Eagle Eyes

144754The concept of Roman Noir is not one that seems immediately natural to me, but this setting makes it quite convincing.

“Experience Roman noir firsthand in Eagle Eyes, the latest Fate World of Adventure from Pete Woodworth. Battle cynicism, corruption and murder in the shadow of the Coliseum. Play Eagles, the Senate’s private investigators, and use every means at your disposal to get at the truth behind everything from “ordinary” murders and robberies to high treason, noble intrigue, military coup attempts, and perhaps even the strange and terrible excesses of the Emperors.

Life is cheap and the dust of Rome soaks up a lot of blood, but the rewards for those that survive are beyond the dreams of lesser men.” (Publisher’s description.)

Battery PositiveThe book provides a decent overview of Roman life insofar as that information is useful to running a game and creating characters. The adventure builder is very nice for constructing a quick framework suited to impromptu noir tales, which typically take a good deal more effort. The flavored Fate Phase Trio provides excellent direction for the campaign as a whole and what the players want to get out of the game. Layout and readability is the high quality we’ve come to expect from Evil Hat.

Battery NegativeThis book attempts to center stories on the unraveling of conspiracies within the setting. Unfortunately, constructing a conspiracy or using it in a game as a current or impending issue is given no treatment; the conspiracy is simply described as stress track which the characters are attempting to take out in order to end the story – and few details are provided on just how that is accomplished. This book lacks either the focus of a directional campaign or the detail of a complete setting. Campaign advice may be summed up as “emulate this list of tv shows.”

Battery 3 barsThere are a few example adventures built using the generator, but they are only story seeds. Not bad, but I would have liked to seen them fleshed out. The art direction is heavily shaded and lacks detail. I suppose its evocative, but it’s not to my taste. Overall, I don’t think this book added anything to mechanics of the Fate system as far as using them in a noir or Roman setting, but I think it was more useful for running a Roman Noir campaign than simply reading the Wikipedia entries on the subject.

Now Available DTRPG

Cosmic Patrol

DSCN1997Cosmic Patrol from Catalyst Game Labs appealed to me the instant I saw the book. Such classic iconography with the rocket ship surrounded by orbiting bodies. A name so evocative of the pulp stories and radio serials that I love. Elegant graphic design in an attractive digest-sized hardcover. Wait. Digest size? I suppose that’s when I knew that something was about to go terribly wrong. After all, RPG books are supposed to be the full size of a 8.5×11 sheet of paper. It’s only reluctantly that Savage Worlds and Fate won me over to the 6×9 novel-sized format. Certainly Palladium’s decision to publish the new edition of Robotech: the Shadow Chronicles in manga-sized trade made the book completely undesirable from my point of view.

I was rushed, so I passed by the core book and grabbed the Quick-Start rules instead. Let’s take a look.

Create Your Character: (D10) The hardcover books are certainly very attractive leatherette numbers with nice quality paper stock inside. The graphic design is simple, though I don’t have a large sample size. It is formatted for easy reading and graphical elements are laid out intuitively. The iconography and language is very evocative of the genre.

DSCN1998Formulate Cues: (D8) It’s very clear from the outset that this is a story-based game rather than a number-cruncher. As such, the characters have very little definition in the form of game stats. They do get plenty of definition in the form of Cues, short phrases that define your character’s goals and motivations. These Cues are used to direct the action during the game. The minimal stat blocks are rated in values from D4 to D10 and are used in a combined dice roll. The whole system is very similar to the Cortex system from Margaret Weis Productions. It’s mathematically simplistic, and serves mainly to push the action in the direction of the Cues, Plot Points, and Narration.

Begin Narration: (D4) “Cosmic Patrol” does not require a gamemaster for play – instead the responsibilities of the Lead Narrator (LN) rotate from player to player throughout the game.” (From the rule book.) Immediate deduction for sloppy terminology; the grammatically correct word is “Game Master”. I’m not a fan of story stick games, but I’m not holding it against this one. Unfortunately, the turn structure is ambiguous, actions are resolved against a purely random die roll, and no effort is made to manage the Plot Point economy. As far as game mechanics go, this one lacks cohesive structure and would benefit from chucking it all in favor of pure narration.

Earn Plot Points: (D4) This is really where I think the whole thing falls apart. Every action in the game requires the expenditure of Plot Points, which are handed out to players within the game by other players and by the Lead Narrator. Each Lead Narrator takes a “scene” to perform their narration, but this hardly matters since story narration may be performed by any player in any scene. The whole idea is predicated on the “Yes, and…” methodology popular in improvisational acting. The experience is heavily dependent on the presence of a script and the willingness of players to act in concert with that script, despite rulebook claims to the contrary. There is so little in the way of mechanical structure or background elements that players are literally making everything up as they go along.

Achieve Story Objectives: FAILED. This game is going to go off the rails pretty quickly. There are literally no limits to what characters can do and no framework within which they must act. It’s not a game at all but a storytelling activity. As far as that goes, the stories are really pretty cool and the books are worth reading as improvisational scripts. This would make a neat exercise for amateur actors and acting students. Possibly it is ideally set up for LARPing, as the narrative sequence depends on the Plot Point economy. With the right group of people, this could be a blast; with the wrong one, it’s going to be an unmitigated disaster.

Now Available DTRPG

Dungeons & Dragons 5e Starter Set

DSCN1944Summer of 2014 saw the release of the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons in a box set designed to introduce new players to the game. The box includes a rule book, an adventure book, pregenerated character sheets, and a full set of dice. It retails for $19.99.

Create Your Character +0: The production quality of the box is fairly average. The dice are a nice, marbleized deep blue with bright white numbers. The rule books use thick, glossy presentation pages, and the character sheets are on heavy-weave linen. Both books are coverless, saddle-stitched jobs. A 64-page rulebook and a 32-page adventure book. The included rules are meant to take characters as high as 5th level, and the adventure booklet maps out this structure very well. The box set plays as a quaint little self-contained game that will provide four or five complete gaming sessions.

Roll for Initiative +3: Much of the violence and occult material has been removed from this starter set. Some mention is made of necromancy in the adventure material, and there is an encounter with a banshee. Magic is described as essential to the flavor of the Dungeons & Dragons experience, but the magic contained in the box emphasizes evocation, abjuration, and illusion – a power set that intentionally resembles super powers. There is a nice variety of monsters to beat up, but the nastier or more horrific critters don’t show up.

DSCN1993Attribute Modifiers +3: The new 5e rules scarcely resemble the 4e set at all; it feels much closer to the previous 3.5e rules. Character abilities have been trimmed significantly. Character level now provides a single proficiency bonus which applies equally to skills in which a character has proficiency, and that bonus caps at +6 for a 20th level character. Weapon usage is now a skill like any other; there is not a separate Base Attack Bonus. Characters receive attribute pumps and class features as they level but not Feats. Characters can now gain “advantage” or “disadvantage” as a situational bonus, taking the better of two twenty-sided rolls. Character creation includes occupation and background elements that help determine skill proficiency and provide “Inspiration” for characters to use during the game. All in all, the range of mechanical variation has been drastically reduced, allowing radically different characters to maintain parity of effectiveness and significantly reducing the amount of math involved.

Saving Throws -2: I would have rather had a single, 96-page perfect bound book instead of two stapled magazines. A box set should have maps, and they missed an opportunity to include either maps of Phandelver Mine (useful) or a map of Faerun (sweet). I don’t even have to have the sweet, poster-sized treasures of yesteryear, full-page printouts would have been nice to have. It compares quite naturally to Pathfinder, but comes up short for a resolution system that feels dryly uniform.

DSCN1994Armor Class +0: The dice are really nice, and this box is entirely self-contained. It’s a great introduction to role-playing games in general and Dungeons & Dragons specifically. The art direction is beautifully painted and epic in feel. The adventure touches all the elements of the genre, and is superbly constructed both for playing and to use as a model for your own scenarios. It compares quite naturally to Pathfinder, and the reduction of value ranges in the math means a pleasantly smaller standard deviation in execution.

Roll to Hit: This is a great gift item for a new role-player or a board-gamer who wants to try something different. Experienced gamers won’t miss anything by leaving this on the shelf, and may be better served to just spend the extra money on the hardcover. On the other hand, the price point is low and it will definitely scratch that fantasy itch. Modified 14 on 1d20.