Tuesday 23 February 2010

Fallout: War, War Never Changes

Please do join me in welcoming back Jason Kline to review this monster game...

Based on the games Fallout I, II, and Tactics by Jason Mical (But written well before III came out) this is the definitive tome for role-playing in the Fallout Universe. In fact, the author had permission from the creators of the video-game themselves, uses much of the material right from the sources – weapon stats, perks, images, and the SPECIAL system.


For the most part, the game is quite easy to play and get into. Characters have seven attributes (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck – hence the acronym) rated from 1-10, which in turn are used to derive a host of secondary stats like carry weight, action points, and the initial skill values. Most rolls are simply percentile based (though counter-intuitively, the maximum skill goes well above 100 to allow for large penalties) or in rare cases, a d10 compared to a character's stats.

While there is a traditional XP per level system of advancement, there are no classes (Though the faster-advancing tag skills help define the character) and every few levels a Perk is gained. A great deal of effort has been put into making the game accessible to novice gamers. Examples abound, as well as a set of pre-made characters, discussion of how to write adventures, the first few acts of a sample campaign, a very through index, and a bibliography of resources used. A few additional supplements available from the forum where the document is archived detailing other areas of the fallout world.


The one caveat is the combat system. As with many of the other mechanics, this is take directly from the original video games, and as such was meant for the computer to resolve. Any shot you take needs to account for about five different modifiers, and damage resolution can be tricky due to the way armor works. Besides shooting, there is moving on a hex map, action points, cones of fire, crippling injuries, armor condition, and rules for fighting in vehicles. Using miniatures is all but required.

While this gets easier with practice (like any seemingly difficult RPG mechanic) the Fallout world is a violent one. The equipment section lists 90 firearms – from a one shot zip gun to Gauss rifles – for the small guns skill alone! And yet it goes on with stats for big guns, energy weapons, and melee equipment – all told the armory list run from page 74 to 105!. The presentation of Fallout PnP is on par with the production values of a game from the 80's. Its mostly dense blocks of “Courier” type font, broken by the occasional Vault Boy graphic or information box. However, the weapons sections are lavishly illustrated with images right from the game (and the classic humors descriptions taken from there as well.) Perhaps not the prettiest layout, but its very functional and its easy to find what you're looking for.

Fallout 3?

For those of you who are wondering, while Fallout III presents some vast changes in game-play from its predecessors – many of the weapons and adversaries are recycled. (Too many in my opinion – the plot of Fallout I&II detail why there should be no Super Mutants or Enclave troopers to inhabit DC) However, this means that you are capable a game set in the Washington ruins as well as the default western US. Someone has posted documents on No Mutants Allowed with stats for items from the Bethesda installment, but these aren't up to the standards of the initial tome.


Fallout is a 1950's zeerust take on the nuclear holocaust – computers work on vacuum tubes, the remaining cars have tail fins, and radiation produces giant mutant insects. As either a reference tool for your own post apocalypse game, or a chance to take your own romp through the B-move end of the world of Fallout universe, this is a game well worth looking into.

Saturday 13 February 2010

An Interview with Keeton Harrington, owner of 1KM1KT and Our Glorious Benefactor!

An Artist's Impression, created from a description by Keeton and his wifeI've reached 1000 Posts on 1000 Monkeys, 1000 Typewriters (the most active Free RPG Community) and I thought I would celebrate it with an interview with OUR GLORIOUS BENEFACTOR, the elusive owner of 1KM1KT - Keeton Harrington.

For those not acquainted with the term "Our Glorious Benefactor", it stems from the fact that Keeton is rarely seen on the forums. His tireless work to keep 1KM1KT alive is behind the scenes. We would while away the long winter nights poking fun about this mysterious fellow, inventing ridiculous stories about him (like Chuck Norris). In the 2009 24 Hour Competition, we even went so far as to have people use Keeton's name as an NPC and he turned up as Arch Villains, Evil Spirits and an Incarnation of Death. Tee hee! He found out long after the entries had started rolling in. Tee hee. Keeton has grudgingly accepted the title of Our Glorious Benefactor and is a good sport with all the good natured banter.

About Our Glorious Benefactor

Where are you from?
I was born in Florida, but I've lived in Texas most of my life. I currently live 20 miles outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.

What do you do for a living?
I do contract programming for corporate clients and I own and operate more than 40 web sites. I'm happy to say that I get to do 1KM1KT as part of my job.

Who are your heroes?
Rob Lang, my family, Bill Gates, Alton Brown, Mike Tyson, Dan Grossman in that order.

If you could have a beer with anyone from history, who would be?
Ernest Hemingway at one of his famous watering holes. I don't want to ask any fan-boy questions, just shoot the breeze and have a daiquiri.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I never really wanted to be anything specific like a fireman, but I've always wanted to be independently wealthy. I would still like to be that.

Apart from RPG Philanthropy, do you have any other geeky hobbies?
I like to cook, I make my own liquor, I like programming, I used to restore classic cars, I fish, I like to kayak, I like playing Scrabble, I enjoy video games.

Roleplay Generally

When did you start roleplaying?
In high school, around 14 or 15 years old.

How did you get interested in roleplay?
It was great way to hang out with my friends and spend weekends drinking soda, eating pizza and staying up too late.

What was the first RPG you played?
Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition

Do you still play in a regular game?
Unfortunately, no. I wish I did, but I don't have the time to devote to it anymore. I haven't done any active roleplaying for several years now, but I do like to read the site submissions and roleplaying publications.

Do you game other than RPGs? Computer/board/wargaming?
I was really into Warcraft for a year with my wife. I like Axis and Allies and Risk quite a bit as well. I think I still have a few Warhammer 40k figurines from college.

What game would you really love to play?
I would really like to play some of the homebrew RPGs on 1KM1KT with the guys who created them. There are some really great games on there.

Have you written any RPGs?
No, but I've made my own settings for campaigns I GM'd.

What's your favourite genre of RPG?
I like fantasy, but I think I would enjoy steampunk if I were ever in a really well run campaign.

Are there any other gamers in your family?
My older brother was into it for a bit when I first started playing.

1KM1KT + RPG Laboratory

When did 1KM1KT start?
February 16th, 2004. That's the day we registered the domain name and we started putting up content that day. Juicetyger is a screen name I picked randomly when I was in Junior High. I had just finished watching "So I Married an Axe Murderer".

Why did you setup 1KM1KT?
I was looking for something productive to do, I wanted to learn more about the internet, and I had friends who were enthusiastic about helping. It was one of those "why would I not do this?" kind of things.

In the very beginning, what did 1KM1KT consist of?
Originally, it was a review site for games and a place for articles. It was a blog before blogs were cool (or anyone knew what they were).

Why did you choose the moniker 1000 Monkeys, 1000 Typewriters?
My friend Chris came up with the name and we ran with it. My wife made the logo later on.

Have you been paying for 1KM1KT out of your own pocket all these years?
Yes, but it's not that expensive. I have the server for other projects, so the extra resources are really minimal. 1KM1KT actually turns a profit these day which is always nice.

How big is 1KM1KT - in terms of games and data size on the server?
That's a good question! Runs to the terminal to find out...

File space is 426Mb, not counting the database which is probably 5-10Mb.

We average right around 2000 unique visitors/day.

We are sometimes graced by your Mrs on the 1KM1KT community, what does she make of all this philanthropy?
She's a nerd at heart and has a huge amount of respect for 1KM1KT. She likes contributing, but she's never been a big roleplayer. Her agent is shopping her first young adult super hero novel to publishers this week, so keep your fingers crossed for that.

How did the RPG Laboratory come about?
I set up RPG laboratory to try and leverage the popularity from 1KM1KT into a second site. I was getting a lot of requests to host incomplete games and development ideas, so I figured a site that would give people a place specifically for that would do well. The people who contribute to that site really seem to enjoy it, but I built it on the Drupal platform and I've had a hard time modifying it. At this point, some of the users have put so much effort into the site and like it the way it is that it would take some serious motivation to make any changes.

The Future

What plans do you have for 1KM1KT?
I know I'm supposed to have big plans for the future, but I really like things the way they are. The caliber of the submissions is incredible and the community is really tight-knit (mostly due to the efforts of the moderators). We'll continue to expand the site as part of our normal operation, but only at the request of the people who actually use it (the recent Dyson's map maker is an excellent example). We've seen resounding success partnering with the 24 Hour RPG project (which is now officially operated by 1KM1KT) and incredible support from The Free RPG Community. I'd like to continue to foster those kind of relationships in the future.

What plans do you have for the RPG Laboratory?
None at the moment (see my answer above). I would be happy to release a version 2.0, but it would have to be at the request of current users.

With PDF sales becoming more popular, do you see free RPGs on the decline?
Quite the opposite - the commercial market for downloadable pen and paper games is pretty small, and I think free will become increasingly popular. I believe the authors on our site receive greater rewards when they publish for free rather than trying to sell their work, and there's plenty of motivation for them to keep doing so. We've had several authors leverage the popularity and free exposure on 1KM1KT into paid gigs, and we've had free contributions from professional authors as well.

Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans?
I have a feeling my fans are mostly just Rob... Seriously though, if you're a fan of 1KM1KT then I'm a fan of you. If it weren't for the authors, forum posters, moderators, contest runners, contributors and readers, 1KM1KT would sit quietly in a dark corner of the internet until I forgot to pay the bill. You (the fans) are the reason it's here - it's built by you and for you and wouldn't exist without you. I can't say that often enough.

Are there any questions I should be asking?

Quite a few, actually! Here are the answers:

As Our Glorious Benefactor has seen fit to provide me with answers without asking any questions, I have taken the liberty of inventing the questions after receiving the answers.

If you were to describe your life as a genre of movie, what would it be?
Zombie movies.

You have managed to maintain very youthful looks, what skincare products do you use?
Fruit smoothies (occasionally waffles or pancakes).

Your Mrs mentioned that you have an 'Operating System Problem' and are seeking help at 'Operating System Obsessives Anonymous' group therapy (this is a long run up for a short gag, stay with me) - what OSes have been feeding your addiction?
Windows Vista on the desktop, Windows 7 on the laptop, and Debian Linux for the servers.

Tell me about your wife...
A Pomeranian named Hercules.

People make jokes about how Texans get a bit too friendly with animals. Have you experienced this and how did you deal with it?
I had a special relationship with a dog I don't have any more named Dan. His nickname was Danifer, which I thought would be a good business name.

You're a creative type of person. What is the best forgery you've ever performed?
Bachelor's degree from the University of North Texas. I took a dual major for English Composition and Political Science.

What is your worst nightmare?
Telecommuting to work. I get to be with my family every day and I do things at my own pace.

Can you name two things beginning with S
Subversion and the Symfony framework.

Which two websites on the internet would you be mortified to find I included in the interview?
Linktrack.info: http://linktrack.info
Version 2.0 of http://www.signatureconfirm.com

You were in a North Korean prison for 10 years for a crime you didn't commit, did it affect you in any way?
I'm weird about Q-tips. Ask anyone.

Which technophobias do you find the most debilitating?
Reddit and Words with Friends on the iPhone

What are your sexual preferences?
Anything that has to do with statistics. I love charts and graphs.

Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, Keeton. You're a good sport and long live 1000 Monkeys, 1000 Typewriters.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Roll your own in Cursed Life by Sean Wilt

Cursed Life by Sean Wilt is a dark, modern roleplaying game that has an epic character background creator and a modular setting. It's the modular underpinning of the setting that catches my beady eye: it provides the GM with a guiding toolbox to build a varied world. Mechanics lite and setting heavy but does it leave too much for the GM to do? Well, it depends how lazy your GM is...

Character Generation

Attributes take the form of Traits (Physical, Mental and Spiritual), whose values cap their respective skills. Secondary Traits add a welcome extra crunch and measure how alien to the world the character is. Marked as optional but I'd force the gnashing, blood-shot eyed players to have them. Skills make up learnt abilities and are purchased before the life path is decided. I won't dwell on these; Sean didn't. In the epic that is character generation, Traits are merely "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.".

Your character coagulates during a trudge along a life path. The life path is a huge (yet quick) system for generating random character backgrounds and a smorgasbord of sharpened hooks for the plot hungry GM. Although the tables run into tens of pages, random rolling avoids endless pouring over the rules (which is included as an option). Lifepaths are generated by a series of random rolls. You begin by rolling for parents, then for childhood. The wealth and standing of your parents will specify which of the childhood tables you roll on. Education rolls then specify what you get to roll for on the Adult tables. You then roll for your Transformation. There is a strengths chart and a weaknesses chart and for each strength (or super power) you must roll a weakness. You can have up to four. For my players, that means they would have four. Why? Because they are just like that.

Every character has a crooked, evil side (based on the deadly sins) called an Alien. This could be infection of an evil spirit or evil lurking in the recesses of your character's psyche (setting dependent). The vile urge is treated like a parasitic alien entity. As the Alien is important to the character's modus operandi, it is chosen - not randomly rolled. The descriptions cause the creative mind to froth.

Enemies and friends are rolled for. The enemies table is particularly delicious - listing a superb array of reasons why you might fall out with someone.


Roll d10 + skill + modifiers vs value of 9. opposed is higher roll wins. Rolls for unskilled items are d10-2. Character advancement is based on the number of sessions played. Combat is played out using opposed rolls and description with damage application requiring another roll and the use of a table. With a slick engine in general, damage feels a little like a cog with some teeth bitten off.


Cursed Life is set in the modern world where humans have been 'transformed', that is beings with special abilities and a dark evil too. The origin can be either from another world, a scientific explanation, spiritual warfare, planetary alignments or magic. The GM can then choose to either transform only a few of the humans or all of them. The combinations of these bring light to some fascinating settings. What if everyone on earth is from another world but people are slowly waking up to that stark realisation through a planetary alignment. As such the setting can be overlaid onto any game: fantasy, supers, modern day or cyberpunk. Quite a lot needs to be filled in by the GM but the combinatorial nature provides a broad tapestry of what Cursed Life can be.


Cursed Life loves the Gamesmaster. The GM Section reads like a monologue of lust toward the GM and the tips there are mostlye solid with a few Cursed Life specific ones. The equipment section is brief and drags the RPG back into the real world. There are pre-solidified Corporations and NPCs for the GM, which indicate how the system might be played. Attractive stock Superhero art is good throughout but doesn't always convey the same description in the text.

The niggles

Cursed Life needs a thorough application of my Guide to Organising an RPG. In particular, I would have liked a brief introduction at the start of the game that details what the characters actually do and why the game is worth playing at all. It's important and should be at the front, bold as brass! Some explanations are marred by lots of "GM can do modify this" caveats. Noting that the GM is free to change and modify to suit is important but need only be included once. I also think the Lifepath section should be performed first so that Traits can be set to match the character's upbringing.


Cursed Life is a toolbox of ideas that can be combined and combed into a unique quiff. To some, a boon. To others (the time strapped GM), a pointless extravagance. Cursed Life does need effort from the Gamesmaster to get running but the settings you would generate can be novel enough to intrigue and familiar enough to be unsettling. Cursed Life is a glinting gem.

Thank you to Sean for sharing some very large ideas.