handy set of guidelines for Artificers and Tinkerers to construct their own gizmos, which are machines/devices melded with this element of flux. Artifice Houses specialize in creating certain types of machina and each house is provided a treatment specifically describing what can be created as well as provides a few examples. Despite seeming a bit overflowing for a steampunk RPG, the Chapter on Magic is my actually my favorite. Magi in Mechanika belong to one of twelve houses, Warlocks wield elemental forces and Wyrds unstudied, but naturally gifted, harness their innate magical talents through a totem. The features of the three magic-user archetypes are diverse and interesting. The magic schools are subdivided by type: The Schools Elements, Matter, Energy, Life & Death and the Aberrant Schools.

While Mechanika is bit wonky, if I had put my money down, there are certainly some interesting concepts. The writing isn’t terrible, but the overall layout and presentation could certainly use some additional work. This being a Steampunk game, as I mentioned in the intro, it’s rather odd. While the games “theme” is steampunk it’s got a bulky dose of other things, which significantly weigh it down in regards to mechanics as well as to the core of its role-playing elements. If Mechanika was developed in the early 90’s no doubt it would have likely gained a fan base. As is, I’d wait to see if some of these things might be cleaned up and if it should ever come to pass with a second edition.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Strange Stars: RPG Review

Strange Stars
This is a review of the portable document format (PDF) of the Strange Stars Setting Book, Published By: Hydra Cooperative; written By: Trey Causey...
Disclosure: This review includes affiliate links to drivethrurpg; I receive a % if you decide to purchase something from the landing page.

Strange Stars is available at and in print and PDF format. On hand, I was also provided the Strange Stars OSR Rule Book and the Strange Stars Fate (Core) Rule Book, which this review mentions in brief. These products were provided by Hydra Cooperative free of charge, for the purpose of this review.

The Strange Stars Setting book is compact: 32 pages cover to cover. Unfortunately, it’s so compact that the effort to put forth what I’d consider a “setting book,” has been nearly squeezed to irrelevance. That’s certainly my opinion. While I get what this product is, after I finished my read, my conclusion was that it’s not properly defined. If the book was subtitled: Game Setting “Treatment,” this review would be a little less harsh.

Being fair, I certainly seem to be in the minority with this opinion. I’d recalled seeing a high number of positive reviews (and 5 star rates) for this product, but after my impression I was compelled to take a second look at those reviews.

“If you are looking for a book filled with rich histories, detailed customs and lifestyles of each planet and race- then this might not be the book for you.”

Or in other words, nearly the exact definition of what a setting book might be?

This one, is my favorite:

“The layout is smooth, easy to read, & gives not only a gist of the interstellar setting but an entire setting straight out of the box.”

This reviewer is overstating it a bit: An entire setting straight out of the box? This statement is false. A concept of a setting is not for all intents and purposes, a setting. The closest thing I can think of, as to what this product represents in layout and art direction, is a splatbook. In fact, as I write this, I look up the term splatbook (as my mind grasps at what to call it) and here is the first result that sums it up nicely:

“A Splatbook is a non-core sourcebook for an RPG that provides additional rules and material that can be used with the main system.”

And yes, this is what the Strange Stars, Game Setting Book is, a system less, space opera splat-book.

As far as system, mentioned in the book is a loose association for the RPG: Stars Without Number (SWN), which you can find and download for free on If I’m remembering correctly, the tech level for Strange Stars seems a bit advanced for SWN. The two additional titles for this review: Strange Stars OSR Rule Book (which works with SWR) and the Strange Stars Fate (Core) Rule Book roughly follow the same splatbook format, but do provide some serviceable crunch to their respective systems. Let’s talk about the actual book.

First is an overview of the setting. A brief history notes, the four epochs of human space exploration. Earth, known as Old Earth is a fable. Other empires have left behind remnants of advanced technology.

Creatures in the setting are categorized as Sophonts: biological creatures, Moravecs: self-replicating, sapient robots, and Infosophonts: digital minds independent of physical form. Ten or so variants are given a fully illustrated one page treatment and a few details in text. As this book is system less no crunch. These illustrative treatments don’t have their own chapter, but are spread every other page.

Between those pages and starting after the history is the meat of the setting. System maps give a brief treatment to each of the worlds of these systems, slightly detailing inhabitants and basic social conflicts/customs. This is exactly the thing that was missing and was my chief criticism for the Redemption RPG. The system maps and the ideas on how to use them (for RPG purposes), provides the GM a handy resource to work from. On the other hand, Redemption had about 100 pages of detailed setting and history, which Strange Stars doesn’t even compare. The book ends with a number of thoughtfully presented one page treatments, which should aid the GM in getting adventures in this system going.

Certain, Strange Stars wasn’t my cup of coffee. There is a difference between a setting book and splatbook. The art is beautiful to a point, but mundane in it’s over use. I like my setting books with content. The layout is simple to navigate, because the concepts don’t run very deep, and moreover, neither provide the appropriate amount of detail in what should be included with a setting book. If you’re in the market for a space opera setting book, I’d certainly encourage you to look elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate: RPG Review

Wandering Heroes Of Ogre Gate
Welcome to a review of the portable document format (PDF) of Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. A wuxia & xianxia inspired role-playing game (RPG). Don’t know what wuxia or xianxia is? Admittedly, I had only a passing knowledge myself. We’ll get to that. Digitizing in before me is nearly 500 pages of game content.
Disclosure: Product images on this page below this disclosure include affiliate links. I receive a token % if you purchase something on the landing page. Thank you for your support.

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is available in Hardcover, softcover and PDF at and at OBS sites (RPGNow & DriveThruRPG) Bedrock Games is an active indie publisher and has a number of RPG products available. This is the second RPG product (Mafia, Cosa Nostra being the first) I’ve had the pleasure to review for this column.

A brief on Wuxia and Xianxia:

One of the most well-known and readily available examples of wuxia is the movie Hidden Tiger, Crouching Dragon. If you haven’t seen this movie I highly recommend you do. If you don’t care to learn what wuxia is, I still recommend it. It’s good. To put it roughly, wuxia is Chinese mythologies knight errand. The literal definition is martial hero. Typically, these heroes roam the land righting wrongs, for the sake of virtue, instead of a typical knighted hero, for god and country. The driving elements in wuxia or of a wuxia story, are the martial artists’ journey for virtue itself-to do a thing because it is virtuous, rather than as with the western ideal, in the name of said virtue.

Xianxia literally means immortal hero. A xianxia story deals in the fantastical, bringing in the elements of demons and magic wrapped in Chinese mythology. The merge of these elements is attributed to the influence of Taoism, a real world religion being practiced today. While martial arts are a prime feature in wuxia, in xianxia martial arts are an element of the story. Xianxia themes are more to do with the supernatural. The best western movie I can think of to compare (or one which you may have seen) is Big Trouble in Little China; this to me, is a xianxia movie. Thankfully, the preface provides an explanation that should have any westerner ignorance covered, or least does so in an effort to create a roleplaying game with these themes. Now that we’ve covered that in brief, let’s get to it!

The setting of Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is Qi Xien, the realm of man, which following the multiple definitions used by Chinese language also implies the physical world players will explore. To say that amount of setting detail in Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate impressed, is putting it mildly.

Historical Eras are succinctly defined providing a mythological themed “beginning of time” and a brief description for each of the following eras to the setting’s present. The timeline encompasses about 4,000 years of Qi Xien (fictional) history. A few of these eras even come with their-own map! Those that read this column know that if this reviewer is a sucker for anything; its maps and setting. Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate has both. Admittedly, the setting elements of this RPG were the first chapters/sections I jumped to when I began my review. Beyond eras, lengthy sections expand and tie in the basics of Qi Xien: religions, cosmology, customs & daily life.

Chapter Eight: People & Places-provides a detailed outline of the Zhan Dao Empire, (the likely, governmental protagonist) and a number of brief outlines for the independent regions and cities beyond. Just about every notable region, or city location indicated on the map, is provided a treatment. While a picture paints a thousand words, the description provided in regards to the setting make sure that this picture is specific (or at least will be) in the theater of the (players/GMs) mind. Wander Heroes of Ogre Gate doesn’t imply, it richly describes it.

A bit of an aside, but with a little improvisation the setting elements of this RPG could certainly be inserted into just about any medieval fantasy setting. I have some thoughts to even incorporate Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate as a land afar, for my current D&D basic campaign. Let’s move on to the fiddly bits, otherwise known as game mechanics.             

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate utilizes a variation of the Network System. Mechanically, the Network System is a skill based system. Characters don’t have what we classically consider attribute or ability scores, which aim to simulate physical and mental aptitudes. The system utilizes a D10 dice pool. Unlike previous editions the system, Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate incorporates incremental numerical (+1 or -2 etc.) modifiers. Difficulty is determined by the Game Master and can be adjusted by situational modifiers and/or, martial hero capability.

A character’s skill or level of aptitude directly correlates to the total number of dice rolled for a check. With the target number set by the GM, as long as one of the dice rolled is a number equal or greater than TN, the character succeeds. A specific action which is determined by roll of the dice is a success, a greater than normal success, or failure.

A few particulars of this system are that with an unskilled check or trying to something in which a character has no rank in the relevant skill; the roll is 2d10 and the lowest result is taken. Penalty and condition modifiers can alter a roll dramatically reducing or increasing the dice roll by as much as (+/-) 3d10. In addition these modifiers, additional numerical modifiers equal to the number of dice, which are added (favorable) or subtracted (unfavorable) from the result. Rolling an unmodified 10 is counted as a greater than normal success and awards a bonus dependent on the specific nature of the roll, be it in the attempt at a skill or combat roll.

I’ve done a couple a reviews without; so let’s make a character!

Character creation in Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is no simple task. The reason for this is the number of options and the meticulous nature of the writing. Right away, while everything is clearly outlined and this being my first delve into making my martial hero, I can tell I’m in for it. I’m giving a brief treatment here rather than covering all of the thirteen steps.

Step One is picking a race. There are four other worldly options besides being human and the subtle features of these races (advantages/disadvantages) are borrowed from Chinese mythology. I took the road most traveled here and select a human.

Step Two Primary Skill Groups. Players select their primary and secondary skills groups, note, not the actual skills themselves, until (step seven) the character is better fleshed out. Primary skills are selected among two of the six total categories, and receive 12 points for each. Six points are given for Secondary skills and can be among any of the other six categories. What interesting about this section is the ability for characters to increase the physic of their characters is possible by availability of skill ranks which reflect physical aptitudes. Most skill based systems avoid the mechanics of physicality (or at least the ones I’ve read mostly do), but as the practice of martial arts is certainly a physical activity I was glad to see these options. Skills are divided into two categories General and Expertise.

Step Three is to Select a Sect and/or Sifu. I’ll let the game speak for itself here:

 “Martial sects are organized groups of Kung Fu Experts and come in many forms. Some sects are associations or communities, some are religious orders and others are martial arts schools. Sects are divided into orthodox and unorthodox sects….” (PG 190; Martial Sects, CHPT 6)

There are a dozen sects to choose from. Each are provided a brief treatment: History, Organization Belief, Reputation & available martial arts techniques. If I ran a Campaign, I would certainly have the players start in the same sect, though this isn’t a requirement.

Step Six is selecting from among four Kung-Fu disciplines which players previously allocated points to determine proficiency. Each discipline has a specific number of techniques attributed. What’s most interesting here is the way Wander heroes of Ogre Gate balances a characters ability to utilize techniques by creating an applicable mechanic: imbalance and limiting the initial techniques that are available via sect/Sifu. Each of the four disciplines, the available techniques and options receives a detailed treatment encompassing roughly 60 pages of content.

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is certainly not an entry level RPG. Though a minor point, that could be a criticism, but if it is, it’s really the only one I can muster up. The level of detail is likely the first thing you’ll notice if you pick it up. In fact, as I wrote this review I had to carefully decide what to include and there is a lot of good and great content here I’m not mentioning.

The layout and organization is very important in a product like this due to its sheer enormity, but thankfully the table of contents acts as a mini index; chapters and heading titles have been thoughtfully linked in the PDF. One click and you arrive. Beyond what is written I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single aesthetic that I didn’t like; which is pretty rare. I usually find something to nit-pick. The clean lines and effects of the interior black and white illustrations, certainly add to the wuxia and xianxia vibe. The artist Jackie Musto is awesome! As is the cartography work. The maps, borders, headers and side pane illustrations are very trim this product nicely.

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is a product I defiantly recommend. And in so far, the best RPG I’ve reviewed for this column, this year.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What's the Impact of a Roleplaying Game Review?

I've found myself meandering about the same topic of conversation over the last couple of months. One thing is certain. Neither any indie publisher, nor RPG reviewer I've talked to, has any idea on the impact of a review. Does a glowing review lead to sales? Does a negative review have an impact that can be measured? The assumption that makes sense to most, is that a glowing review is much better than a negative one. But, is it?

On my end, I don't think what I write in a review, has much quantifiable impact. Or at least being fair, that the words I choose to write about a specific product can be measured separate from any other element of the RPG itself (usually). My opinion and review, is but one part of many elements which may or may not, earn the publisher a sale. Also, I have evidence which supports this theory; and though I think it should be considered, admittedly it's based on a very limited sample.

More important than what an RPG reviewer says about your product, is the location of the review itself.

Erik Tenkar noted here, the lack of professional RPG reviewers, and the key quandary of affiliate links. The main issue being how there are so few third party publishing companies, who pay for RPG reviews. And so a lack of professional RPG reviewers. The point being that most RPG reviewers are prone to review products which they'll already be biased to enjoy, because even folks who post reviews tend to stick to buying things they'll have a preference to like; certainly some good points in that post.

Just for the record, while indeed, my depravity knows few bounds, the amount of money it would take for me to curb my opinion with affiliate links, is more than I'll ever make writing reviews. Also, I review all sorts of RPGs. Some of these I would run or play, or in fact have. Some of them I wouldn't touch with an eleven foot pole. And that's not to say some of those games aren't good, they're just not in my wheel house.

I have zero interest in being the sort of reviewer who only has nice things to say. There is nothing wrong with being person who only reviews RPGs, which they have predisposition to enjoy (and so follows, mostly positive reviews), but I don't do that either.

So now that I've adequately meandered about...

What this article is really about is giving indie publishers a little inside info and seeing if the questions I'm asking have any answers. Occasionally, I've gotten my hand nearly bitten off, when requesting review materials... What's that you say? Who nearly bit my hand off? Click my affiliate link: here (there is no link, but click away if you must) and I'll tell you...

While I absolutely respect a company's reservation to give me free access to their game and to write a review about it; at the same time, it turns out what I say about your RPG is less important than you imagine. What is important (gets on soap box) is where this review is published. I know, not exactly rocket science... (gets off soap box).

Unlike this blog, and many RPG blogs like it, people read articles at EN World. Unlike this blog, people pay real money to read Knights of the Dinner Table (KoDT). And I'm very fortunate to write RPG reviews for both.

Here is a quick look at the top three sellers through my links, which were all RPG Reviews I published on EN World. And then let's look at what I wrote about each of these products and see if there is any correlation in regards to sales.

Top Three Sellers

Disclosure: Product images on this page below this disclosure include affiliate links. I receive a token % if you purchase something on the landing page. Thank you for your support.) 

The Indie Hack: 6 sales

Finders Keepers: 5 sales

Starship Commandoes: 5 sales

So what did I write about these products?

The Indie Hack on DriveThru
The Indie Hack certainly received a positive review (link to the full review on EN World, here). It's pretty much glowing. Mind me, while I quote myself here. Let's not make it awkward, ok?
"The Indie Hack scratches more than few of my personal RPG itches. The minimalist design is appealing. Getting a game going, including character creation, in-less than 15 minutes is very plausible, which also gives it GameCon or Convention appeal. It's a great in between game if you have a group comprised of a mix of Storyteller and typically D&D or Pathfinder players… (See convention point, above) I could go on, but I'm out of words… Buy it!"

Finders Keepers on the DM Guild
Finders Keepers received a mixed review, (link to the full review on EN World, here). Some good, some bad. I was critical of the product, but I thought it had potential. Again quoting myself:
"Overall, I think Finders Keepers requires a bit of refinement and will in order for it to be effective at the table, even beyond scoping it for 20th level characters. There is certainly enough to work with. But, whether it hits your table, I'll leave to you." 

Starship Commandos on DriveThru
Last, Starship Commandos. While I've since traded fair a number of emails back and forth with Fraser Ronald on a number of RPG related topics and have respect for his thoughts and ideas ... I was still pretty critical of his RPG. And for reference the "above question" was whether this RPG would scratch my personal itch for a survivalist kill the Xenomorphs type of RPG.
"Starship Commandos is a concisely designed storyteller RPG. What's the answer to the above question? For this reviewer, it's a no. It isn't a stretch to imagine that this RPG might have some appeal, if you're savvy with more narratively-oriented game systems. Without any emphasis on a setting elements, and only one type of (though admittedly, it's slightly modifiable) character, the game is a bit too vanilla in its approach. This RPG certainly has potential, but given the scope, I'd preferred to seen something with more grit."

First on my end, and admittedly with this very small (& skewed) sample, the difference in affiliate sales here between a positive, middling' and negative RPG review is in fact pennies from heaven. It's also why as a reviewer, I have zero issue with using affiliate links.

Second, if you're a publisher I recommend to dismiss the concern of what a reviewer might say about your product and jump at the chance to get that product reviewed and seek reviewers out. Worst case you might be able to improve your product or be made aware of actual errors and mistakes in said product. As long as the review is professional and stays on the topic of your RPG, even a negative review might get you a couple of sales. There are a lot of other reviewers on EN World other than myself. You can find them there, if you know how to navigate a forum. And if you don't. Just ask.

So... What's the Impact of an RPG review? Who knows... But if you can stand it; it's certainly more of an impact, than not getting your RPG product reviewed at all....

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Raging Swan Press Open Call: 11 Cents/Word


Raging Swan Press (RSP) posted on the Paizo Open Call Boards last week and is looking for RPG content; backdrop material for the city of Languard... Finally it seems RSP is opening the gates for submissions. To go straight to the page on Languard click here or on the five finger discount, image snippet (below); it's on the Raging Swan Press site. But, really wait a moment and finish this blog post as to where you need to go on the RSP site... Here is a taste:

City Backdrop: Languard
"Storied Languard—capital of Ashlar and its greatest city—stands hard against Hard Bay’s turbulent, stormy waters. To the north lies the Mottled Spire’s brooding spray-drenched mass, the curse-haunted ruins of Greystone and Gloamhold’s doom-wreathed halls. Ashlar’s greatest—indeed only—city, Languard is a noisy, dirty place. Here, amid broad, muddy streets teeming with life and shadow-mantled, danger-filled alleyways there is little beneath the sun that cannot be had somewhere—for a price."

Though the work of their Patreon, Raging Swan Press pays 11 cents/word. By RPG standards this is an excellent rate of pay. For details on the "process," head on over to the "Languard Locations Open Call," page -dedicated to this call, here.

Though it will be unlikely you'll find a better rate of pay than the above... but you're still interested in writing/creating for the role-playing game (RPG) industry, check out my RPG Submissions Open Page (link to that page); a list of RPG and third party publishing companies, that pay freelancers for RPG content, reviews, news, and various other things. Know of such a company, and aware of an open call? Contact me; drop me line, or leave a comment. Happy Freelancing!  

Friday, April 13, 2018

Borders of Yore Collection #1 & #2 Discounted 25%

Borders of Yore collection #1 & collection #2, are discounted at 25% off ( $1.50 each) through the month of April. Each collection is intended for use in publishing or personal use including page and border designs from the public domain as well as derivative works. Each product is perfect for OSR products/e-zines and the like, index or table of content pages.

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. I receive a token % if you purchase something on the landing page. Thank you for your support.)

Borders of Yore #1
Collection #1 consists of 8 pieces, which have been cleaned up, vectored and formatted. In addition, derivative pieces and arrangements have been made from the originals. See the PDF Preview for specifics. Link to DriveThruRPG is in the image above, but if you prefer to shop RPGNow click here   
  • Borders are 300 dpi with black lines
  • Borders are clean and can be modified with software effects and image filters
  • Borders are can be resized with software such as Adobe, Inkscape, Gimp.
  • Each Border comes in Tif and PNG format
  • Borders are best suited for page, booklet size, or smaller.

Borders of Yore Collection #2
Collection #2 consists of 13 pieces, which have been cleaned up, vectored and formatted. In addition, derivative pieces and arrangements have been made from the originals. See the PDF Preview for specifics. Link to DriveThruRPG is in the image above, but if you prefer to shop on RPGNow click here   
  • Borders are 300 dpi with black lines
  • Borders are clean and can be modified with software effects and image filters
  • Borders are can be resized with software such as Adobe, Inkscape, Gimp.
  • Each Border comes in Tif and PNG format
  • Borders are best suited for page, booklet size, or smaller.
A fair use license is included with both PDF products. This work includes both public domain and derivate work. Borders of Yore products are formatted and intended for use in publishing and personal use.  

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Adventurer Conqueror King: RPg Review

Adventurer Conqueror King
This issue is a brief review of the portable document format (PDF) of Adventurer Conqueror King (system). As suggested by the publisher I will be borrowing the much kinder and simpler abbreviation of ACKs. In 2011-2012 ACKs core book was brought to market via a successful Kickstarter campaign which funded just shy of $12k internet bucks. Autarch LLC has completed five successful Kickstarter campaigns since, through 2016 and while the publisher was kind enough to share a host ACKs material, the focus of this review is with the ACKs Core book. This RPG and its supplements can be purchased in print as well as PDF at and You can also visit their website at: for more information.
(Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. I receive a token % if you purchase something on the landing page. Thank you for your support.)

Adventurer Conqueror King is a clone of Dungeons and Dragons and utilizes the open game license (OGL 1.0) of Wizards of the Coast. While not fully a retro-clone, having more advanced features such as proficiencies (likely borrowed from D&D 3e or 4e?) and not entirely neo-clone with a semi-independent (ascending type) combat system, it’s hard to relate where ACKs fits in the scope of other clones.

About the only reason to compare it as such, is to guess whether the OSR and fantasy gaming consumer is interested, or at least why they might be interested. To the OSR and old school customer base I would say that this RPG certainly has bits and parts of old school familiarity, which the OGL affords it, but it is also… Perhaps and certainly more so mechanically, a bit of a D&D mash. In that regard, I’m on the fence whether the game appeals to the old guard.  

Not in question is that the gem of this product is the campaign chapter. ACKs provides an interesting continuation of somewhat subtle idea. The framework of what was started (if I’m remembering this correctly at any rate) by AD&D nearly four decades ago: the push for adventure beyond the dungeon crawl. Otherwise known as Duh! A Campaign! The framework which is found in the Strongholds and Domains section is very well done. Anyone who has ran a campaign knows that with survival comes player character influence (even fame) and while the final idea is that the player characters will build and maintain strongholds and domains, game designers have rarely provided a serviceable framework for this gameable idea. Even if you’re not in the market for an entirely new D&D system, the framework in ACKs can be modified to most systems with a little finesse. Personally, this chapter alone turns this product into something I would buy and recommend to others.

In ACKs character Levels cap out at 14th level. There are the traditional four: fighter, cleric, mage and thief as well as several campaign classes. The campaign classes are the Assassin, Bard, Blade Dancer who are human women who serve the god of war, think Amazon Women etc., the Explorer which is much a ranger, Dwarven Vaultguard, Dwarven Craftpriest, Elvin Spellsword and Elvin Nightblade. All and all a basic mix of magic or advanced fighting/thief capabilities in regards to demi-human races. No halflings, gnomes or half elves (thank you, said some people).

Character Alignment is pretty much straight out of OD&D and applies the same way as most retro-clones; Law, Neutrality & Chaos. An interesting choice was to do away with memorization/preparation for spell magic. Casters need only rest themselves for eight hours before being able to restore their spell repertoire. I’ve house ruled this way for most of my fantasy RPGs a long time.   

The production value of ACKs, art, tables and layout is respectable. For the PDF of the core book each chapter has a number of hyperlinked pages which you can click and arrive at your chosen destination rather than scrolling through or typing in the page number. This feature is present in the table of contents as well as the index. Both sections have been meticulously detailed and encourage use. The hyperlinked pages are certainly a feature I wish more publishers would take advantage of. One can only hope those publishers are reading this column!      

As I said, Adventurer Conqueror King (system) s is a bit of a D&D mash up. It seems as if the creator borrowed their favorite elements from the different editions of D&D and made an RPG stew of sorts. Some people like stew, while others won’t get near it. The combat system isn’t too difficult to get the gist, but I think most old school gamers would have preferred the standard ascending or descending armor class (AC) system. As I mentioned, the campaign chapter is really well done, expanding the idea of a valuable concept and creating a respectable framework in making it gameable. Keeping with our stew analogy, this is the ingredient that I think most gamers will love.

Wild Skies Liberating Strife is on Kickstarter: RPG News

Wild Skies Liberating Strife
Wet Ink Games has launched Wild Skies: Liberating Strife a sourcebook for Wild Skies: Europa Tempest, on Kickstarter, The crowdsource has a modest funding goal of $7k and with a few days has already surpassed $2k. I reviewed Wild Skies Europa Tempest for Knights of the Dinner Table (mag). I Enjoyed it, and I think there's a lot to like about this diesel punk, World War themed, Anthropomorphic RPG.
Here is a brief snippet (from that review) of what I thought/think about Wild Skies...

"Wild Skies Europa Tempest, is the best anthropomorphic RPG I’ve read in the last 30 years (TMNT, anyone?). The setting is a World War I mash. It’s a little diesel, a little punk and a lot of machine guns. Mechanically, it’s on the lighter side in regards to crunch, but the true gem of this RPG is sheer variety of anthropomorphic characters players will create and the fact that each player can set the goals of their character in how they progress. If you’re in the market for any of the above, I don’t think you can go wrong here… That is, unless you don’t."

If you missed out on the original Wild Skies Kickstarter, a pledge of $35 you can get in on both the PDF versions of Wild Skies Europa Tempest and Wild Skies Liberating Strife. Or for a mere $25 more ($60 total) you can pledge for the PDF and print versions of these products. You can link up by clicking here (to the Kickstarter!) or on the image above.

I don't do unabashed product plugs very often (in fact three years of blogging this might be the second or third time); and Kickstarters just as rare... But, honestly Brandon Aten (Wet Ink Games) has a good track record of producing and writing in this industry; he's the sort of professional I think this industry needs more of and a member of the Indie Game Developer Network... (site) So, if you're so inclined, head on over and check out what Wet Ink Games (Facebook link) is creating.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Happy Gnome Publishing: Submissions Open

Happy Gnome Publishing put out the call the beginning of this month, and is looking for freelance writers/designers to create RPG content. Rate of pay is 3 cents/word. T.J. Lantz who is the head of Happy Gnome Publishing says it just as well as I could so... For more info in regards to what he's looking for click here, or check out the link in the image below. As always best of luck to submitters.

Happy Gnome Publishing Open Call

If the submission call for Happy Gnome Publishing isn't your cup of coffee, but you're still interested in writing/creating for the role-playing game (RPG) industry, check out my RPG Submissions Open Page (link to that page); a list of RPG and third party publishing companies, that pay freelancers for RPG content, reviews, news, and various other things. Know of such a company, and aware of an open call? Contact me; drop me line, or leave a comment.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Review Burp: RPG Reviews With EN World & Knights of the Dinner Table

KoDT #252
Krendel Core
Last month I reviewed the Krendel Core RPG in Knights of the Dinner Table (KoDT) issue #252 and Heroes Wear Masks, a superhero themed RPG skinned for use with Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Both of these products received somewhat mixed reviews. Each had some things that I liked, and each had things I didn't care for.
(Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. I receive a token % if you purchase something on the landing page. Thank you for your support.)
Heroes Wear Masks
Krendel Core is a system-less RPG toolkit. The game encourages somewhat of a story-teller approach to gaming, but this system offers a lot of options in how to approach it. Certainly, a plus side of this product is that it's currently available for free on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow.

Heroes Wear Masks for D&D 5E is Avalon Games reskin of it's popular superhero themed Pathfinder version of the same name... The appeal of this product should be for folks who aren't familiar -or interested, in learning another system other than D&D 5E, but want to play a superhero themed RPG. It certainly has potential. The review on EN World is here.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

RPG Review: The Dark Eye

The Dark Eye RPG
We are taking a brief look at the English edition, portable document format (PDF) of The Dark Eye role playing game (RPG), published by Ulisses Spiele. Many gamers from across the pond boast this RPG as the Dungeons and Dragons of Germany (some say even Europe), while here in that states, gamers have been begging for an English translation to find its way to market. No doubt, those wishes have been answered via Kickstarter and while technically this is the second time this has occurred, it is also a revamped edition. The Dark Eye (and the second English translation) was funded just shy of $150k internet bucks on Kickstarter.

(Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. I receive a token % if you purchase something on the landing page. Thank you for your support.)

The Dark Eye RPG is full color and is a behemoth at 418 pages cover to cover. By page count, the game is by far the largest (single volume) I’ve reviewed for Indy Game Scene (column, at the time). Hopefully that will be the last time I note that… I have no plans to review RPGs bigger than this.

The Dark Eye is a fantasy setting in the world of Aventuria. As far as setting elements go, Aventuria seems to have all the bells and whistles of a typical Tolkien inspired RPG, which many will be familiar with, dwarves, elves, orcs and the like. There is an interesting chapter that distinguishes the many dwarven, elven and human cultures, rather than jamming them all under individual race descriptions, which rounds out the setting nicely. The Dark Eye offers a fantasy realm of gods (and churches) for the characters to worship and magic to wield. The magic is toned down a bit from your usual fantasy RPG, and medieval elements are a bit better detailed than the usual fair. Included with the setting elements is very healthy amount of art, the quality of which is top notch.

I had my concerns (and would understand anyone else’s for that matter) knowing that this product was a translation, but I’m happy to report that my concerns were unfounded. Point of fact the writing really impressed me. While it would seem that 478 Kickstarters backers likely received a thief’s bounty for a mere $20 pledge before we get into the review itself let’s talk about what is, “The Dark Eye,” or the main premise of this RPG.

 “The game is named after the most intriguing magical artifacts it has to offer—the Dark Eyes, extremely powerful orbs that are very rare and hard to find. Wizards of eras long gone used them to look at far distant places, even other worlds, or to glimpse scenes from the distant past. Creating such an artifact calls for very powerful magic and a huge quantity of meteoritic iron. When fashioned into a Dark Eye, the iron takes on the form of an orb or, in very exceptional cases, an eye, hence the name.” (PG 6)

Rolling up a hero in The Dark Eye involves a fifteen step process. The game utilizes a variable point buy system which allows the players to start at a level which best suits the group. There is a lot of detail to character creation and the system allows a campaign that can be built from humble beginnings or one that is epic from the start. There is a fair amount of flexibility throughout the system and in regards to the sort of game/campaign you want to run, but the rules a very thoroughly written. Certainly an RPG cannot be written to cover every possible situation, but I'm confident the writing didn't miss anything for the purpose of gaming it at your table. Beyond character creation the system is well defined. Running a few numbers. the Arcane and clerical magic systems are thoughtfully balanced.

(Note: This review is property of Kenzer and Company and republished here with permission and the format may have been slightly modified from what originally published)

Crunch wise The Dark Eye is a heavy rule set. Though, I would say that some of the crunch will be reduced with familiarity. There are a number of features that differentiate it from other RPGs of the fantasy thread, such as D&D etc. and while good deal of the mechanics will be familiar, the terminology used will require a bit of adjustment. For instance, among these is that in rolling checks -a natural 20 (D20) is a botch or bad result and the use of more than one D20, between 1d20-3d20, for most checks. The ruleset itself is meticulously detailed. If this puts you off just remember your first delves into this wonderful hobby. Thank fully there is good deal of charts, sidebars and tables to help speed comprehension.

Overall, I am very impressed with The Dark Eye RPG. There are plenty of nuggets for a gamer to appreciate. The magic system is well balanced (not unwieldy powerful) and the detail of the system should appeal to most gamers who prefer medium to heavy crunch. About the only criticism I have is that the Bestiary is a little light; however as an introduction to the game everything in this product is beyond adequate. The terminology which is exclusive to this RPG pulls my mind back to middle school when I was first embarking on this wonderful hobby. It was a nice reminder. If you’re in the market for a fantasy RPG you might consider giving The Dark Eye RPG a closer look.