'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

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Expanse RPG: First impressions (more or less)

The e-mail came and I immediately downloaded the PDF from Green Ronin. I was anxious to see the Expanse RPG in all its glory. I had seen the quick start and Modern Age rules, both of which I liked. This was the full book though and I was excited.

The RPG is broken out into 3 basic sections: Players section, A Guide to the Expanse, and the Gamemaster's Sections The RPG opens with the new novella by James SA Corey and then rolls right into the rules and character creation, tech, ships and eventually a section on the world of the Expanse, detailing Mars, Earth and the Belt.

Some of the art I love, some of it I am luke warm too, but overall the book looks good and I was anxious to find some time to dig deeper into it.

It's hard for me to have a strong first impression of a .pdf file, as much as I see them as a useful way to get content to us, for me they are still not that physical book. So initially? It is what I expected after seeing Modern Age and the Expanse quick start. I can not wait to have a physical copy.

Intro & Rules

I did spent a little time with it to get a better idea of what exactly this book looked like. Many RPGs have flavor text and may even open with a small blurb about the world. The Expanse starts with a short story written by James SA Corey for the RPG. So we are already starting off plenty strong with a full piece of prose from the authors of this beloved series.

Once we get past the story we are whisked into the basic rules of how things work. How characters make skill tests, what a stunt die is and does. It is not a complicated system and it might be a good middle ground between something overly simple and something overly crunchy. I haven't had time to play yet though, so time will tell.

Character Creation

After the basic rules we are introduced to character creation which is laid out in a nice 10 step process. I find that creating characters can sometimes be a little convoluted for a new player. As a new character playing Pathfinder for the first time, I didn't find it super easy. As a new player to Conan 2d20, I would level the same criticism of it. In comparison John Carter was a simple character building system and I suspect this will be similar, as the builds in Modern Age were not difficult.

After the basics of character creation have been talking about our next chapter is the list of talents and traits players can take to customize their characters beyond their basic stats.

Tech and Equipment

And then we are onto Tech and Equipment. What sci-fi game is complete without advanced technology? Generally anything we see in the Expanse is probably going to be something we recognize in our modern world, from hand terminals to space ships. They provide a fairly comprehensive list of traits and ideas to build most any tech you might want. Here we have weapons lists and armor lists including the impressive Martian power armor.

The section includes dealing with income and lifestyle. We get a section on how this system deals with a characters basic upkeep based on their income level from character creation.

I would have liked to have seen more rules on cybernetics and similar. I know this isn't a cyberpunk game, but we see basic implants in the books, perhaps we will see this in a later expansion, as I do not think we see them until later in the books. The same can be said about drugs, specifically combat drugs, but again, perhaps we will see something more specific later.

Encounters

The next section talks about different types of encounters and breaks them into 2 chief areas: Action, Exploration and Social. Each of these sections includes rules and stunt lists that you have access to if you manage to roll stunt points.

Action encounters include melee combat, chases and vehicles. It lists various forms of stunts such as grappling stunts and gun stunts, and continues to list various special things you can do for vehicles and chases.

Exploration encounters has stunts for general exploration and infiltration. It contains ideas and stunts for general exploration and investigations as well as detailing how to use hazards with the scenarios.

Social encounters lists ideas about how NPCs may react to characters through "Attitude", and as always continues into a list of things you may get to spend stunt points on. An example of a social stunt might all a player to read the room and get a general feel for who has what attitude toward the players.

Finally the section ends with interludes, small pieces of narrative downtime where the players can accomplish goals. These can be between adventures or during ship transits. Any time there is an extended period where there is no action.

Starships & Space Travel

The final part of this section centers around spaceships and spaceflight. It opens with a basic lesson on real orbits and transits between bodies, but if you really want to get a good handle on how all this works you should go grab a copy of "Kerbal Space Program."

Once we get through our primer we talk about ships and their attributes and qualities. They do not provide a cost for a ship based on the understanding that even the smallest of these are not things a normal person just owns.

Finally we round out the section with ship encounters, combat and how to spend Stunt Points. I wrote an article on starship combat during the quickstarter. I can't tell you nothing has changed, but it looks similar enough that it is worth checking out if you are interested in how it runs.

Setting Information

Leaving the rules behind for a little while we enter into the section called, "Guide to the Expanse". This section details the current state of the system with sections describing Earth, Mars, the Belt and the Outer Planets. It looks to be a comprehensive guide on not only the planets, but on the people as well.

The guide covers cultures and the language of the Belt, Belter Creole, as well as physiological changes humanity has, or is experiencing, as we evolve to match our new environments.

The guide details important stations, moons and holdings of each of the factions and I suspect upon reading it should give a great deal of insight into the overall world of the Expanse, and as well plant some wonderful story ideas.

This section also includes stats for the protagonists from the Expanse. They are sprinkled throughout the section based on what planet they call home. James and Amos being listed with Earth for example.

Running the Expanse

After the history and general Expanse fluff information we move into the meat of the book for the GM. This next section talks about GMing the game, and compromised about 30% of the book starting on page 180. It starts as all games should, assuming you know nothing. We get an overview of what a GM does and then we move on to more specifics, how to make adventures, rolling or not and being inclusive at the table.

There is a lengthy section on threats for environmental and adversaries, including a section on social adversaries. This section includes a small listing of sample opponents such as gangs and security forces as well as the creations of the proto-molecule. This section also goes over the basics of creating your NPCs as well, and gives us some guidelines on using them.

We then have a section on how we might reward PCs, both monetarily and beyond. These might include relationships, memberships in organizations or reputation.

The second section of the book rounds out with a chapter on writing a series or a campaign for your Expanse characters. It talks about how you might want to structure it and gives you some ideas to explore.

Adventure and Information Sheets

Finally we have an adventure to run to get you up and playing as quickly as possible. I haven't done anything more than quickly glance through it, as I don't generally run pre-written adventures. I will of course take a deeper look at this one and the quick start adventure to get a feel, and some ideas, before getting ready to run my first Expanse game.

The book rounds out with the typical things we would find: An index, character sheets and other tracking sheets, such as the Churn. Not much more to say here, everything we expect to see is available.

Final Thoughts

At first pass it looks like a good book that is well laid out. It is hard to tell for sure without having played it, or done much more than give it a quick read over. Right now I can tell you that this RPG will give you ~260 pages of Expanse goodness courtesy of Green Ronin and James SA Corey. If you are a fan of RPGs and the Expanse, I highly recommend you grab a copy of this in the near future when it becomes available!

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!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Avengers: No Road Home #6 (2019)

I had no plans to review this book. With three main Conan already in circulation and this being released on the same day as the new Savage Sword, I was just going to give it a pass. This is of course Conan's first cross over with the modern Marvel world. Plenty of fans hate it based on it existing. I tend to be a little calmer about things, but I admit I was unsure what I was going to get with this title. I knew a little going into it, and there are parts that I would probably get more from if I had read the previous five books. I may do in the end, but for now this post is strictly about #6.


If you are unsure about this book as a Conan fan, I get that apprehension. If you are a dedicated die hard fan of Robert E. Howard to the point that anything Conan that isn't him is bad, then you won't like this. If any Comic Conan that isn't the original run of Savage Sword, is horrible to you, then you also probably won't like this issue. BUT If you like Howard, and you liked Savage Sword and you enjoy seeing new tales told about the Cimmerian, then this title might just be of some interest to you.

When I read these I want to see a few things. Chiefly among them is sword fights, followed closely by something weird. This weird element can be monsters or wizards, or any number of things that are basically supernatural in nature. This is one of the things I liked least about the new Conan The Barbarian #4, nothing weird in it. Lots of cool imagery and fighting, but nothing weird.

To really start this review I want to present three images for you to take for you to take a look at...


Conan sword drawn, kickin' ass. This image is nearly a carbon copy of some of Asrar's images from Conan the Barbarian #1, which I loved, so seeing Conan like this again, sword drawn and kickin' ass gets some pretty awesome praise from me. Love it.

Next up one of the prototypical things we see in any number of sword and sorcery stories, including the current run of Savage Sword, the cult. Cults are nefarious and serve dark gods, and in the Hyborian Age, are generally not JUST crack pots, but crack pots devoted to raising some dark entity. The cult in this is no different. And how do cults generally achieve this? They sacrifice of a maiden.

Which brings us to the third image, the sword and sorcery trope of the maiden chained to the slab of rock about to be sacrificed. No she is not naked, yes she is scantily clad. It is some of the imagery we get in sword and sorcery that people often say can't exist anymore due to the PC nature of our world. Clearly some of it can still exist and does in a mainstream Marvel magazine.

There are a couple of pages that deal with the larger story being told, and the other Avengers, but they stand aside from the main story and aren't need to enjoy this as a largely stand alone comic. The majority of this book is a tale about a Barbairan and a Witch and is very much a sword & sorcery tale.

So without further rambling, let's see how much mead I am going to drink!

4.5 out of 5 Skulls of My Enemies!

This was a pleasant surprise. I expected something considerably less sword and sorcery. It was a fun romp full of fighting, and other mainstays of sword and sorcery. I feel this will have the ability to introduce fans of the Avengers to Conan, and I see that as a good thing. I definitely recommend grabbing an issue of this from your local comic store or app.

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!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

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

Savage Sword of Conan: Issue #3 (2019)

Part way through the week and we are greeted with another new Conan comic. This week Savage Sword of Conan #3!


Writer: Gerry Duggan
Artist: Ron Garney
Colorist: Richard Isanove
Letterer: VC's Travis Lanham
Cover Artist: Alex Ross


Cover Price: $3.99cad

I am really not sure what to make of the covers of Savage Sword, they are moving steadily away from the content in the book. I am not one to judge a book by it's cover, but I still like it to be relevant. Our first cover featured Conan fighting undead pirates, and we had a touch of that in the book. Our second cover was another beautifully rendered Conan, but it held nothing else. This month we have another beautiful image of Conan, and this time he is locked in combat, Belit at his side, and it has nothing to do with the current story in Savage Sword. I find this to be on the weird side.

No matter what is happening on the cover the story continues inside with Conan fighting like a demon, and not just savagely, but smart as well. Our story continues exactly where it left off taking us further through the story. I found that it moved along at a pretty good clip and I ran out of comic before I wanted to. It spans 19 pages of panels, which is precisely what the the last Conan The Barbarian ran as well as the previous Savage Sword.

The interior art is not new to any of us by now. I think either you like Ron Garney's art and find that it fits this story, or you do not. I fall on the side of liking it and feeling it fits the savageness of the title. Combined with Richard Isanove's color we get a wonderful world painted for us that is dark and grim.

This is Sword and Sorcery after all and so I would be remiss in not mentioning these aspects. This issue is full of swords AND sorcery. If you like your tales to have that touch of the weird, and lets face it, this is Conan it *SHOULD* have that, then this issue will absolutely not disappoint.

Art:

Story:

Cover:

Sword & Sorcery:


And with that, this issue is going to get 4 skulls full of wine for Conan!

I thought this was a solid issue with it's biggest weird point for me being the cover. Beyond that the interior art was good and the story was decent, although it still has some elements I find odd, but nothing completely story breaking.

So grab your Aquilonian Lunas and get yourself to a comic book store and time to get SAVAGE!

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!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

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

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Exploit: Conan 2d20, some thoughts.

When I read novels (ok I generally listen to them), especially Sword and Sorcery, I tend to think of how the combat scenes would play out using the Conan 2d20 RPG rules.

If the hero strikes and knocks the bad guy's axe away and then comes back for an attack, I try and fit it into the sets of skills a character might have. In that example I might decide as I read that the hero has the riposte skill, and has successfully parried with some level of momentum. This has allowed our Hero to parry the blow, disarm the opponent with a momentum spend and attack right away with riposte.

The Exploit action is described as the following.

The character takes additional time and concentration readying the next attack, seeking to find vulnerabilities in a single target’s defenses. The player nominates a target the character is able to perceive, and attempts an Average (D1) Observation test (modified for Observation tests by distance, lighting, etc.). If this succeeds, the character’s first attack before the end of the next turn gains the Piercing 2 Quality. If desired, the character may spend one Momentum from this test to add one bonus d20 to the attack’s skill test, and +1CD to the attack’s damage. This is Repeatable, but these bonus d20s count towards the normal limit of 3 bonus d20s on any skill test. The benefits of this action are only gained once per round.

First I want to establish that the exploit represents some way you have gained an advantage over your opponents, because of this it is used to represent being ambushed as well. In it's raw form you pause in the fight and look for an opening, find a pattern in the opponents guard and then "EXPLOIT" that weakness.

But what other ways can this be used by a player? There is a scene in "IMARO" where a an outlaw offers a bodyguard the chance to thrown down their arms and join them. The guard rejects the offer with derision and the comment of, "Better to die with honor than to live as an outlaw!", and then spurs his horse forward and attacks with ferocity. The blow is barely blocked.

My brain immediately went to figuring out how that could be accomplished in Conan. Bodyguard uses a minor action to speak and a standard action to attack, and that is just how the dice worked out? A successful parry, but maybe only barely? What if instead we used the exploit action? What if we look at the second part of that description, "GMs may allow characters to use skills other than observation to attempt an Exploit action".

What if the bodyguard rolls *PERSUADE* as the exploit action, is successful, and performs a swift action immediately afterwards? Now our bodyguard has spoken, caused his opponent to lose focus, falter, or similar, but be caught a little by surprise as the attack is launched. Now the attack is potentially more devastating.

Another obvious one that we started using at my table, after the thief type character discovered there was no backstab, was to exploit using stealth. The idea here is pretty straight forward, the character is using their ability to slip into shadows, and then use that momentary lapse in tracking to spring at their opponent from behind and deliver a deadly blow.

In an action scene there are plenty of different skills that can be used, play with them, figure out some cool things to do. What GM is going to say no to an Acrobatics Exploit when you say, "I want to try and tumble low and come up with my sword to catch a weak point in their defense?"

The exploit is a great catch all standard action that can be used for a multitude of different narrative effects. If you are not using it as a player, or as a GM, I encourage you to give it some thought to add even more flair to your combat encounters.


Finally I wanted to leave you with a handy reference card you can print out and give to your players to help them understand the mechanics behind the tool. It will still be up to the players to figure out how to use this to enhance the narrative of the story.

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!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Age of Conan: Issue #1 (2019): Bêlit. "The Lost Verses"

This is the third of three new titles bearing our Cimmerian Hero's name from Marvel! Things are different this time though, even though it has Conan's name on it, it centers around other characters from his world. We start with the first woman to really capture Conan's heart: Bêlit, Queen of the Black Coast. If you are new to Conan, be sure to check out the original story featuring this savage lady, Queen of the Black Coast. So without further pre-amble I give you Marvel's Age of Conan: Bêlit.


First the people who made this issue possible, the writers, artists and letterers.
Cover: Sana Takeda
Writer: Tini Howard
Artist: Kate Niemczyk
Colorist: Jason Keith
Letterer: VCs Travis Lanham
I suspect this issue will be not well liked by many, but I am willing to see where the story goes.

I generally liked the cover, it gives an air of regal sureness to Bêlit that I think fits her character, but I do think it lacks a little of the savage edge I think she should have. Sana Takeda has a fairly distinctive style I would describe as beautiful ethereal and flowery, and this cover is no exception to this.

The story, in this issue, is simple enough, and lays the ground work for Bêlit to start down the road to become Queen of the Black Coast. It is not twisty and as near as I can tell isn't setting up some massive twist. It is direct, but it is setting up to develop Bêlit into the woman she becomes. With all that being said, I don't think it is the story I would have told, but then I am not sure what story I would tell for Bêlit, which I think will be the problem. This will not be the story any of you had for her either, even if you don't know what that is. Her origins were secretive and mysterious. Tini Howard has her work cut out for her here. Telling the story of one of Robert E Howard's more iconic women of the Hyborian Age is not a task I am jealous of.

Art wise, I found the issue to be well enough executed, but come across clean. It is bright and the lines are straight for the most part. This is not universally true, but it was enough that it was the main impression I took away. It would be cool if as the story progressed the art was to change and become more and more harsh as Bêlit moves closer to becoming the Pirate Queen. For now I find Kate Niemczyk's style to be a little off the mark here, which isn't to say I dislike her art, she has done some cool stuff and you should check out her work. I just don't think it is fitting perfectly for the Hyborian Age tale. I have one striking exception to this. The last panel is, in my opinion, excellent in execution and style. The coloring of Jason Keith supports the art style in that it remains pretty bright for the most part.

The last thing we need to talk about is the sword and sorcery elements of this. This isn't as strongly tropy as say the first issue of Conan the Barbarian, where we have, "Conan Fight. Conan Capture. Conan Fight Wizard.". Even without those heavy tropes the story has most the elements we need to see a S&S tale. Although again I prefer my tales to be a little heavier on the conflict side.

Alright so those are my thoughts, lets see how many skulls I think this all breaks down to.

Art:

Story:

Cover:

Sword & Sorcery:


I have landed on 4 out of 5 skulls here, I have a few minor issues with things, but mostly they deal with things not fitting exactly, or not being done how I would do them. None of that make this bad per say. I am also hopeful this book may attract a slightly new demographic to Conan's world that has traditionally stayed away due to the influence both real and imagined of certain less than savory individuals. So go grab your copy of Age of Conan: Bêlit, grab your favorite wine and give it a read. I am sure I will see you all on the Internet to discuss thoughts on this issue in more detail there.

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!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

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