Saturday, 15 December 2012

Pavis: Gateway to Adventure - Review

By now, Moon Design has a tradition of producing expensive, but hefty, sourcebooks for Glorantha. The latest offering, Pavis: Gateway to Adventure is no exception. At $60, it's two to three times the price of urban sourcebooks such as the Zobeck Gazetteer or Pirate's Guide to Freeport. But there's clearly a reason for that: those books are 116 and 256 pages, respectively, whereas this one is over 416. And, for that matter, the price compares well with the monumental Ptolus: City by the Spire, which weighs in at 808 pages and $150. (I'm ignoring PDF versions here).

Pavis is billed as the third part of the Sartar line, with the other two parts being Kingdom of Heroes and the Sartar Companion. Like those two books, it is divided between source material and adventures, with about two thirds of the book being taken up by the former. As the third in a line, it isn't intended to be stand-alone, and the nature of Glorantha would probably make it harder to port into other settings than, say, Freeport would be. As such, it's probably fair to say that this is aimed at existing fans, rather than the casual RPG purchaser.

Indeed, that's probably more true with this volume than the previous two, since, it is, of course, an update of the RQ2 supplements Pavis: Threshold to Danger and Big Rubble: the Deadly City from the early 1980s, and has obvious old-timer appeal. The new version is written for HeroQuest 2, although, frankly, that's such a rules-lite system (and most of the setting-specific rules are in Kingdom of Heroes, anyway) that, assuming you're willing to put the work in, the book is almost equally useful to someone playing some version of RuneQuest. Or whatever else your system of choice might be, come to that. (Well, okay, so something like Pathfinder might be a lot of work, but you get the idea).

Monday, 23 July 2012

Continuum 2012

It's been several months since my last post here, and it will probably be at least as long, if not more, before I do so again. (Although, on the other hand, I've got to review the new Pavis book at some point, so who knows?) Anyway, having just returned from Continuum 2012, it's time to post a review of that. Or, if not so much of the con as an entity, of the games I played, and what I thought of them.

To briefly look at the con itself, not only was it enjoyable, but, from my perspective, everything went without a hitch. I have not one complaint about the con, or its organisation. (I know some people moaned about the food, but I had no problems with it... one doesn't expect top notch catering in a student hall, and it was perfectly adequate for my needs. I'm there to game, not eat). So full kudos to everyone for pulling it off. The only negative points you're going to see in this post concern my reactions to individual game systems, and the like.

So, slot by slot through the con, here we go:

Friday afternoon - Hot War

We begin with a Cthulhu scenario set in a decaying hippy commune in the early '70s, as Hunter S Thompson with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off turns up to write a story about the passing of that particular lifestyle. Said commune having decided to attune themselves to Mother Sea by pitching their tents in Innsmouth. Which, in retrospect, may not have been the best plan.

The scenario, however, was not run with Call of Cthulhu, or its equivalents, but with an indie system called Hot War. Which is, apparently, a post-apocalyptic game when played with its built-in setting - here, of course, we were just using the system, not the background. It's a simple system, easily picked up, and focussed primarily on inter-player conflict. Not necessarily physical (although it could be), but social conflict and the like, between characters with divergent or opposed goals and objectives. So, for instance, in this game, two players were playing the journalist and his somewhat reluctant photographer, and two were members of the commune, with rather different views about its ultimate objective. (I played the commune's leader).

For this sort of purpose, the system worked very well. To my mind 'simple and easily picked up' is vital for any con game, unless you're already familiar with the system, and that's a theme I'll be returning to later. The conflict element worked well, given the scenario, and the whole thing was very enjoyable. My suspicion is that it would work better as a one-off (again, a plus for a con game) than for short campaigns, although the GM says he's done the latter without difficulty. As seems to be typical of indie games, long-running campaigns are not supported - it's not the demographic they're aimed at.

I feel no compulsion to rush out and buy it, especially as I have no interest at all in post-apocalyptic gaming, but I'd happily play in a suitable scenario using that system should I come across it at a con in future.

Friday evening - storytelling

And alcohol. Sadly, I didn't have anything for this myself, but others did, and it went down well. The highlight was, naturally enough, the reading of the last ever Griselda story by Oliver Dickinson. That's certainly 'last ever' chronologically, but probably also in publication terms. It's not a new story, although never read at a British con before - once in Germany a few years back - and it was new to me. I really enjoyed it, and it does a good job of wrapping up the series, and explaining what happens to everyone after the main series of stories conclude (specifically, with "Cradle Snatchers", during which Griselda leaves Pavis, never to return).

Saturday morning - Monkey

I've often wanted to play in a game of Monkey, written by the estimable Newt Newport, and finally got my chance. It was as enjoyable as I had hoped, and again, a very easy system to pick up, which works well in a con setting. For those unfamiliar with the concept, its based on the TV series of the same name, and on the ancient Chinese classic Journey to the West, on which the TV series was itself based. You play immortals, or similar characters, who must atone for past crimes in order to get back into the Chinese heaven. It's fast-playing, light, and with an emphasis on fun characterisation as much as on the kung fu.

Although there is also plenty of kung fu. And magical powers.

I had fun playing a somewhat aristocratic fox being accompanied by a couple of demons, a sage, and a hungry rat. The system is probably another one not suited for extended play, but short campaigns should work very well, assuming that the players do eventually un-blot their celestial ledgers and return to heaven - thus ending the game. I bought a copy of the game on the basis of the one I played, although I'll probably use it for one-offs rather than attempting a get-back-into-heaven campaign. It's the only one I did, of the games I played at the con, and if you like, simple, fun, humorous games with an unusual setting, it's well worth a look.

(For full disclosure, I should add that d101 Games did, of course, publish my own Book of Glorious Joy).

Saturday afternoon - "The Linfarn Run"

A freeform game, and, I have to say, one of the best I've been in for a long time. Well, come to think of it, one of the best I've been in, full stop. I'm not sure I can say much without giving away the plot, but the concept bears a fair resemblance to Firefly, although with more alterations than simply filing off the serial numbers. It was very well done, and well organised, with plenty to do all the way through - something I often find a problem in freeforms.

It's run at other cons, too, and I'd highly recommend it if you like the sound of the concept. There are sequels, too. Two of them, no less. The first sequel, "The Koening Dead",  was actually run at Continuum this year, but, having had time for only one freeform, and not knowing how good it was going to be, I hadn't signed up for it - in fact, having found one game I liked the sound of, I didn't even notice it on the list of games.

This is something I will hopefully rectify at the next opportunity!

Saturday evening - Gloranthan wargaming

The seminar I'd planned on going to having been cancelled, I looked around for something else to do, and got involved in a minifig wargame set in Glorantha. Wargames aren't really my thing, but the fact that it was so easy to wander up and join something on zero notice is a definite plus. I probably didn't acquit myself terribly well - having missed the briefing, I may have failed to grasp exactly who was supposed to be on my side - but it passed a few hours.

Sunday morning - Gloranthan seminars

This is Continuum, so there must be Gloranthan seminars! There were actually a number of other seminars I would have liked to attend, but these were the only ones that weren't moved and didn't clash with something else I'd pre-planned. I also caught the end of the 'spirituality in roleplaying' seminar, which seemed to be seemed to have been engaging for everyone, as well as a bit of Robin Laws talking about his upcoming (Kickstarter willing) game Hillfolk, but otherwise this was it for me.

The mapping seminar was great - exactly the sort of enthusiastic, geeky, detail and tantalising glimpses that you want out of that kind of talk. All the upcoming maps look great, and that's really cool for we Glorantha fans!

The other seminar was a combined upcoming releases talk for Moon Design, and a free-wheeling discussion on Glorantha in general. Sadly, the latter, which took up most of the talk, was of zero use to me, because it got bogged down almost entirely in discussion of the new version of the West, which I have no interest in ever playing in. Or reading, probably.

Having said that, I suppose it did at least crystallise a new bone of contention that I hadn't particularly thought about before: what Jeff perceives as an "uncomfortable marriage" I perceive as a "fascinating dichotomy". 'Nuff said.

Sunday afternoon - 6d6 Ultra-Lite

On Sunday afternoon, back to the gaming! Here, I played in a Scooby-Doo game using the 6d6 Ultra-Lite mechanics. They changed the names of the characters, presumably so they could actually publish the scenario online, but otherwise, it was essentially identical to the TV series. I felt the ending of the scenario was a bit flat, but otherwise it was great fun, and the GM had what felt like a really good grasp of the particular brand of cartoon logic that applies here - which is hardly realistic, but differs from the cartoon logic, of, say, Bugs Bunny.

As to the system, I'm not sure I can say anything very meaningful about it. As a con game it was fine, as the system is almost ridiculously simple: you have a number of freely described abilities, and can apply up to four of them at a time to any task. Each ability used gives you 1d6 to roll, and your total needs to beat that of the GM for you to succeed. There's a simple rule for injury, and, presumably, some sort of character generation mechanism, but otherwise, that appears to be the entire system.

So great for a con game, and I'd happily play it again. But, when a system is that simple, there's no reason to bother buying it, and it has no features that make it stand out from any other basic dice-rolling mechanism. Now, my understanding is that the full 6d6 game has lots more than that, apparently including some unique conceptual twist (though I've no idea what), but I can't comment on that, because I haven't tried it.

Sunday evening - "LegoQuest"

Kind of a bum note to end on, but this one didn't work for me. It was too long for it's slot (which, admittedly, was shorter than any of the others), and the scenario itself turned out not to be what I was expecting from the sign-up sheet. It sounded like a light-hearted spoof of Apple Lane, but, aside from terrible puns, it was just a straight-up re-working of that scenario for a different setting.

The game system was billed as "LegoQuest", and was a home-brew version of RuneQuest, rather than something published. Ostensibly, RQ2 had been modified to make it simpler, but my impression was that the complexity had simply moved to different areas of the game, making it just different enough to be difficult to pick up quickly if you knew the original. I'm sure it works great in the GM's  home campaign, because he knows it inside-out, and presumably has developed it bit-by-bit over the years. I was frankly lost, and with the scenario not being what I'd expected, it just flopped for me.

After which, filking and alcohol!

And so to bed...

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Kingdom of the Flamesword

Some of you may recall that, in addition to the Book of Glorious Joy, I was also commissioned by Issaries to write a similar book on Seshnela and the Rokari. That fell through, as ideas of what Seshnela should be changed. In the none-to-distant future, Issaries/Moon Design will be publishing the Guide to Glorantha which will include the new, canonical view of Seshnela, and we both agree that it's important for any release of my material not to clash with that.

There was a hope that it might be published in some dead-tree format, but that's all stalled, and I've had no reply to e-mails. So, since I do have permission from Issaries to post the material free-of-charge to my website (so long as certain legal disclaimers are included), and in the interests of not clashing with the release of official publications, that's what I've done.

If you liked the Book of Glorious Joy, and wondered what I made of Seshnela, you can find my thoughts here. As always, the non-canonical nature of the work must be stressed, and no challenges to copyrights or trademarks are intended - this is just fan material, nothing more and nothing less. It will certainly be contradicted in official works, and, if that matters to you, this won't be of much use. It's also worth noting that at least some of it still written for HQ1, which was the current edition at the time, and may put some people off.

But otherwise - well, hopefully it will be useful to someone.