Tuesday 31 March 2009

Befriend, ride and obliterate bugs in Dragonfly by Jeffrey Schecter

Starship Troopers meets Pokemon in Dragonfly, a near-future Science Fiction RPG. Humans live alongside bugs. Some bugs you might want to eat. Some might want to eat you. Some might be your friends, pets, protector or transport. Some will be looking at you and wondering if you would look nice as a necklace.


Every character is connected to the bugs in some way. You begin by choosing a character role: Adept, Entomologist (someone who studies bugs), Hunter, Ranger or Rider (high ho, silver!). This role provides you will some points to spend on your familiar and novel attributes: Empathy, Entymology, Fitness, Survival, Technology and Willpower. On top of those, you also have a series of abilities, which are analogous to feats and skills. Some of them are profession based (I can do science, me) and some of them are physical or ethereal (stop thinking about me in those knickers, you filth!). You finish with picking your bug companions, pleasant ones, obviously. You don't want to be eaten by your own pet in the first session. Not unless you think that's funny. Which my players would.


Humanity has found itself on the system of Arthra, a delightfully balanced system with both variety and credibility. Humans are native of one planet (no mention of Earth) and live uneasily with a broad selection of bugs. From their homeworld, the humans have yawned and stretched with their 21st Century technology (spaceflight assumed to be vastly advanced) across the other worlds, taking full advantage of the diverse environments Jeffrey has carefully crafted. Technology is well explained, you have all the stuff you have today but you can travel between the planets with graceful ease.

The bugs are where the fun begins. Bugs are served in a broad array from intelligent, bovine, psychic, insectoid, gremlinoid and anything else you can turn your mind to. Some humans live in harmony with the bugs but that alone wouldn't be very interesting for a roleplaying game. In some places bugs and humans are at more loggerheads than teenage siblings. In these cases, the characters are brought in to investigate, understand or bring about the bugocalypse (bugapocalypse or bugalypse?).


Resolution is pleasantly familiar with a twist: players describe what they want to do. GM chooses the difficulty by giving a number of dice to roll. The player rolls them, sums them and compares them against the attribute or ability score. Equal or lower is a pass. The few dice the GM gives, the easier the task. There is a lean towards leaving the narration with the player but old-schoolers won't find it too obtrusive. Opposed rolls are performed by comparing the lowest-under-attribute score.

Conflicts are performed neatly thus: the person trying to do something rolls first. If they pass, the person trying to stop it, rolls against. If they pass, start again. Keep going until one person fails. Nice! There's a little more on combat, damage and modifiers but nothing too heavy. That's it.

The unfortunately named Currency is a player possessed pool of resources that can be spent to help tip the balance of rolls. Bugs are described in a cut-down version of the character and rules are included for training your bug to be your bestest friend to hug and squeeze and love for ever and ever (please leave a comment if you recognise that reference).


The bug description section is superb, accompanying images round it off perfectly. We all know what a fly looks like but having the graphics helps pull it together. There is a GM section too, which gives limited but solid advice. The character sheet is cool too.

Picky Picky Picky

The Starship Troopers connection is slightly misleading because in that film (I enjoyed the original immensely), the bugs were something to be butchered wholesale but Dragonfly is more subtle than that (fortunately). I'd also like to see an example adventure so that the GM knows what sort of game to run. If you're experienced, this is unlikely to be a problem - the setting has more than enough hooks to get your adventure juices flowing. The order of information could be rejigged to improve clarity - particularly to add some overviews to the start of sections. I'd quite like to see a 'This is what your characters will get up to' section too. As you can see by my commitment to my whinge-and-moan section, there's really little not to like with Dragonfly.

Summing Up

Dragonfly is a beautifully written 24 page PDF with an excellent layout and appropriate graphics. A novel, well considered setting that can be pulp or deepen to taste. If you're looking for insectoid monsters for your D&D campaign, there are some lovely ideas here that can be converted. Instead of psyonics, bugs that do magic, perhaps? Dragonfly will make an excellent addition to your RPG collection and an even more welcome at your gaming table. Many thanks, Jeffrey!

Tuesday 24 March 2009

An ingenious setting creator: Instant Game by Mike and Kyle Jones

Invent a unique and ingenious setting using a few d100s and Instant Game by Mike and Kyle Jones of Animalball Games [edit - now defunct]. Lob a few dice, apply inventive linking and that generic, free system you love so much can have a setting quite unlike any other. Instant Game is also a generic system too but I think most will benefit from the random setting and plot generation, so this review concentrates on those parts.

"Louis, Louis, Louis. Always whining, Louis!" said Lestat from Interview with a Vampire. If I was much more attractive, stylish and an immortal who drank blood, he could be talking to me. I am, however, a ginger Brit with a forehead so large your could sell advertising space on it. I am always whining about how wonderful, free generic systems do not come prepacked with a wonderful, free setting. Well, now you can make your own without the horror of having original ideas. To demonstrate how easy Instant Game is, I'm going to create a game as I review, putting my results into italics.

A game, instantly

Your Instant Game is constructed from Setting, Story, Characters, On the fly and Resolution mechanics. I am going to concentrate on Setting and Story as I think they are where the power is for most gamers. Generally, you roll on a table with a d100 and pick the answer and move on. If you don't like it, you can roll again but I feel that somewhat out of the spirit of it. You could just choose and fore go the dice but I imagine Animalball will pay a visit with blowtorches and pliers.


The Setting is made from a roll on the Setting table (well, naturally), a roll on Tone table and two rolls on the Things tables. Each table has a huge number of items in it. I rolled:
  • Setting: Lost Civilisation
  • Tone: Conspiracy
  • Things: Serial Killer, Dreams.
From here, you apply your cunning mind and link them together:
  • For me, this brings to mind a serial killer, who has terrible dreams (which turn out to be true) and is trying to stop Atlantis from sinking by killing government officials. That's just the setting!


You might well indicate that I already have enough in the Setting to set up the characters - working for the government, trying to stop the killer but I will go on as it's all rather good fun. For Story, you roll on Opposition, an Action + Thing and Action + Other Thing. You can also add Descriptor (Abandoned, Clean, Occult etc) if you like but I am going to keep it simple (stupid). I rolled:
  • Opposition: Evil Mastermind
  • Action + Thing: Guide Scribe
  • Action + Thing (again): Duel Hostage
Once again, joining and gluing is in order:
  • The players are after the evil mastermind (serial killer), a scribe is going to help them but is a bit useless, so needs guiding. Perhaps the scribe is blind? Yes! The big scene at the end is a duel with the serial killer, who indicates that they (government agents) are actually helping destroy Atlantis.
Et voila. A setting and a plot. In about 2 minutes.

Things that matter

The book is well laid out, two columns and easy to read. A smattering of colourful pictures that print well lift what could have been a nightmare tablefest (am I the only person in the world with a Rolemaster phobia?). I would not print it, either. I would use it as a PDF and then take my ideas from it. There are sample settings at the back of the book as well as a glossary of terms. The glossary is superb, it describes every item in the tables - which is not required but adds extra flavour if you are unsure of how it might be combined with other tables. There is a quick start as well as a more detailed description of how to game instantly. There is also an active community (and I mean active). Loads of feedback and more ideas.
I imagine that Instant Game is also great for designers, whether you are doing a WoAdWriMo adventure, 24 Hour RPG Entry or just designing for fun. It can act as the ideal idea trigger to make that game that will refresh the haggard minds of your dungeon crawlers.

Imagination breakdown?

Although Instant Game does do a lot, you do need to engage brain to connect the nouns and adjectives together. This might be a cool activity to do with your players but some player groups prefer to sit and game, not sit and create a game. My players like to sit and plot the demise of any plot/campaign/setting/NPCs/tension/thought/self-respect I might have. Your players are probably culture vultures, connoisseurs of roleplaying taste and decorum - the polar opposite of my knuckle-dragging, violence engines. If I were picky, I'd like all the tables right at the back to make printing easier and the twin column would be easier to read if their were justified left and right.

Instant Conclusion

Am I going to stop whining? Of course not but Instant Game goes a very long way indeed to filling the void I feel gapes in many free systems. If you have a system you want to use and it is bereft of setting then use Instant Game to do that for you. It is well thought out and has more than enough combinations to generate a vast, and I mean VAST selection of settings. Of course, I have only reviewed the Setting/Story part of the game and there is more regarding characters and, feats and so on. Be assured, the rest is of similar high quality.

Mike and Kyle should be applauded, not only have they produced something superb for nothing but also an imaginative toolbox that anyone and everyone can find a use for.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Brain off? Risus on. The Anything RPG by S. John Ross

Risus by S. John Ross is a featherweight, generic, free RPG system with simply intriguing mechanics. Ideal for evening one-shots, convention games or Tea and Cake games (like Beer and Pretzel games but played in England). There is a huge amount of supporting material and a delightfully presented 6 page rulebook. It's one of those games that you should have in your game armoury.


Risus, like most featherweight systems, depends upon nouns and a description. It's about the feel of the character you're putting down, not a load of numbers. As such, page one, bold as brass, an example character and it's all about description and nouns. If you're good at nouns (no, not nuns, nouns) then you'll find character creation very easy.

Clichés are a series of nouns that describe what your character is about. The GM sets the setting and you decide on the Clichés. For example, if the GM said that the setting is Martian Monkey Baiting, you might dream up Soldier, Taunt and Fluency in Gibbon. You then have 10 d6 to assign to these Clichés. You can have up to 10 Clichés but it means you only get one dice in each - making you a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. In fact a jack-of-all-trades and crap-at-them-too! Make sure you write up a description of your character too so that others can mock you.

As for equipment, spells and monkey bait, you get anything that your Clichés say you should have. If you lose any of that stuff, you Clichés suffer. You leave your Gibbon-English dictionary on train to work again, then your Fluency in Gibbon will be cut in half. I like this as it suggests that a person's worth is not just their skills but the tools to make them useful. Implicit in many games but superb in its explicity (Google says that's not a word but I say Bollocks to Google).


For any action that isn't easy, you roll the number of dice associated with the most appropriate Cliché. Add them up and try and beat a target number. Opposed situation is handled by the GM stating what sort of Clichés are appropriate (this is a moveable feast - if a player can convince the GM that basket weaving is ideal in steering a space ship to Mars then that is ok), roll the Cliché dice and highest wins. If you lose, you temporarily lose a Cliché dice until the end of the combat. The ultimate loser of the combat is the person without any Clichés with dice attached. I like this system as it gives you a chance to try different Clichés to try and win.

There are rules for grouping NPCs or PCs together to make more interesting bundles of combat. To help keep everyone in the game (very important at a Con), if someone has a character that has the least appropriate Clichés (or really appropriate ones at the start but the players have gone off into brain-spasm land) then the GM can assign two dice to everyone - which gets everyone playing. Splendid.

There's More

Risus is sliced in two - the main rules which are quick and neat. It also offers some 'advanced' options too. Pick and choose depending on your player group. My group of barely evolved (or hurriedly created, depending on your religious views) hominids would relish the chance of more rules to bend, break or ignore so I would probably throw them all in on a six hour game but leave them out on an evening four hour outing. I'd recommend this to any RPG designers out there - if the rules are optional, stuff them at the back!

And More

Risus is buoyed by its support. There's an uncharacteristically long solitaire adventure called Ring of Thieves (that reads a bit like a Choose Your Own Adventure book), there is a Yahoo! Group, it is translated into a load of different languages and for those allergic to printing, there are compendia at a Lulu store (S. John writes under Cumberland Games). And more but I'm boring you.

Et tu, Brute?

Ever stepped away from a Con game and wished that it could turn into a Campaign game? Risus has enough weight to run a campaign with; and not just one of those frivolous trying-to-pull-the-attractive-blonde games but a serious, blood, guts, insanity and more teeth than the Osmonds campaign. However there isn't a free Risus setting to do that for you. The Anything RPG is stabbed in the back by its very own strength: no setting. Other featherweight RPGs have featherweight settings with them (Sketch, I'm looking at you). I can't actually download and run Risus without me or the other players putting in a fair amount of effort at the session. If I needed to put in effort, we probably wouldn't be playing Risus in the first place. I expect the bleedin' obvious solution to this problem is to use the Sketch settings. The website is a little disorganised and dated (white on black is only ok for small amounts of text) - I think that might put some off, which is a pity.

Final Thoughts

Risus is an excellently thought out, laid out and played out game. It builds on a solid, simple mechanic to provide fun at a moment's notice. I feel that Risus should not be constrained to that bracket, it should be picked up by any GM with a campaign setting but no fitting system. An easy read, bereft of errors and it is no surprise that is continues to thrive. Many thanks for sharing a superb game, S. John!


My name's Rob Lang and I am an egomaniac. I love reading about me. If there was a magazine called 'Lang' and it was entirely about me each month - no sod it, it would be a weekly - I'd subscribe at the drop of a hat. And this month I've had my very own slice of fame with an interview in the Free RPG eZine ODDS. Now in its seventh issue. Good ole Jon Hicks of Farsight Games has published the interview unabridged so you can read about me and how fabulous I think I am!

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Pick up axe, put on Chainmail and kick the door of the dungeon in with Dungeonslayers by Christian Kennig

Dungeonslayers by Christian Kennig is the roleplaying equivalent of riot police kicking your door in at 3am. It'll shout in your face, cuff your Grandma and bundle you into the back of the riot van before you get a chance to explain that Mr. Jenkins, the drug dealer, lives three doors down at number 42. If you do fancy a dabble in old school (whatever that is, you might as well try and nail water to a wall than pin that term down) fantasy, then Dungeonslayers is like injecting absinthe.


Characters are described by 3 physical and mental attributes, from which 6 abilities are derived. From here, you calculate 7 combat values, which help accelerate combat during play. You create it by starting with one of three races: Dwarf, Human or Elf. You pick a class: fighter, scout or spellcaster (of which there are only three kinds). Then you assign the attribute values and calculate your abilities and race bonuses. Not a lot of choice but with players like mine, choice is bad. Choice leads to free thinking. Free thinking leads to ideas. Ideas in the hands of deranged sociopaths like my players is dangerous. Tack on spells and equipment. Hang on, character creation in two pages. I'm numb, like I've been subject to a bout of skullbuggery.

As familiar as the A-Team van

The mechanics are a familiar machine, roll a d20 and compare against attribute + ability. Criticals are in there, as is initiative for combat order. In a combat round, you select an action you want to do (spell lobbing, spleen smashing, wall painting - alright, wall painting isn't there but as it is loose and fast, there is no reason why not) and roll some dice. You can dodge attacks, special weapons cause more harm and armour soaks it up. Get in the way of too many orc axes and you fall over. If the other characters aren't all evil bar stewards, you get healed or you might get resurrected but this doesn't make you a zombie. Unless your GM has a sense of humour.

There's more

There's a one page spell list and a one page equipment list. Dungeonslayers has a fast and neat GM Section and ample bestiary. Joyously, Dungeonslayers has a sample adventure. Which means that you can literally download and run it in an evening. Few free games provide a sample adventure, which is definitely a barrier to many GMs. I have never run fantasy and I could have run a session of this quicker than writing this review. My dear, suffering wife who thinks that roleplaying is some sort of elaborate community care scheme to ensure geeks (you know, you and me) are kept off the streets; could run it. There's a support community for the terminally incapable or for those wishing to have some friends. The game and website launch was professionally done and recent, it makes a change to release a game surfing the crest of the wave.

Go on, pick holes in it, sunshine... I dare you

My standard complaints are null and void with Dungeonslayers. Pictures? It has lovely covers (by Paul C Butler) and if you stuffed any inside then they, well, wouldn't make sense. That's daft. It has three columns! Ah ha! More than two... but the short sentence length makes it somehow snappy... the additional white space caused by the added column - errrr... could it be any more trim? There is a small dig at modern games at the start but that is quickly forgiven. I'm clutching at straws here! It was translated! Yes, there you go, a fault. Well, actually, no. It's been translated perfectly (efficiently, one might say) and dedicated to the memory of Gygax. Very fitting. There you go, I've not managed to find anything wrong with it. Damn you, Christian!


Dungeonslayers nails precisely what it sets out to achieve. A fast, trim, dungeon-crawling, monster-hacking, treasure-thieving game. And I mean efficient. There's more fluff on a steel ingot. Christian has done an excellent job and with a small horde of translators and helpers, has created a tongue in cheek game that only those with a cold stone where their heart should be can't love.

ps. Thanks to fellow RPG Blogger Stargazer for the tip. And congratulations on having a part in this superb game.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

News: Free RPG Blog Link Directory and more

I have created my own free RPG directory to keep track of all the free RPG stuff I find. It's based in the Delicious social bookmarking system, so will have loads of features. Also, I bring forth news on Farsight Games gush of free output, the free RPG community at 1KM1KT throbs into life and Viking Midgard gets a post-review update.

Free RPG Blog Directory

I've been working through my favourite free RPG directories and picking those RPGs that I believe will satisfy your thirst for free roleplay goodness. For every review, I read three RPGs and click ten links. For each 'not found' page, I shed both a tear and a piece of my soul (why do they not upload to 1KM1KT?). I'd like not to be put through that horror but shredding my soul is part of my job here on the free rpg blog. To shield you from that emotional hardship, I have created another RPG Directory. As if we didn't have enough.

It's a lot of work to keep these directories up to date and manage existing links, so I have opted to use the Del.icio.us social bookmarking system to do that. Think of it as the lazy man's directory. I will tag each link I put in with a little description. Here are some way to use the directory:
The Directory is also on the blog! You can see the latest links on the left hand side (under the twitter feed) and a link to the directory in the header.

Farsight Games has gone content mad!

Jon Hicks, over on Farsight games has been busying away with new settings for the Sketch system. A delightful flood of free RPG goodness. A post apocalyptic setting, The 13th Year, dark fantasy Darkland and Highlander (as in the film. You know, the the Good One). They all look smashing and have been added onto my list. If you can't wait, then Unclebear is also feeling the Sketch love. If you're not feeling the Sketch love, then give it a try.

Also, I filled in a review for a future free ODDS ezine. For a raving egomaniac, that's a dream come true.

One Thousand Monkeys Back to Life!

1KM1KT by Keeton Harrington is a free place to host your games and has a little community of philanthropists. I'm pleased to announce that the 1KM1KT Community has bubbled into life once again. We're plotting a 24 hour RPG competition in the near future. If you're into your free RPGs, then come on over.

Midgard Gets Updated

Ben Redmond has been furiously updating his Viking RPG, Midgard, since my review. Most of the changes are a result of a good playtest - not as complete as Ben might have liked but worthwhile nonetheless. He has made a print version, as suggested by David Macauley in the comments of my review, tightened some of the rule description and improved some of the rune player handouts. I've had a quick skim read and although there still is no setting (Gah! Please, Ben, make a nice setting, you know you want to), the rules now feel like something has been playtested and polished, rather than brain-farted onto the page. Great work, Ben! Let's all hope his break from developing Midgard is a short one.