Category Archives: Reviews & First Looks

First Look: CONTACT – Tactical Alien Defense RPG

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Contact is one of the few roleplaying games created in Germany who eventually were released in English language. I have to admit I totally missed the release of the English PDF on DriveThruRPG probably because I had owned a hardcopy of the German version for quite a while now. The PDF on which this first look post is based on, was provided by the publisher. Thanks again, Patric!

So, what is Contact about?
Contact is a roleplaying game set into a near future, where aliens have started invading Earth. The players are part of OMEGA – an organization tasked with fighting the alien threat. Yes, this sounds a lot like the premise of the XCOM computer game series, and no, it’s not a coincidence. The author of Contact, Robert Hamberger, is a huge fan of the XCOM games and an avid role-playing gamer, who worked for many years to bring his vision to life: an XCOM-inspired pen & paper RPG.

A beautiful book!
The result is a 290-paged PDF (or book – the Kickstarter to fund the printing of hardbound books is still running) with gorgeous artwork and a percentile dice-based rules system which feels a lot like the mechanics ripped straight from a computer game. These mechanics may very well be what makes or breaks the game depending on what you prefer. I have to admit that especially combat in CONTACT has way too many fiddly bits for my tastes, but I might not be among the game’s target audience. If you love complex tactical combat in your RPGs you might love Contact.

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The first 33 pages of the book contain background information about the world in the 2040s, OMEGA, and what kind of characters you can play in the game. The next 70 pages or so are the rules needed to play the game (including normal and Advanced Combat rules, Vehicle Combat, Character Creation, etc.). The remaining pages contain the Gamemaster section, an extensive equipment list, a bestiary, and a Base Management Simulation. Yes, CONTACT even let’s you customize your OMEGA bases.

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Caves of Qud

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Yes, this is first and foremost a pen & paper roleplaying games blog, but sometimes I just need to sneak in a post about related topics. Today I want to talk about Caves of Qud, a very intriguing roguelike computer RPG, which I was interested in for quite some time now.

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Roguelikes are games which are similar in gameplay to the original Rogue, which is – in a nutshell – an old-school dungeon crawl simulator. If you are familiar with the first editions of D&D you know what to expect: the game is quite lethal, there are countless monsters which are out to kill you, there are deep dungeons and countless treasures. Even though computers are now capable of almost lifelike graphics and sound, the classic roguelike genre with minimal graphics and turn-based action is still alive and well.

One of the more recent games in this particular genre is “Caves of Qud”, which is a game with a lot of depth and an intriguing world. The world presented in the game is set in a post-apocalyptic world. But from what I’ve seen so far, it’s no radioactive wasteland like in many other games of the genre, but it reminds me more of Monte Cook’s Numenera. You can either play a mutated human (and there are a lot of cool mutations to choose from) or a member of the true kin (which are – I guess – unmutated humans).

At the surface CoQ looks like any other roguelike, but after a couple minutes of play you realize that there’s more to it. One cool aspect is a very detailed skill system, which allows you to develop your character in any way you want. Currently I am playing a mutated human with the ability to regrow lost limbs and to suck the life force out of enemies who also happens to be a gunslinger. Just recently I acquired enough skill points to buy the Akimbo skill, which allows me to wield two pistols at once! I have started exploring some caves to the north of the starting village and already I have stumbled upon countless wondrous animals and plants.

There is a quest system and I already had a couple of interesting conversations with NPCs. It seems Caves of Qud is not just killing monsters and taking their stuff, but there’s also a story for you to follow. I have just started delving deeper into the game, so I can’t tell you that much about this aspect of the game though. But what I know is that the game is extremely addicting. I actually had to force myself to go to bed last night and that’s even though several of my characters died horrible (but unheroic) deaths. Being killed by some kind of snail is not the best way to go…

If you are looking for an exciting game with an interesting world and some old-school charm, you definitely should give Caves of Qud a try. It’s available on Steam for about €10 or you local equivalent. At the moment it’s on sale, so you get 10% off.

P.S.: There’s also a free version (which uses ASCII characters instead of graphical tiles). You can download it from here.

Destiny Space

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imageMost of the roleplaying games I write about are from the English-speaking part of the world. But sometimes there are German-language roleplaying games which really stand out, so I want to talk about them as well. I think the last time I did this, it was about Dungeonslayers – which I eventually translated into English.

This time I want to share some thoughts on Destiny Space, an indie Sci-Fi roleplaying game by Ace of Dice, an Austria-based publisher. Destiny Space is available digitally (there’s even a free version) and as a softcover book. On 84 pages you get a complete rules-light rule set, a setting for you to play in, and an introductory adventure. I think it was my friend and fellow RPG blogger Marcus aka the Chaotic GM who first introduced me to the game.

So, what is Destiny Space all about? It’s a rules-light science fiction roleplaying which some pretty ingenious mechanics. Characters are described by a set of nine attributes which are all organized in a 3×3 pattern on the character sheet. The three columns are Archaik (Archaics) , Technik (Technology), Meta. The three lines are Intuition, Kinetic, and Ratio (in the sense of rationale or intellect). The combinations of one column and one line creates an attribute.  The column and line titles help the players and GM to easily find the most relevant attribute, which actually works pretty well at the game table. Archaik and Intuition for example are “Charisma & Empathie” (Charisma & Empathy), while Archaik and Kinetik combines to “Athletik & Nahkampf” (Athletics & Close Combat). Each attribute has a score between 11 and 66. These seem to be quite strange values until you realize that Destiny Space uses a d66-based core mechanic. To perform a check you pick the most relevant attribute and roll two d6 (which generate a number between 11 and 66). If the roll is equal or less than your attribute, you succeed.

There are no skills, no special abilities, only these nine attributes, which still manage to cover all aspects of a character. One of the attributes is the character’s Großes Talent (“great talent”) which allows the character to perform special feats by spending so-called Destiny points. How the great talent works is totally up to the player and the GM. A great talent in Meta & Intuition might be psionic abilities. A great talent in Athletics & Close Combat may describe the superhuman strength. If the player wants to perform a special action using their great talent, they describe what they want to do to the GM. The GM then decides if that’s a “helpful”, “effective”, or “dramatic” use of the talent. This rank then sets the DP cost and possible damage if the great talent is used to damage a target. I really hope you understand how it is supposed to work. It’s actually much easier than it sounds and works great at the game table … BUT …

There’s a huge BUT involved. You need players comfortable with a freeform playing style and a lot of active creativity. The game has not an awful lot of depth, which may turn away certain players and make it not necessarily suited for longer campaign. It definitely works great for one-shots and con games.

imageThe setting is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s always great if such a lightweight game comes with a full setting and an introductory adventure. The adventure is actually pretty fun to play, but overall I am not too fond of the setting. The game is set into a swarm of comets, which are surrounded by a strange energy field and which races through the cosmos with light speed. Yeah. If you are into hard SF, you probably just started clenching your fists and crunching with your teeth. If you somehow got trapped in the swarm you can’t leave again, and so it’s filled with members of various alien races including humans. Because of the relatively small size of the swarm and the scarcity of resources there’s a lot of potential for conflict. I have to admit that limiting the scope of the campaign makes some sense, but the whole comet swarm concept makes my hair stand up. Fortunately you can just ignore the setting and either create your own, or use an existing one. The core rule book actually refers to space opera classics like Star Wars or Babylon 5 in its examples.

As far as I know there’s no English translation of Destiny Space yet. But if you have at least a basic grasp of the German language you should easily understand how the game is supposed to work. If you’re looking for a rules-light SF game with some neat mechanics, you definitely should check Destiny Space out!