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ZDL
This one is a weird one folks, so strap in and get ready.

Today's game is The Terran Trade Authority Roleplaying Game (henceforth TTARPG – and yes there's a reason why I'm using such a clunky initialization) released by Canada's Morrigan Press in 2006.  It's a science fiction RPG that …

Let's roll back the history a bit, because this is really unusual.

History


In 1978, Hamlyn Publishing released a book called Spacecraft 2000-2100 AD by Stewart Cowley.  It was a large, hardback art book filled to the brim with science fiction artwork of spaceships, planetscapes, and future cities/bases that were rendered by some of the greatest SF artists of the time: Angus McKie, Gerard Thomas, Chris Foss, Peter Elson, and others represented by J.S. Artists.

More than an art book, however, it was also a detailed future history with little vignettes of space battles, a future history, etc. all paired with pictures showing the subject.  It was a brilliant concept that was well executed, leading to more books in the series authored by Cowley—Great Space Battles (1979, with Charles Herridge), SpaceWreck: Ghostships and Derelicts of Space (1979), Starliners: Commercial Travel in 2200 AD (1980).

All of these books were tied together in a future history involving the name of the Terran Trade Authority (TTA) hence the name of the RPG.

Translations and repackagings aside, that was the end of the TTA.  Other books in a familiar-looking setting were produced, but not explicitly tied to the TTA setting and, frankly, they weren't, for the most part, as nicely produced.

And then everything went silent.

Silent, that is, until 2006.  Morrigan Press, after its release of the 5th Edition of Talislanta, started work on an ambitious project to republish the entire TTA catalogue.  Since the original artworks had long since reverted copyright back to their artists there was no way to republish the books in their entirety, so the plan was to use CGI to recreate the feel of the setting for an RPG.  The first publication in this project was Spacecraft 2100 to 2200 AD which put the setting forward a hundred years with 3D illustration by Adrian Mann and writing by K. Scott Agnew, Jeff Lilly, and Steward Cowley providing consultation.  It was a rushed product full of errors, both typographical and grammatical, that received lukewarm reactions, but they persisted and published TTARPG in late 2006.  (Sadly the Local Space: 2200 AD guide book was never published because Morrigan Press was hit by financial difficulties that ended all of their publishing projects.)


And as for the reaction to the RPG, this review is part of it.


The Basics


I am reviewing the PDF edition of the game, having only ever once seen the physical edition, which is probably good given that it's a 400+ page book (rather like later editions of Talislanta … this is foreshadowing).    It has a full-colour cover illustrated in the 3D CGI style of the 2006 TTA book, designed to look like the '70s-era space art that inspired the original book and, to be fair to it, the unnatural smoothness aside, it does have the right feel.

Internally the book has single-column text in a readable font with a bit of a distracting grey-scale art pattern on the edge.  (Something about it just attracts my eyes away from the text which is kind of a bad idea.)  It has a decent table of contents for quick navigation at the beginning and a *sigh* "index" at the back which is really spartan.

Unfortunately that table of contents highlights in stark relief one of the major flaws of this game.

Information dump


There are 417 pages in this book.  Starting on page 5 and ending on page 93 is a huge information dump about the setting: future history, locations, the titular Terran Trade Agency, etc.  Almost a quarter of the book, right at the front, is devoted to setting information.  Page after endless page there is droning text about wars, places, organizations (but, tellingly, not people!) which really starts dragging.  Unlike the books the game is based on, this future history is not paired with colourful illustrations that attract the eye.  There are some, but nowhere near enough given the sheer volume of information.  The result is intense tedium.  I had to re-read it for this review and it almost dissuaded me from doing it.

And that's only just the start!

Game System


The game rules start on page 94, ostensibly.  They drone on endlessly as well, introducing a simple game system in the most tedious and dull fashion imaginable.  The game is termed the "Omni System" but anybody who's ever followed Talislanta will recognize the system instantly.  Let's see if this rings any bell: 0-centric attributes, d20 rolls, modify for skills and situation, read the results on a table with 0 or less being a mishap, 1-5 being a failure, 6-10 being a partial success, 11-19 a success, and 20 or more a critical success.


Characters are defined by the attributes Intelligence, Will, Strength, Constitution, Perception, Charisma, Dexterity, and Speed rated generally in the -5 to +5 range.  (Ringing any bells, Talislanta fans?)  There are secondary (calculated) attributes called Combat Rating, Ranged Combat Rating, Psi Rating, Piety, Renown, and Hit Points.  (Again, players of Talislanta will recognize many of those either directly or by an echo.)

The game system is simple.  I've already outlined everything important above.  Specifics involve minor procedural lists that can be summarized in a single page and explained in perhaps three.  For sake of more completeness, naturally, in case someone picks up the game who's never played an RPG before, this would have to be expanded, but these rules are 40 pages long for this basic game.  Then there's 15 pages for the psionics system that isn't even used in the setting (!).  Then there's an additional 34 pages of skills and quirks.

(Have you noticed yet what's missing?)


Information dump (reprise)


Then, finally, we hit character generation.  On page 183 you finally get to learn how you actually make a character for this game.  You've been fed almost 200 pages of dry text, barely broken up by small amounts of illustration, none of it of any real interest because you still don't have an avatar for this settingFinally, on page 183, you get to start making a chara…

Oh for…! GOD DAMMIT!

See, to make a character you need to pick one of the races: Alphans, Proximans, and Terrans.  (The latter is human, in case that wasn't obvious.)  30 pages of information are dumped about the Alphans.  Then there is 30 pages devoted to the Proximans.  Finally there is 18 pages devoted to humans.

This game thinks you need 18 pages to explain humans to … well … humans.  This is verging on actual insanity.

There is less than one page of information in those info dumps that actually involve making the damned character!  There's more than that devoted to the Alphan language alone (3 pages)!  You have another nearly 80 pages of info dump to go through just to get the roughly page and a half of actual information you need to make your character.

Rant mode on


And this is in the section actually entitled Character Creation!  This is one of the worst pieces of information design I have ever seen!  The most frustrating part of it is that none of this is bad.  This is good stuff!  This is the kind of thing I like to see in games that have rich, colourful settings.  Games like Talislanta, Jorune, Tekumel, and others in that vein.  But I should not have to go through 264 pages of this before I can even start thinking about what my character's past and personality are like!  Were this game organized sanely it could very well be one of my favourites, but the way it is written and edited I'm just incredibly frustrated every time I look at it.  There is a reason it is a fringe game, and it's not only because of Morrigan Press' financial difficulties!

Deep breath…


OK, that's out of my system.  Again, anybody who's played specifically Talislanta's 5th edition will recognize what comes next.  Species selected, the next step is "paths".  Paths form the complete life history of your character and together build up a character's stats and skills in ways that can make each character unique.  This solves one of the problems I had with earlier editions of Talislanta, in fact, where two characters from the same race were basically the same.  The 5th edition fixed that and this game continues in that vein.

There are paths for regions of birth, family background, careers, and personalities.  Paths result in adjustments to attributes, skill ranks, quirks, starting gear, and other such things.  Some paths have pre-requisites (either in attributes/skills or in previous paths).  An example path makes this clearer:  Asteroid Miners must be Terran or Proximan; get +2 to Strength and +1 to Constitution; get 12 skill ranks to be distributed into preferred skills like Climb, Computers, Demolitions, Profession (miner), etc. (it should be noted that skills can be taken outside of these preferred ones, but they're more expensive); allow quirks to be chosen from ones like Alcohol Tolerance, Good Balance, Windfall, or Zero-G Training;j and give starting gear like a berth aboard a mining station/installation, mining tools, a canteen; and 500 credits of cash.  (The lists given are not exhaustive, only illustrative!)

Interestingly, this is where information design is done well.  Each path takes up about 2/3 of a page.  After the title, each path is given a paragraph to explain what the path entails, then a well-structured list of what the path entails.  This is the kind of information design the entire game needed, but sadly didn't get.

(Wouldn't it have been nice to know these numbers and how they're made before having the game system exhaustively explained to me?  Nothing quite beats having a character sitting there with hard numbers to plug into game systems when learning them…)

Sundries

And then we're back in the info dump.  Starting on page 283 and going on to page 327 we have equipment.  Pages 328 to 375 are spacecraft rules and stats.  If you're expecting another rant about information dumps, look elsewhere.  This is properly designed.

First, this is the right part of the book to put this kind of information.  Characters are made and game systems are explained.  The equipment that's used by characters in game systems should be placed here.  For the first time this game got things in the right order.


Second, as with the paths, this is well-designed.  It's organized by kind, and into small bites of information.  There's no three dense pages of information on irrelevancies like the linguistics of a fictitious alien race.  There's short pieces of information on individual kit (often with illustrations of it!) that's written in a style that's both accessible and digestible.  There is a whole lot of it, but none of it feels like fat that needs trimming (unlike, say, about half of the "game system" chapter) and none of it feels like a tedious, droning essay about stuff that might have added colour if written with colour in mind.

Kudos where they belong.  The equipment section is tight.

Spacecraft


This threatened at first to return to the info dump state, opening with an explanation of the "DeVass Generator" and "Alcubierre Drives" and such, but mercifully that ends after a few short pages and the actual game system begins.

Many SF games have vehicle rules that read like wargames rules, but mercifully this game remembers that it is a role-playing game, not a starship combat simulator and gives fairly simple, punchy (albeit somewhat cinematic) rules for vehicular mayhem.

The rules end off with actual stats for various vehicles, again in a style that is bite-sized and well-organized, often with illustrations which, bonus!, are very clearly taken from the actual TTA books (albeit as 3D CGI versions of them).

It's not quite as tightly written as the paths section or the equipment section, but this part of the book is still something that didn't give me the urge to pull out my eyeballs or fall asleep.  It's pretty OK RPG writing, and the rules themselves are actually pretty nice RPG rules for vehicles.

GM guidance


The remaining 35 or so pages of the book are GMing advice.  Most of it is pretty generic (e.g. "… Take it slowly at first, and don't be too concerned if you or your players make mistakes…"), but some of the advice for interpreting the "Omni Table" results is actually very sound.  (e.g. "… Don't forget the environment …" This is good advice for explaining reasons for unexpected failures or successes that many GMs overlook.)  There's guidance for how to alter the rules to suit the style of campaign you want to run, how to run epic or local scale campaigns, and a decent template for designing adventures that would be helpful for new GMs and easy to use as a baseline for more experienced ones.

But then…

More game systems.  Rules for the environment.  Interstellar hazards.  Gravity.  Diseases and other afflictions.  This is a simple game system whose chapter on it is already bloated (c.f. above) and yet none of this was in it.  Why?  Why is this not in with the main rules and perhaps written in a tighter way so you don't have so many damned pages devoted to small riffs on the same core idea?!  This is beginning to read like D&D3!

Then after this odd interjection of game system rules there's discussion of star systems and their role in campaigns, how to handle "the unknown" (with some very good advice here, along with a nice example!), and a section on creatures and creature encounters.  The rules then end rather abruptly and go straight into the OGL and the (as mentioned before) inadequate index.  A set of advertisements (including for one product never released) rounds out the text.

The Goethe thing

So the three questions:

What was the game trying to accomplish?  That's easy.  It was intending to be a role-playing game for playing out adventures in a popular set of sadly long-since-unpublished books of SF art with an intriguing background.  The people who wrote the game had an obvious love for the setting to the point that they went through a lot of trouble to get the rights for this (the full history of this is a lot more convoluted than what I outlined above) and it's to their credit they got to the point they did.

Did they accomplish this end?  Ugh.  This is a complex one.  I think that the game system they used (a very lightly altered Talislanta 5th edition) is a good system, and the adaptations they made to have it fit a science fiction setting worked well.  In that regard the game is a success.  But the game delivery is terrible.  Which leads us to the third question.

Was this worth accomplishing.

As-is, I'm going to go with "no".  While the raw ingredients for a good game are there, and indeed often so frustratingly close that it makes me want to scream, in the end the poor information design and the poor rules organization leaves me cold.  I really want to like this game.  I love the TTA setting.  I have always liked the Talislanta game system, and the 5th edition expansion of character generation to make characters more distinct is my favourite edition of the game.  (I know this makes me dead to many fans of that game, but I don't care.)  Frustratingly the information content, too, is very good and exactly what I usually look for in games that have evocative settings.

But…

I just can't stomach the way this book is written.  You go almost half the length of the book before you even start making a character.  Information is organized in a way that is backwards and inside-out.  There's obsessive and lengthy attention paid to things that are irrelevancies (like linguistics for a species) all burying the lede of information you need to actually play the game.  Where you get information to play the game it's bloated, it's split up into odd partitions, and it's just generally not a joy to consume.

This book is something you can use as raw material for a better game, but … personally I'll just use FATE or Mythic and the original books instead of this system.

Which is really a damned shame.

ZDL Oct 5 · Comments: 6 · Tags: terran trade authority, science fiction, review, fringe
ZDL

Today's review is going to come from the weird side of game publishing.  The game is Story Engine and it has a fairly convoluted history that led to its demise and current fate.


History


Our story begins in 1996 with a small indie press outfit called Hubris Games.  Hubris published a little game called Maelstrom Storytelling, that had some decent indie success spawning four follow-in products in the process.  They also published a free game called Story Bones with the essence of the ideas behind Maelstrom's game system but the setting excised.  Then in 1999 they published this game, Story Engine (sub-titled "Universal Rules") and followed that up with a revised edition in 2001.


It is this revised edition which is the subject of this review.


Subsequently Hubris Games vanished from the face of the earth.  Promised supplements never showed up, nor did the promised second edition of Maelstrom.  Instead, years later, they showed up where all decent dead games go for continued unlife: Precis Intermedia Games (formerly Politically Incorrect Games, a.k.a. PIG).  This is where the game languishes now, along with the other Hubris offerings.  As is their wont, PIG not only republished the materials they purchased in PDF and POD form, but also published some updates.  There is a Story Engine Plus game available from them, for example, which is a cleanup and development of Story Engine, but that is not the subject of this review, largely because they don't accept payment in RMB over WeChat or AliPay…


The Basics


The book is a 136-page perfect-bound, digest-sized book.  It has a glossy cover with faux-stone texturing and a golden ring gear, lightly broken, rendered on the cover.    The text is minimal on the front and supplies a bit of an overview (and one review blurb) on the back.  The paper is matte, cream-coloured, and printed in black ink with a slightly-smallish font that remains readable unless, like me, you have vision problems.  (I need my progressives to read it.)  The outside strip of each page has a decorative fringe, but the top and bottom are barren.  This gives the book a bit of an odd look.  Interior art is sparse, but where present ranges from mediocre to actually pretty good.


The one-page table of contents is good and helpful, but also reveals one of the weaknesses of this game.  From it you'll notice, for example, that actual rules are 10 pages for Story Bones (they reproduce the free, downloadable game in the published material), then 50 pages for Story Engine itself.  With three pages of introduction that leaves you a whole lot of material that is not, well, the game.  This includes two illustrative "plug-ins" (we'll be talking more about this later) which can arguably be viewed as part of the rules, adding 30 further pages, and then a whole bunch of filler: 15 pages of fiction, and 30 or so pages covering two adventures.  It rounds out with two pages for a character sheet.  Notably absent: an index.  And it needs one, really, especially given the odd terminology the game presents.  (More on that later as well.)


Personally I think only the 50 pages of actual rules hold value for publication.  Story Bones should have remained a downloadable resource, and the two plug-ins should have been there as well.  (They can't be used meaningfully without the rules so it doesn't matter.)  The fiction should have been tossed, and the adventures as well, except again as perhaps downloadable resources.  In this 136-page book, really only 50 pages are of any direct use.  It's pretty clear that Hubris Games packed everything they could shove inside it just to make the book look more impressive on the book rack in shops.


Story Bones


Story Engine is built up on Story Bones, so we'll quickly go over how the latter works.  Characters are first conceived, briefly described (race, gender, age, etc.) then built up from "Descriptors": four adjectives or adjective phrases that defines the character's most salient points.  Three Descriptors are more in the positive direction: "clever", "strong as an ox", "cute like picture", etc.  The fourth Descriptor is a flaw like "short-sighted" or "dumb like stick" and is referred to as a Quirk.  Once descriptors are selected, three Traits are chosen: skills or knacks that help define the capabilities of a character.  Great balance.  Swordswoman.  Tactics.  If appropriate to the game setting, you might come up with Special Powers as well.


The game clearly borrows some concepts from earlier adjective-focused games like Theatrix or Over the Edge.  (This is not guesswork.  They say it in the introduction.)  Thus far, then, there's really nothing special.  Until you get to the rules for scenes.


This game explicitly tries to remove itself from the wargame mode of RPGs and one of the big ways it does this is by eschewing combat rounds, turns, etc. and instead resolving everything mechanically at the level of entire scenes.  There are two kinds of scenes: Open and Rolled.  Open scenes are just the talky ones that have no game mechanical component.  Rolled scenes, as the name would imply, are resolved with die rolls.  Provided advice recommends that most scenes be Open scenes.


Rolled scenes use the die mechanic of the game which is pool-based, but very simple.  Every player has a number of dice to roll.  What kind of dice?  Any kind with an even number of sides!  d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d14, d16, d18, d20 ... whatever floats your boat.  This is because when you roll them you only count up the number of dice that came up odd.


The die pool starts with the base die that everybody gets in every scene.  You add to this one die for each Descriptor (skipping your Quirk).  This is the number of dice you roll in the scene.  You can have characters working together (and thus combining their pools), and you can augment the pool by "burning" a Descriptor (including your Quirk).  Anytime an action is declared in a Rolled scene, the GM ("narrator") sets a target number/opposing total, Descriptors may get burned for extra dice, and the pool is finally rolled.  If the number of odd dice is greater than or equal to the target number, the action succeeds, otherwise it fails.  (In an opposed roll, ties are re-rolled.)  The difference between the roll and the target number/opposing roll guides how well the action succeeded or how spectacularly it failed.  (This also covers injury in combat.)


Once per game session Descriptors (including Quirks) can be "burned".  Burned descriptors need a justification line ("I am so QUICK that I can slip past his defences.") and if the GM agrees, one additional die is added to the roll.  This Descriptor can no longer be used, however, for future burning.  (It still contributes to the die pool.)  This means Descriptors are a managed resource, rather like Fate Points in FATE or such.


Any Traits that apply to an action—again with GM approval—replace one die (before rolling) with an "Auto Odd".  So if the die pool is 4 dice, and two Traits apply, two dice are treated as if they rolled odd and only two dice are subsequently rolled for chances to add more.


When characters get advantages in scenes (cover, ambushing, ground, etc. in a combat scene, for example) they get dice added to their pool.  If they get disadvantages (slippery ground, sky-lighting, etc.) the opposing roll gets an extra die or the target number gets increased.  Special items can also have Descriptors which add to the die pool of their users and can even be burned.


Players are awarded Story Points as they play which can be used to buy new Descriptors, Traits, and Special Powers.  They can be used in play as well to replenish up to four burnt Descriptors.


And that's Story Bones and that's as deep as we're getting into it because it's not the main point of the review...


Story Engine


This is the meat of the review, although the Story Bones summary sets the ground for much of it.  Story Engine is recognizably the same basis as Story Bones but is more detailed and expanded.  It unfortunately changes some terminology around for reasons that feel gratuitous to me.  Also, where Story Bones allows the use of any (even-numbered) dice, this one strongly recommends the use of d6s because of some mechanical aspects.  (This isn't a problem, naturally, given that d6s are cheap like borscht, it's just weird that Story Bones goes out of its way to say you can use any dice only to tell us, a few pages later, that d6s are the right dice.  Why not just say d6 to begin with?)


Character creation


There are two ways to create a character: basic and point based.  Point based is basically using the experience system (via Story Points, as per Story Bones) to buy up Descriptors, Trait Affinities, and Prime Affinities (to use the new jargon).  Basic is more freeform and can be completely free or it can be based on limits like:


- 3 Descriptors

- 1 Quirk

- 3 levels of Trait Affinities

- 1 Prime Affinity

- 1 Story Point


(That is the recommended list for basic characters.)


As with Story Bones, Descriptors are adjectives or adjective phrases that describes a notable facet of the character.  A suggested way of coming up with Descriptors is to write a paragraph that describes the character and pick out the words and phrases that make for good Descriptors.  Also as with Story Bones there are Quirks that operate in much the same manner.


Unlike with Story Bones, Descriptors are assigned to one of four Aspects.  These Aspects are Mind, Matter, Spirit, and Chaos.  They describe four kinds of scenes and only Descriptors in the Aspect governing a scene can be applied in that scene.  This makes characters more differentiated than they typically are in Story Bones where basically each character, at least at the start, has the same number of dice to throw in resolving each scene.


Mind scenes are about anything mundane that doesn't fall into physical scenes: perception, social interaction, etc.  Matter scenes are mundane scenes involving physical actions: fighting, performing difficult manoeuvres, racing, etc.  Spirit scenes involve the power of belief, inner strength, and other less-defined "spiritual" matters.  Chaos scenes are scenes where luck and stochastic outcomes are the norm.


As with Story Bones too Descriptors can be "burned" once per session to add an extra die to the die pool if there is some way to justify that Descriptor's invocation.  They can also be used to invoke a Quick Take in the scene.  A Quick Take is a sub-scene whose outcome will have some kind of impact on the main scene.  For example if the main scene goal is "fight our way out of the keep", a Quick Take could be used to have one or more characters open the portcullis, something that will definitely have a major impact on the main scene.


(Oh.  The term for the target number in a scene's resolution is now called a "Hard Rate".  I'm ... not a fan of the new terminology.)


Trait Affinities


What was called "Traits" in Story Bones is now called a Trait Affinity.  Trait Affinities come in three levels: Weak Trait, Mild Trait, and Strong Trait granting 1, 2, and 3 Auto Odds to the scene's resolution dice with an upper limit of 3 Auto Odds per character in any given scene, no matter what the value of the traits.  When using Trait Affinities you still roll your dice for them (ideally at the same time but with different coloured dice).  This is because of a rule for "Rolling Ones" that give you more advantages, so even Auto Odds dice need rolling.


Prime Affinities


Prime Affinities are things that the character is very strongly attuned to or may have a very strong aptitude for.  In the basic rules there are two types: Cultural Affinities and Gifts.  


All characters start with a Cultural Affinity for their own culture which gives you the basic abilities common to that culture.  Thus Mongols would have horse riding, for example, while New Yorkers would have eating crappy pizza and somehow persuading themselves it's ambrosia.  The scope and focus of a Cultural Affinity is governed by the scope and focus of the game.  Additional Cultural Affinities can be purchased/selected.  The "Base Die" of Story Bones stems from the Cultural Affinity and someone operating outside of their cultural milieu will lose that base die in scene resolution to reflect the "fish out of water" aspect.


Gift Affinities are special abilities and are highly setting-specific.  GMs (sorry, "Narrators") need to work out Gift Affinities with their players to find something that fits.  A bunch of samples are provided both in the main rules and in the two "Plug-Ins" at the back.


Scenes


There is a short procedure for running scenes provided as a reference just before the rules proper begin.  It flows like this:


1. Frame the scene.

2. Resolve any Quick Takes.

3. Assign an Aspect.

4. Assign Extra Dice.

5. Add up the Die Pools.

6. Roll the Dice.

7. Determine the Success Range.


This summary is not used for Open scenes which, as in Story Bones, do not get rolled and are based almost purely on interaction.  (Occasional quick rolls called Short Tests are used in Open scenes at times for determining simple actions while the scene progresses.)  In Rolled scenes, however, of which there are two flavours, Straight Rolls and Bid Scenes, the checklist is followed.  Straight Rolls are against a target number called the Hard Rate (*sigh*) while Bid Scenes are against an opposing Die Pool.


This is all pretty much the same as Story Bones with the proviso that d6s should be used because of the Rolling Ones rule.  In this system, any 1 result on a die is not only an Odd, it also adds one more die to the die pool.  And if that extra die rolls a 1, that adds another die and so on.  People familiar with games like Rolemaster will recognize this kind of mechanism and its intent.


Framing


Scenes need to be "framed", answering questions like scope, duration, objective, relationship to other scenes, etc.  Cinematic techniques like cutting, cross-cutting, downtime montages, etc. can all be used as part of the framing.  Good framing is key to good gaming in this RPG and it will likely take some practice to get used to it because it doesn't have as much assistance in setting it up as later games like Spark or FATE provide.


That being said.


This is, to my knowledge, the absolute first game (well, OK, Maelstrom was, a closely related game) to define and resolve literally everything in terms of scenes and other cinematic/literary concepts instead of the wargame-influenced concepts so oversights like this are understandable.  This is the kind of game, however, that needs someone comfortable with both cinematic/literary thinking and improvisation to introduce other players to and I suspect that is part of what led to this game's unlife.


Success and failure


Scenes are resolved as a whole with a single die roll (perhaps augmented by sub-scenes in the form of Quick Takes).  This is now a kind of resolution that will make the more wargames-influenced players stare in stark disbelief while people who play games like freeform MUSHes will nod and say "yeah, that makes sense!".


The dice will give you a Success Rate: Complete Success, Basic Success, Partial Success, Partial Failure, Basic Failure, and Complete Failure.  Since this is not a round-by-round, attack-by-attack sort of game, once you have the results, you narrate how they play out.  The most common question the GM will be asking players after each such roll is "what do you think happened?" with the GM then providing guidance to ensure that the outcome matches the Success Rate.


Thankfully the book provides eight wildly different scene examples to assist in figuring out how to do this.  There's not a lot of system support for this new-to-most-players style of gaming, but you can't fault the examples!


The rest


The rest of the rules are small snippets of advice on handling things like modifiers, exchanging injuries for dropped Descriptors and gained Quirks, Story Points (read: experience), props, equipment, settings, etc.  The rules come in a strange order that baffled me at first reading, but thankfully occupy only about eight pages so it was easy to figure out on a re-read without being a burden.  Several sample characters are provided to show how to use the system.


This is then followed by 15 pages of good, sound, solid advice on how to run the game, including using it with other game systems, using it diceless, and using it for LARP.  The advice is good and was groundbreaking for its time, but since then drama-oriented games like FATE and Spark have stepped up the game and this feels a bit anaemic now.


Two "plug-ins" are provided after all this to show how to modify the core rules to suit a specific setting.  One of them is "Six Guns & Whiskey", a wild west setting, while the other is the official update to the Maelstrom rules.  The first of these is a good example, showing how to integrate setting-specific Trait Affinities and Gift Affinities in a Wild West setting.  I think, however, it is a waste of pages in the book given that it would be better as a download (it would be useless without the core rules anyway) and that perhaps it might be better to have a LOT of setting plug-ins to download.  (This plug-in is only 8 pages long, and most plug-ins will be in that order of complexity.  Indeed just having a place for people to SHARE plug-ins would have been nice!)


The Maelstrom plug-in, however, was a bad idea in my books.  It's over 20 pages long and it's absolutely useless to anybody who doesn't have the Maelstrom game.  It doesn't show prospective players how to use the system.  It is filled with setting-specific gibberish that only makes sense if you've read the main Maelstrom book.  It reads like a 20-page advertisement for another game, not like something that is useful.


Here's a better thought: Hubris should have just published a second edition of Maelstrom (as promised!) with the updated rules instead of this cheap gimmick.


The book is then rounded out by mediocre fiction (like every game of the era seems to have demanded!) and two adventures.  The first adventure is more Maelstrom advertising (though at least this one they set up so it could be easily used anywhere else as well) while the second shows how to use the game to do a traditional dungeon crawl.  That second one may have some utility as an example if nothing else, but the first is, again, to me at any rate, a waste of space.


Paging Goethe!  Call for you on the courtesy telephone...


What was Story Engine trying to accomplish?  The designer, Christian Aldridge, says he was aiming for divesting RPGs of their wargaming roots with a set of universal rules that used the language and feel of dramatic writing to make a game.  And in this he was … call it mostly successful.  Filtering for the fact that he was breaking VERY new ground here, I think he did fairly well.


But…


In hindsight, more support was needed in the system itself (like Spark does) for getting that feel, rather than relying on GM talent and expertise almost entirely.  Examples are there, as are good explanations of how to accomplish the game's goals, but … shouldn't it be the GAME that accomplishes the game's goals?  I cut Mr. Aldridge some slack here, being on the bleeding edge and all that, but it is a negative point weighing down the game.


But even if he had fully succeeded in his goal, was he right to?  To this, given my previous gushing over games like FATE and Spark you can already guess that my answer is a fully unqualified, resounding HELL YES!!!  I am not a wargamer.  I like card games and certain kinds of board games, but wargames (with some exceptions here and there like Battle for Julu B.C. 207) tend to bore me to tears.  When I say that a game is very wargamey, that is not a compliment.  That is an indictment.  Anything that allows gamers to experience life outside of that very narrow wargaming worldview that dominates RPGs to this day is a worthy goal, even if it's imperfect like this attempt.

ZDL Sep 18 · Comments: 2 · Tags: review, fringe, story engine, drama-focused, anti-wargame
ZDL

We're reaching deep into the wayback machine for this review.  Today's fringe gem is another game from the (in)famous game publisher Fantasy Games Unlimited (FGU).  As I said in an earlier review of Psi World, FGU was a game company willing to champion and publish any game concept imaginable (with predictable mixed results in quality and sanity).  One of the games I mentioned in my capsule history of them is a very rare beast called Starships & Spacemen (S&S).


History


S&S is a very early RPG publication ... and it shows.  Designed by—and I am quoting this directly from the title page—"Captain Leonard H. Kanterman, M.D., U.S. Army Medical Corps" and published in 1978(!), this is not the first science fiction RPG ever published, but its publication comes very shortly after Metamorphosis Alpha and is contemporary with Gamma World's first edition.


It is, in short, a very early example of gaming arcana.


Because of its publishing provenance, this game is almost unique among early space opera-focused games in having not been influenced much by Star Wars.  Sure, yes, Star Wars came out in 1977, but playtest copies of the game were already deep in the works, according to notes from Scott Bizar in the foreword, as far back as 1976.  So unlike FGU's own Space Opera game, or GDW's Traveller, the primary feel of the game is not Star Wars with the serial numbers filed off.  No, it is instead Star Trek with the serial numbers filed off.


This leads to unexpected subtlety in a game of that era with a few concepts I'm pretty sure are firsts for RPGs.


Note:


This game has seen a republication of sorts in the form of a second edition published in 2013 by Goblinoid Games.  This "republication" is essentially a rewrite of the game making it compatible with that company's Labyrinth Lords rule set is is not the version being reviewed here.  I have no opinions on the second edition except to say I'm not really interested in it and thus cannot share any impressions of it.  This review is specifically of the FGU 1st edition only.


Starships & Spacemen


S&S came in a single, 88-page staple-bound book typical of the era.  (Indeed players of Space Opera will recognized the cover style instantly: all-black but for a single illustration on the front cover done in black and white).  The art in the book (badly-rendered little diagrams and maps aside), from the cover on, is done by Rick Bryant and is of surprisingly high quality for that era of game publishing.  Given his later works in comics and commercial illustration, however, it's clear that the good doctor lucked in with his collaborative partner.  There isn't a lot of Bryant's work in the book, but what work is there is very well executed and a rare treat.


The layout is typewriter chic.  It looks exactly like you'd expect someone copying typewritten pages (right down to cursive script occasionally used that is identical in all respects to a typewriter my mother had when I was young!) and reproducing them in book form would look.  It's all uniform except for section headers which very clearly look like they were pasted in place (right down to the little tell-tale alignment errors of that approach).


It's not pretty, to put that in other words, though it is mostly functional and usable (which, in the end, for actual play, is more important than looking pretty).


The Setting


Unusually for the time, S&S came with a setting, one very obviously inspired by Star Trek and, obviously, given the publication date, specifically the original series.  It has had the names changed and the serial numbers filed off for ™/© reasons, but remains recognizably an attempt to reproduce the Star Trek universe for role-playing purposes.


Under the heading of "Science Fiction Rationale" (?) the history of the setting is explored.  In a terse, but surprisingly readable and informative, style it starts off by mentioning humanity's (alternately "Earthmen" and "Terrans") initial tumultuous, not-at-all-peaceable journey out into space until they met the ruling space-faring race, the Klingon stand-ins called "Zangids", a society hell-bent on galactic domination.  The Zangids, described as … Oh dear, the politics of the time are certainly showing here! … "humanoids resembling Terran Orientals", got into a war with the Terrans almost immediately and the Terrans were on the brink of disastrous loss when they organized alliances with other Zangid foes to fight back.  Thus entered the Taurans (Vulcan stand-ins), Andromedans (three-sexed, incestuous anti-Vulcans, almost, with better psionic powers), and the Rigel (stand-ins for the genetically engineered types like Khan).  The Rigel …


Oh dear! … This is very much a game that is the product of its time.  I will NOT be going into details of the Rigel's background except to mention that it hints at slavery (including sexual), and mass rape.  ON THE GOOD GUYS' SIDE!  This is a kind of background that if published today would get the publishers pounded and the writers dog-piled to death on social media.  It was a bit of a blotch on the game when I first encountered it so many years ago and I basically spent most of my time playing it looking at everything except this page of the background, finding it even then a bit stomach-churning.


It has not improved with age.  Especially with the stand-ins for Iran (the Videni, playing the role, kinda/sorta, of the Romulans) and their holy crusade to conquer the galaxy for their religion, led by "Mahdis"…


If this is as far as you get before losing interest in the game, I understand completely.  It shook me too and is probably one of the reasons why I later got into Space Opera so heavily instead of continuing with this game.  (Another reason is that Space Opera is just lunatic fun!)  But that is a shame, really, because the … dubious … political backdrop aside, the game is actually quite good and a bit ahead of its time.  So if you're still with me, having broken past the three pages of background, let's look at the system.


Characters


The game uses primarily d6 and d20, though "other polyhedra dice can be useful".  Characters are—stop me if this sounds familiar—generated by rolling 3d6 for each of Marksmanship, Intelligence, Technical Skill, Contact Skill, Charisma, and Strength.  These may be rolled in order, rolled one by one and assigned after each roll, or rolled six times and assigned afterward en masse.


OK, so maybe not that familiar.


This is obviously an attempt to make systems that are suited to the setting instead of thinly papering over Dungeons & Dragons which most games of the time were doing.  The DNA is obvious, but the mutation is equally so.


Two stats—Psionic Potential, and Loyalty—are handled differently.  Each of these has a base value by race and sex (oh dear!…) and then have 1d6 added.


The abilities have … unusual naming conventions in many case.  "Marksmanship" really means "Dexterity/Agility" in almost every other game for example.  "Technical Skill" is what it says on the tin while "Contact Skill" deals with communications and, of all things, fire control.  "Loyalty" is the standout for weirdness.  It's a mutant blend of willpower and willingness to follow orders.


Part of the issue is that this being the early days of gaming, the distinction between "characteristics" and "skills" was … very loose.  This has a bit of an impact on game flexibility, and usually I would chafe against this, but in this game, with its Star Trek-like setting, it actually fits.  The selection of stats pairs with careers and thus, in effect, bridge positions on a ship.  Like the show it is based on, or the "old school" RPG ethos, the game system's "physics", so to speak, supports a very specific style of play.


Once stats/skills are generated, a race is chosen.  Races have bonuses and penalties on stats (differentiated by sex … oh dear!) as well as special abilities by virtue of inbred ability, preferred branches of service, avoided branches of services, as well as limits as to number on board a ship.


After this a major branch (military, scientific, or technical) of the Space Fleet must be selected and, optionally, a subclass under this branch (for military, e.g., Command, Security, and Fire Control) may be selected.  Each branch has a "prime requisite" stat which must be 9 or greater to have the character enter.  Each subclass has an additional "secondary requisite" which must be 12 or greater.


One of the innovative mechanisms of this game—a mechanism that's seen fitful use in RPGs published since—is that characters get experience for differing actions based on their "branch" and "subclass".  For example military branch characters get experience for defeating enemies in combat, while the Alien Life subclass of the scientific branch explicitly gets NO experience for combat.  This is a notion seen in games like Chivalry & Sorcery, Rolemaster, and a few others, but it is somewhat of a rarity in RPGs even today, not to mention in games of this era.  Sadly this innovative feature is somewhat marred by a distinctly D&D-ish vibe of experience ranking (paired, ludicrously, with military ranks like the old D&D level titles, but taken literally) each level of which involves increases in stats, in available equipment (equipment is a bizarre blend of allocated by Space Fleet but also personal possessions) and the starship commanded by someone in the command subclass.  That part is a bit of a mess that doesn't quite emulate the source material.  Further there are level limits by branch/subclass which also feel out of place, though at least these have some in-game rationale.  (A communications specialist as Admiral of the Navy?...)


Every ship, according to these rules, should have at least one PC from each branch, and, as a further constraint, MUST have one command and alien life subclass member each.


Characters may be named anything, but suggestions include being named by various conventions by race and this can get a bit silly.  Taurans, for example, recall these being the Vulcan stand-ins, have two-syllable names with the second syllable ending in 'k'.  Example names given: Red'nek and Bottle'nek.  Picture me rolling my eyes here.  Then comes a really bizarre bit out of left field: they may be given any Yiddish name as well—Shlock, Shlemiel, Schmendreck, Bubele, etc.—because, and I am absolutely not making this next phrase up!, "they are the descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes".


What. The. Flying. …?


We basically just ignored that section….


Spaceships


There are four classes of ship available to command subclass characters to command: Destroyer, Cruiser, Battle Cruiser, and Dreadnought.  Other ship types are essentially "NPC" ships.  If you've ever watched a single episode of any Star Trek show you already know how ships work, though the warp drives are now "hyper drives" and the impulse engines are now "nuclear drives" and other such hasty filing down of Star Trek treknobabble replaced with its own version here.


Interstellar movement is done by hex-crawling on a GM (sorry SM) made galactic map where each hex is one light year and movement goes by one hex per day per "warp factor".  The speed of travel has energy costs which must be paid, and energy management is a major portion of the operation of starships.


Combat is performed using "lasers" and "ion torpedoes", and defensive screens.  Transport to and from destinations from the ship is performed with "teleporters" and shuttles.  Other familiar-sounding equipment ships have include tractor and pressor beams, sick bays, talking ships computers, a "power pile" … OK, if you've watched any episodes of Star Trek you already know what space ships are like.  (You will also have no difficulties figuring out personal equipment for similar reasons.)


One interesting detail of ship operations is the focus on energy management.  EVERYTHING uses energy and if the ship runs out of energy it is dead until it can generate more.  This is a feature in a role-playing game that was published a full year before Star Fleet Battles turned gamers everywhere into accountants who would occasionally move a chit on a hex grid before grinding numbers again….  (Unlike SFB, however, <bigotry>Starships & Spacemen is actually a fun game</bigotry>.)


The huge difference between the wargame and this role-playing game becomes clear when you compare space combat.  Space exploration in S&S involves detailed power allocations, hex map movement (with optional 3-D component if desired), and all the other kinds of stuff you'd expect to find in a game of SFB, but actual combat is done abstractly without a hex grid.  Indeed the only thing kept track of aside from ship systems status in the space combat system is …distance.  Not even facing is dealt with.  To-hits are rolled on d20 by range (modified by the presence of a fire control officer, with one rule's glitch concerning whether or not the bonus for such is +2 or +3).  "Lasers" are 1d6 time 5 in damage and heavier weapons (the "ion torpedoes" of the Space Fleet or equivalent weapons on the other sides) are 1d6 times 10.  Damage is mitigated by "screens" and any left over leaks into the ship itself.  Damage is taken in the form of energy, so if players have wasted a lot of energy, their ship is close to destruction should they be forced to fight.  Rules for disengagement and fleeing are supplied to avoid that messy end.


Game play


I think S&S is the first example of a so-called "hex crawl" game.  (It is certainly the earliest example I know of personally.)  The given structure of play starts with a mostly-blank map from the player perspective.  The SM has a master map with all hazards, etc. mapped on it, but the players are given a map with their starting place, their destination(s) marked, and perhaps some pre-known hazards marked.  They must then move at "interstellar travel" scale, mapping out movement, allocating energy, and exploring space.  Courses are plotted in advance on a daily basis and then executed one hex at a time.  Hazards may be avoided (if of the variety that give warning) or may just be fallen into headlong.  If all of this is survived, however, the players enter a mode of travelling within a star system at their destination.


The hazards continually mentioned are typically taken almost verbatim from Star Trek: intelligent clouds, space amoebas, time warps, etc. along with a few interesting hazards unique to this game (my favourite being "space mirrors").


Travelling within a star system is done on an hourly turn basis and is much simpler than interstellar travel.  It is here where energy is regenerated and in-system movement is dealt with.  There are 20 such turns each game day.  At some point the players will undoubtedly reach the stage of planetary exploration (or equivalent).


Planetary exploration works in turns of one hour, periods of five or 10 minutes, or combat rounds of 1 minute.  All in all a very old school game design, with the varying scales of movement and turn lengths very reminiscent of the later Starfire III: Empires.  The planetary exploration scale mostly involves travel between planets and orbiting them, as well as, naturally, spaceship combat.  Simple rules for environments, time travel, diseases, and other such Star Trek tropes are provided, but as with most games of this era the heavy lifting is done by the SM.  Fortunately the rules as a whole are sufficiently simple that this is not much of a burden.  Supplementing these simple rules are extensive tools for encounters, both random and planned.


Combat


As mentioned before combat is performed in one-minute rounds.  Each character is permitted one action per round (though some alien tech will permit this to change).  Actions are deemed simultaneous unless there is an element of surprise involved in which case the surprising side gets one free action with no response.  Movement to close range is a free action.


Ranged attacks are performed with a d20 roll under the character's Marksmanship, modified for range, encumbrance, etc.  On a hit damage is scored (or special weapon effects are resolved).  It is a very simple, very fast-moving system, in short, without the page after page after page of modifiers, tactical options, and movement rules of other games both of the era and later.  Close combat is performed by comparing a close combat score based on strength and a d6 roll, the compared results dictating which character takes what effect.  That same strength score is the maximum number of hits of damage a character can take before dying.


It is that stark, yes.  Take a number of hits equal to your strength over the course of a combat and you're dead.  This is very old school in design.


And the rest


S&S does not offer a lot of SM guidance.  Four pages.  Two of which are actual guidance, one of which is experience awards, and one of which is lists of influences.  This is not a game for beginning GMs (to put it mildly).  This is followed by four pages of sample adventures, which are really more adventure seeds requiring the SM to do groundwork to get ready to play.  (This is my favoured approach so I don't view this as a negative.)  Extra reference cards provide the character sheet, a character generation summary, as well as stats for personal equipment and starships.


Let's talk Goethe


Using Goethe's structure for criticism, I need to answer three questions in order:


1. What was the game designer trying to accomplish?

2. Did the game designer accomplish this end?

3. Was this an end worth accomplishing?


For the first question, the answer is simple: the game designer was trying to make a game that would let him do role-playing adventures in the style of his favourite television program: *Star Trek*.  Every page oozes this goal and it would be hard to claim that any other goal was important to him.


For the second question, the answer is more complicated.  Some elements of the game—even the "retro" "quaint" ones like the confusion between stats and skills—are actually quite suited to the intended goal.  The "physics" of the game mechanisms actually supports the teamwork and diversity of speciality that you see in actual Star Trek episodes.  In this regard the good doctor has done a good job.

That being said…

This game is very much a very old school design with many of the flaws of that format.  A stand-out for this is the experience system.  While it does feature the then-unique notion of getting experience for doing what your type of character should actually be doing, it falls into the levelling up trap.  It has been many years since Star Trek was on television, but I'm pretty sure that in its run we didn't see the crew of the Enterprise start off in a destroyer and then beat up space guys/monsters/anomalies to earn a cruiser and then a battle cruiser...  Other such flaws also exist, so the answer to the second question is "yes ... mostly".

Which leaves question #3.

This is a tough one.  I'm a fan of Star Trek and of this game (some ugly things implied in the setting aside).  I think for its time it was a bold effort to break free from RPGs' wargaming roots.  The fact that starship combat is explicitly called out as an afterthought and that combat is quick and lethal (and thus something to be largely avoided) is a good thing.  (Look at the source material again: when phasers were fired on anything but stun, people mostly just vanished.  No survivors.)

But…

I think it came too early.  Nobody in 1978 was screaming for a game that we would nowadays call "dramatist" (using the deeply flawed "threefold model").  There's a reason why you probably never heard of this game or, if you'd heard of it, likely have never seen a copy of it.  Even with its throwbacks to D&Disms it was still too radical a shift in thought for most people and I think that this made any chance of popularity suffer.

Specifically I think it was about ten years too early.

So it was a worthy goal attempted too soon and suffered for it in many ways ranging from execution to popularity.

It still generated quite a few hours of enjoyment, however, for certain people (myself included) so obviously I think it was worth it….

ZDL Sep 14 · Comments: 2 · Tags: fgu, fringe, old school, review, starships & spacemen
ZDL
Mythic is, to quote the game's introduction, "a universal, improvisational role-playing game".  Designed by Tana Pigeon, a name you've likely never heard of (though you should have, because she makes some nifty stuff!), it is far more than what that unassuming little description says.  This review is all about teasing out exactly what Mythic actually is.

... more
ZDL

Today's review is gong to be from the person I consider the James Brown of game design.  Which is to say the hardest-working man in game design.  His name is Greg Porter and he is the owner (and sole member) of the game producer BTRC (Blacksburg Tactical Research Center).  Neither he, nor his company, are likely names you know … but you should.  In his own, quiet way, Greg Porter has created some of the most interesting, most innovative, and most playable RPGs out there.

(Of course he's also created some of the most unplayable games as well…)


... more

ZDL Mar 23 · Comments: 4 · Tags: fringe, review, btrc, corps
ZDL
Rolemaster

No history of RPGs would ever be complete without discussion of Iron Crown Enterprises' Rolemaster line of game products.  Despite its many epithets (most notably Chartmaster)—whether justly or unjustly applied (and I feel largely unjustly!)—it is hard to deny the influence this game had on role-playing games in general and D&D in specific.  First published in 1980 with the first component, Arms Law (a naming convention that set the table for all of the line), it began its existence as a replacement weapon/melee combat system for AD&D.  (They couldn't state it that flatly, of course, for reasons of copyright, so it was "for RPGs".)  It was rapidly followed with Claw Law (later packaged together) which added creature and unarmed combat to the mix.  This was followed by Spell Law for magic and finally, in 1982, Character Law, turning Rolemaster from a set of supplements into its own independent role-playing game.  1984's Campaign Law was the final component (and one of the earliest guidebooks for world-building for GMs).


... more

ZDL
Unlike my previous, starkly negative review I'm switching back to the generally positive again.  Today's fringe game is actually a game line, one that is proudly hailed as being for "beer & pretzels".  This is by no means the earliest beer & pretzels game in role-playing.  The first of the line's products—a game called Shriek—was published in 2001.  Games like Ninja Burger, Kobolds Ate My Baby, and other such games were released before that in the late '90s.  Indeed I'm pretty sure I'd played loads of small, simple, comedy games before this game line was published.  Hell, Macho Women with Guns, which exists right on the very edge of that beer & pretzels divide, was published in 1988.

But this one is different.


... more

ZDL Dec 19 '19 · Comments: 5 · Tags: hero force, 1pg, heyoka, deep7, beer & pretzels, fringe, review
ZDL
In my last, third, review I waxed reminiscently about the "halcyon years" of RPGs in the '80s, using Psi World, one of my favourite games ever, as an example of the feel of the '80s.

Unfortunately the '80s had its darker side as well.  A lot of very stupid things were done in that era and it would be remiss of me not to document some of them.  Further, to show I'm capable of more than twee paeans to my favourite games, I thought it time to show, too, what a negative review would look like.

And make no mistake, this review will be unrelentingly negative!

Avalon Hill

The Avalon Hill Game Company (AH) was a powerhouse in board gaming, especially wargaming, with a history stretching back to the early 1950s.  If you play board wargames in particular, even those not made by AH, you owe a debt to this one-time juggernaut.  Many of the standard things that identify wargames--hex grids, stochastic combat results, etc.--were a result of their innovation over the years and it is rare that a wargame can be found which doesn't trace its ancestry to something invented at AH.

In the 1970s, role-playing games started to get introduced and in the late 1970s they took off in ways that surprised hardcore wargamers.  In the 1980s, when it became clear that RPGs were not going to be going away, wargames publishers started looking around for games to publish in this new genre with varying degrees of success.  Simulations Publications, Inc (SPI) published, for example, Dragonquest and Universe, fantasy and science fiction games respectively to mixed success.  (I personally liked both games, but Universe in particular was rather gratuitously complicated in ways that weren't needed.  I could never have run either, but as a player I enjoyed both.)

AH was no exception to this.  They wanted to publish RPGs and in the end they wound up publishing three.  They published the third edition of Runequest (and I am one of, perhaps, five people in the entire world who liked their version of Runequest better than the previous two editions by far) to mixed reviews.  They published an intriguing-in-principle but deeply-flawed-in-execution game called Lords of Creation, and they published today's little gem: Powers & Perils.  (Technically the James Bond 007 RPG was also an AH property, but it was published by a wholly-owned subsidiary and I don't consider it part of AH canon proper.)


... more

ZDL
The 1980s were halcyon years for RPGs in many ways.  There was insane diversity of subject matter as every conceivable niche and sub-niche was explored, and madness infected a lot of game designs.  This was also, after all, very much the decade of the "crunchy" game: games with ever-more complicated and "realistic" rules.


FGU


The absolute monarchs of the '80s vibe were Fantasy Games Unlimited (FGU)  There was not a crazy concept they weren't willing to champion and publish.  The first "realistic" medieval game (Chivalry & Sorcery) was theirs.  The first game to feature non-humanoids as the central characters (Bunnies & Burrows) was theirs.  The first popular superhero RPG (Villains & Vigilantes) was theirs.  The first medieval Japanese RPG (Land of the Rising Sun) was theirs as was the most popular one (Bushido) for ages.  And while not the first SF games ever, two of the earliest SF games (Starships & Spacemen, Space Opera) were theirs too, the latter of which still causes warm fuzzy feelings when I think back to its convoluted insanity but immense fun.


... more

ZDL Nov 30 '19 · Comments: 4 · Tags: psi world, review, old school, fringe, fgu
ZDL
Continuing my little experiment in reviewing little-known RPGs, past and present, I'd like to go in a direction directly opposite of my last review.  In that I introduced a game that was in all ways completely different from most RPGs that people in the hobby are familiar with.  Intead it is, as I put it in a comment, "RPG meets collaborative fiction with a dash of improv".

Today's game is nothing of the sort.  It is three perfectly ordinary things:

1. It is a free game and almost militantly so.
2. It is a joke game, or, at least, it started that way.
3. It is a so-called "Old School Rennaisance" game (and arguably the first actual such!).

So why am I reviewing a game so ordinary?  Because, naturally, it is in no way ordinary!


The game (and indeed, to a degree, entire game line) that I am reviewing today is the game Mazes & Minotaurs (M&M) written by Olivier Legrande.  If you've compulsively followed the link provided you got a taste of the rabbit's warren that is the secret world of M&M.  If you didn't, let me give you a quick history so you can understand the joyful, wonderful madness you're about to face.

... more

ZDL Nov 24 '19 · Comments: 4 · Tags: free, fringe, joke, osr, review, m&m
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