'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Corrupt Cliffs

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Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Whetstone, Issue 1. A review

Recently a new Sword & Sorcery anthology came across my social media feeds, if you have been around the Sword & Sorcery or Weird Fiction circles you will know that we have quite a few small publishers putting out various collections of these sorts of fiction such as Skelos Press or Rogue’s Blade Entertainment, so seeing another one wasn’t a large surprise, but it was welcome.  

Whetstone bills itself as an “Amateur Magazine of Pulp Sword & Sorcery”, and the first issue contains 10 stories across 60+ pages and is free, so I thought I should check it out. 

The editor of this anthology is Jason Ray Carney, who teaches creative writing at Christopher Newport University.  He is also an editor on “The Dark Man: Journal of Robert E Howard and Pulp Studies”.  We are off to a good start, which only continues to get better.

Thumbing through the PDF, I immediately notice that the cover and seal credits are given to Bill Cavalier, whom I do not personally know, but he is someone I certainly know of.  It is a hard name to miss among the fans of Robert E Howard.   You can check out more of his art here, “http://www.billcavalier.com/”.

Clearly, the Anthology has strong roots in pulp from within the scholars with a love of Robert E Howard.  Whetstone is a PDF anthology with the following submission guidelines.

Length: We prefer short, compressed stories that are nevertheless complete and cohesive narratives (1500 to 2500 words). These limits are firm. No more, no less.
Style: We prefer “dialog light, action-heavy” fiction that is unselfconsciously literary but nevertheless takes joy in an occasional old word that gives the breath of antiquity.

And so as you would expect from those guidelines the stories in this anthology are short, quick reads and I could generally get through a couple of them in my 45-minute commute on the train.  Settings and ideas run from wizards vs. heroes in classic fantasy settings to more indigenous settings and everything in between.  I believe it is a good cross-section of pulp and sword & sorcery.

I am not going to review each story here, although I may talk about them in the future as there are some that have intrigued me.  For my personal tastes, a random guy with no writing experience or training in English, each story had its good points, but some I certainly liked better than others. Some just needed more room to breathe as they had excellent ideas others felt more like a snippet from a larger story.  The shortness of the fiction left me unable to really get to know the setting and the characters.

For me, the pros of the stories and the quickness of the reads outweigh the negatives and I look forward to seeing more glimpses of new worlds and to where this anthology of Sword & Sorcery goes in the future.  You can find Whetstone for yourself by visiting their blog at https://whetstonemag.blogspot.com/

Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through a proven methodology for fighting a new virus. Stay Strong.

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!


Monday, June 8, 2020

Stars & Steel: A Space Opera Scale Miniature Wargame.


When I first came across Stars & Steel by Assault Publishing Studio I knew I would have to take a closer look at it.  Not only is it in my wheel house, ie spaceships and gaming, it has a name very similar to my online gaming presence, even though it is for different reasons.  For me Starships & Steel represents two aspects of gaming, Sci-fi and Fantasy.  Steel represents swords, "What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?" Thulsa doom asks Conan.  For this wargame steel represents the hulls of starships out among the stars.

Most ship to ship games I have played are on a much smaller scale than this representing a scale something like FullThrust or smaller.  Games where you control a handful of ships.  Stars & Steel aims to take on much larger engagements, fleets of hundreds of ships.

Game Scale and Basics

If you think of this game in terms of an older version of Warhammer 40k where you had 4 or 5 units of 5 Space Marines, and put 25 models on the table, you are thinking in the same approximate terms of this game.  

Stars & Steel is a nanofleet scale (1:10000) squadron based game, each squadron is comprised of 1-12 ships controlled by a commander situated on that squadron's flagship.  Each ship is one of three classes: Battleship, Cruiser or Destroyer.  Each of these ships is comprised of some combination of missiles, artillery, fighters and point defense as well as special rules.

The flagship of a squadron is chosen from the largest and baddest ship in the fleet and the marker by which all ranges and movements are calculated from.  Other ships in the squad are arrayed around the flagship, but their actual position isn't that important.  You could, with a little bit of record keeping, represent each squadron as a single counter or model, although that wouldn't be as cool looking.

A small fleet engagement.
A small skirmish featuring 6 squadrons per side.

Ships do not not track individual damage, instead you will track damage and disorganization on a squadron level.  As damage is increased there is a better chance one of the ships in the squadron is eliminated.  Likewise as the squadron takes more fire it becomes more disorganized and begins to suffer negatives to its effectiveness.

Ship movement, maneuverability and some artillery ranges are determined by the ship's class.  A battleship is slow and turns poorly, but it's artillery range is far beyond that of a nimble destroyer.  Missiles and Fighters have a set range, it doesn't matter what kind of ship launches them.

The number of squadrons is determined by the scenario, with a small skirmish representing 6 squadrons a side and a legendary battle fielding up to 24 squadrons per side.

The other limiting factor determined by the scenario is the maximum rank for the squadron commander.  This in turn controls the number and type of a ship that can exist in a squadron.  If we look back at the skirmish scenario, we are limited to a rank of two stars or Captain. 

The above might represent a 6 ship squadron commanded by a Balanced Lieutenant.  As you can see it is composed of 6 ships and is fairly well rounded, have equal artillery and missile power as well as some point defense capabilities.  Fielding a squadron commanded by a captain will allow us to use Cruisers as well.

Although they recommend you use nano scale ships, they have left distances up to you, listing all ranged and movements as Distance Units or "DU".  They go on to suggest for epic scale, that 2" per DU is probably a good number with 20mm square bases for the ships.

The Color of Outer Space

This game makes use of colored dice to note incoming artillery, missiles and airborne fighters.  Further it uses colored dice to track damage and disorganization: Yellow, Blue, Green, Black and Red.  I am almost certain if you played the game for awhile you would figure those out, provided you had no issues with color.  For people who are color blind I can see this causing potential issues.

Fortunately the game also comes with a bunch of print and play tokens, so they aren't completely tied to using the dice colors.  I would suggest the tokens are a better way to go, they will be clearer and easier to see and understand for everyone.

I whipped up a set of counters quickly using Game-Icons.net as well.  If people are interested in these I can make them available.  

The Game Turn

The game is broken into a number of phases, some are small and quick housekeeping steps, while others are used to move or fire your weapons.
  1. Beginning - Initiative, deployment and damage control
  2. Orders - Determine what fleet is doing - Reactive
  3. Artillery - Resolving artillery orders
  4. Movement - Resolving movement orders - Reactive
  5. Aircraft/Fighters - Resolving fighter orders - Reactive
  6. Missiles - Resolving missile orders
  7. End - Housekeeping
The game is played in an alternating reactive style.  The player with initiative selects and activates one of their squadrons.  Once they have finished the opposing player selects the squadron closest to the activate squadron and completes it's phase.  Not all phases require this activation sequence, but several key phases require it: Orders, Movement and Fighters

Orders Phase: Orders come in 5 flavors (Artillery fire, Missile fire, Maneuvers, Regrouping and Fighter command) and two types (Basic and Advanced), with advanced orders requiring a roll by the squadron's commander to achieve.  For example a squadron can easily make a turn, but to take evasive action requires the commander to make a competency roll. 

Each Squadron can complete a number of orders up to the Commanders efficiency rating.  In our sample squadron above the Lieutenant may issue 3 orders per turn. ie Fire Artillery, Turn and Regroup.  Everything a squadron is going to do is planned here and resolved in later steps.  

Artillery & Missile Phases: These two phases are pretty similar.  During the orders phases squadrons will have directed their fire power ratings at enemy squadrons.  When we get to these phases all of these allocated dice will be resolved.  Each point allows a die to be rolled to determine damage and disorganization.  For artillery a roll of 5-6 causes 1 point of damage and 1 point of disorganization.  So if a squadron has 10 artillery points against it, the attacking players rolls 10d6 and determines which dice are above 5-6.  

Fighter Phase: During the orders phase a squadron can increase the number of fighters it has in space at one time, but they aren't directed anywhere.  In this phase we direct them to do various actions, hold position, attack, shoot down missiles, etc.

Movement Phase: As mentioned above this is a cinematic 2D space game.  Ships are moved via reactive initiative up to their max movement range.  They can elect to not move if they wish.  Ships can not collide, but if they end their turn close to each other they may incur disorganization points.  Turns are not well defined here.  They need to be ordered in the orders phase but there is no indication of when the turn can occur.  At the beginning?  During the move?  At the end? 

The game progresses through these phases, ships moving and firing, launching fighters and becoming disorganized until the missions objectives are completed.

Overall Thoughts

My initial thoughts for this game was there was a lot to remember and a lot to keep track of.  I didn't think it had that much potential to be honest.  I almost didn't even bother writing this overview.  As I continued to look at the rules and take notes and got a better feel for it, I started to warm to it.  

As I write this now, I see potential for some pretty cool games fielding lots and lots of ships, which is of course the downside, you need lots and lots of ships.  You can get a couple of destroyer class ships from Ground Zero games for the $5 mark, putting a squadron of destroyers at about $15.  Ships in the battleship range jump steeply in price from Ground Zero.  All of these GZG ships are also a little on the large size, but the modern world has all kinds of 3D printing options to make the idea of fielding 100 ships and not breaking the bank a possibility.

Assault Publishing Studio have released a set of .STL files available as with the Pay What You Want model on Wargame Vault as well and plan on releasing more.  I downloaded the current set and printed a few off so you could get an idea of the ship scale.  The image is taken against a 1"x 1" grid.  So if you already have a 3D printer this game should be fairly cheap to get into.  I will go over a simple basing method in another article.

I also want to take a moment and point you at a blog that I had not visited in quite awhile.  I was happy to see a lot of new posts, especially around his creation of spaceships.  Jump over to Solipsist Gaming and check out his DIY gaming stuff.

Some of the things I like is how abstracted it is, making it relatively simple and quick to maneuver vast fleets, with the above skirmish example each player is only going to need to deal with 6 entities a turn, making this no more complicated in essence than something like A Song of Blades and Heroes.  

Ship weapons are broken into three basic classes: missiles, artillery and fighters.  What those look like is largely up to you and the universe you are trying to portray.  Dice resolution is all die pool based, something I find quick and fun, who doesn't like rolling lots of dice?

I do feel that the game is missing at least one key aspect and that is shields.  You could make an argument that they are abstracted into the game engine and all ships carry them.  I am OK with this as an explanation except the game engine uses point defense as a mechanic to take down missiles.  Perhaps this was a conscious decision to not include them.  Does adding shields make missiles even less effective? 
Perhaps instead of a point defense system the ships could simply have a defenses stat, which abstracted to Armor, Shields and Point Defense, with it effecting missiles and artillery differently?  These are of course simple idle thoughts that occurred to me as I was reading the rules.

Another idea it misses and one that might help with missiles not being useless if we add shields, is something I have seen elsewhere, artillery gets weaker over distance.  At close range they do full damage, and as that range increases then the damage decreases.  Sure this doesn't make a lot of sense given the vacuum of space, but this is a cinematic game, not a perfect depiction of starship combat.

These two elements are just ideas and certainly aren't meant to say this system is missing the boat.  I do not think that.  Abstractions of things are necessary or games of this size can quickly become a nightmare of logistics.

So if you want a fairly quick to play game of starship combat that allows you to field that grand fleet from The Last Jedi, this game might be for you and I suggest jumping over to Wargame Vault and checking it out.  Right now the game is Pay What You Want, you can download it for free and head on back later if you like it and drop them a few dollars.

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Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through proven methodology for fighting new a new virus. Stay Strong.

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells: Let's Make a Character

One of the things that attracted me to "Sharp Swords and Sinister Spells" was its simplicity. Simple is good, especially when attracting new people to a game and genre. It allows us to jump in easily and not need to be constantly explaining rules and such to the players.

I am looking to use pre-gens for my one-shot I thought it would be good to go over the basics parts of the game. Character creation is a simple 5 step process, although I might add a step 0 or 1.5. I will explain as we go.

Step 1: Roll your 4 attributes.
We roll 3d6 in the order the attributes appear. No rolling 4 and keeping 3. No picking your order. Just a straight up 3d6 roll in attribute order.
  • Physique: 9
  • Agility: 11
  • Intellect: 12
  • Willpower: 10

Step 1.5: The character idea.
Most games I have played list this as a step, get an idea of a character you want to play in your mind. I would sometimes place this as step 0, but since our rolls are in order, it might be better to see what we get before coming up with the idea. It will do no good to want to play a Conan the Barbarian type character if you roll 5 on Physique and 8 on Agility. It is of course 100% fine to come up with this ideas as you go, with that character gaining life and depth with each decision you make.

For us we have two pretty decent stats in Agility and Intellect, or at least this is where our best stats are, lets see how this plays out for us.

Step 2: Choose an Archetype.
Based on our stats the best Archetype for us is going to be a Specialist. The thief, the rogue, the trickster.

Each archetype will give us our base type of HD and Luck dice as well as our special abilities.

Step 3: Choose a Vocation
This is the most open ended part of character creation. There isn't a list, you must simply decide what your character is based on the Archetype. Anytime you do an action related to your vocation you gain a positive die. If you are a Knight and need to test to ride a horse, you could gain a positive die here. If you are a thief and need to open a lock or find a trap, again you could gain a positive die.

This is perhaps the step that Step 1.5 relates to the most. For us we know we have a Specialist who is smarter than they are agile. Something like a rogue or thief would probably be ideal for this character.

Step 4: Determining a complication
This section presents some interesting ideas as well as some potential challenges, it deals with things the GM might use to make someones life difficult during the course of the game and includes addiction. Clearly if you do not know your players it might be best to stay away from that particular category when making this roll. It might be worthwhile having your players look through these and give them the option of "X"ing any particular category out that they personally feel uncomfortable with. This is a game and we are all at the table to have fun.

That being said my 2d6 roll for our character is 1.4, or Debt to a Crime Lord. This ties in nicely to our concept of a thief character.

Step 5: Buy Equipment Everyone starts with a basic set of clothes and a weapon appropriate to their vocation. For us that most likely means a short sword, which is a small weapon that does 1d4 damage. Beyond this everyone starts with 3d6x10 silver coins. Our roll gives us 90sc. Like many games we get a coinage multiplier, 90sc = 9gp or 900cc.

The first thing we will buy is some decent armor. Medium armor costs 50sc, leaving us with 40 for everything else....
  1. Medium Armor - 50sc
  2. Backpack - 2sc
  3. Torches(5) - 1cc
  4. Waterskin - 5cc
  5. Rations(7) - 7cc
  6. rope, 50' - 5cc
  7. Grappling hook - 1sc
  8. Flint & Steel - 2cc
  9. Thieves Tools - 30sc
Total 50+2+(1+5+7+5+2)+1sc+30sc=85sc

Not too bad. Pretty good load out for a fairly average roll.
But wait? What about encumbrance? It is super simple. You can carry a number of items equal to your Physique score without penalty. Beyond that we start getting penalized and we can carry a maximum of the Physique score x2. So we can carry 9 items. Bags and packs do not count towards this limit.

Finalize Your Character
So now we simply need to come up with a name, description and roll some Hit Points.

We got a 7 on our d8 hit die roll, which is pretty good! I can see a potential issue to this as an unmodified roll, a PC rolling 1 hit point isn't going to be much fun for most people. Although I don't think this is something unique to Sharp Swords.

For a name I popped over here and used the random name generator here: https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/hyborian-names.php, and came up with 'Talma'.

Finally we need to write this all onto a character sheet, and below we see the completed character sheet.

If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

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Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through proven methodology for fighting new a new virus. Stay Strong.

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Buying New Paintbrushes (from Canada)

Like many of you, I watch Youtube videos. I am sure at least a few of you watch some of the various miniature painting channels out there. From time to time I feel the need to check out some of the brushes these channels recommend and so I go in search of brands like Windsor & Newton, Rosemary & Co, Raphael, Broken Toad, Army Painter, GW etc.

If you are from Canada and don't have an art store close to you, or conveniently located, you are probably going to hit Amazon and try and buy some. Whenever I have tried this I end up finding ok priced brushes with huge shipping costs or hugely expensive brushes with free shipping. Generally, these brushes aren't even a Prime item, so you are waiting for several weeks. What advantage do we get buying from Amazon?

I will admit if you are buying something like Army Painter, you can grab these on Amazon as a Prime item. Still, we are looking at about $35 for a set of 3, and we are limited in what we are buying. I have certainly gone down this route, but I haven't used them. I don't paint a lot and when one of these died I didn't want to have to spend another $35 for the pack.

Looking for brushes this time I felt frustrated and felt like I had no real options. This isn't the first time I have looked, but something clicked in my brain this time and I realized I had become 100% reliant on Amazon. As convenient as it can be they don't always have the best price or the product I want. Still, I was warry about shipping prices, but decided to have a look around to see what else was out there.

I had a couple of places recommended, and to be fair they were probably better than Amazon, but the shipping was still pretty high. While I was looking I did come across a website, https://www.jacksonsart.com/, upon opening it I was greeted with a pop-up asking if I wanted to shop in CAD dollars and that if I ordered over $85 I got free shipping. Why yes, I DO want to shop in CAD! Off I went expecting to find ultra-expensive brushes. What I found were reasonably priced brushes. Not cheap, but not the horrible prices I was expecting. We are talking sub $20CAD here for a Size 1. For an "apples to apples" comparison they have a W&N Series 7 size 1 for ~$16CAD, certainly cheaper than the $25 at Amazon.

If you have done any shopping online, you know shipping can make or break your decision. Finding a $15 item with $20 shipping isn't going to rush to make you click that checkout button. Happy with the prices but a little nervous about the shipping, especially given that the company was situated in the UK, I added a couple of Raphael 8404s to the cart and a new pen. I clicked checkout to see how bad the shipping was. I have polled a number of friends to guess how much the shipping would be. Guesses ranged from about $10 to about $30. Frankly, I felt these were decent guesses. But what did I actually pay to get my two brushes and a pen to Canada?

Yes. That is correct. $1.82CAD. Not only did I click yes, but I wrote an article about this experience so more of you can have the same one. This isn't overnight "PRIME" shipping, but it was listed as 2 weeks, which is pretty close to the time the W&N Series 7 from Amazon was listed to get to me. How did they do time-wise? I order the brushes on Feb 14th, 2020 and I received them on March 4th 2020. 19 total days from Order to arrival. Pretty decent and close to the time estimation, and for $1.82CAD from the UK? I will certainly order again.

The only thing I haven't had to check out is their customer service, ie how well they handle a complaint if a brush arrives broken etc. Until I have an experience with them that is bad I will give them the benefit of the doubt in this regard and give them..........


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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Altered Carbon: The RPG


I received my copy of Altered Carbon(AC) novel for Christmas several years ago. This was just before the announcement of the first season of the Netflix show. I had not heard of it before then, but it seemed like it would be a good book and up my alley, more or less. I enjoyed it well enough, although I didn't run out and read more of the series, in fact, I was not even aware of the additional books.

As details came out about the Netflix show we learned our protagonist would be played by Joel Kinnaman, who you may know from the Robocop remake. I came across Mr. Kinnaman in a crime show called "The Killing", which I HIGHLY recommend if you like these types of shows. The two main characters played by Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos were excellent. I am willing to give pretty much anything they are in a chance.

With the release of the TV show, AC was thrust into the forefront of sci-fi/fantasy television. It was generally well regarded, despite major differences from the book, and was certainly well regarded enough to launch a second season, albeit without Mr. Kinnaman. Another aspect of this newfound popularity, which should come across as a surprise to pretty much no one, was the announcement of the RPG back at GenCon 2019. Well we finally have the launch of the Kickstarter for the RPG associated with the IP, which currently sits at 687% funded.

What can I tell you about this world if you are unfamiliar?
  • Cyperpunk.
  • Conciousness stored digitally.
  • Death is not common, people can be transferred to new bodies.
  • Humanity exists across multiple worlds.
If you want further details I would suggest grabbing the book, checking out the Kickstarter and watching the show, but for the purposes of this, I will assume you are at least as familiar as I am with the IP; a basic understanding, but not an expert fan.

I grabbed the QuickStart and wanted to give my first impressions of the RPG and the QuickStart document.

Initially, I was curious about the company, there are a lot of RPG companies producing a lot of games, it is hard to keep track of everyone. I hadn't heard of Hunters Books (Now Hunters Entertainment), but with a quick web search I quickly found who they were and some of the other games that had published.
  • Kid's on Bikes
  • Outbreak: Undead
  • Chronicles of Exandria
  • ABC's of RPGs
I had heard of the ABCs for RPGs and Kids on Bikes, even if I didn't own them. I went and grabbed the FREE RPG day offering for Kids on Bikes and had a quick look to compared the core rules. I admit I expected to see a basic similarity between the engines running the two games, not unlike we see with the 2d20 system, Year Zero Engine or the GUMSHOE system. Initially, I thought this might be what I was seeing, but as I read a little bit it became clear that Kids on Bikes is a different system. After a little more digging and watching a few interviews I learned that this system was indeed new and developed for AC. They do have a name for it, so maybe we will see it used in other games in the future.

Once I went back and looked over the campaign a little more closely I realized they had done a pretty good basic write up talking about the new engine in the system and where it derived its ideas from. I was not surprised to see Savage Worlds listed here.


Initial Impressions of the QuickStart

Upon downloading and opening the PDF I was greeted with a typical cyberpunk cover, dark and a little sexy. Implants and neon are prevalent. As we move past that into the book we find a clean layout that is pretty easy to read, the art is nicely rendered. The part I find a little odd is the mix of rendered art and images from the TV show. I think I would have preferred strictly rendered art.

My biggest complaint about the text is the use of a plethora of icons. With time most of these will be easy to recognize, but on an initial read through it makes understanding things a little muddy.

The Basic Mechanic

Most RPGs are based on a basic mechanic used to resolve skill checks, which are then used to determine how successful a character is at an action in the game world. This is used to resolved everything from sneaking to hand to hand combat. Altered Carbon is no different. Your character rolls a die type (d12 - d4) that represents their ability in a given field, say Firearms, and try to get lower than a Target Result (TR). This means a lower die type is better than a higher die type.

Skills vs Attributes

We should note that these dice represent a character's ability in a particular skill, not the character's physical or mental ability. Generally, the attributes of a character are going to start around 20 and move up from there, 20 being low average. Further, the 10s column of the attribute is the attribute bonus, so Strength of 25 is an attribute bonus of +2.

There are basically two types of tasks that a player may be called on to attempt in AC; a situational based test and an attribute-based test. Both of these require the character to roll under a given TR, the difference is where that TR comes from. In a situational test, the base TR is determined by how hard a test is. Trivial? Start with a TR of 15. In an attribute-based test, the TR comes from the attribute bonus of the test. The final TR may be modified by sleeve enhancements, physical equipment or training. These all act to increase the total TR which will make the attempt easier, by increasing the number you are trying to roll under.


Combat will take a little bit to explain, but I believe it will be a fun combat system once players are familiar with it. The combat turn is broken into 3 basic phases: Intent, Check and Resolution. Each combat turn will have a single Intent Phase, but could have multiple rounds of Check & Resolution.

During the Intent Phase players decide what they want to do in the turn and what equipment they want to use, ie I want to shoot at the escaping criminal with my pistol, or I want to fire the rocket launcher at the escaping air car. Once that is determined characters determine their Speed Dice and roll them. These are used to determine initiative order. During the Check Phase players will roll their skill checks to determine success or failure, and finally during Resolution players determine the results of their Check Phase to determine damage etc.

Speed Dice

What the heck is a Speed Die?? It is a fancy name for a pool of D6s used to control the action economy.

If you recall, attributes have an associated bonus. The bonus for perception controls how many Speed Dice a player may roll during their Intent Phase. The Speed Dice control how many actions a player gets in a round. In their simplest form each player reveals one of their Speed Dice, and initiative is resolved in the order of the die, lowest to highest. In a more complex form a player may decide to combine multiple actions into a single round, such as aiming and shooting. In these cases the players would choose two Speed Dice for their action. These are added together to get the position in the initiative order. It is also possible for players to have Speed Dice taken up outside of their regular turn order due to being stunned, or attempting saving throws to avoid damage. When this happens players simply choose one of their remaining Speed Dice and discard it. It can no longer be used this turn.

Speed Dice are an interesting idea, and could probably use a little more clarification in the QuickStart rules, but I think what I have described is at least their intent based on the rules and examples.

Degrees of Success (or Failure)

Combat also introduces Degrees of success and failure. These are used to determine how effective or ineffective an action is during the Check Phase. These will determine what you can actually do in the Resolution Phase.

This is basically the difference between the TR you are going for and the roll you make. Need a TR of 5 and roll a 2, you get 3 degrees of success, but if you roll a 7 you get 2 degrees of failure. If you roll the TR exactly, you also gain a single degree of success. Pretty simple. Characters max out at 5 degrees of success or failure.

Degree of success: Each degree of success allows a player to use one of the effects of their weapon or equipment, this will allow players to cause damage, use special features of suits, trigger special damage etc. A degree of success remains in play until the combat turn ends, so if you gain 3 degrees of success shooting with your pistol you can choose to save them for a later moment in the round.

Degree of failure: Each degree of failure can be used by your opponent as a degree of success, and these also persist across the combat turn. If your opponent is attempting to dive behind a concrete barrier for cover and fail, rolling 2 degrees of failure, when you shoot at them you could potentially use those degrees of failure as a degree of success for your attack, making it particularly devastating.

Quick Summary of Combat

So that is all very fancy and a lot of wording for a fairly basic idea.
  • Determine what you want to do. (Intent Phase)
    1. Roll the number of D6s indicated by your Perception Bonus, these are your Speed Dice
    2. Decide on the specifics of your actions based on your original intent and reveal the number of Speed Dice to support that.
  • Resolve actions from lowest to highest Speed Dice totals.
  • Make skill check and determine degree of success or failure. (Check Phase)
  • Spend degrees of success if you have them. (Resolution Phase)
  • End of your combat round.
  • If all players complete a round and there are remaining Speed Dice resolve another round of combat in this turn

Ammo and Ammo Depletion

Like many games, we don't track single shots. I am largely in favor of this concept, especially when a combat roll is framed as the outcome of a flourish or set of moves vs a single swing of a sword. In Altered Carbon, weapon tests are rolled with an additional off-color die, which essentially works like a skill die. When this die fails the weapon is exhausted at the end of the round. The QuickStart states that these are the same as the skill check used and that the TR is the capacity listed for the weapon. For the pistol they gave us stats on, it would be 6.

Certain actions cause the weapon to gain depletion points. Each depletion point reduces that TR by 1 point. So if we had 2 depletion points on our pistol, the TR would only be 4.

So what does this mean in a narrative sense? The better you are with your weapon the more efficient you are going to be with your bullets. If you had a D6 for your pistol skill, just shooting that pistol means you are not going to deplete the rounds, or at least not in any meaningful way, you will be able to keep that pistol operational for the duration of a combat. You are efficient with your bullets. If instead you are totally unskilled and have a D12, you are as likely to empty the clip in a single volley trying to achieve your goal.

Looking back at the pistol, as I mentioned simply causing a hit doesn't accumulate a depletion point, but using some of the more specialize pistol actions, such as suppressive fire & focus fire both do. No matter how good you are, firing in these less controlled forms are going to eventually exhaust your ammunition.


It looks like equipment will be represented by a basic version of the item, which will then be able to be modified via tech points. The QuickStart has five broad categories of equipment: Weapons, Apparel, Gadgets, Vehicles, and Sleeves.


We have already briefly looked at guns in the overview of combat. The single weapon listed in the QuickStart is a pistol, but it is useful to see what the specs will look like and how tech points and it's various other attributes will work.


One of the more interesting things we see here is that armor can have a Protection stat, which is essentially a damage soak, but they can also have a Defense score, which works to make attacks against a player more difficult. I am not sure if I like this or not, generally, most systems use one or the other, allowing the hit/miss/amount of damage be an abstraction of the result of the round.

This may end up being too crunchy for my taste. On the other hand, if this simply represents two different styles of armor in the game I can see it working. For example, a flak jacket might not make me harder to hit but will reduce damage received, whereas an optical camouflage system might make me harder to hit, but not reduce the damage I take. Much like the weapons, we only get one example of a piece of armor, so it is hard to determine how Protection and Defense will work together.


The section on vehicles is a quick outline of what we can expect to see in the core rules. The entire section isn't much more than a page long. It gives us an overview of the types of specs they will have and how they might factor into an encounter. We know they will use speed dice in a similar manner to regular combat. Beyond that, we don't really learn much, no samples of what an actual vehicle will look like.


The section on sleeves is the largest part of the equipment section. We learn that upgrades to natal sleeves are expensive and rare, and this is likewise the case for a cloned sleeve. More common are synthetic sleeves, we learn that upgrading a synth sleeve is no more complex than upgrading a computer.

We are given a sample upgrade, much like we saw with the pistol and the flak armor, but this time we also get a short table of other upgrades that you might be able to apply to a sleeve. This is followed by several pages of descriptions of what each of these upgrades does.

Character Creation

It was obvious after a quick look through the book, that there were no pre-gen characters included, which I thought was odd. Even odder was the inclusion of a section on character creation. Generally, most QuickStarts I have come across didn't have a section on character creation, instead, they included some pre-gens to allow GMs and Players to jump in a start playing quickly. Still, I thought the inclusion of a character-building section instead of pre-gens was interesting and was willing to give it a go.

Unfortunately like much of the QuickStart this section really only serves as an overview of what we can expect to see in Character Creation. We can't actually build a character from the information we are given.

What is missing?

I have seen some chatter on the internet about this document and if it is actually a QuickStart guide? I have seen people wondering if this set of rules is actually playable. If you read all the way to here you will know I am pretty much in agreement. This QuickStart gives us a good feel for what the rules will look like, but they aren't really a QuickStart in the normal, "I can play this quickly."

I am sure you could play something with these rules, but in my opinion, they are lacking a fair bit. Playing these as written will be next to impossible, the GM will need to make several executive decisions. For example, we are not given any pre-gens. We are not given any opponents. We are not given an equipment list. We are not given any idea about movement. The character generation rules aren't complete.

It would have been nice to have had a short weapon, armor and equipment list like we see for the sleeve upgrades, This would have gone a long way to making the QuickStart rules an actual set of QuickStart rules, and not just an overview and teaser of the game.

However, reading over the rules and looking at the examples, we can make a few guesses on most of these things, and probably hit fairly close to the mark, still, I would have liked to have seen something more solid with a short adventure in the back.


Overall I liked the look of the book, despite a few reservations that will be fine once I am more used to the system. As an actual QuickStart set of rules I think this misses the mark by a lot, giving us a set of rules that are close to unplayable without some serious assumptions. But as an overview of what we can expect in the rules? I think this is a pretty good document. We are given a pretty thorough idea of the kinds of things the rules will contain, and a fairly strong look at skill checks and combat.

As a reader of RPGs that I will probably never play, I did in the end back this for my shelf. The QuickStart rules whet my appetite enough that I wanted to know more, and in the end that is probably the actual purpose of it. Still I would have to think a playable document would have the same effect across a wider series of players, although it does not seem to matter. When I started writing this article the Kickstarter was a couple of days in, and as I mentioned 687% funded. It is now 10 or so days in and 1001% funded.

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Monday, February 3, 2020

High Fantasy? Sword & Sorcery? What is what?

This was going to be a review of Forbidden Lands. I had picked up the quickstart rules and was impressed. The quickstart was full of excellent old school RPG art and they didn't skimp on the rules. The system itself was familiar to me due to the ALIEN RPG, and it is a system I liked. In the end, this is not a review. After a conversation about Forbidden Lands, I decided I wanted to write a little bit about what Sword & Sorcery is to me.

I think the easiest way to see how I see Sword & Sorcery is to hold it up against High Fantasy, what things do I think makes one vs the other? There are, of course, other articles on the Internet about this topic, Wikipedia itself has sections describing what these genres represent. However, I wanted to illustrate my own ideas on these as well as build a small rubric to place against a setting to see where it falls.

Sword & Sorcery

Let's start with the elements I think are necessary for Sword & Sorcery.
  • Swords
  • Sorcery*
  • Smaller scale
  • Heroic deeds
  • Stories of a smaller scope.
  • Generally human-centric.
I placed a star next to Sorcery as I feel it needs a caveat. Sorcery is necessary, but generally, it is not overly flashy and it is not commonplace. Having a wizard that can cast fireball in every town in a story isn't something I think we should generally see in Sword & Sorcery.

High Fantasy

In contrast, we have high Fantasy which for me means:
  • Swords
  • Magic
  • Heros
  • Stories of a larger scope.
  • Races (Elves. Dwarves etc).
For me, in a high fantasy setting, we have much more magic and it is often flashier, we have heroes trying to save something bigger than themselves.

Now with this being laid out we certainly have stories that have elements of both of these, but I think some of the elements are more important than the others. I would probably place them in the following order.
  1. Story Scope
  2. Heroes vs Non-Heroes
  3. Heroic Deeds
  4. Access to Magic
  5. Races
And despite ranking them in importance I suspect we can still find stories that blur the line between the two. Small scale stories taking place in human-centric worlds with heroes and flashy magic.

Now that we have outlined some of the ideas I expect to see in each archetypal story of a genre lets place them against Conan and Lord of The Rings and see how they fair.


Taking this and placing it against Robert E Howard's Conan
  • Story Scope: Small. Conan trying to get to the end of the adventure alive, hopefully with some money and some company.
  • Heros vs Non-Heroes: Conan is the protagonist and generally has a strong moral compass and is doing the right thing because of it, but he doesn't have a higher calling that he is aware of.
  • Heroic Deeds: Conan is rife with them. Everything from climbing cliffs with bare hands, being pulled from a cross, fending off attacks by superior numbers and single-handedly killing two frost giants.
  • Magic: Exists. Rare. Dangerous.
  • Races: Humans.
Unsurprisingly a Conan story checks ALL of my personal S&S boxes. Howard is credited as the Father of Sword and Sorcery for a reason.

Lord of the Rings

Now let's take a look at Lord of the Rings.
  • Story Scope: HUGE.
  • Heros vs Non-Heros: Certainly some of the characters aren't willing heroes, but they have all responded to a higher calling and their end goal isn't about making them rich, and it is not about what is in it for them.
  • Heroic Deeds:I won't tell you there are no heroic deeds in LOTR, but at the same time I don't think we are seeing them in spades from the main characters.
  • Magic: Exists. Fairly-Rare. Dangerous.
  • Races: Standard fantasy races.
Although the magic isn't as flashy as I think of high fantasy, it is clear that The Lord of the Rings falls into this category in my mind. It is often looked to as the prototypical High Fantasy story.


Although both of these genres are different and you may like one more than the other, this doesn't mean one is better than the other, or that fans of one are superior. They are different sides of the same coin.

Going forward I hope to use this as a method to look at various RPGs and their settings to see where they land on the spectrum between SWORD AND SORCERY and HIGH FANTASY!

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Monday, December 16, 2019

Tehnolog Miniatures - Are they worth your money?

First things first. I bought these with my own money. I was not asked to provide a review. I get no money from you picking up anything in this post.

Back at the end of October, I decided, "why not?" and I logged into eBay and placed an order for a couple of sets of the Tehnolog miniatures. I thought it would be interesting to see what the turn around time for these figures was, and how they scaled to other figures in my collection.

The first part of my question was pretty easy to answer. My order was confirmed on October 24, 2019, and I received my parcel notification on Dec 3, 2019. So we are looking at just over a month to place an order and have it received from Moscow. It's no Amazon, but realistically it's not that bad either.

First Impression

So what did I order?
  • Barbarians set 20 Tehnolog 28mm plastic soldiers Castlecraft 9th Age Warhammer - $8.00 usd.
  • Brigands set of 20 Tehnolog 28 mm plastic soldiers Castlecraft 9th Age Warhammer - $8.00 usd.
  • Shipping was $12 usd
  • Total Bill was $28 usd or about .70 per figure.

My first impression taking the bags out of the box, but before looking at them, was that this plastic sounds like boardgame pieces, that hard plastic clink.

Once opening the Barbarians bag I thought they looked a little on the small side, but overall decent for the price. Then I opened up the Brigands, again the sculpts were generally ok, but size-wise? These guys would make pretty excellent D&D halflings. They come just past half-way on a pre-painted D&D mini.

Going back through the listings for the brigands I will note that there is a picture of them next to some other figures, one of which is a dwarf. It pretty clearly shows the scale.

Likewise the barbarians also include an image to determine the actual scale of the figure.

It is pretty clear to me that the Brigands are not 28mm, at least not 28mm humans. It is also clear to me that if I had been more careful I would have noted that these figures were not an appropriate size and would have ordered something else.

Finally a shot of the two figures, barbarians and bandits, next to a pre-painted D&D mini and a Reaper Bones figure.


I picked a single barbarian to paint to see how they would take paint. Quick caveat, I am not the world's greatest painter, but I am passable in most lights. The goal here is to prime these, apply a base coat, give those some inks or a wash to get some quick shades and then go back in and drop some highlights on the raised sections.


After a quick clean with soap and a toothbrush, I set about giving them a brush priming with some Vallejo dark grey. The figure took the paint fine, and in a single coat I had 99% of the green completely covered.

Base Colors

Base colors used.
  • Vallejo Model Color: Medium Fleshtone - Flesh.
  • Reaper Dark Shadow - Boots, pants & Glove.
  • P3 Bootstrap Leather - Belt & sheath.
  • Vallejo Model Color: Burnt Umber - Bow.
  • Vallejo Model Color: Brass - Belt fittings.
  • Vallejo Model Color: Flat Red - Skirt.
  • Vallejo Model Color: Sky Grey - Boot Fur.
  • P3 Thamar Black - Hair


Shades used.
  • Vallejo Game Ink: Skin Wash - Skin
  • Army Painter - Dark Tone - initial wash on lower half of body
  • Army Painter - Soft Tone - Final wash on skin


Highlights used.
  • Vallejo Game Color: Bronze Fleshtone - Flesh.
  • Vallejo Model Color: Flat Red - Skirt & mouth
  • Vallejo Model Color: Sky Grey - Boot Fur.
  • Vallejo Model Color: Brown Sand - Leather and bow highlights
  • P3 Thamar Black - Eyes

Final Notes

This figure took paint well and was pretty easy to paint with good, simple detail. I don't know if that will be true for the entire line, but for the price it is worth checking them out. Line painting these would give you a lot of painted humans for use in your games in a short amount of time.

Final Thoughts

There are certainly pros and cons to these figures, but overall they are a pretty good value.

One of the biggest downsides is the narrow range of figures. We do get a fair number of humans that are useful, but because we need to be careful of the scale, some figures that would be useful, are not. However if you need a large number of human barbarians, men at arms, knights, vikings, Russians or maybe even some dwarfs these figures would most likely fit the bill.

Scale wise the ones that work fit in well with many popular lines you may already be using.

The long and short of it? Would I recommend?

Yes. I am going to give these a thumbs up. These figures are a great value, and there is not that much more to say on it, just make sure you pay attention to the images and pic miniatures of an appropriate scale.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Conan: Serpent War #1 (2019)

The first issue of "Serpent War" is on the shelf today! I couldn't wait to get to the store so grabbed a digital copy to read with my morning coffee.

Writer: Jim Zub
Artist: Scot Eaton: Penciler, Scott Hanna: Inker
Colorist: Frank D'armata
Letterer: VC's Travis Lanham
Cover Artist: Carlos Pacheo, Aneke & Frank D'armata

James Allison Sequence Artist: Vanesa R. Del Rey Colorist: Jean-Francois Beaulieu

Cover Price: $4.99
Pages: 26 of story.
Prose: Solomon Kane 1 of 4.

There are extreme Howard purists who range from not liking any of Howard's characters being done but anyone by him to more Conan centric purists who feel Conan MUST be in the Hyborian Age, anything that strays from this is bad.

Me? I consider myself a Howard purist, but to the point where I have Howard's work in one silo, and everything else in various other silos. I accept and LIKE others doing work with his characters. This work keeps them alive and keeps them in the public eye. No one expects Superman to stay in the world of his creation, but Howard's work? Hands off for many many people.

As you can expect these extreme purists have no love for these Marvel stories. Also as you can expect, I am not one of these. I was looking forward to this adventure because it not only includes Conan but also includes two other, less well known, Howard characters: Solomon Kane and Dark Agnes. Bringing two of Howard's characters to the light is a good thing, especially when one is not that well known. In short, I am happy to see Dark Agnes reborn for an audience that has probably not heard of her.

I generally liked the art in this book, the big spreads introducing Agnes and Kane are great. Seeing them on the big page in a modern print comic gave me a little thrill. I also found using a different team to do the James Allison opening to be excellent. It made it stand apart from the other charcters in the story. It is an excellent use of art to tell a tale in my opinion.

Apart from the addition of Moon Knight, because Howard wouldn't have known about him, this story, at least so far, isn't beyond what Howard could have written. Like most stories of this nature the first issue works to lay the ground work of what is to come and to introduce us to the characters. The most obvious of these two that need introductions are of course Kane and Agnes, but both Conan and Moon Knight are explained as well. As a Moon Knight fan who knows nothing about Conan you will have a basic foundation. As well as a Conan fan who knows nothing about Moon Knight, I have a basic idea as well.

My biggest complaint about the cover is the sword. Although it isn't a direct copy of the Atlantean sword from the 82 film it is clearly influenced by it. As much as I love the movie this sword belongs in the 82 Conan the Barbarian silo for me. With that being said the cover shows us the main characters and is in my opinion well executed.

Some of the variant covers are incredible. My favorite of these is Conan depicted with Moon Knight done by David Finch. My single complaint about it, especially since it is so bad ass, is that it only includes Conan and Moon Knight. Maybe Issues 2 will have an equally bad ass variant cover from him with Kane and Agnes?

Sword & Sorcery & Guns
Two of the characters are weilder of guns so I thought I would throw that in there as well. Although they are simply laying groundwork and introducing the characters, some of that groundwork is to introduce the threat. That threat is clearly sorcerous and weird in nature. In addition we also get scenese of the characters kicking ass and taking names, so this checks all of these boxes for me.

Overall Thoughts
When they announce stories like this I am always hopeful, but always unsure. Jim Zub has been on social media talking about this for a while, but the proof is in the pudding as they say. I think the whole team has done a great job on this book right down to the Howard underpinnings across the whole thing. Using James Allison, a perhaps even MORE obscure character as the glue to hold this all together is pretty brilliant, and it puts more of the James Allison tales on my reading list, right after I finish "Chessmen of Mars" by Burroughs.

Overall recommendation: Go pick this up.

My rating this month is 4.5 out of 5 Skulls of My Enemies!

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