Michael, of Trilemma fame, has started running a zombie survival game set on the Isle of Wight. The game takes place at the end of the cold war turned hot. The players are all crew of the cargo ship BF Fortaleza. I managed to join in for one session, and hope to make some more in the future. I love Zombie World, as you all ay now, but the system Michael cobbled together for his game worked really well. I think it illustrates neatly how you can really jam a bunch of ideas together and make something compelling enough. (I hadn’t encountered the encounter move from The Regiment before, and it seems like something everyone should steal for their games.)
Eric’s Hobby Workshop takes a look at one of Game Workshop’s craziest games, Inquisitor! The video is a great overview of the game if you aren’t familiar with its whole deal. Eric managed to track down a bunch of 54mm models from the range which he’s built, painted, and shown off in the video. It’s been a few months since I last mentioned Inquisitor. I should write about my own experiences with the game. One day.
by Ramanan Sivaranjan on August 04, 2023
2022 was a slog from beginning to end. I was glad to be done with that year. Whenever my mood is sour I end up spending too much money: they call it retail therapy. My longlist of RPG books going into these awards was very long. My shortlist was anything but short. This has been another year where zeroing in on my final picks was a struggle.
The Ramanan Sivaranjan Awards for Excellence in Gaming exist to highlight truly standout RPG books. They sit in contrast to the Ennies, the teen choice awards of the RPG industry. In this way I am the Pepsi to the Ennies Coke-a-Cola, since they never talk about me, but I always talk about them. But honestly, we all know who the real thing is when it comes to matters of taste.
The books in contention arrived at my doorstep, or digitally in my inbox, during 2022. That’s a long while ago now, I know, but that’s really my only rule with these awards and I will stick with it. So, while Trophy, which arrived at my home in January, should clinch some awards at the Ennies this year, it will need to wait till next year to fight for its spot as Ramanan Sivaranjan Award for Excellence in Gaming winner. If I had backed it digitally, I’d have included it for contention this year. Simple, right?
Anyway, what are we fucking around for: you want to know who won.
Best Gaming Supplement: Gig Economy by Colin Sproule
I love this unassuming booklet. Gig Economy is 200 weird little NPCs to people your world with: retainers, rival adventures, townsfolk. There are no wasted words: everything is short and to the point. You can pick a random person and read what their deal is in seconds: great if you need someone mid-session. Each NPC has personality, some equipment, and a name. What else do you need? Nothing, that’s what.
Best Attempt at Distilling 800 Blog Posts into a Game: Errant by Ava Islam
Errant is chonky book, the sort of book I would normally ignore because it’s so chonky. Ava Islam has tried to jam all of the OSR into one game. There is advice and rules for almost anything you can imagine happening in a game of D&D. Ava has documented her journey through the OSR, from a novice game master to one with plenty of experience and advice to share. I think for people who find the OSR opaque, confusing, or off-putting, Errant might be the game they are looking for: something that tries to be far more self-contained.
The Ramanan Sivaranjan Excellence in Gaming Best God Damn Books of 2022: Into the Odd Remastered by Chris McDowall, with art and graphic design by Johan Nohr.
Chris McDowall’s Into the Odd feels like a real masterpiece. In the years since its release Into the Odd feels like it’s become an impactful and influential game, a classic of the OSR. You can see the games influences in many modern OSR games. I had ignored this game when it first came out, more obsessed with OD&D and LotFP. I’m glad we all have a second chance to revisit and enjoy this game. Into the Odd Remastered is a beautiful book. Johan Nohr is a champion of graphic design, and this book highlights his versatility. (Of course, anyone paying attention to MORK BORG should have been able to see he’s a man of talent.) The collage art found throughout the book captures the weird aesthetic of Into the Odd perfectly. I can’t recommend this book enough.
It feels like everyone is sleeping on Demon Bone Sarcophagus, the latest adventure from Patrick and Scrap Princess. I loved reading the book, and am disappointed I haven’t found the time to get it to the table yet. I also loved &&&&&&&& Treasure by Luke Gearing, ANNA-X66: Redux by Slade Stolar, The Book of Gaub by Charlie Ferguson-Avery, Evoro, The Furtive Goblin, Ivy H, John “Unlawful Games” Gregory, Rowan A. and Paolo Greco, Downtime in Zyan by Ben Laurence, Fermentvm Nigrvm Dei Sepvlti by Gord Cellar, The Frost Spire by Jacob Hurst and Joshua Alvarado, Skorne by Sam Doebler, Where the Wheat Grows Tall by Camilla Greer & Evlyn Moreau, and Wanderhome by Jay Dragon.Comments
My current obsession is the 2021 edition of Kill Team. This game is probably most famous for using shapes to represent distances, but not having those distances have anything to do with the shapes used. How many inches do you think a square represents? If you said 4” you’d be wrong, it’s 3”. You might be asking yourself, why wouldn’t you use a triangle for 3”. Well, they had already used the triangle to represent 1”. For reals. Anyway, this is a big tangent, because the game is actually loads of fun when you give it a chance. I’ve been playing it over the last month or so at the other local game store, Negative Zone Comics, and been having a really great time. It’s more complicated than Warcry, but feels like it’ll be manageable once you have more games under your belt. The core of the game feels fresh and interesting, rather than simply re-skinning 40K. Fighting in close combat is a simple dice game of trading blows or parrying. Shooting is complicated by marking models as concealed versus engaged. The various Kill Teams have really flavourful rules. I’m hoping to play a short campaign with Evan, and will write up more thoughts once that’s done.
by Ramanan Sivaranjan on July 05, 2023
The #TorontOSR posse met up recently and Paul ran a game of D&D for us using his tweaks and house rules. When I run games, I have players re-roll their hit points at the start of each session. This is something I picked up from Brendan. This mitigates how overly impactful a poor dice roll when rolling your hit points can be. Paul takes this idea further, with a scheme that reminds me of the hit dice mechanics from Carcosa, but a little less bananas.
When your character is healthy and unhurt, you don’t have a Hit Point total, just your Hit Dice. When you get attacked, hit, wounded, or otherwise in danger of dying, roll your Hit Dice. Keep the best result. That’s your HP total, from which you subtract the damage taken. So, a character only has an HP total when they are wounded. When you heal again, erase your HP total. Next time you get hurt, that’s when you’ll roll your Hit Dice again.
Some people in my game call this “quantum hit points”. Getting hit is always scary - you never really know how many hit points you have! And it evens out over time, so characters are never effectively crippled by starting the game with a really bad HP roll (Imagine being that 2nd level Fighter who rolled a ‘1’ at first level, and again at second level! Ouch!).
You get a new Hit Die every level. (Roughly speaking; there are some exceptions.) Following the old idea of the Hero and the Superhero (from Chainmail, and/or Arneson), at level 4 you get to keep two Hit Dice (you’re now a Hero!), and at level 8, you get to keep three Hit Dice (you’re a Superhero!).
But we can also do some fun things, like a long-term crippling injury: this means you lose a Hit Die for good. I’ve used this for “gambling away parts of your soul”, as well, when I adapted the “ghost” in the Tower of the Stargazer to something more to my liking than pausing D&D to play Chess for an hour. — Paul T, July 5th, 2023Comments
Tom over at the Beard Bunker writes, “Inquisitor was a bad game, and that’s why I loved it.” The game of Inquisitor I played with Patrick and Evan, with Brendan acting as a GM, was probably one of the most interesting war gamming experiences I’ve had. Patrick blogged about both of our games, Hunt the Fat Priest & Rise of the Meta-Coral, and I think manages to capture just how bonkers the game is. I grabbed the rulebook for cheap a few years back. If you spot it in the wild you should buy it, if only for the John Blanche art. There are many (many!) better rulesets out there, but there is some real charm to Inquisitor.
I loved this essay by Tim Colwill about the Warhammer 40,000, its not-so-slow march towards bland corporatism, and being ineffectual at dealing with people who love the fascism of the setting: Satire Without Purpose Will Wander In Dark Places.1
Games Workshop has painted itself into a corner over the years, as they have made the Space Marines the heroes of their setting. That doesn’t make any sense if the Imperium of Man is meant to be a cautionary tale about facism. It’s hard to beleive this is their intention when most everything they produce undercuts this message, the Black Library novels being the biggest and most obvious culprit here.
“Everything is bad” is an inherently conservative worldview and as such provides endless, consequence-free opportunities for authors to avoid discussing exactly why things are bad in the first place, who is responsible for them being bad, and what can be done about it.
Tim points out that “everything is bad in 40K” is a weak defense of the setting, but I do think it’s a viable way forward if they fully commited. To paraphrase Rick Priestley, Warhammer 40,000 doesn’t need to be serious business. The setting exists so people can pretend to blow each other up with guns and tanks and monsters. They don’t need to dress that up, but they do need to make sure that in ‘not-dressing it up’ they don’t endorse the reprehensible.
Tim ends the essay with a warning about the neo-nazis that will be cheering the new Warhammer TV shows alongside you. This is another area of the essay I don’t think quite lands: there is no controlling other people’s interests. Even if Games Workshop does an amazing job cleaning up its house, Warhammer is still a fun hobby. It’ll attract all sorts of people. Obviously no one wants to support a company that is actively courting a terrible fan base, but if being a part of the OSR has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes really crap people will like the same stuff as you.
Nick writes about one of my favourite video games, and probably the most difficult Final Fantasy game in its series, FF1. It’s an excellent game, and wears its D&D inspiration quite heavily on its sleeve. The monsters are so clearly taken from the Monster Manual. It even has Vancian magic! It’s genuinely challenging. I remember having to try some dungeons several times. Resource management plays such a heavy role in this game, something that became far less important as the series would move on. Nick discusses how it’s probably the most OSR of all the FF games.
by Ramanan Sivaranjan on April 27, 2023
Chris recently shared a draft of a war game set in Bastionland. It’s a simple war game, where he looks to be experimenting with squads of random starting strength and the sort of grotty mood of Turnip28. I thought some of the ideas he was trying out looked interesting, and decided to give the game a go.
I have Warhammer 40,000 miniatures, so I’m going to play a Warhammer 40,000 game.
Necrons awaken to find their tomb ship amalgamated into a Space Hulk, now adrift in the warp. The Sons of Horus have been fighting aboard this ship for weeks, months, years and millennia, all at the same time. The two groups are jockeying for control of a safe haven within the hulk.
I set up a spaceship board with a room in the centre. I had objectives in each corner and one in the middle. The game would end when one side controlled the central objective and two other objectives for two turns in a row, or one side was wiped out.
I needed a few additional house rules for this scenario to work:
- Opening or closing a hatch door costs one Order Dice. If the OV of the Order Dice is 4+ you can also move 3” before or after opening or closing the hatch.
- Claiming an objective costs one Order Dice. Objectives remain under a warband’s controls until claimed by the other warband.
Here are some highlights from the game:
- On the first turn I rolled that no additional Terminators would fill up the 2-man Terminator squad, while one of the Tactical Marines squad had all its units arrive as reinforcements.
- On the Necrons turn I rolled a 1 again for reinforcements: the Overlord would be alone the entire game.
- On one side of the board a Sergeant and his Tactical Marines were in a firefight with a Royal Warden and their Necron Warriors. The game is quite deadly: if someone shoots at you it’s hard to avoid losing a unit. With reaction dice letting you fire overwatch as a unit moves out to shoot at you, there was a lot of picking off each sides squads. In the end, over a couple turns, the marines came out on top.
- In the middle of the board, the Prateor and Terminator were up against a Necron Overlord. The Overlord used a reaction dice to take out the Terminator moving up to try and engage him. The Royal Warden moved up and opened a hatch, shooting and killing the Praetor. He was then killed by the Tactical Squad.
- The marines had the central objective and the two on their side of the board. There was on another squad of Necrons, untouched this battle, but they couldn’t get into the fray fast enough. The Space Marines won the game.
The active player has 4 order dice they can spend to perform actions with a squad, the other player gets 2 they can use to react to the active players moves. I would usually focus most of my orders on a single unit, as you can’t move that far if you’re only moving d6 inches. You also need to manage the negative status effects you collect as you move and shoot, which also takes an order. In practice the game felt like it was using alternating activations. The pace and flow of the game is quick. The action moves between the players at a real clip.
It’s very easy to kill units: perhaps too easy. I probably need a board with more cover. Though, perhaps all the death better simulates the closer quarter combat of my Kill Team Space Hulk board.
This is a very early draft of the game. I am curious where it will end up. I’m not even sure Chris will pick this game up again any time soon, he has so many other games on the go. Till then, we have a fun skeleton of a game to play.Comments
by Ramanan Sivaranjan on April 22, 2023
I was looking for minis at the Sword and Board when I spotted a copy of CY_BORG sitting on a shelf. I’ve been waiting for this book to show up locally since it was first announced: I hate paying for shipping. I’m honestly not that interested in Cyberpunk as a genre, but I am very interested in most everything Johan Nohr is involved in. Mork Borg has some of the best art and graphic design you’ll see in an RPG book. Paired up with Christian Sahlén, the duo have created quite the book.
Like Mork Borg the world of CY_BORG is shared as short vignettes. There is detail and flavour to jump off from, but it’s far from overwhelming and very open ended. You can take the world in your own direction.
Borrowing from Mork Borg there is also a campaign calamity mechanic where things progressively get worse as the game moves along, ending with a world ending event. In CY_BORG we have news headlines instead of omens.
Like Mork Borg the default is simple characters who will mostly be defined by their gear. You also have optional classes if you want more specificity (and mechanics). I like this approach. I also like all the pink.
A good bestiary will double as world building. The creatures shared in this book tell a story about the world. Most creatures note how much it costs to bribe them, for example.
Adventures are a great thing to include in your game: they help tell the reader what the game is all about in a way that’s useful and practical. You can read about the sorts of games one might play with these rules. The included adventure has the players helping an indebted neighbourhood. They must break into a casino and destroy the records of their debt, stored in an “offline database”. Like Mork Borg, the layout of the adventures shifts to something far more utilitarian and practical, while still having some style.
My friend Emmy wrote a much longer, better, review of this book, if you want to read something with some more substance. I found the Ben Milton looked at the book as well: you can watch him flip through the whole book. I had similar feelings to the two of them when reading this game’s rule 0: “Player Characters cannot be loyal to or have sympathy for the corps, the cops, or the capitalist system. They might find themselves reluctantly forced to do missions for them or their minions. But make no mistake—they are the enemy.” There’s nothing to disagree with here, but these sorts of declarations always feel a bit dorky. If you as a player aren’t making this choice, it’s kind of a meaingless action on everyone’s part. More so, you could probably play an interesting game, one where you learn something about the world and the dark nature of capitalism, playing dirtbag cops, corporate goons, etc. All of that said, the sorts of people that will get overly upset about this rule are probably the sorts of people you want keep out of a healthy gaming community, and in that way this rule is doing the work it needs to.
I really enjoyed reading CY_BORG. I am keen to get this to the table. The art and writing really pull you in. It feels like an easy game to get into: the rules will be familiar, and there is a lot in the book to help get you going with your game.
This was originally a series of tweets, but Twitter isn’t long for this world. I thought it best to post something more permanent over here.Comments