Tag Archives: review

The Princess Bride RPG

OK, so to be fair I gave The Princess Bride Role Playing Game the fastest of once overs before discarding it. Remember that I am a Rolemaster GM at heart and it was fairly obvious that The Princess Bride was not going to give me bloody disembowelments and detailed character creation. It didn’t look like there was going to be a much necromancy going on either, which is a current ongoing discussion over on my own blog.

On the other hand, if I put my own wants and prejudices to one side I think The Princess Bride deserves a fair review.

The usual caveat is that I have only read the freebie Quick Start Rules and you can download them for free from RPGNow.

So obviously this game is derived from the 1987 movie of the same game and much of the art comes from the movie. I think this is a good thing in multiple ways. I like the movies with tie in games. It helps everybody envision the same settings, key NPCs and even magical effects. If you haven’t seen the movie there is a book of the same name which came first. I confess I have not read either the book nor seen the movie.

So The Princess Bride is FUDGE based, which is a good thing, but also uses a 3d6 to FUDGE Dice conversion so you can play without the dedicated +/- FUDGE dice. I think this is a good touch. For a quick start book especially, taking the weird dice requirement away makes the game much more accessible. I used to play Champions/Hero System a lot and I know that there is a very pleasing feel to 3d6 and the 18 is rare enough to have the special feeling but common enough to happen at least once a session at least.

The writers have gone with just three attributes, twenty six skills, fifteen gifts and ten inconveniences (faults). I like skill driven characters but I cannot help but feel that just three attributes is too few. It is not that I feel that more attributes add more to a game mechanically but in differentiating one PC from the next they can play an important role. It is not possible to play someone who is naive AND observant in The Princess Bride as both a single attribute overs all aspects of intelligences, alertness and perception. On the plus side in describing how the attributes work and their ingame effects are directly related to the movie characters as in “Your character can have a high Body level and simply be very fit, but not necessarily huge: like Westley, for example.

There is a skill in The Princess Bride called Blave. I had to google the word as I didn’t actually know what it meant. I was going to criticise the game for using such an obscure word for such a common skill. It turns out that every single definition of Blave relates directly back to The Princess Bride and quotes the book or movie. So this is a setting related word. If you are interested the Blave skill relates to gambling and bluffing and likewise Jouking relates to dodging.

So here is the first bit that I found truly cringeworthy. The Princess Bride has renamed FUDGE or FATE points to Grandpa, wait! Points. To quote the game “So if the dice just killed your character, there will probably be a moment of silence at the table. At that point, any player can say, “Grandpa, wait!” and push a token toward the GM representing a Grandpa Wait point.” I had to read that bit over just to make sure I had it right.

The Grandpa Wait points are a simple renaming of the standard FATE point mechanic in every other way except the cringy name.

The combat system as presented is very neat and tidy. I don’t really know the world of The Princess Bride but there are absolutely no mentions of non human foes or natural weapons so no guard dogs or other beasties. This is just the quickstart booklet so those rules could easily be in the full rules. I do like the damage track method of recording damage. As a way of recording damage it very neatly allows for escalating severity of wounds. The lightest wound is “It’s just a scratch” but once you have had that three times it automatically escalates to hurt, very hurt and so on. It is possible with a big weapon and a great roll to go from untouched to “incapacitated” which is one of the things I have always liked about my ‘home system’.

Up until this point in the rules everything in the rule book has been adjective based, skills are listed as Great, Good, Fair and Poor etc. When Situational Rolls are introduced these lead with numerical values -4 to +4. So for now it is numbers first. It then tries to massage the adjective labels into this system and it feels really square peg/round whole. I know that Situational Rolls are core FUDGE but in the core rulebook they get just a single paragraph and sits alongside tossing a coin or rolling a single d6 as aids for the GM to get random answers. I found that by leading with the numeric scale when everything else had been adjective based creates the impression that the adjectives don’t really work. The description of the adjective system then looks a bit laboured. If writers had stuck with the adjective system right from the off then this section would have been neater and less clunky.

On a personal note, I don’t think that resolving things by dice roll is to be encouraged. What I mean by that is; if a player asks ‘Are there any innocent bystanders on the street?’ then that is a potentially really important question. The Princess Bride says “You should usually roll them in the open, except in cases where it might reveal more information than the party would logically have.” So instantly the characters know that whether the person is there or not is just chance, but the next time if you say “Yes, there is someone standing on the corner.” They know you didn’t roll for that so it must be important. Logically then you would sometimes create red herrings of false information to stop your players inferring from what you rolled and what wasn’t rolled. So now you are sometimes rolling the dice when you know the answer to fool your players, sometimes you are rolling the dice because you don’t know the answer and sometimes you are not rolling the dice because they may come up with a wrong answer and the players will have seen the result. That last one is something like Player: “What are the chances of there being a horse I can hire?” Dice roll -4, GM: “Yes, there is a really impressive stallion just being walked out of the livery.” Player: “Really?!!” To be fair the rules do work but I personally do not think anyone should be rolling dice in front of the players. It is the GMs role to create a believable world and chucking the dice around does not do that.

The remainder of the The Princess Bride quickstart pdf is the a sample adventure and pregen characters. That I am not going to go into as I don’t want to give anything away but only to say that it remains true to the setting material as far as I can tell and is clearly aimed as a first adventure and new players and GMs.

As a final note I would like to point out that this looks like it is going to be a really popular game with its target audience. The kickstarter has over 1,000 backers and has raised over $78,000. You can be fairly certain that any problems with the game are more likely with me than with the game, if you are part of the target audience. There is just not quite enough disembowelling for my tastes.

Coriolis

I have spent some of my down time over Christmas reading up on Coriolis from free league publishing.

I was super impressed with Mutant:Year Zero with its beautifully simple skill resolution mechanics, the D6, D66 and D666 scalability and even a neat little combat system that was both fast to play yet had the graphic critical damage effects that move combat into the narrative.

If you read my take on Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed and the 2d20 system you will know I was far from taken with the game mechanics of that system.

So what do I think of Coriolis?

My background is very much in Rolemaster, that is what started this little tour of alternative systems. Coriolis feels like Rolemaster in miniature. By that I mean in Rolemaster we are used to a characters defined through their skills the same as Coriolis; Characters can have Talents and Flaws in Rolemaster whereas Coriolis has Talents and Problems; I am used to  a whole rainbow of difficulty factors for skill tests from routine to near impossible; graduated levels of success, in Rolemaster that is typically failure, partial success, success, absolute success, in Coriolis it goes failure, limited success, critical success. The latest Rolemaster rules use a 4 action point system per round and Coriolis uses 3 action points. Throughout the rules I have read so far Coriolis looks and feels like a D6 version of Rolemaster. The clever use of the D66 where needed bridges the gap from the granular D100 to the broad strokes of the d6.

I mentioned Conan earlier for one reason. There was a mechanic in that game that I detested, momentum and consequences, and that rears its ugly head again in Coriolis but this time in the guise of Darkness points.

In Rolemaster circles there is a concept of ‘flurry of blows’. The logic goes like this, a combat round is 10 seconds long and you are more than capable of swinging your sword more than once in 10 seconds. So the attack roll you make is not your only attack that round, it is the attack that was most likely to succeed. In reality you actually made many feints, parries and attacks in that 10 seconds. Flurry of blows is almost universally reviled by the players, partly because melee attacks are flurry of blows but spells are not, one fireball is one fireball, missile attacks are not flurries, an arrow is an arrow or a spear is a spear. The rules are not consistent.

Corriolis is based around flurry of blows and it suffers with the same breakdown in coherency when it comes to throws spears, axes or arrows which are quite clearly discrete. I agree that you do not need to count every bullet, Spacemaster used a count of bullets for guns that had small magazines but just a generic ‘burst’ for semi and automatic weapons. You didn’t need to know how many bullets were in each burst but you could still track when the magazine or bullet belt was empty. Coriolis uses the flurry of blows or burst of bullets concept for all the attacks and for me it breaks the suspension of disbelief. I end up feeling like guns are filled with miniature Schrodinger’s cats and until you check what is in the magazine or pull the trigger your bullets may or may not exist.

I know the argument is that if you have to track bullets then it is just more bookkeeping but the flip of that is that there are opportunities for dramatic tension when a player is down to the last few rounds and the enemy are at the door.

So that is quite enough about the game mechanics…

Coriolis as a game

I firmly believe that the setting is all important in a game. Coriolis uses a wonderful fusion of Sci Fi and the Arabian Nights to create a rather mystical FireFly-like game backdrop. I am a really enthusiastic about this set up. I read the Arabian Nights again earlier this year (2017) so I was already on board from the very first paragraph.

Now, here is an interesting thing. I played in a Spacemaster game last year and having read the adventure The Dark Flowers I am convinced that the adventure I played through was the sample adventure from Coriolis. So technically I have never played Coriolis, and you know I don’t feel that happy reviewing games I have not played, I have played the sample adventure. Now I am looking at it with a GM’s eye I think it is an excellent introduction. It also points to the quality of the Coriolis materials.

Incidentally, I don’t know if this is a coincidence but the ‘feel’ of the page layout and design is very much like Eclipse Phase from Posthuman Studios. It could be that this is just a page layout ‘style’ and the fact that both games are Sci Fi and relatively rules lite in my experience.

So over all I cannot really fault the game design, the quality of the materials, the setting or anything. There is one game mechanic I don’t like, but I would house rule around that if I ran the game. That is personal preference.

Finally…

If you have read my recent mini series on GM Emulators, I find it very interesting how the consequences mechanic from both Coriolis and Conan have so much in common with the plot twist mechanics in the GM Emulators. This may sound like a contradiction that I advocate GM emulators for collaborative play but when the same mechanics turn up in a game I object to it. The difference is that when using a GM Emulator there is no plot before you start play and the entire world is created and unfolds before you as you play. The consequences mechanic in these games on the other hand changes the reality for the characters explicitly based upon a bad roll. It just smacks too much of roll playing and not role playing.

And finally, finally,

Happy New Year!

Mutant:Year Zero

I have read just about everything that is available to get for free several times in the past couple of weeks and this looks like an awesome game and I really want to play/run it.

I am mechanically minded so I will start with my impressions of the detail of the system and work outwards to the bigger picture.

D6/D66/D666

I love this mechanic. At some point every GM is going to start to write their own adventures and being able to scale from six options to the 36 possible outcomes of the D66 to the 200+ options to the D666 is so simple, consistent and elegant. The mechanism gives you as much granularity as you could possibly wish for. D6 for initiative is simple enough and D66 for criticals gives you enough variety that injuries mean something. I don’t know what a hit point looks like but a broken nose means something. It seems that most fighter types will be able to take 5 points of trauma and weapons seem to do a typical 2 points per hit. This implies that fights are going to be short and bloody, no slug fests here.

The game play seems to be very social, something that I have been increasingly aware of recently both in my own games and in games I have reviewed. I like this but, as has been noted elsewhere, M:YZ is not a game for online or PBP play. It needs that sort of ‘around the table’ discussion and collaboration.

Character creation from what I have seen is really fast and easy to grasp. I am not a fan of dice and random rolls in character creation. This is a personal choice and I can see the occasional amusement of playing a warrior with a terrible strength or constitution. I would not want to do that every time. M:YZ thankfully uses a simple point buy system of sharing 14 points amongst four attributes and ten points amongst 12 basic skills. There is just as much emphasis put on relationships as there is on attributes and skills. This is something I wholeheartedly agree with. The only random factor in the rules I have seen is your mutation. In the quick start rules there are three mutations per character and you roll a D6 to select.

The Setting

I really like this vision of the post apocalypse. I have fond memories of Gamma World and to some extent this is a more grown up version of that vision. The setting is a role player’s setting, not a dungeon crawlers or hack and slashers setting. In that Gamma World version everyone wanted powered armour and big weaponry, from what I have seen the emphasis is more on collaboration and internal struggles with your fellow mutants and the survival of your ark.

My one and only concern is over the setting though and it is possibly completely irrelevant or wrong. There is something about M:YZ that reminds me of the original Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium?) game. I think it is the hint of an underlying menace. There are warnings at the front of the rules for players not to pry further into the rules regarding this. I wonder if once this secret is known, if the game will lose some of its return value. Even if I am right, does that detract any from the game? I think without that undercurrent the setting would lack a certain ‘something’. The setting is extremely hostile and even your mutations are out to get you. I do not think characters are going to live very long if you try and go out all guns blazing, or using a bat to try and solve your problems. This is not that sort of game. I suspect that unearthing that hidden story may never happen for a great many groups.

Finally, I would like to mention the job that Free League Publishing have done with the game materials. The writing is excellent and the art is more than adequate to imagine the setting. Page layout is possibly a bit of a nerdy thing to get excited about but it is of such massive importance to how we respond to a book. If you cannot find what you need then the rules appear opaque. If the pages are too dense with text then the rules become difficult to absorb. These are the little things that, although no single one makes or breaks a book, can change our perception of a rulebook and therefore the game. M:YZ was laid out by an extremely talented page designer.

I don’t do scores, I think games are too complex to boil down to a single ‘marks out of ten’ or ‘stars out of five’. I can imagine that reviews before me have given this game nines and tens and it would be well justified. I know I am picky and hard to please but this game is probably the best game I have read in a decade.