Friday, 8 May 2015

Expo Awards Day 7 - You are the Hero


The last entry for the RPG awards brings with it something new, a coffee table book for game books that almost every person in roleplaying today will recognise (if not own), and that every person who games that I know remembers in one way or another.  

As I write this, to my right sits every one of the books that were published in the time when I was still at school and a fair few from times just after that as well.

This book is called You are the Hero, and it’s a celebration of all things Fighting Fantasy...

But it isn’t an RPG in itself, and that brings the question to the fore, does it have a place in the RPG Awards...?

Before we come to that, there’s the question of the book itself, the production values on it are beyond anything else that we’ve seen since Numenera, the masses of spectacular artwork, maps, concept work and details previously unseen make it a fascinating book to read and certainly something that would be of interest to anyone who’s ever picked up a fighting fantasy book.

It’s the detailed history of how fighting fantasy came to do as well as it did, the directions it went when Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone first got it going, how it progressed over the years, the offshoots that it created, and the adventures of those who wrote and illustrated it as time went by.  There’s not a stone unturned in the detail and as we’ve noted before, the artwork and presentation on the book are absolutely second to none, but that’s due in a large part to the fact that there were more than a decades worth of images, including some of the most iconic in the roleplaying world, to choose from.

It is an excellent book, but the question posed at the beginning of the review was does it have a place in the RPG Awards...?

All four judging teams brought their opinion to the question...

It’s a fantastic walk down memory lane, there’s things in there I’d never suspected and a host of interesting things to read about, but it can’t be played, much though the originals could be, and so it doesn’t have a place in the awards...

Brilliant book, most of us were too young (or not born) when the original fighting fantasy came out, so we don’t have the same fond memories that the old timers do, if it was a sourcebook of material to be used in games and not a history of the people that made those games, it would have a place in the awards, as it is, it doesn’t...

Looking at it from an old timers point of view and taking into account that Fighting Fantasy (particularly in it’s advanced form) is still going strong, the question would be “is there sufficient new material in here to justify calling it a sourcebook for AFF”, and while there’s a lot of material in here, a lot of it is things that have already been put forwards, and the new things don’t constitute enough of a book to enter it as a sourcebook...

If there was an award for shiny, it’d win all day long and twice on Sunday, but it’s not a game by itself and cannot be put forwards for the awards...

With these comments in mind, the judging teams have made a request to the directors of Expo that You are the Hero be given a special mention in the awards for what is obviously a labour of love that many people have shared in over the years, as of this article going to press, there has not been a decision made on the matter, but as soon as we find out, we will let everyone know...

The cult of shaving... One year on...


It was around a year ago that I decided to switch to using Double Edge Razors (take a look at and having had a year to get used to the idea, I thought to have a look back at what I’ve learned from the whole experience.

First thing to pick up on is that I’m never going back to cartridge shaving, not ever, and don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of nicks and chunks over the year, far more than I’ve ever had using cartridge razors, but it hasn’t deterred me at all, if anything it’s improved my outlook on a number of things, and at the same time, I haven’t become a part of the cult of shaving, which is perhaps the most curious thing about the whole year.

There’s a number of forums out there, facebook groups, google plus, everywhere, you name it, it’s there, and if there’s one thing that I’ve found across the board on these groups, it’s that they’re very welcoming.  Most of the groups are very much of the opinion that one more of us (and I count myself as part of that group) is one less of them (the people still using the options of cartridge blades and electric razors), and it’s not hard to get recommendations for what to start with and what are the best creams and razors out there.

The other thing is that there’s been a resurgence in the number of people going back to double edge shaving, whether that’s austerity kicking in, or people just wanting to get back in touch with how things were when it all first started, so there’s a lot of people starting out on this even now.

And that brings me to the cult of shaving...

If there’s one constant through most of the forums, it’s that most people who shave regularly tend to try out a variety of things, different blades, different creams, different razors, and this can become a bit of an obsession for some.  I saw this early on, and I know that my impulse control is on the low level, so I made a point early on of deciding not to deviate from things unless I found that it wasn’t working for me.

With this in mind, the razor I started with was the Merkur 34c, good beginners razor so I was told and indeed it is, managed to slice myself up on the first few times, but I suspect that that was a lot down to the blade I chose to use as well as the technique.  I say this because two days ago I decided to have a shave using the same things I started out on, and curiously enough, in the manner of a Stephen King novel...

Everything went red...

Same razor, Merkur Blades, Taylors Lemon and Lime shaving foarm, Body Shop shaving brush, same result, very close shave and enough blood to make the neighbours wonder what I did for breakfast...

In truth, I either got lucky when I picked the first blades, creams, and brush that I did, or I’m just not possessed of the same sense of adventure as everyone else is, because as of now, this is my complete shaving collection, and most of it has been picked up for me by other people for birthdays and such J

The first item on the list has to be the razor itself, and while I’ve experimented with a cutthroat, I found that the injury spike went through the roof, and given that I tend to shave first thing in the morning rather than last thing at night, some measure of safety required, so I’ve stayed with the Merkur for the moment.  I was gifted a parker a short while back, and I need to retrieve it to give it a test out to see if there’s a big difference, more on that when I manage it.

The second item on the list has to be the shaving foams, I started off with the Taylors Lemon and Lime and found it to be very good at getting a lather going and it was lighter and flowed smoother than most.  The Taylors Wool Fat followed shortly afterwards, doesn’t lather as well but once you’ve got it going, it’s smoother than anything else.  The Blackbeard (Dreadnought in the states) is a very good shave cream, lathers really well and has a nice fresh smell, but it’s not cheap...  And finally the Bodyshop shaving cream, not designed to be lathered, but instead to be spread all over your face and then see what you can do thereafter, Interesting theory and I suspect it might work with most of the worlds shaving methods, but not with double edge, you end up cleaning the blade out every few strokes, and as every man knows, something that only lasts a few strokes isn’t much good at all...

The Brush would be the next step, and brushes come in so many different shapes and sizes, bristle grades, handle types, that it would be impossible to catalogue all of them, so I started with a Bodyshop brush which didn’t do too bad, but I then got a Wilkinson sword brush, which doesn’t lather up as much as soak up the soap, so once you’ve got it saturated, you can keep shaving forever, but it takes a while to get the lather going, and a Blackbeards brush, which lathers up really well, but loses a few hairs every time you use it, so will need replacing at some point...

The shaving mug was the next step, Edwin Jagger all the way for this one, lathers well and keeps the heat in when you’ve left it a bit long between shaves.

And finally, accessories are always fun, the oil for the preshave, the alum block for the red apocalypse that follows (although that is the same block I started with so I’m not doing bad), and the post shave cream (Egon, your mucus...) for the finishing touches

As for the blades themselves, I tried out most of the different blades through the year, found that some really didn’t work for me at all, I still have the remainder of the single pack of Merkur that the razor came with, seem to slice myself every time I use them, and it’s not the blade sharpness that does it, because I’ve also got feather blades which are awesome in all ways (except price of course), but my every day shave is with Wilkinson sword, and the cost of 100 blades for the year...?

A Fiver...

I don’t follow the forums that much because there’s so much shiny out there that could be bought and experimented with, and I don’t want this to become another obsession (got enough thanks), but I’ve found the things that work for me, I’m past the costly part of getting all the things you need to start, and after a year of shaving double edge, the conclusion I’ve reached...?

How did we ever get away from this?

Sure, it takes a little practise to get going with, and you have to put up with a few nicks here and there till you get your technique down, but it’s like everything else in life, you can take the easy run at it, the results won’t be as good and it’ll cost you more in the long run, or you can take a little time with it, the results will be better, and you’ll be happier that you’ve taken the time to do things right.

Me?  Haven’t had razor burn for more than a year, shaving is a pleasure rather than a chore.  If the blade gets dull, I just replace it rather than trying to squeeze the last use out of a cartridge that was well past where it should be but was so expensive that I didn’t want to buy another set.

But we’ll see this time next year if the collection is twice the size or if I’ve managed to hold off on the temptation...

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Expo Awards Day 6 - Hellfrost Rassilon expansion 2

It wouldn’t be the awards without a submission from Triple Ace, and this year is no different.  This time it’s the second expansion for the Hellfrost setting.

 It’s not a massive book, totalling around a hundred and twenty pages, made up primarily of new organisations and new creatures for the players to deal with. There’s a short section for the players detailing new Hindrances, Gear, backgrounds and spells, but it takes up around 10% of the book, with the rest of it being things to help the GM’s out.

Production values are good, well laid out and presented in a fashion that even if you’re not using Savage worlds, you can still get something out of the material as it is.  The organisations are interesting (particular favourites being the Thirteen warriors) and have enough information to make them interesting without going into over explaining.  The Bestiary is the last third of the book and contains everything from Big Dogs to an interesting section on all the different Golems that characters might encounter.

There’s a reasonable amount of artwork in the book and all of it is relevant to the section that it’s in. Beyond the cover, everything is black and white, but it’s good quality artwork and enough to keep the book from being walls of text. 

Given that the book is an expansion, it’s difficult to put a mark on how useful it is for the game, but the quantity and quality of material in here is sufficient that all judges could see that it would be a good source of ideas for any game they ran.

And with that, on to the Judges comments

Any book with Demonic Excrementals and the thirteenth warrior can’t be a bad thing...

It’s a good concise book with plenty to keep both GMs and Players busy but I’d like to have seen more of it...

Liked the mythical north feel to the book, very much has the feel of an undiscovered country to it... 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Are nice notebooks intimidating...?

I've always had a problem with notebooks, and I suspect I'm not alone, because my problem with notebooks is that when you have a really nice one, you find yourself afraid to write in it, because you don't want the notebook to be anything less than perfect all the way through, and leaving corrections or having to remove a page in some way make the notebook less perfect...

Or at least reminds everyone else who might read it that you made a mistake...

And so when I found something that was both a nice notebook and one that I wouldn't be worried about writing in, I was suitably cheerful...

Enter the Zlyc refillable journal.

They come in two sizes, pocket and full sized, and the basic format of them is similar to that of the midori notebooks that came into vogue some time ago.  The shell of the journal is a leather cover with an elastic band placed in the binding.

And then another placed lengthways through that band, into which any type of journal can be inserted

And changed about if you prefer

or swapped out completely...

This appeals to my OCD on a number of levels, not least of which because the notebooks themselves are cheap and cheerful, so I don't mind writing notes and scribbling things in them, because I know that this particular book will never run out, I'll just keep adding things to it.

What of everyone else, favourite books that make you want to write in them...?

Expo Awards Day 5 - River of Heaven

The next game in the awards is River of Heaven, written by John Ossoway and published by D101 Games.

Set in the 28th century, it’s about the ongoing story of humanities struggle to find their place amongst the stars.  The system is not far removed from BRP, with options to generate characters using points based generation as well as random generation, and a wealth of character options, special abilities, enhancements and other goodies to take on the merry jaunt through the stars.

The book is mostly about the rules of the universe, there are separate sections for characters, weapons, enhancements, vehicles and starships, so many that you would not be likely to need to make a rule up for any given situation.  With so much space devoted to the rules of the game, you’d expect that comparatively little would be given over to the background of the world that the characters find themselves in.  However, this game makes sure that you have absolutely everything you need, from NPC stats to vehicle build rules, to the nature of what worlds are out there, where you’ll find them and what you’ll find on them.

While it’s good to have all the information that you need for a universe to hand, beyond a few pages of adventure hooks, there wasn’t any part of it that hinted at a bigger picture, nothing that drew the judges in to want to play in that world.  For the experienced GM’s, the amount of information and background presented made it very easy to build games and make them compelling, but for the beginners, something to get them into the game beyond the few pages of plot hooks would have been very appreciated.

In a recurring theme through most of this years entries, there isn’t much in the way of artwork in the book, layout is excellent and the binding of the books is very good, but most of the pages are taken up in large amounts of text.  Given the way the book is presented, indicating that you can and will find absolutely anything out there, the lack of visual specifics doesn’t hamper the feel of the setting as much as some thought it might.

And with that, to the Judges comments

The writings good, there’s plenty of atmosphere here but it has the feel of a menu driven universe rather than a living breathing construct...

Liked a lot of the ideas presented, there’s the feel of Iain M Banks culture to it and it wouldn’t take much work to make a good campaign...

It’s presented very much like a working universe, rather than something where space ships and ray guns are special things, it feels like you need to work for your place in the game, rather than being something special, and that by itself makes it stand out from other games...

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Expo RPG Awards Day 4 – The Long Con

The next offering for the awards is published by Innsmouth House Press and written by Adam Gauntlett.  It’s a scenario for Trail of Cthulhu that starts out with the players assisting someone with with the setting up of a Long Con. For those not familiar with the work of Grifters and their ilk, a Long Con is any form of confidence trick that is set up not with the aim of getting small amounts of money from many people, but with getting a lot of money from one particularly rich target.

This of course requires that the players are open to a little Grand Larceny...

Which of course we all know that players are usually up for...

So, philosophical quandaries notwithstanding, and without giving away anything of the scenario, what’s to be said about the book?

It’s well written, there’s been a good level of research into the areas details, the characters are three dimensional, and there’s good reasons why everyone is doing what they’re doing, so from a story point of view, it holds together very well.  There’s a number of ways to get the characters more involved in the plot and there’s a lot of thought gone into what might cause problems for the GM and how to get around them.  This makes the scenario very easy to use, especially for GM’s just starting out on the path.

In terms of layout and artwork, the book is in landscape format and comes spiral bound, allowing easy use of the book at the table. This divided the judges, with some liking the ease of use and some preferring a more solid feel to a book.  The layout has a lot of white space in it, with some pages being laid out in full page format but most pages being laid out in two columns.  Artwork is minimal and there is a note in the back of the book indicating that all the artwork in the book (with the exception of the cover) has been sourced through archive images or other free sources.  While the images chosen are appropriate to what is being described at the time, there are a few instances where original artwork would have made a huge difference.   That said, there were a number of very well produced handouts included with the scenario, all of which helped to set the scene for the players.

And with that, on to the judges comments

I liked the scenario, good mix of misdirection and subterfuge from all angles, the front cover does give things away a little though...

Rare to find something in Landscape format, I think it might have been better as an A5 book, felt a little insubstantial even though there was plenty of material inside...

Good scenario, excellent handouts, I’ll be looking for the next one...

Monday, 4 May 2015

Expo Awards Day 3 - Mutant Year Zero

So, the world ended, there’s not much left of anything, food’s running out, there is no brighter tomorrow, it’s down and it’s dropping fast…

Welcome to Mutant: Year Zero

Modiphius’ latest release is a departure from games they’ve done before, it’s not about big damn heroes, crossing the multiverse or punching Cthulhu out, it’s a story of day to day struggle in a world that’s gone bad.  The players take the part of those who are left following the cataclysm that ended the world as they knew it, but they’re not the same as the people who once inhabited that world, they’re changed, they’re different…

They’re Mutants…

The background to the book is covered in less than two pages, and in any other game, this would be a woeful lack of material to work with, but that’s where this game comes into its own. The whole point of this game is to look to the future, not wonder what happened in the past, it’s about finding hope in the dark places, keeping your own people alive, and trying to find some measure of safety in a world gone wrong. 

It jumps straight in with Character Creation,  all the players are mutants, each of them given a single (random) mutation that is theirs to use.  It’s entirely possible that characters will end up being something that their players did not at first envisage, but that works with the way the game is set up, if there were elements of choice in anything the players were doing, it would take away something from the feel the game gives.

System is D6 based, certain numbers yield certain results, either good or bad, and multiple dice colours are used to represent the different influences on the dice roll.  Each game starts with the threat of the week, rolled randomly by the GM and then worked up from there.  If the characters succeed, their successes can affect what happens the week after and these successes can be used to build the world around the characters.

In terms of artwork and Layout, there’s good atmospheric pieces throughout, the front cover clearly sets the scene, as do the maps on the inside cover, there’s no repeated artwork throughout the entire book and most of the scenes depicted convey well the idea that’s being pushed.  Full colour throughout with high production values that justify the £35 price tag.

The system does come with optional dice and cards, but the judges looking at this were using regular dice and the tables within the book rather than the optional extras

And on to the Judges comments

There’s a feel to it unlike anything else I’ve played, I can see that it’s not about the character but about the community, you don’t get attached to goodies and treasure in the same way…

Not sure about the long term playability of it, but it’s been great as an isolated game…

I like that’s it’s always forwards, there’s no pause in the game, no respite, it drives itself and it makes you hang on to try and steer it.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Expo Awards Day 2 - Sleeper – Orphans of the Cold War

The second entry to the awards this year has been a number of years in development and was one of the RPG entries in the Dragons Den at Expo last year.  Sleeper takes place in a world where the various supersoldier programs that were running at the time of the cold war didn’t come to fruition while the war was still on.

But they’re up and about now the war is over…

Good premise and written in lively style, the background paints an engaging picture of soldiers with powers beyond those of mortal men engaging in rolling battles over objectives that not even they know the relevance of.  There is an interesting range of powers available through the book and many of them are anything but mundane in their nature.  An example of this would be (and every group picked it out, which is why it’s appearing in these notes) Entrail Burst, wherein the character gets to try and attack the enemy with their own entrails…Or tie them up, using their own entrails…or…

You get the picture…

With such imagery present, it can’t be said that the game is for children, and there is a mature players advisory in the opening pages that is well earned by a short read through the background material.  With this in mind, the teams moved on to the rules and found something that polarised the opinions of the judges.  The basic rules for skills are roll versus target number with a variety of modifiers, but it was the combat rules where the difference of opinion occurred.  The combat rules are designed to take place on a board, with modifiers for almost every conceivable possibility that could enter into the equation, and rather than flowing quickly as the single skill roll for the main skills does, the modifiers system does slow combat down to the point where plotting distance and tactical play take up a good portion of each combat round.

Those who were very much in with the flowing nature of the basic skill tree and the background found this to be a little jarring when it came to switching out of Roleplaying mode and going into Wargame mode (to put it in perspective, there’s less rules in Warhammer 40k than there are here), whereas those who saw the game as an extension of how these agents would be trained to fight thought that it was an excellent addition and well matched the idea of the game.

On the subject of artwork, the teams were aware that the copy sent to us for the awards was an advance release, and that the finished product may have more artwork in it, but there was a level of disappointment after seeing the excellent front and rear covers to find that most of the artwork in the book was either of the characters, or of a single scene that gets repeated at another point in the book.  Layout is otherwise well done, plenty of content in the near three hundred pages.

And with that, we’re on to the Judges comments

Fantastic premise, plenty of atmosphere, doesn’t flinch from presenting the world as a dark place full of shadows.

Not sure If it’s a tactical game with roleplaying elements or a roleplaying game with tactical elements, It’s possible to do combat without the board, but it doesn’t work as well.

If there’s going to be a miniatures game to support this, I’ll be buying it, but a lot of crunch for an RPG.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Expo Awards Day 1 - The Code of Steam and Steel

The first submission (literally, turned up two days after the submissions opened) for the expo awards this year comes from a long term stalwart of the UK games industry, Simon Burley, with his latest game engine, the Code of Steam and Steel.  It’s to be noted that while this is a complete game engine, it requires a world to work with, there is no world provided with the rules and no notes on how the author envisages the system working.

With that in mind, lets take a look at the system that’s been provided...

Three abilities that can be literally anything at all, these define the abilities and specialities of the character, what they are good at and what they aren’t so good at.  There is a list in the back of the book of examples of skills and ideas that can be put forwards for the character if the players can’t come up things for themselves.  These are generated from the numbers one to six and in turn are used to generate the other three statistics that determine the characters particular levels of resistance.  None of the judging teams had seen anything like it before, there’s points based generation systems and there’s freeform systems, but never something that makes a mix of both. 

System is D6 based, uses target numbers that are clearly defined, but also places a strong emphasis on narrative elements making all the difference when it comes to the game itself.  This was very popular amongst the more experienced playtesting teams, less so in the newbies.

There’s not much artwork in the book, and the artwork present is mostly clip art, it puts across the idea that the universe this was designed for was steampunk, but it doesn’t go beyond making that point.  The front and back covers are the only colour artwork and while they’re excellent images, the lack of specific artwork and images was noted by all the teams.  Layout is well done, there aren’t masses of white paper leaving holes in the product, tables are unobtrusive, and there’s plenty of content on how to run the game, how to make things interesting, how to build interest villains and plots, and how to keep players interested.

What there isn’t, however, is a world to play in...

We touched on this at the beginning of the comments, and while the book makes no apologies for the fact that it is a set of rules with only a single adventure in them to tide the players over with, the lack of a strong game world is felt, particularly so when the rules make playing the game so easy.  It was the considered opinion of all the teams that with a fleshed out world, this would be a product that could easily rival a number of the larger RPG houses, but with the GM needing to transplant their own world or use the setting from another system, it does present the a large gap in the appeal for beginners.

On to the Judges comments:

Less than a tenner for a truly original system that combines well dice and narrative playing, easily on my top ten purchases of the year.

Would be better with a whole world behind it, it’d be nice to know what world the author was thinking of when he wrote this.

I’d have liked more to start the players off with, but there’s enough for a good GM to work with.

Excellent game, easy to reference, fast to generate characters and faster to play, one for my group this year for sure. 

Friday, 1 May 2015

UK Games Expo RPG Awards 2015

And the list is as follows

The Code of Steam and Steel by Simon Burley
Mutant Year Zero by Modiphius Games
You are the Hero by Jonathan Green
The Long Con by Adam Gauntlett
River of Heaven by John Ossoway
Hellfrost Rassilon Expansion 2 by Triple Ace Games
Sleeper: Orphans of the Cold War by Death Spiral Games

As always, we keep the judging on five different criteria

Quality - Not just the amount of shiny art in the book, but how well it's been laid out, is the artwork appropriate to the subject matter, does the book feel like it's going to fall apart...  Does it feel like something that'll still be intact in ten years time...?

Theme/Originality - Is it the latest clone of a clone, or is it something new, something that makes a big difference in the RPG world, is it something everyone's seen before with a new skin...?

Balance - Is the game balanced, are there equal reasons to want to play the different character types, or does everyone want to be a Black Numenorean...?

Playability - As well as the balance, does the game play well, do the rules get in the way of the setting or do they complement it, when someone says it's innovative, do they mean that it's never been done like that or that it's never been done like that for a reason...?

Value - With costs always going up, the question of value is always asked, if you're putting something out for a tenner, it stands to reason that you won't have the production values and quality of something that costs a hundred, but regardless of anything else, is this something that is worth what's being asked for it?

First commentary is starting tomorrow, with one a day till we're through all the entries, as always, the public votes made at Expo on the day make a big difference in who eventually wins...