Devil Electric

As much as I like doom, I’ve come to realize that I really like old-school doom, which is basically what Black Sabbath gave birth to. Blues-based and adding a bit of psychedelic rock, that is the sound that I really like. Modern doom, with few exceptions, is not what I’m really into. It’s gotten too much with excess down-tuning, incomprehensible vocals, and more that has driven me more to actual psychedelic rock, which can still have a heavier edge. One of those bands is Australia’s Devil Electric. After their debut EP came out in June 2016, they have recently released their self-titled debut album. I think I’ve already stated my affinity for female vocals, and with this music it fits in beautifully, having those angelic mid-highs and highs soaring over the great fuzzed guitars and booming bass. It would be hard not to compare them to Ruby the Hatchet, but I’ll say that I’m hearing a bit more guitar and heavier sound overall. That’s not meant to slight Ruby the Hatchet at all! It’s just a variant in their sounds, and that’s a good thing; if they were the same, I’d have no reason to write this entry. I’m very happy I discovered Devil Electric, and I really look forward to digging more into this genre and finding more new bands.

Thangorodrim

I am very new to the genre of dungeon synth. The little bit I have listened to reminds me of Glen Danzig’s Black Aria, with its sombre tones and almost choking atmosphere. That’s not to say all dungeon synth is like that. One of the albums that I’ve had on rotation quite a bit is Thangorodrim’s Gil-Estel. While there are still some signature undertones of possible danger, this album has lightened up just a little bit, and it makes it that much more versatile as both a listening experience and practical background music for an RPG session, writing, or anything else. For more information on dungeon synth, check out this article on Bandcamp.

New Model

It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that The Uncanny Valley came out, but here we are almost a year and a half later, and Perturbator has released a new EP, New Model. Similar to his other releases and others from Blood Music, New Model is priced at Name Your Price.

As appropriately titled, this is indeed the furthest Perturbator has stretched out. Now, that’s not to say he wasn’t already experimenting since Dangerous Days, as well as using past EPs especially¬†Sexualizer to really see what direction he could go in. New Model turns the danger and imminent threat sound from Dangerous Days and The Uncanny Valley up to 11. Is it too much? Well, I don’t know if it can go anywhere else, at least in that direction. And that sound seems to include more dub and other odd (at least to me) influences that I’m already hearing in other electronic acts such as Front Line Assembly’s Echogenetic.

However, I must say the sheer sonic bliss and sound quality of the synths used on this EP, whether software and/or hardware, are the best I’ve heard from Perturbator or anyone else. You really need to listen to this EP with some high-quality headphones or monitors to appreciate it. I’m now very curious where Perturbator goes from here, and I really look forward to his next release!

RuneQuest Glorantha Quickstart

After running a very successful Kickstarter to re-print the 2nd edition of RuneQuest, Chaosium began work on a new edition of RuneQuest, after ending its license to The Design Mechanism (whose game lives on in Mythras). Electing to use RQ2 as its rule-base rather than RQ6 or the newer Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, Chaosium brought on-board Jason Durall, author of the Basic RolePlaying Game (i.e. the Big Gold Book), to help create the newest edition of RuneQuest. Also like RQ2 and unlike RQ6, the world of Glorantha is back in as the default setting. Of course the amazing flexibility of the BRP rules means you don’t have to use that setting if you don’t want to, as well as all the other rules being fairly modular to mold, drop, and/or replace.

Debuting in paperback for Free RPG Day and now available to purchase from Chaosium and/or download the free PDF, the RQG quickstart is a marvelous way to get into the game, and is just as good, if not better, than the CoC7 quickstart. Let’s take a look at the quickstart and see how well it works.

Initial Impression

To say that the look and design of this quickstart is gorgeous is an understatement. Like the CoC7 quickstart, it’s clear the new Chaosium is putting a priority on the look and readability of their games, and it’s something I greatly commend them for putting more effort into. I also like the textured look of the page backgrounds; it isn’t so busy as to be distracting, and I also like the rune graphic lightly placed in the middle of the pages. The page borders are a neat gold and brown pattern, and the same color is used for headings. The tables are also well-designed, with alternate-colored rows. The use of plain black for some of the parts is a little jarring and seems out of place, but I’m not sure what would work better. The artwork, while sparse and almost all portraits, are in grayscale and make great use of shading. I do hope the full rulebook has quite a bit more artwork, and maybe some not in full color, but perhaps using the golds and browns. I think that would look fantastic.

The Game System

Like other BRP games, RQG uses characteristics named the same as D&D/OSR RPGs, along with two unique ones: Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Power, and Charisma. In addition to characteristics, RQG uses abilities, which can either be a skill, passion, or rune. While these three will be commonly used when attempting something, RQG also utilizes the characteristics in a characteristics roll, which is simply that characteristic’s value multiplied by 5. An oddity is that Power is used for luck.

This section actually continues after the Adventurer Overview. I won’t admit how long it took me to figure that out, but it really should have been noted at the bottom of page 3. In addition to the Opposed Roll, the Resistance Table is back! For those not familiar with BRP, the Resistance Table was used for a long time, and has its fan and detractors. The latest version of Call of Cthulhu doesn’t use it, nor does RQ6/Mythras. While I don’t personally hate it, I did see the latest rules leaving it behind as evolution and refinement of the BRP rules, so it’s quite odd that this new game is using it once again. It’s also not explained very well in the text, and when you look at the table it uses POW, which isn’t even mentioned in the text!

Overall this section is pretty brief, and while it mostly makes sense on its own, I think for those new to BRP-based RPGs more explanations and examples would be beneficial. I certainly hope the full game provides that.

Adventurer Overview

This next section, also very brief, quickly covers each term of what’s on a RQG character sheet. Most of these are self-explanatory, with the exception of Strike Ranks and Rune Points/Spells. The example character on the facing page is a great help. Some of the circled numbers are badly-placed.

Time & Movement

Similar to D&D/OSR RPGs, RQG uses turns and rounds when describing time within the game. The round is even further defined by strike ranks. This is a concept I’m not familiar with, and the very brief explanation here, while sounding logical, doesn’t make much sense. Again, a combat example would help greatly. Movement is determined by the number of Move points, each being 3 meters in combat and “much more” outside of combat. Again, it makes sense logically but I’ve seen it explained far better in most D&D/OSR games.

Runes

As the game is RuneQuest, it’s clear that runes are the primary focus of this game. They are what make up the world, the gods, the magic, everything in existence. They are used for magic, augemtning certain skills, and even define personality. There are four types of runes: Elements, Powers, Forms, and Conditions.

Cool concept, but it’ll take more than this quick-start to convince me it’s worth running a game that focuses so heavy on them. In less than two pages I don’t really understand just how runes are (or should) be used in the game.

Passions

This short section explains how hatred, love, loyalty, and more can affect a character’s attempt at an action. These can be attempted at the right moment by a player, or the GM may call for it. Pretty logical rules, and I would encourage their use in my games.

Skills

Pretty much the core foundation of a D100/BRP game, skills define just what the character can do and attempt. These are what improves as a character continues adventuring. Many if not most skill rolls are made by the player, but there are a few times when the GM should make it for him or her. As expected for a quickstart, the list of rules is fairly short.

Combat

Having read and reviews Mythras, I was bracing for an equally complex yet realistic combat system in this quickstart, and for the most part my instincts were right. Strike ranks are used, as are hit locations. There are quite a few spot rules, but they’re all logical and I would likely use most if not all of them. I am disappointed however to not see a combat example.

Damage

My first reaction was to wonder why this wasn’t in the Combat section. However, as the opening paragraph states a player can certainly receive damage outside of combat. Armor and hit locations are very briefly covered, as well as death and healing.

Spirit Magic

This is the first of the two magic systems described in this quickstart. I don’t doubt that the full game will have several more, perhaps as many as Mythras does. As long as they’re modular and I can pick and choose I’m happy!

Spirit magic is fairly similar to the spells and rules you’d find in D&D and OSR RPGs. In contrast to Vancian casting, in RuneQuest magic points are expended for each casting. Each spell’s magic point cost also factors into the spell’s strike rank.

Rune Magic

Well here’s the rune magic, hence the game’s name! There’s some similarities to spirit magic, but also some important differences. Rune magic is cast through the use of rune points, as well as a roll against that spell’s rune affinity (not explained at this point in the quickstart, so just gotta nod your head in fake understanding like I did). There’s a short list of spells, with some almost mundane and a few I’d really like to see what happens when used in-game.

The Broken Tower

Taking up the second half of the quickstart is the adventure. I’m very happy to see an adventure included in the quickstart (it’s amazing how many games don’t), especially one so well-detailed. This adventure serves to help introduce the rules of the game as well as the world of Glorantha for both the GM and the players. I won’t go over the story and the encounters here, but I will say this is an excellent adventure, intro or not. The maps are a little dark and could use their own page for more details, but otherwise it’s always a nice reminder to see that D100/BRP games don’t require a gridded map and can be a little more loosely-drawn. There are five pre-generated characters at the end of the adventure available, with an additional shaman that can be downloaded here.

Conclusion

As far as quickstarts go, this one is pretty good. The design, layout, and content are all fairly well-developed and promise a full game that will usher RuneQuest to a new generation of players. I’m curious as well as hesitant to see what the full game bring, both in terms of sheer amount of rules as well as details for the world of Glorantha. Chaosium has posted a new design for the logo, and I and others do not like it, as well as being confused why the design from this quickstart is now apparently abandoned. Hopefully more will be made clear in the time following up to the game’s release.

Diaspora

Introduction

Over the years I’ve gone back and forth on the Fate RPG rules, and whether they’re actually as revolutionary as so many of its (often rabid) fan-base wants others to believe, or if it’s simply an OK alternative that could work depending on the group, the exact implementation of Fate, etc. etc. While the main attraction is the newest revision of the Fate rules as written in the Fate Core book, I’m taking a look at another sci-fi RPG that uses an older implementation of Fate: Diaspora.

It should be noted that as far as hard science fiction goes, I’m completely clueless. I’ve read a few Asimov novels decades ago (holy shit I’m old), and I have a general concept of what I think hard science-fiction is, but basically I’m going into this review assuming that this book is going to teach me at least enough to get started.

First Impressions

Like many other Fate games, the first thing I notice is that it is in 6″x9″, single-column format. It is very easy to read, and I commend VSCA for using that format. At 270 pages in this format, its page-count isn’t too bad, but it’s still higher than what I prefer and know I can read and remember most of the rules in the first couple of readings. At least there aren’t any side-bars unlike Fate Core! The font size is very easy to read, and the tables and boxed text are clean and straight-forward. There’s not too much artwork in here, but what there is has a nice Traveller vibe, so I do wish there was a bit more in that style, especially of space and exotic planetary terrains.

Looking at the table of contents, I really like how this book is organized. One odd thing I notice, both here and in the rest of the book, is that all chapter titles, headings, etc. are all in lowercase. Not really a negative, it’s just odd to see and threw me off at first. After the introduction the book opens with a short 12-page chapter on the Fate rules. It’s a great opening chapter; it lightly touches on the system and some of the ways it works, but it doesn’t try to dive into details and overwhelm the reader right off the bat.

Clusters

Next is the Clusters chapter (sorry but I have to capitalize them!). It’s interesting that this chapter isn’t closer to the end, where traditionally this kind of GM/Referee-focused information is. There’s 2 reasons for that, and I can agree with both. First is simply because this is a Fate game, and in these games the word of law is Cooperation. Even in creating the universe of the game, Fate intends for all players, not just the GM, to have a say and help flesh out the world. After all, they’re gonna be playing in it, wouldn’t you want them to have a say? That’s not to say that everything players will suggest will work or may even be downright moronic. At the end of the day the GM still has final say, at least in my games he or she does. The second reason for having this chapter so soon is that the GM along with the players will need to know more about the universe before creating characters, NPCs, etc. That sounds pretty logical, but in most RPG books it’s left solely up to the GM, and it still comes after all the rules for character creation, creatures, etc.

Anyways, the Clusters chapter has a pretty simple way to create as well as link systems. The main 3 points to each system are its technology, environment, and resources.  There are 9 possible levels for each, though of course you could create your own.

Characters

Next it’s on to the Characters chapter. Similar to Bulldogs!, this is also pretty simple and straightforward; you will create your aspects, choose your skills, populate your stress tracks, create your stunts, and then purchase equipment. Also similar to Bulldogs! (the older version), there are quite a few aspects you’ll need to create, compared to the fewer number in Fate Core and Accelerated. There are ten total, two for each phase: growing up, starting out, moment of crisis, sidetracked, and on your own. What’s neat, however, is that you don’t simply write out the phrases, as shown in most other Fate books. Rather, you will write a short paragraph for each phase, read it aloud to the group, and then from that pick your two aspects. It will still take some time, but using this method I don’t foresee it being much of a struggle nor hassle. I guess if a group really wanted to, you could just come up with one aspect for each phase, and then later on once you know more about your character and how he or she interacts with others and deals with things then you can write down the additional five aspects.

Coming from Fate Accelerated, I used to not be that keen on skills. Like any other RPG with skills, you will always run into the issue of what to do when someone wants to do something that isn’t covered by an existing skill. Now I’ll admit the weakness with Fate Accelerated in that it’s too easy for players to try to choose their best Approach to use each and every time (I simply house-rule that the GM has final say and authority over which Approach is used). In Diaspora the number of skills isn’t too large, so it’s at least easy for me to wrap my head around. It may not be as refined (but also not as generalized) as Fate Core, but I’ll take Diaspora or Bulldogs! over Core any day for layout, organization, and rule explanation.

Play

Next we have the Play chapter, and outside of the combat chapters it’s the largest one in the book, but it does cover almost everything besides character creation and combat.

First this section goes over refresh, the first portion of each game to catch up on previous events, assign Fate points to each character and spaceship, check for any needed healing, and utilizing experience gained.

Next we go over opposition. This covers both non-player characters and animals, and each section is fairly brief and easy to understand. Both have skills and aspects like a player character does, but there are far fewer of each. It is very easy to create new NPCs and animals in Diaspora within a minute of reading this short section!

Next the book covers space travel. There’s quite a bit of jargon here, even though it’s an interesting read as to how and why the travel rules were designed as they are. Unfortunately, at the end of this section I didn’t really understand it and I’d be likely to either very generalize space travel if not completely hand-wave it. And when I spend time and money on an RPG that features space travel, I want a simple but flexible system that I can knowingly utilize and eventually modify. Unfortunately that’s not the case here.

Next up is economics. While the knee-jerk reaction to this might be a sarcastic “Oh boy, yay!”, the fact is this is an important part of any near- or far-future world. In contrast to the last section, this one is clearly explained and logical to follow.

Next is mini-games, which is the four(!) combat sub-systems in the game: personal combat, space combat, social combat, and platoon combat. Since this is just a general overview of these sub-systems, I’m not quite sure yet what to think of them. At first glace it seems like overkill, not to mention that many more rules I’ll have to learn.

Finally, this chapter ends with a sample first session. Yes, finally something that will get me in the mood to play this kind of game and start grokking the rules! Wait a minute. It’s just a couple of sample worlds and characters. That’s not what a sample first (play) session is! To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. 94 pages in (including a blank page), and I’m not really getting into this game. Other RPGs would be either completed or getting near the end. What in the world does another 100 pages warrant?

Combat

There are four (!) chapters in Diaspora that covers combat (what is called the mini-games: Personal, Space, Social, and Platoon), and obviously it takes up the biggest chunk of the book. At first glance I’m not too happy with that. Yes it’s part of an RPG, and it can be a big portion of a gaming session, but it just leaves me wondering what in the world is expected in a game that I thought would prioritize exploration and adventure, as well as using a rule-system that so many claim is “rules-light”. And do I get a nice overview or anything like that first? Nope! I’m not going to review those chapters, because at this point I honestly don’t care.

Making It Work

This chapter for the referee covers quite a few areas, including how to start an adventure or entire campaign, as well as designing equipment, spacecraft, personal weapons, and armour. As Fate games are meant to be collaborative, I’m not sure why this information is in a separate chapter at the end of the book. There’s also a small section on expanding Diaspora beyond hard sci-fi, namely by including aliens and psionics. There’s also a paragraph on landing spacecraft. Not sure why it’s here, but oh well.

Conclusion

I really wanted Diaspora to work for me. I had such a positive impression of sci-fi Fate RPGs coming from Bulldogs!, and wanted something just as good if not better for hard sci-fi, as I wanted to learn more about that kind of universe and running a game in it. Unfortunately Diaspora didn’t meet those expectations, as well as being weighed down too much by older Fate rules as well as trying to emulate Traveller. Could a new/revised edition help? I’m not sure. I like Fate Accelerated, but with Core and other newer games there’s already as much if not more bulk and alternative sub-systems. I may just have to look at using an OSR or BRP set of rules for this kind of game…

Diaspora is available in PDF from DriveThruRPG, or in paper- or hardback via Lulu. If you order the hardback and email the receipt to vsca, you should get the PDF for free. That’s a nice touch!