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I have reviewed loads of stuff in the past. Check out the archives of RPGnet, a few things on UKRPers, and if you have the notion, dig into your Valkyrie back issues. As a reputable and rascally blogger I am blessed in that I get a few things sent my way, in the hope that I say a few words about the thing, and give it a bit of airtime. Nice work if you can get it, and I’m suitably grateful. Or I was. Until I got man flu, a new job that completely redefines the word pressure, and a howling case of the gaming blues brought on by… I dunno. Nonsense.
Reviewing RPG works is graft. They have a tendency to be hundreds of pages long, a bit dry in places (often a great many places), and occasionally technical. If I’m reading through something I dig, then it doesn’t seem like work, it’s more like interesting research for a future game. Hey, I like to take notes, it helps me learn. But if what I’m reading isn’t floating my boat, then it really does start to feel like homework.
And it’s a pretty thankless task sometimes too. You can’t please everyone. It seems to me that most readers want a chapter by chapter (because blow by blow is snigger-worthy) run down of all the salient points, with character gen examples, and an accurate précis of the rules mechanics. Take out the art and you’ve nearly got the original work at that point. I prefer to give my opinion on the thing, but that’s all it is, an opinion, and of no greater value than anyone else’s (just better informed).
I don’t mean to sound gloomy about what is essentially reading and writing about freely provided make believe worlds and stories, but it can be a bit of a chore. However, I can’t not do it if some creator has taken the time to ask me to. So I’m going to present you with a triad of game reviews right now, written honestly, in the moment, in order to clear my mind and my conscience. I’m also going to blend in a few other reviews of stuff I’ve encountered in the last 24 hours, just for salt and pepper. Be warned. I ain’t happy.
When I go running I always take an iPod. For the past six months or so I’ve had Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff on continual play. They’re swell guys. But I have to take a break. Very episode contains enough inspiration and education to fire up a dozen campaigns, but seriously who has the time? And being honest, their 15 minute brainstorms give you all the goodies right there, so why water down the aural awesome with an inevitably turgid six session Gumshoe slog? Flick through Nights Black Agents instead and kid yourself you’re going to run it some day.
I need to get outside and run this schrem off. I slot in three albums, almost at random, and head out for 11.3 miles to see what filtered through the brain murk about some RPGs I’ve been struggling with recently. Avast! mash up!
“Can’t Buy a Thrill” by Steely Dan is all cool early seventies west coast jazz slinkiness, with bonkers lyrics married to serious musicianship. I love the ‘Dan. They transport me to somewhere hipper, sunnier and more intellectual than the places I normally inhabit.
Where I don’t want to be transported to is a Cyberpunk dystopia of mega corporations, violence and shady business dealings. Not even if I get to play one of King Arthur’s Knights. Corporia is the game for those of you who do, on the assumption that you haven’t already done exactly that for shiggles with your copies of Pendragon, Cyberpunk 2020 and Fate. This bad boy was Kickstarted last year, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a reprint of one of those 90s games. It’s as trad as all get out. No, it’s tradder than even that. It’s got skills, and complex initiative and classes. It’s on a level with GURPS. Actually, do you remember that game you could play with your GURPS collection? You take two setting books at random and make a campaign out of them? Brilliant laughs in the pub post con, but it takes a special kind of tenacity to publish it up as a proper glossy book. One that is full of photos. Of people in suits holding mobile phones. With helmets and swords. Unfinishable.
“Tales of Us” by Goldfrapp is an icy delight, if you find delight in the sapphic torch song. And why wouldn’t you? Swoony vocals glide over the James Bond soundtrack that never got made while oddly nascent little bleeps and noises conspire to make you think you’ve somehow been tuned into Interstellar FM.
There’s a game coming to Kickstarter soon called Witch. It would love to be half as effortlessly cool as Goldfrapp (as if anything could). I would too. This game-stub doesn’t really try to be fair, except in providing gubbins. My pre published packet has bits in it, like the bestest cereal boxes do. Stickers. A letter. A poster. Something secret in a little envelope. And a game, presented through the medium of a scenario to be played through. That cocked an eyebrow of interest. But the setting is White Wolf fan fic, and the system is hammered out d20. Anyone up for that? Didn’t think so. Unfinishable, but then, it’s unfinished. I mean, yay small indie venture writer! You go for it, and I genuinely wish you well. Your game is for your friends and your home. The rest of the world has seen it before.
“Spectacular Oracular” by MGMT is proper bonkers for proper nut jobs. How this ever got into the mainstream I really don’t know, but it did. I missed out on all that first time round, only coming to this by rep and recommendation. If you shut your eyes (don’t do this while out running. Actually… it might help) you can imagine you’re eavesdropping on a modern day Cthulhu cult, who don’t know they’re a Cthulhu cult in a nightclub. In between the buzzy synths and the greasy beats there are paeans to “handshakes under our tongues” and chants asking if “you’re ready to change”. It’s the aural equivalent of being in a hot loud room with an over refreshed stranger shouting in your ear about some bizarre text they got from a dude called Orlando. Or something.
All of which is a club load more exciting and intimidatingly full of loom and shudder than the sheer yawning tedium of Achtung Cthulhu! Take a look at the cover, the art’s great. That’s where it ends. It was Kickstarted into orbit and stretch goaled beyond its talent in order to supply the Cthulhu hobbyist with every type of toy, dice and comic they could get their pox riddled hands on. All to the glory of the Great Old Ones clearly, but somewhere along the line they forgot to write a good game. It’s a cut and shut made out of Wikipedia and the Fate SRD. I couldn’t get past the first few chapters as my iPad kept smacking me in the face as I dozed off to the soporific charms of the pdf slowly informing me all about the working conditions of the women in the factoreezzzzzz….. In the forteeezzzz…… Bugger. It happened again. How anyone make a dull book out of such potent source material is beyond me, and beyond all help. Avoid.
Duty done. Sweaty and washed out. Better now.