Tuesday 24 June 2014

Punk AND Cyber in Always Never Now by Will Hindmarch

Always Never Now by Will Hindmarch successfully fuses cyber and punk, augmenting Lady Blackbird's system and adding twists. Split into player's handbook and scenario for the GM, it's deep, familiar and exceptionally well thought through. Good writing draws you into the dark world of mega-corporations that - worryingly - is starting to look like our own. Like it's inspiration, Always Never Now is billed as a single scenario but I think that plays down the huge amount of gaming it will spawn.

Choose a character

Always Never Now comes with six pre-made character that build a refreshingly interesting cyberpunk team: ex corporate security, counter-intelligence ninja, inter-corporation operative, spy infiltrator, engineer tank and paramedic surgeon. The balance is excellent between them; each are handy in a fight and there is enough separation and overlap to make a subset selection work as well as a whole team. Having spent years cajoling the misanthropes around my table to build a coherent team, I bow to the masterful balance.

The descriptions are excellent and character imagery (funded by successful Kickstarter) are apt and excellent. Players will have these character sheets on the table during the whole game, so making them evocatively beautiful is very important.

System of words

Always Never Now takes Lady Blackbird's rules and performs back street bionic augmentation. For those unacquainted with Lady Blackbird, it combines the semantics of words that describe your character and die rolls. Your character has a number of traits, broad descriptions of a skill area. Each trait has a number of tags, which are more specific things that character can do.

For example, the Trait Infiltrator has the tags Stealthy, Perceptive, Quick, Subtle, Agile etc. It is up to the player to negotiate for as many dice as possible.

When a player needs to perform an action, they begin with a single die (any will do) and add one extra die for the appropriate trait and then another for each appropriate tag. Each die has a 50/50 of being a success (use 4+ on a D6, or odds/evens or your choice!). Difficulty is set by the number of successes you need.

When you fail an action, the GM will assign you a condition, one of: Angry, Exhausted, Impaired, Hunted, Trapped, Recognized. These drive the narrative, adding flavour to the story. Each Character also has a Key, which is a facet that is particular to that character. When you use that Key during play, then you pick up experience points to spend later. An example key is Key of the Comedian, the character makes jokes and when they're funny - they get an XP. Finally, each character gets an Edge that they can use once per session to help die rolls in certain situations or steer the narrative.

The rules are well explained and the examples are both informative and setting-flavoured.

A story game, with a story

Story games that fail to incite story trigger an allergic reaction in me. Always Never Now requires no anti-histamine. The scenario file that accompanies the player file is a complete adventure that you can pick up and run straight away. This is the crux of Always Never Now - there is a lot to read but it's so well written that it is a joy. There is a little fat to trim in the player file but it never gets in the way.

The scenario is formalised and organised into a series of scenes. After each scene, the players can choose from a number of new scenes depending on the clues they uncover. They can also have a recovery scene where they plot, plan, rearm and get ready to punk it up some more. Coupled with a neat diagram that acts as an in-game aide-mémoire, it's a neat way of presenting a scenario to a GM. A simplified Choose Your Own Adventure.

The setting is luscious. Twisting and embellishing the familiar, regressing some aspects and progressing others (the secret of good cyberpunk). Technocracy are a ruling elite, driven by complex whims and power thirst. Megacorps and subsidiaries sprawl over a broken earth and a good balance of available technologies. The opening paragraph in the introduction is one of the best I've ever read.

Fine tuning

The cover of Always Never Now does not adequately represent the high quality of the insides and for me, that's a problem. After click download, it's the first thing that the a prospective GM is going to see and they really should be more WOW'd by it. I'd make a montage of the character art at the very least. The long form of writing is difficult to use as a reference; a contents/index would help, as would more sub headings and better marked examples. I wonder if some might not get the movie references, so I would hyperlink those to Wikipedia. There's a neat description of roleplay for newbies but as I imagine that 90% of the readers will have played before, a quick jump link to the story game specific stuff would be handy.

I like the descriptions of Details, Beats and Moments as a description of building a successful scene but the writing gets a little fluffy round there and I think tightening it up would make it easier to understand. On first read through, it feels like rules bloat when it isn't at all - just putting definitions on techniques to help those people who have not had much control over the narrative before.

Always Now, not Never

One-shots might put you off but Always Never Now is no ordinary one-shot. It's a self-contained cyberpunk campaign that is ready to print-and-run. The standard of writing is high, which is vital for a good story game and although it might need a little boiling down in places, the depth and breadth of setting is a delight. If you have a bubbling interest in running a story game, then Always Never Now is an excellent choice.

Thank you to Will for sharing.

Monday 2 June 2014

Rewired Revised by R.E. Davis is tasty Cyberpunk. OM NOM.

Rewired Revised by R. E. Davis is not the "Quick and Dirty Cyberpunk RPG", it is "The Free Cyberpunk RPG of perfect proportion". A solid system, well written, well presented and lots of support. Join me in a punk voyage from brain-jacked cortex static to Irish Stew. Yes, Irish Stew...

The taste of character

Before jacking your punk up to the retinas, you need slam down 13 points across your Chrome (strength), Wires (reflexes), Signal (influence) and Data (intelligence). They're attribute carrion to Awareness, Initiative, Toughness, Defense, Firewall (cyberspace rating), Carry Capacity and Edge. Not yet washed out by cortex static? Slap down mad skills, pick some perks; they'll turn you from forgettable Joe to gutter celebrity in a heartbeat.

Perks can be things you are, mental powers or upgrades to your festering carcass. That's all preamble to your gear. Guns, armour, vehicles and drones; mods and hacks aplenty. Get tooled or fall - and fall fast.

The feel of system

This ain't no 8-bit hash, this is a salted 256 SHA. Its genes are spliced from the rain soaked streets (WyRM, RAG) and glimmering corporate enclaves (FATE). Cut and shut by a backstreet game hacker street preacher called Rev. Lazaro. Don't ask where he got the parts, just be happy that it all works together.

Snatch your cubes and chuck three D6, add skill, add mods and best a target number, or some other gutter lunatic rolling against you. Best wins. The bigger your diff, the more it hurts. And it will hurt bad. Death is easy. Stun will make your fall over, wounds mean you don't get up again. It's passionate combat scrawled in charcoal across virgin paper.

If lady luck elopes with your best friend, burn your Edge to chuck another cube, absorb some hurt or demand your own story. The toxic consumerist eagle is fed with wealth and the law is laid down for hot car chases.

The look of punk

Rewired is a looker. Easy on tired eyes; lifted with enough glyphs to remind you tired post-modern middle aged spread what punk is. The GM (who's a corporate sararīman) gets drugs, NPC generation, hacking and help with awarding those poor player suckers with points they crave. The book? Neat. Navigable. Paged. Cover. Credits. No contents, no index, not needed. His cyberspace site has tonnes of content.

The scream of data

Ever heard a 56K modem? That's data in pain. Rewired's system is solid. You could hack it into any setting and for me, that's its Achilles. Renaming attributes isn't Cyberpunk enough. When I need a hit of Cyberpunk, I need the system to feel like the grim, gritty, high-tech dystopic nightmare. It's ragged in places but only in typography, not in heart. I want my Cyberpunk to be further into my future, not Gibson's; I'm already in his future. I prop up gin soaked bars cursing Cyberpunk 2020's identical entropic fate.

The smell of success

Rewired is the Irish Stew of Cyberpunk roleplaying games. Enjoyed all over the world under a million different names. Filling, familiar, dependable. Call it Scouse, Goulash or Burgoo it's still a meat stew. You recognise all the ingredients, so you can get on with just stuffing your face. OM NOM NOM.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Simplicity by Dave Zajac isn't simple but it is resplendent

Simplicity by Dave Zajac (aka Swordfin Games) is a fantasy roleplaying game system for those who have an inner wrestle between modern fantasy roleplaying games an old school ones.

In the 70s corner is your flared corduroy self with huge mutton chops, tight rainbow jumper and CND medallion. In the modern corner is you in neon Lycra and electric blue Anime hair. You want both. You want the comfortable feel of the stripey sweater your wife burnt and you want the Lycra catsuit you should have stopped wearing years ago. Can Simplicity give you that? Old school but modern? Like retaking high school when you're 40?

It's not

Simplicity isn't. Great name but not true. It's not a monolith but it's not simple. That's OK, I like my RPGs like I like my salad: with some crunch. I'll explain as I go through but let's get that out of the way. If you want simple, pick up Risus or Warrior, Rogue and Mage.

No races, No classes

The first old school trope to be jettisoned are classes and races. Your avatar is built old school style from Body (dancing, carrying, punching), Mind (thinking, arguing, magicking) and Spirit (cajoling, cavorting, commanding). Each is a number between 8 and 23, which gives a modifier and other side-effects such as how much you can carry. From there, you calculate speed, damage reduction, health, equipment and abilities. Abilities (skills) use a skill tree system and each ability changes the rules of play in some way (more on this).

No wishy-washy story-driven life generation or other such modernity here. It's stock old-school.


Performing actions in Simplicty is simple: roll d20, add modifiers larger than 10. If you're hitting something, your weapon will have a die to roll, subtract the enemy's damage reduction (based on armour) and they take that many hits to their health. The old school is booted again with levels being the decision of the GM, not through hacking monsters.

So, where is the complexity then?

I harp on all the time about crunch entering through the back door. A resolution mechanic can look innocuous (this certainly is) but once you add the skills/abilities to the game, the number of ruling combinations explodes! I like this sort of crunch. It works for me.

This does make the system more complicated because the folks around the table have to keep track of all the effects on the rules of the different abilities. Complexity has also crept in with book keeping (weights for everything, including coinage).

Things that curl my nose

The rulebook feels scattergunned with rules. I would prefer a more ordered layout, particularly extracting all the inline rules (actions, combat, magic) out of character generation and into another chapter. I'd much rather refer to the combat chapter during character generation than have to root through character generation during a combat. I'd also like examples made obvious, perhaps by boxing them out. I'd like some more pictures too. Dave drew the cover, which is lovely! Let's have more of that.

Charming Terroir

Not terror, you heathen; terroir. The book grows out of excellent writing, a neat and not-fussy layout, a GM section that tells you how to build monsters and balance a game. There's even a map. Dave goes further on the website, where you can download a starting adventure, character sheet and optional rules. There's even a back page. If you fancy buying a hardcopy (which I view very much as a time saver for cash-to-burn hobbyists like me) then he provides that too.

Simple is not always good

It is a laudable goal to create a simple roleplaying game. However to create a playable game with just the right level of crunch is no less worthy. Simplicity isn't and that's OK. That's more than OK. This is a well written RPG that has the crunchy elements of the old school while chucking out other tropes with cavalier freedom. It sets out to modernise the old school without washing out any flavour and I feel it succeeds that tricky goal with aplomb.

Dave, thank you for sharing!

Monday 6 January 2014

Monkey Hangout #2 is coming. Your questions please!

It turns out that the 1KM1KT monkeys are not just text based figments of my imagination and that there are fully fleshed out figments of my imagination, which was a relief. The first monkey hangout was so much fun that we've decided to do another.
Monkey Hangout #2: Sunday 12th January 2014, 8pm GMT

Lots of ways to join in!

We're a community. Not the kind that paints your fence for you but the kind you can banter with and get childishly excited about the same stuff with. Here's how you can join in:

1. Join on camera

It's first come first served and I think 6 places (including me) is the limit. As you can see from the video, we're all exceptionally beautiful people, so I am sure you'll fit. You will need a camera with headphones (microphone feedback is horrid without them), sign up on the thread on 1KM1KT, install the Google Plus plugin (only takes a moment) and be prepared to be answer a bunch of questions.

2. Join in on the chat room

The whole thing is streamed live, so you will be able to pop into the chat room. That's quite easy to do, get onto Google Plus, pop over to the Free RPG Blog page and you'll see a Hangout On Air with a link. Clicking that will send you through a page that you can enter text in a box! It's as easy as that. You can ask us questions and answer them too. Drop in, drop out, we don't mind - it'll be great to have you there.

3. Ask questions beforehand

Do you have a question you would like the Monkeys to answer? Have you got a burning thought about free RPGs you MUST have answered? Do you want to watch 6 people squirm uncomfortably at an impossibly hard question? Then ask away here or in the multitudinous methods you have open to you. Or hold onto it for the day and drop it like a question bomb.

The timezone is rubbish!

Yes. Since I found out the planet was a sphere and the sun shone on it at different times, life has been a wholly more complicated place. For me to run one of these for those in the "+" timezones requires a little bit more planning because it means morning in UK time. With a small child obliterating the house, that requires a little more planning and backup from The Mrs. It will happen as there are a bunch of RPG authors on the planet's posterior I'm very keen to chat with.

Can't make it?

No problem. Doubtless there will be more. If you think it's kind of fun to watch, it's 100 times more fun when you're there.

Friday 3 January 2014

19 pocketmod RPGs - Harder Than Granite competition entries

The 2013 Harder Than Granite competition set a high bar. Complete an RPG in 24 hours, during November 2013, in pocketmod format and with no-numbers. What's more, being the greedy sort that I am, I wanted character sheets, front pages, indexes (if possible) and everything wrapped in a beautiful wrapper. The mind bending Heist Aces by Fred Bednarski won. Thank you to all those that took part.

I'm proud to list the entries with a lightweight review-ette of each. In alphabetical order.

A Flask full of Gasoline

A Flask full of Gasoline by Dyson Logos is a gritty, bare chested, manly game that me laugh over and over on each read through. It uses ingenious mechanics that mesh snugly with the theme of over-the-top Tarantino machismo. It includes booze too (and not the only game to do so), that washes flavour over the whole game. Jason "Chainsaw Aardvark" Kline and I had real trouble deciding between this and the winner Heist Aces (below).

Agents of Spectrum

Agents of Spectrum by the unstoppable Geoff Lamb is set in the super-secretive world of SPECTRUM. Spectrum are CIA/Men In Black organisation that keeps all that magic we know to exist hidden from civilians. As senior civil servants (who thought that job could be exciting?), you are in line to become "Control" but to do so, you need to make sure your Field Office is better than all the others. Uses Candy Land coloured cards with a simple mechanic of colour matching for actions.

Alpha Unix

Alpha Unix by Moriaty Games mashed the Matrix together with Groundhog day in a big bowl of delishousness. A succulent setting where numbers are not just shunned but will drop you deep in digital doo-doo. Computers use numbers, by writing them down you're only helping them. You're not HELPING THEM, are you? Alpha Unix is all setting and it's all good. Lovers of Paranoia will feel at home in Alpha Unix. Take or leave the mechanic, the setting is worth a look.

Artifacts and Ambitions

In Artifacts and Ambitions by gnapo, sentient artifacts aid humans using the awesome power of magic! As a player, you play both PUNY HUMAN with ambitions and a magical artifact. There is a lot of trading of powers and promises between the Artifacts and the PUNY HUMANS, who are ever-so selfish and grabby. Oral contracts fly about like tweets in a revolution with imagination running riot.

The Bodhisattva’s Smile

The Bodhisattva’s Smile by Michael Wenman (who live blogged the experience) is a novel story game that charts the pilgrimage of an NPC and the players jostle to be the one to aid the pilgrim with their sycophantic persuasion. It's a unique idea that delves into the soul and what it is to be human. Worth a couple of reads to understand what is required. Make sure you grab The Mandala of All Things first, which makes the game much easier to understand!

Daring Adventures

Daring Adventures by Kris Newton is a ram-packed supers game that eschews numbers in favour of cards and the cheeky use of a pot of tokens (sort of counting but not really - ish). Not only do you craft you own super hero but you also get to craft the villain too, giving this compact game an element of replay. Keep this gem in your GM bag for that supers pickup game you need.

Dwarfen Veterans

Don't be put off by the simple cover to the beguiling Dwarfen Veterans by Anastylos. It's a wonderful idea: Dwarfs sitting around a tavern table with tankards in hand recounting battle fought long ago. The better the description, the more visceral (and humorous) the more chance you have of winning. Use this idea in your fantasy game right now!. Might be especially fun if your group like to have a beer or two at the table and need a neat way to end a session while "four sheets to the wind"!

Heist Aces (Winner!)

Heist Aces by Fred Bednarski won the competition! It's a beautiful high tech heist game that has depth and complexity. There are no numbers in the document whatsoever, it leads you through the act of setting up and executing a Heist. It offers great replay value and I understand that Fred is looking to expand the concept (I certainly hope he does). It's also Fred's first design (although I found that out only after judging). Congratulations, Fred.

House of Unusual Size

The House of Unusual Size by Shae Davidson is a chunky, imaginative setting in a small package. The characters explore vaulted rooms, musty corridors and dank passages of a huge house Dickensian house. They take it turns to be a spotlight player while all the other players throw horror at them. It's a smashing idea that would belong in any campaign.

Keeton's Journey

Keeton's Journey by Andrew Hague follows the journey of Keeton, a wandering medicine man from ancient Japan. Inspired by Mushi-shi, it has a neat mechanic where it uses the spots on a old-fashioned D6. But wait! You said! Dice! Spots! Numbers! But no... Keeton's Journey uses the shape of the spots. The '4' is the box, for example. Very clever stuff. I've needed a system to run a bit of Kung-Fu Panda and this is it.

Keeton's School of Arcane Arts

Hogwart your face clean off in the magic-em-up-ery of Keeton's School of Arcane Arts by Alec Henry. Built around the ingenious idea of drawing your spells in the form of simple shapes on paper, handing those spells to the GM and then when you want to cast something you have to remember the shape. The GM then compares your pre-drawn spell with the one you've hurriedly handed over for accuracy. The less accurate your copy, the less beneficial the effect. Oh the fun you could have with this!

Make the King

The King is dead! Actually, not quite! But he will be soon. Make the King by Davide Pignedoli is a game where each player has a shot at becoming the next King and must convince the poor, dying monarch that they are the best choice. Mechanics take the form of comparing mugs of tokens and this game is a good diversion for players who like to get their claws out.

Pockets full of Adventure

Keeton has discovered universes in the pockets of his trousers! Stan Taylor's Pockets Full of Adventure allows you to explore those dimensions. Some are large, some are tiny but all are jam packed with things to find. Character creation is a single sentence and the mechanics revolve around flicking to a random page in a book. How brilliant is that?

Pocketful of Heroes

Geoff Lamb's (yes, again) Pocketful of Heroes is a supers game but I like more than just for that. The system is very neat, using a card deck with randomly dealt suits to match up with statistics and then using the same suits again for the actions. It has a superdude on the front and the adventure is a supers one but I think the game is a neat generic system that is well written, described and presented.


Prophecy by Anastylos plays upon the use of tarot cards to generate each character's personal story and token passing as a way of controlling the narrative. Your character is described by adjectives and the mechanics use a choose-to-lose mechanic that gives the player control. If another player doesn't like this idea, they must choose a fist. Some tokens are success tokens, some are fail tokens. When you run out of success tokens? Well, have a guess.


Quest-ions by Jonathan Lavellee is a cunning fantasy system that uses the pocketmod booklet itself in the mechanics. A player can choose a page from the booklet upon which there are action words which make up the choices for that round. Ingenious! The GM is rotated (not physically) and your character is defined by a combination of Body, Mind and Spirit and they are used to narrow down what types of actions you can do.

Star Punk

Star Punk by Emmett O'Brian makes you work hard. First, you have to create your larger than life characters. Then (if that wasn't enough), you have to create the world on which you live. After that (if you still have any energy at all), you have to battle the evil Keeton. Taking damage is all about taking new "conditions" (disadvantages) that can only be removed with good roleplay. It's light, it's got an adventure and it's Sci Fi.

Super Robot Go!

Climb inside a mech and live out your Pacific Rim fantasies in Super Robot Go! by Geoff Lamb. It's a super-lightweight giant robot game that focuses around the lovely Mech drawn in the rules. Mechanics are ably provided by Fudge dice, comparing the amount of positive and negative dice. It's got some neat mechanics and an adventure too. Scratch that giant robot itch I know you have. Just don't scratch it with a giant robot, that won't end well.

Witch Hunt

Grab your pitchforks and head off into the forest to hunt the witch. Why? Because she's evil. Why? Because she does bad stuff. Why? Because. Geoff Lamb's game puts you in the shoes of ordinary folk (they won't mind) and see you heading of in narrative to hunt evil. Why? ARE YOUR FOUR YEARS OLD?! Candy Land card decks control the theme of the narrative, GM sets the scene and the players riff off each other.

Are you in this list and have a blog that I didn't link? Argh! My apologies. Please get in touch in any of the myriad of ways open to you.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

And the winner of the Harder than Granite 24 hour competition is...

Heist Aces by Fred Bednarski

A Pocketmod game about running a high tech heist that uses an innovative combination of Post-It notes and playing cards. System and setting are intertwined, it uses no numbers and is in a single pocket mod (counting for kudos only). My only concern is that it is difficult to understand on the first read through but then I really wanted to read it through again.

It ticks all the boxes: uses no numbers whatsoever, is in pocketmod format, professionally laid out, includes extras such a front page, A4/Letter format and character sheet. It is laid out in a style that adds to the flavour of the whole game - which is really difficult in a pocketmod format. An email has blasted out of the Google mail cannon to Fred with a £30 Amazon voucher to follow. Congratulations, Fred!

Close call

There were 20 games to whittle down (full list coming) and Jason "Chainsaw Aardvark" Kline found ourselves at the same two. Heist Aces and Flask Full of Gasoline by Dyson Logos. We both loved Flask too for it's gritty humour and drinking game antics. We had to split hairs between the two games, the only divider being that there were no reference to any numbers in Heist Aces at all. That's it! Sadly, I can't spot for two lots of prize money.

Honorable Mention

Geoff Lamb, who gave us four (yes, 4) wonderful games under very difficult circumstances. Thank you for entering with so much gusto, Geoff!

Commiserations to all the other entrants. The Monkeys at 1KM1KT whooped with poo-flinging thrill at the inventiveness of the entries. The challenge was insanely tough this year and I am gleeful that so many stepped up to it. Well done to you all.