Pelgrane Press’ Gumshoe roleplaying games usually don’t disappoint and Kenneth Hite’s Night’s Black Agents is no exception. Night’s Black Agents combines the spy thriller genre with vampires. The players are spies that have worked for one of the many secret agencies like MI5, CIA, Mossad or even the Stasi. For one reason or the other they left government employment and went into the shadowy criminal underground of Europe. The characters had been highly trained by their agencies for years in espionage, combat, covert operations, data analysis and now they are putting their skills to good use again. They fight vampires!
Night’s Black Agents is a 232-pages full-cover hardcover. As with all recent releases by Pelgrane Press the production quality is top notch. The three-columned layout is surprisingly clear and the interior artwork fits the theme of the game perfectly. I’m not too fond of the cover, but that’s only a minor quibble. Overall the quality of the artwork is great. The binding feels pretty solid to me, although I haven’t put it to the test yet. Usually I treat my books very gently.
As I’ve already mentioned the game uses Robin D. Laws’ Gumshoe system, which is the perfect choice for any game where investigations play a major role. In most games finding the clues needed to unravel a mystery can be a very frustrating thing. The players fail a single important roll and the whole game comes to a sudden stop. In Gumshoe you don’t need to roll to find clues – if you have the right investigative skill, you get the clue and you can move on. In Gumshoe the interesting question is not whether you find the clues but how do you interpret them. For more information on how the system works check out my interview with Robin D. Laws.
This is part 4 of the mini-series of posts going live every Friday and based on the Star Wars Infinities campaign I ran for my players some years ago. Parts 1, 2 and 3 are accessible if you click on the links. What follows is a piece of fiction I wrote set in the alternate background to the galaxy covered in the last two posts. It tries to illustrate some of the happenings in the galaxy as the game began, and to cast familiar characters in a different light.
“No, he was not my father, we were actually not related. Reymus was a Prince from Alderaan, I’m from Corellia and Antilles is a pretty common surname there… I did meet him briefly before the Battle of Yavin, before the Tantive IV was captured over Tatooine. He told us how he was there at the beginning… No he did not join the crew of the Tantive IV until the Clone Wars had begun, but he was there before, when it really began, piloting a small 4 person transport on its way to a secret meeting in the Outer Rim.”
Wedge Antilles, Commander of the Rogue Squadron, talking about Reymus Antilles
Usually I don’t do much in the way of preparation and rely on my improvisation skills. But with the upcoming Mass Effect game I want to stray from my usual path. The Mass Effect computer game has a strong background setting and interesting characters, but also great visuals. To make good use of the game’s visuals I plan to rely on player handouts a lot. Why describe the interiors of the characters’ spaceship when you can show them images and a deckplan? Instead of describing what a NPC looks like you can easily provide them with an image. Being able to show the players maps of the planets they explore definitely helps with immersion into the game world and is fun. There’s also the added benefit that I finally can put tools like ProFantasy’s Campaign Cartographer 3 (plus the Cosmographer 3 addon) and Fractal Terrains to good use.
Today I had the idea to use TCG-like cards as handouts for my players. I could probably even create cards that not only include an image of the NPC/location/item/etc. but also include the game stats as well. While it would be possible to create such cards in a graphics or DTP program, I’ve decided to use the free Magic Set Creator. The MSE is pretty easy to use and is almost perfectly suited for what I had in mind. Here are a few cards I created earlier:
The first two cards are pretty simple. They provide the players with an image of the NPC or location respectively and a few lines of background information. The third card is an attempt to include all the stats needed to use the NPC in play. While I managed to squeeze everything onto the card, the result is not that great. But overall I like the idea of using TCG-style cards as player handouts. They are easily created and help to bring Mass Effect’s visuals to the gaming table.
What are your thoughts on my idea? Do you think it’s worth the effort? As always I am very interested in reading your comments. Feel free to post your ideas, criticism and advice in the comments below!
We are breaking our regular schedule for some Kickstarter news. Two days ago Chris Birch started the “Achtung! Cthulhu – The WW2 Keeper’s & Investigator’s Guides” Kickstarter project. In 50 days he tries to raise £8000 in order to pay for the development, artwork and production of a full print run of both the Achtung! Cthulhu Investigator’s Guide and the Keeper’s Guide. The basic goal of £8000 will pay for the Call of Cthulhu version, while a further stretch goal will pay for the Savage Worlds version.
If you are unfamiliar with the Achtung! Chtulhu setting, check out my review of Achtung! Cthulhu – Three Kings, the first adventure in the Zero Point campaign. In a nutshell Achtung! Cthulhu combines the real horrors of WW2 with the supernatural horrors of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. In my opinion that’s a match made in
The various pledge levels are quite reasonable, although I find £10 for shipping within the EU for quite steep. The other thing that bother me is that you have to pledge at least £40 (which buys you print copies of both books) to get every PDF funded by the Stretch Goals. But that’s only a minor quibble.
Overall I am very excited about this project and I hope it will reach a couple of Stretch Goals in no time.
After a long hiatus I’ll finally be running a new roleplaying game campaign again. On the weekend I met with my group and made the proposal to play Diaspora, VSCA Publishing’s Hard-SF Fate-based game. My players have never played Fate before, but after me explaining the basics of the game they were interested to try it out. Alas they were not so fond of the Hard-SF nature of Diaspora.
The other aspect of Diaspora they were alas not excited about Diaspora’s cluster creation. When I first told them that I was thinking about running a SF game they were – unbeknownst to me – hoping for an exploration based game. While I don’t necessarily see a problem here, they felt that creating a cluster beforehand would make exploration harder, since they already feel they know what’s behind the next corner.
The lack of real character advancement in Diaspora was something they were not too fond of either, but this is something I can easily houserule. As far as I remember do other Fate variants like SBA or FreeFate provide some character advancement rules that I might be able to adapt to Diaspora. Personally I think that character advancement is not that important, but I can still understand where they are coming from.
We discussed our options for a while and finally settled on using Reaganstorme’s excellent Mass Effect hack for Diaspora. They are all fond of the setting and the Mass Effect universe should offer enough space for exploration. But I’ve learned from the mistakes I made the last time I ran a Mass Effect game. Mass Effect works best if you focus on aspects of the setting that have already been explored by the computer games. If you stray too far from that, you might get into areas that have not been fully fleshed out yet. In our case this lead to quite a few unanswered questions and a game that felt a bit too generic. This time I’ll make sure that places, organisations and characters from the computer game series will play a major role in the campaign. The players are interested in Mass Effect, so they are getting exactly that.
In order to make the Mass Effect universe a bit more suitable for the kind of game I have in mind, I’ll mess with the story line a bit. At the end of Mass Effect 2 Shepard destroys the Collector Base and the human Reaper. This causes the Reapers in dark space to awaken and they start descending upon the galaxy. In my variant of the Mass Effect universe the Reapers will either be asleep for a couple more years or it will take longer for them to reach our galaxy. Heck, I might even decide that they’ll never return. I want to focus on our stories without having to worry about a Reaper invasion in the near future.
We’ll probably meet again in about three weeks so I’ll have more than enough time to read through all the rules for another time, plan a first adventure and create a couple of locations and characters. I might actually use the cluster creation rules to create the sectors of space the player characters will be exploring.
Have you ever thought about running a game in the Mass Effect universe? Or do you have experiences with Diaspora? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Welcome back to part 3 of our mini-series of weekly post about my Star Wars Infinities Campaign: Episode I, The Gathering Storm. You can find the first and second post by clicking the links; there you can find more information about what this mini-series of posts is all about. Hope you enjoy it. Looking forward to your comments…
History of the galaxy and the Jedi Orders – Part 2
A thousand years ago, with the Republic having reached its current extent and configuration, conflict began to brew from within. The Republic had grown to a size and might unheard of in previous galactic civilizations. But controlling such a vast and complex government was not easy. The Republic was sluggish in its workings and increasingly relied on its military might to impose order. Many of the noble families whose ancestors had given up power long ago became disenchanted with the Republic. Old rivalries were reawakened, old wounds reopened, and systems began to fear the Republic would do away with the trappings of democracy and establish a military dictatorship.
In this time of crisis the Jedi Orders met in Council and agreed that they needed to intervene to maintain peace and preserve the Republic. The Jedi Orders mediated the Coruscant Accord, a compromise that sought to appease all sides but ultimately satisfied no one.
Some of you may remember the column “Ask The Stargazer” that I introduced back in 2011. I posted a couple of replies to your questions since then, but for various reasons the column has lost steam in 2012. But there are still a few unanswered emails in my inbox, so I decided to get “Ask The Stargazer” back into gear again!
Here’s the first question for 2013:
I have one more question that I kindly would ask: What is the best fantasy rpg?
Could you please give short overview of the most popular fantasy rpgs with a summary of pros and cons? I have played d&d 3rd, ad&d 2nd, d&d 3.5 and now I’m playing Pathfinder. Although there is a lot of differences between these editions this mostly one game. My problem is that I find this game a bit heavy – having to much rules and the combat takes to much time. In addition I hate class levels, making it too difficult for the DM/GM to make an adventure. So the thing I actually what to find out is what other options do I have? I have played some general rpgs as well, but I didn’t find those very intriguing.
Deciding which fantasy RPG is best for you is actually not easily answered. There’s no such thing as the best RPG. Every game out there has its flaws and it’s entirely possible that the game I love is total rubbish to you. As the saying goes: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But before I get too philosophical, let’s have a look at a few popular games.
A note: I will give you my thoughts on each of the games but going into detail will definitely beyond the scope of a blog post, so if you’re interested to learn more about a particular game, check out the game’s official site or post your question in the comments below.