Tuesday 14 July 2009

Ennies, Commercial games for free and free stuff for cash

In perhaps the most confused title I've ventured yet, I give a quick glance at free, Lite versions of some Commercial games, rant give comment on the Ennies and look at a free podcast's super-cheapo ezine. Cheaper than buying a can of Coke in London. Cheaper than a Mercedes Benz. More cheap than a flock of fledgelings.

Quick Start Commercial Games

I have been avoiding reviewing any free versions commercial games since the start because companies proferring quick start rules can point their planet devasting marketing budgets at them. The quick start rules bob along on the full-price-product marketing tsunami. I prefer to stand up for the philanthropist (or clusters of them) who produces games for the love of it. Free Quick Starts tend to be beautiful but all lack a certain depth that you can get from other free RPGs.

Call of Cthulhu Quick Start is a horror RPG that is set in the 30s pulp world of H.P. Lovecraft. Chances are, if you're reading this blog, you've heard of Cthulhu. The mechanics are mostly there and there is just enough flavour in the setting to run it. The adventure is not bad.

Castles and Crusades Quick Start is an old school fantasy game that appears (from the difficult to fathom quick start) to be stock fantasy - so stock you should add it to your fantasy RPG soups. It's pretty but not very well set up for quick start.

Eldritch Quick Start is a remarkably complete Fantasy RPG with a slightly historical tinge. Although it claims to not be just another Fantasy RPG, there's not enough in the Quick Start to really divine that. There is just enough system to play but the setting information is light.

Fuzion rules is a full roleplaying game system from R. Talisorian games. It's a good core system (point buy, attributes and skills), not surprises and although there is no setting included, there are lots to choose from online. Testimony to how long its been around. Fuzion was used by lots of game settings and as such many of the settings are for purchase.

GURPS Lite is a quick hit of the full GURPS generic ruleset. It has all the main elements of the commercial game stuffed coherently into the 32 page book and is well laid out with the usual attractive line art. There is plenty here to get stuck into.

Hunter the Vigil Quick Start is a White Wolf roleplaying game that reads a little like Buffy The Vampire Slayer. You play monster hunters that appear to wander around killing archetypes from the other White Wolf games. I like the idea of killing all the characters from the last campaign! It's 40 odd pages, most of which is the free adventure - only 6 pages of rules.

Savage Worlds Test Drive is a core rule book for pulp style games. At 16 pages, there's not a lot here but as the topic is pulp, there is enough system to screw onto your own setting.

Shadowrun Quick Start is a game set in the near future where cyberpunk ideas hit magic head on. It has pregenerated character and a full adventure to go on but a lot of the flavour that made Shadowrun popular is missing.

Songs of Ice and Fire Quick Start is a roleplaying game set in George R.R. Martin's best-selling A Song of Ice and Fire. The Quick Start is 32 pages and contains a stock fantasy setting, a little bit about the rules, sample characters and an adventure. The print out maps are detailed but I do wonder if they print well in black and white on a standard home printer.

See also

Here be Gamers Extra

Here be Gamers is my favourite gaming podcast. Nathan and Marty have a jolly Australian flair to them and in each Episode Nathan reviews Free RPGs! Not only that but Nathan has also taken part in the 24 Hour RPG challenge. Sounds like I'm about to propose marriage? You bet! Although this might sound like a hand/feet/arse kissing exercise, Nathan and Marty have put together a splendid magazine called Here Be Gamers Extra. Its as lively and well produced as the podcast and only costs $1 (USD). Crikey! Me helping flogging something? In this rare case, yes. The cash is to go toward podcast hosting, which I am all for. If that wasn't reason enough to expend a digital greenback, I've donated a cut down review of Zenobia and will be doing this for as long as they'll let me.

The Ennies Nominations for Free RPGs

The Ennies nominations are up and I am rather disappointed with the Free RPG section. It appears that 3 out of the 5 Free RPGs on offer are Quick Start rules. The nominations are:It's rather sad that the Ennies saw fit to make this category about stripped down versions of commercial games rather than free-as-a-bird games of equally high quality. Michael Wolf rightly points out that it's really about 'Best Ad'. I agree also with Jon Hicks that they are a taster for a commercial game and not designed for distribution. As Michael "chgowiz" points out that the best way to show solidarity is to vote for the much deserved Swords and Wizardry.

However, I think it's a shame that S&W and Trial and Terror aren't listed amonst peers. They deserve to be voted on amongst similar free games, rather than chopped down commercial games. I imagine that people will vote for more because of their paid counterparts than for their content. I have known White Wolf fans in the past and they tend to be zealots, hell bent on WW wining everything. Quick Starts are designed to leave you wanting more. If I was to try and review a game like that, I'd stop and send comments to the author to 'finish the bloody thing' before resbumitting to me. This is a missed opportunity for the Ennies and I will be thinking up some sort of campaign to stop a commercial quick start from winning. All ideas and comments welcome!


Michael S/Chgowiz said...

I will be thinking up some sort of campaign to stop a commercial quick start from winning. All ideas and comments welcome!

Start the "Vote for a TRULY FREE RPG Game - vote for Swords & Wizardry!" campaign. We need a graphic for websites and forum signatures.

I'm actually deadly serious. If we get enough people, we'll have an army! :)

Rob Lang said...

I am deadly serious too. I'll do a graphic tonight and begin passing it round. I don't mind which of the two truly free RPGs vote for, as long as it's not a quick start.

Jack Badelaire said...


A cut-down version of an RPG is not a "free" RPG, it's just a "the first one's free" hook to get you to buy all their other cool expensive shit.

Setting aside that I really don't have love for S&W, I'd rather vote for that game a hundred times instead of some cut-down pseudo-game just meant to tempt you into buying a $40 or $50 hardcover.

If you make a banner, I'll be happy to put it up.

Farsight Blogger said...

I'm there - you sort out a banner and I'll flock to it. 'Free' should mean 'Free', and not 'Free Advertising Campaign'.

A lot of people put a lot of energy and time into their games, most of which rival professional publications. I don't think it's fair at all.

StevenWarble said...

I agree, but instead of voting for Swords & Wizardry I will vote for Trial & Terror. Swords & Wizardry is great - but its fantasy and I've seen a thousand fantasy games. Trial & Terror is the first cop procedural / court room drama / supernatural horror game I've seen, and I like it!

Jack Badelaire said...

Interesting re: Trial & Error. I'll definitely have to give it a look, cuz I'm in a similar boat - not really that interested in voting for a retro-clone spearheading a movement I already am ambivalent about in the first place.

Rob Lang said...

Thank you for the support chaps, you can expect another post with some campaign banners and images coming soon.

As long as people don't vote for a Quick Start, I'm happy. I like S&W and I like Trial and Terror (T&T is queued for review).

Jack Badelaire said...

Trial & Terror, yeah, that's it...totally what I meant...

As long as it's a generic banner, I'm good to go with it.

Tony Law said...

Well, I disagree that Quick Starts don't rate as "free" as other free RPGs, but that's just my opinion. ;)

One thing I will say is that people seem to forget that if folks don't submit their goods, then they can't be nominated. If you want to see which other free rpgs were nominated, check out Jeramy Ware's list on his blog. Jeramy was a judge this year.


Jerry Cornelius said...

"Best Ad" is about right. I'll vote for one of the genuine articles.

As for commercial quick-star rules, I'd like to plug indie game designer Greg Porter's EABAlite. Not a free game as such, but apropos of the topic.

Unknown said...

I don't disagree. There actually i a category so stuff like this doesn't happen (fan products), but it was cut this year because of a lack of entries. These games were considered in Free Products so they could have some sort of home.

Personally I was hoping for a smaller category or something at least, but there was some disagreement on how to handle it, so we went with the precedent, no category if there aren't at least 10 products.

It's awful because I can think of several products that really deserved recognition that didn't get any nod at all.

Arasmo said...

Well, Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying Quick Start rules are very well done, and I'm quite surprised they haven't made the Ennies ( came out too late maybe?). Even if there are no magic rules, the PDF is fairly complete and it comes along a few simple adventures to get started.

You have to log in the site before being able the download the free quickstart PDF

Unknown said...

They didn't enter. It's too bad really, BRP is one of my absolute favorite RPGs. Jason Durrall said once that he thought it wasn't worth entering in a year with D&D 4e, which saddens me greatly :(

Aion Online said...

I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work.

Rob Lang said...

Thanks for all the comments! I am resolved next year to get on the cases of free RPG authors to release updates to their games and get them submitted.