Tuesday 30 June 2009

Fear the Roleplaying Game? Yes, you should because it's bigger than all of us. By Paul Jeffcoat

Flexible Easy And Realistic (Fear) has everything except a kitchin sink monster. Paul has created a truly epic fantasy roleplaying game. The system has medium crunch (around a nut based breakfast cereal) and has immense levels of detail to delight and enthrall. Paul has included things I would never have imagined in a fantasy RPG. Is it too big? Can a game be too big? Let's find out.

Character Creation

In the spirit of the roleplaying games of yesteryear, Fear enforces a random character generation. The process is lengthy and table heavy: pick race, roll statistics (there are 9), pick gender (the fairer sex are weaker), pick skills, work out skill values from statistics, check birth sign... let me halt my own inevitable progress there to investigate this. Birth Signs, you say?

Birth signs are the product of an evil genius. A vindictive GM with acid for blood and a heart of granite could use Birth Signs. Oh yes. Every character has a Birth Sign, randomly rolled, and because they are PCs and thus special, the all just happened to born during a planetary conjunction. As such, they all get a super-ish power (I think there should be a super-ish hero film with a super-ish villain - the diet coke of super hero films). For ten months of the year, you have this super-ish power. In your birthday month, it blossoms into a suped up version. In the opposite month to your birthday, it becomes an utter burden. Cue evil GM chuckles, cackles and guffaws. Take one of the Light powers, for example. Under normal circumstances, killer beams of light come out of your eyes. Pretty cool. In your birthday month, you get to see dead people and invisible things. Cool. In the opposite month, you become almost blind. Bugger. It's as if every character has 'a time of year' for a month. This doesn't sound too evil until you realise that the GM controls time. Yes. Classic. My players take a year to play through a month of game time. Fear finally gives me the tools to win! Yes! I can beat them! Have them all born in the same month and then have the game run through the opposite month, debilitating the lot of them! HA HA! In all seriousness, it's a lovely idea and well executed.

Status determines social position, and Calling is a sort of loose class that determines what sort of skills you learn quickly. Either Magic, Martial or a bit of both. Then you get more skills, this time with shiney points for the spending. Character creation doesn't end there. You have a clutch of secondary statistics, such as run speed and so on. Luck re-rolling makes an appearance as does a bit on background and posessions. With the options available, it is an involved process.

Characters development occurs on the hoof. If you roll well, regardless of whether you pass of fail, you get to roll to see if you improve. Making a complete gaff a learning experience. You do it there and then.


A target number is chosen by the GM between 11 and 30. The player chooses the most appropriate skill or statistic, rolls a d20 and adds his skill or statistic to it to try and beat the target number. Modifiers can help or hinder (such as being nearly blind for a month makes it difficult to notice someone thrusting a sword up your nose) and if you're encumbered, things get more difficult. Being injured isn't helpful either. In amongst the Actions Chapter is a whopping load of skills too. Attacks are performed by rolling a die and adding attacker's attacking skill and the defender's running-away-like-a-big-girl skill. This is augmented by a bag chock full of modifiers, armour, fatigue, wounds, fighting off-hand, fumbling, disarming and so on. Damage is taken from the level of success of the hit. And yes. More modifiers and caveats. Damage comes in different flavours too: acid, cold, crush, electricity, puncture, heat, being talked at by the mother in law and so on. You could make a wealth of 70s metal band names out of the damage types. Each damage type reacts differently to each armour type under varying levels of damage. Bring on the tables!


Magic comes in two flavours. Pious and Profane. I like the idea of Profane magic. Involves turning the air blue by uttering every grandmother unfriendly expletive in quick succession. Spells comfortably portioned into levels and grouped by a discipline. Warm, friendly and comfy like your favourite booth seat in your local pub. What is slightly unbelievable is the


Each detailed to an eye watering level. If you love your magic systems, you'll love Fear. There are some great spells in there too, especially at Level 20: Summon Disaster, Control Light and Awaken Trees popped out at me.

The Devil is in the Detail

If anything about Fear scares you, it will be the depths of detail. And it's not really detail you can skim over like I did at first (this review began in February and I keep coming back to do a bit more). There are sparks of delight that you simply can't skim. There's a damage table for throwing small rocks. There's a table for injuries caused by tiny creatures. There is a section on damage from sleep deprevation and one of the option PC races is the Dragon-Newt. There is a Chapter on Psychoses, many of which I recognise in the chittering malcontents I tentatively call my players. The Bestiary groans in weight, poisons, diseases - even the plague - is covered. Good grief, there is a treasure section - stay with me - firearms, grenades, explosives, Amulet of Willow-The-Wisp, an appendix of tables and AN INDEX! Breathe. Breathe. Calm.


Fear is not easy and should not be labelled as such. This is not a game for the quick one-shot when the GM is in rehab from all the horrid things his players have done. This is a fantasy game system for campaigns. Don't download Fear thinking it will good for a filler game. It's not. It's a full fat, high calorie, enormous roleplaying game. Treat it with respect. Don't make eye contact. Never turn your back. Bow as you leave the room.

Fear is 502 pages. That's a shade more than a ream and although that can be a good thing, I think a lot of space could be saved with a smaller font and two columns. Paul is also guilty of rule fluff - a kind of fluff I've never seen before. Rule fluff are explanations I consider to be extraneous detail not suitable for the target market - which is experienced GMs. A new GM would find Fear inpenetrable. The contents page is 24 pages. It should only include two levels, the Index should do the heavy lifting, which is does already. I'd like to see some graphics, as this is such a huge game, that should not be too much to ask. That's a small point compared to the others, I don't really need graphics but it would help the reader to digest.

Too big?

One criticism that's often levelled at Free RPGs is their half baked feel. They could be beautifully written, illustrated and 100 pages of sheer adoration but the game still feels somewhat empty. That before-breakfast feeling is because part of the fun of being a GM (and a player but less so) is delving into a monster of a game and finding those delightful nuggets that you can throw at your hapless players. Lite games do give you more freedom and that's cool too but there is fun to be had and imaginations to be lit by a meaty RPG. And as meaty goes, Fear is half a cow. It could be better organised (now I've written that blog post, I'm never going to shut up) but its size allows Fear to move away from the endless stock D&D clones that appear to be the default choice of Free RPG writer philanthropists.


If Fear was the only book to survive the apocalypse then a society could be built upon its teachings. One shot this is not. I don't care if you've played every single form of fantasy roleplaying game. I don't care if you were the first to snatch up D&D as it passed into your local shop. I don't care if you've designed thousands of games and sold them across the globe. Fear will still have something you've never seen before. It is epic. With a big E. Epic.

Friday 26 June 2009

Live Blog - 24 Hour RPG - Finished!

Update May 2011 Scribd have become a force of evil, so I am now hosting my game at the much less evil Google Docs. Download it here!. I have just finished a cracking campaign of Cloudship Atlantis and will be building the playtest changes back into the game in a new version.

I'm writing an RPG in 24 hours, obeying the Draconian rules I helped to sculpt. Keep reloading this page to see my progress.

To help speed up my blogging, here are a few shortnings I may use throughout:
Keeton is the glorious benefactor of 1KM1KT. I have to include him in the game somewhere as one of the rules. Chainsaw Aardvark or CA is one of the mods of the forums and a solid chap who shares my love of freeness. He's one of the judges of the compo. Kumakami or Kuma is an inventive fellow who has contributed some of the biggest thoughts to 1KM1KT. He's the other judge on the compo.

[Zero Hour] 20:00 It begins

Who came up with this list of topics? I know I had something to do with it but now reading it from the point of view of needing to make a game in 24 hours, it looks like the product of a derranged mind. Three derranged minds: CA, Kuma and I. Gah. I might have to take two and flip a coin.

[Zero Hour] 20:09 Topic chosen

It's going to be The Boiler Room of Atlantis. Right. Now what? Notes, outline. Drawing. Get my pencil.

[Zero Hour] 20:36 Topic chosen

Atlantis is a flying city run on gas. Society split into two: privileged living in the open and underclass servicing all the mechanics. Might try to make a dice pool system.

[One Hour] 21:33 Fleshing out the two races

Humbles are underclass but jolly. Gentry are snooty, insecure and hierarchical. Split between this idea of 'The Bow' a line drawn from the front of the ship. Character will be escaping the boiler room into the upper classes. Only to find it's worse up there than below.

[Two Hour] 22:11 It's hot!

The UK is having some kind of heat wave! Brother in law is coming round to pick up some stuff and I'm delving into the mechanics. Pool mechanic of sorts. Need to dream up some names for the attributes and then it will be attribute + skill + a dice out of the pool (if you want to). Vs a target number or opposed. Nice and simple.

[Three Hour] 23:04 Sleepy time

Now to get some rest before I begin again at probably around 8am ish. Sort of. Probably. Will be taking a notebook to bed.

[Eleven Hour] 07:51 And we're off

I'm up and about and ready for the last big push. Need some breakfast now. Then character character creation and update for some notes I wrote last night in bed.

[Thirteen Hour] 09:18 Skills started now onto some graphics

This is the bit I like and at the same time dread. I am a perfectionist and hate leaving a graphic unfinished or not absolutely perfect. I hope you appreciate how this is hurting me to just bash something out. I'll post up an image when I have one.

[Fourteen Hour] 10:06 Atlantis ahoy!

A side view of this mighty flying city.

[Sixteen Hour] 12:18 Dumping Open Office

I want a graphic background and to do that, you have to jump over loads of Open Office hoops. So I'm dumping it. It's failed. I can't recommend it for creating RPGs that want a border. I want a border.

[Eighteen Hour] 14:04 Example adventure

Hammering through the example adventure, which will be the actual Escape from the Boiler Room of Atlantis. I always want my Free RPGSs to have example adventures, so this is important. Have a few more mechanics things to do too - such as XP and target numbers for rolling dice. I'm at about 8 pages but that will be blown away when I get onto the graphics in a couple of hours.

[21 Hour] 17:00 More graphics!

I am now passed the point where I am happy with the game. I think it is playable in its current state. Now for adding more flavour and detail to it. Particularly in the form of graphics. I might even use myself as a model!

[23 Hour] 19:32 Final read through

I need to read it through once more and make sure stuff I wrong 22 hours ago still fits. Is it playable? I think so. But we'll let others be the judge of that.

[24 + 16 mins] I finished!

I finished on time but I'm writing this after getting a drink and rushing to the loo. The last half an hour was hectic. I realised that I had sodding well forgotten to add Keeton's name in. I noticed a few paging nightmares and a load of text that went missing. However, I'm done now. So, enjoy!

Tuesday 23 June 2009

24 Hour RPG Contest - 1 Week Left!

Time is fleeting and I am gearing up to do mine. There's nothing like a deadline to thicken the blood, quicken the heart and get started. I know thirty quid isn't the crown jewels but it's a good excuse for you to whip your grey cells into action and get a game out of your head and onto the web.

Join in with me!

I am going to be starting at 20:00 (GMT+1) on Friday 26th of June. The last weekend. I'll be making a time lapse video and posting that up after. I'll also be live blogging on here. A post will appear on Friday, just keep reloading it to see my progress. How about doing yours at the same time? Ah go on, keep me company during my darkest hours. Already done one? Do another!

You're not allowed to do preparation

So I'm not. Not for the game. I am getting myself physically and mentally prepared. Tidying up my desk, getting all the applications I will be using ready, ensuring I have the right food and drink, hiding any alcohol and getting lots of sleep this week.

The software I will be using is all free:
So, wish me luck. The next time you hear from me will be at the start of a huge adventure.

Tuesday 16 June 2009

All the game reviews - in pictures

It's time for a spot of navel gazing. Here's a list, in delightful technicolor, of all the games I've reviewed. Click on the game to go to the review or hover over to find out what its all about. Forgive me this opportunity to thank the authors once again for their philanthropic exploits. Let's hope you continue!

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Most aptly named RPG of 2009: Brutal by David J. Stanley

Brutal is far from just a name. It's an ethos that David has carried throughout this gorey, wicked and belligerent fantasy roleplaying game. If performing acts of violence without hesitation to NPCs or PCs is your desire, then Brutal will satiate your thirst in several dimensions. Its roots are set deep in war game clay but unashamedly draws strength from this solid base, rather than dressing itself up in hokey modern ideas.

Character Creation

You begin with choosing a Character race. Characters can take on one of a plethora of races that need to be seen to be believed: Adventure Beetles, Catlings, Cesspoolers, Cyclops Turtles to name but a few. It is by far the most bizarre selection of player character races I've ever seen in a RPG. Sci Fi RPGs would have trouble matching it for oddness. You almost get the feeling that David was having a happy old time specifying races only then to realise that he should really put in the stock fantasy ones.

From here, a character is defined by eight abilites: Combat, Co-ordination (Dexterity), Corruption (how easily you take to tripping, picking pockets, etc), Intellect, Magic, Nature, Strength, Willpower. These can be impoved with experience points. You also have Abilities that are immutable from their starting state: Dark Vision (Night vision), Movement, Spring (jumping ability), Size, Life Force and Hit Points. Abilities and Attributes are both measure by a number of D6, the more the better.

David has provided helpful recommendations that outline what races are good for what and what attributes to concentrate on for different types of character. This can only help new players get a grip on whether their Cyclops Turtle would be any good as a Mage. These suggestions also help prompt the creative juices and it is easy to see where interesting combinations could come about. Increasing the levels of Abilities and Attributes is performed by point-assignment.


The mechanics are simple to a fault. You roll a dice, add the dice together and compare against a target number or opposed roll. Anyone still around at the end of the battle gets Experience points.

Restrictions occur when you can only choose from one of the listed Actions. If you want to do something not listed, you add that new action to the list. This is where Brutal leans heavily toward the war game and I think would have a detrimental affect on the narrative. For example, you can't actually just smash open a chest, you have to do a Bash To Bits Action. Does this mean I have to say I'm doing a Bash To Bits action or do I just say I'm kick open the chest with my size 12? Each Action lets you know which Ability or Attribute to use but I feel that should be obvious.


As one might expect from game that flaunts itself as being part war game, the combat rules is where the war game stands tall, puts a flag in the ground and declares everything attached to it as his. There are three forms, a simple Basic combat for fisticuffs, a larger Hack and Slash system for massive battles and a very comprehensive Big Bad Ball Busting Bloody Battles. Which is just that. It goes even further to augment these rules with full-on war game combat. The aim for all combat forms is to keep it fast and fluid, players and monsters moving simultaneously in a gridless, miniature laden table. I'll take a look at the Basic system to demonstrate how quick things can be:

The combat sequence is initiative, move and attack/defend. Before combat kicks off, you split your Combat Dice (one of the Attributes) between attack and defend. You then get to use these dice to help you attack and defend. Think of it as your stance in the given combat (loads of defense dice makes you chicken, loads of attack makes you a nutter). To defend, you get dice for natural bonuses, armour and shields. Roll the lot and sum for your defense value. To attack, you get dice for the weapon and skill. Roll them and sum for the attack value. If the attack value is larger than the defense value, damage is done.

Horror and Gore for the Adults

In a chapter rightly entitled Horror and Gore, there is a list of new Actions with a more gory lilt. Definitely more of an adult theme here. I wouldn't point Brutal at the already sick minded teens inside the bodies of grown men that I have the pleasure to GM. Their imaginations are already festooned with the blood lust filth that you would tell your children to avoid. A short list of traps is included as is a magic system, which fits into the rest of the system: the more dice you have, the more powerful the spell is going to be. The higher the result, the more damage you do. A combat-oriented list of magic items has some splendid descriptions and random treasure tables make an appearance. There is an Index and a Contents page too. Hurrah!

The graphics and prose is charming throughout. Even the eyebrow-cocking gory sections have a hint of much needed mirth. The graphics are well chosen and in a variety of styles. It does well to lift up a simple yet easily read layout.

Is it roleplay?

It's a question that I'm finding difficult to form an answer for. There is little in Brutal that facilitates roleplay but then do many roleplaying games? Even in Monopoly, if people want to roleplay being a tycoon by taking their family to the cleaners, they might venture a cackle or tell them they are fired. However, Brutal feels more like a war game than a roleplaying game. Roleplay could be assisted here with more information on the world, how the races interact and the like. Sometimes the nomenclature is needlessly unique. As all the dice are D6, the rolls are listed as simply 2D. I understand the logic but it impairs clarity. There are assorted spelling errors, capitalisation to give emphasis and grammatical head scratchers. A good proof read should precede the next version.

A Hack and Slash Conclusion

Brutal has a single aim: to make a combat system that is as rich and gloopy as the congealing blood of your slain enemies. At that, it succeeds. The combat detail, player character races, gore and guts set it apart from other Fantasy games. Complexity is offered with options to the core rules, which remain consistent throughout: roll a load of dice, add them up. If your players are the sort to start roleplaying during Top Trumps, then you will find plenty here to roleplay out. Old School? As far as roleplaying is concerned, Brutal is the School at Athens.

Tuesday 2 June 2009

Makes Britannica look like a pamphlet: World of Gainar by Christopher P. Todd

Gaianar is setting, system and huge bulk of tech-and-fantasy resources. A system so crunchy you'll lose enough teeth on your first bite to warrant mortgaging your Grandma. Set long after a spiritualised apocalypse, where fantasy has crept in over the top of long ruined cities; producing a world like Earth with magic, technology, robots, psyonics and much, much more.

There isn't enough time in a couple of evenings to review World of Gaianar in detail. There isn't enough time in a couple of weeks to review Gaianar in totality. This review concentrates on the player's handbook, which details Character Creation and much of the rules. The world book itself is available as a d20 Setting book too, so grab that for a quick fix (downloads section on the Website).


Gaianar is set long-post-apocalypse where a fantasy world has grown out of the ashes of a great human civilisation. Ruined cities thrust out of the undergrowth. There is gunpowder and steam but also magic and swords. The system described below weaves these disparate themes together. Which isn't easy.

Character Creation

Character creation is involved, you won't be able to date it casually, you'll find yourself being married to it by Elvis in Vegas. The nebulous volume of rules, possibilities and themes means that the combinatorial possibilities are immense. Some believe that Lite games are the epitome of freedom as they specify very little. I think that it can be beneficial to have the ideas written in front of you to jolt the creative juices. And there is plenty of charge in that jolt.

The first pace on this Frodo-esque journey is choosing a race from Human, Elf, Dwarf, Changeling or Fey. Then roll (or use the point system) for abilities (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, Charisma, Comeliness, Faith). Optionally, you can add a Bane or Boon, which are randomly rolled negative/positive affects. I do like these systems (I call them Psychotheatrics in Icar) because the random selection makes the character feel less analytical and more like an accident of nature. Like my players, each an accident of nature. There is a high level of detail regarding what the attribute values mean. Such as the probability of bending a one inch bar of steel for each level of the Strength Attribute. Faith is a powerful ability: have a high value and you're generally more useful around the planet, a low score suggests that you've a career in fast food tavern table sanitation.

From these abilities, you derive a series of secondary statistics that government more aspects of your character. Next is alignments and there's no surprise here: Good / Neutral / Evil. On top of that, there's also Structure or Randomness. If you're structured then you like your world to be ordered and apply your alignment consistently. If your alignment is random then you apply your alignment inconsistently. My players are random. Just random. GMing them is lot like trying to juggle water.

Each race is explained in detail and has a number of provisos and some have their own rules. For example, Constructs are a race of slaved machines (robotic knights in armour) that sometimes awake to become their own beings. You can also play a Wereworlf, Werecat or Werebear. I had to stop writing this when I read 'Werebear' and cry with laughter. It struck me as the Care Bear that was the centre of a particularly dark necromantic unaired episode that lead to the sacking of a disturbed animator.

Character classes each have their own sets of rules, giving bonuses in play and the is a bewildering mix. You could end up with a party consisting of a Mathematician, Barbarian, Shaman, Gunslinger and Necromancer. Multiclass characters are also dealt with - imagine a Barbarian Mathematician? Can you do that? If you can, can you draw that? There are skills, languages, you roll dice for your hit points and saving throws. Innate powers give you a supernatural ability and classes have levels, which are gained by experience.


Gaianar bristles with more mechanics than a degree in Engineering. There are six forms of combat Melee, Missile, Spirit, Empathic, Ship and Flight. Each with their own laws! Generally, you work out initiative and then take it in turns to attack someone else. Rules for single combat or party combat are included. There is armour class and a host of modifiers. Saving throws allow you to avoid taking damage. Your character can go mad, or pick up a series of mental illnesses. All described in detail. If you're aufait with early incarnations of D&D (I'm not), you'll recognise a lot of the facets.

Two Hundred and Twenty Five Pages?

Christopher is the Prince, no King, no The Emperor of tables. I've see some cracking tables in my time but Christopher takes Gold. Need someone cremated? It's on the 'Services while travelling' table. Buy some finger bells? On the musical instruments table. Everything is in tables. I'm surprised there isn't a table listing RPG Bloggers. This makes the book quite large at 225 pages. This does include a big list of skill proficiencies, which are listed last. There are hints throughout for the GM but no specific section.

For the next version

Most game designers walk a fine line between too much ruling and too little. Christopher ignored the line and plunged into the abyss of ruling. No area of life is left without rules and a table. It would benefit from reading my Guide as the order can be a little confusing. The layout is satisfactory but suffers from random font changing - size, weight and type. Some of the tables are the printing Antichrist - black text on dark purple background. I spotted a few sentences ending abruptly and the layout squeezes the text into chunks that disturbs the flow. None of this dreadful but might put some off. Also, delightfully, easy things to fix. Let's hope Christopher has the inclination to do so.


Gaianar is a huge work. Christopher expelled enormous energy and thought to create it. Nought omitted. The gargantuan weight of rules is an acquired taste. Not to mine but I have chatted to many that delight in a system with plenty of red meat. The setting of tech-and-fantasy has a slightly uncomfortable gait, as if wearing a different shoe on each foot but it is that which makes ideas fizz in and out of existence. It's different to anything else I've read. Gaianar, either as a Setting or a combined System-Setting has plenty for the avid gamer who is utterly fed up with me reviewing Lite games!

Many thanks, Christopher!