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Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy

Introduction and Product

The arrival of Dark Heresy was greeted with some excitement; for many years the setting for the Warhammer 40K minature game was considered most opportune for a table-top RPG. As a result there have been a number of games in this setting; Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, Black Crusade and most recently Only War. These are really the same game, kinda-sorta, sharing a great deal of similarity in the rules and should be considered to be a line of related RPGs; Dark Heresy concentrates on Acolytes working for an Inquisitor, Rogue Trader for interstellar semi-legal activity (think Han Solo but with more grit), Deathwatch for Space Marines, Black Crusade, for Chaos-corrupted characters, and Only War (in development) for guardsmen. The production of multiple hefty books in this method could be considered by cynics as part of a continuing strategy to fleece the flock of loyal customers. A more generous assessment would suggest it gives the opportunity for a deep evaluation of each character type and setting. In this instance, I think the cynics are right.

The physical product is a 400 page heavy hardback rulebook, but perhaps insufficiently bound for the weight; it's a good combination of glue and stitching, but handle with care. The text is typically in two-column serif font in full-colour throughout with clear page and chapter markers. The artwork is certainly impressive throughout, with skill and imagination, and with a consistent style for a popular-gothic science fantasy, and usually with some contextual appropriateness. The text provides new levels of verbosity, but comes with a good three page table of contents with sidebar references and four-page index with table references. The writing style itself uncomfortably jumps between the informal and formal without a real evocative sense of the setting. The thirteen chapters of the book, reasonably well ordered, covers character generation and experience, skills and talents, equipment, psychic powers, setting and play information (including aliens and other antagonists), and a sample scenario "Illumination".

GURPS Third Edition (Revised)

Of all the RPG systems I have had the pleasure to play, GURPS third edition must certainly rank as one in the top five which I have played the most over the decades. It still provides a default when a variety of setting choices even to this day. So whilst I could review GURPS first, second, or fourth editions (all of which I have also played), it is GURPS 3rd edition, and specifically third edition (revised) which is being reviewed here. One could accuse me of cherry-picking a particular edition that I have a preference towards, and to a certain extent I accept that charge.

With that caveat stated, GURPS is a game with high aims. It seeks to be, as the name suggests a generic (i.e., modular) set of rules, that is universal according genre, that emphasises roleplaying integrated into the game system itself, and provides a consistent system throughout. With claimed influences from Champions (certainly true), Empire of the Petal Throne (er, no), and Tunnels & Trolls for its appeal to solitaire gamers (some justification), GURPS is most heavily influenced by Steve Jackson's earlier game, The Fantasy Trip. Those familiar with both GURPS and The Fantasy Trip will very much see the lineage in core design elements.

Seventeenth Issue Released: GURPS

The seventeenth issue of RPG Review has been released with the following content:

Administrivia, Editorial, Letters many contributors p2-4
Hot Gossip: Industry News by Wu Mingshi p5
Interview with Sean Punch with Sean Punch p5-11
GURPS Dinosaurs Designer's Notes by Stephen Dedman p12-14
The Best Dinosaur by Sandy Petersen p15

RuneQuest 6 Review

Introduction and Physical Product

We're now into a sixth edition of RuneQuest (seven if you include the unpublished RuneQuest: Adventures in Glorantha), and no less than three in six years, which is a pretty rapid turnaround. One can be a little forgiving of game designers churning out multiple editions in quick succession in the early years of the game as they try to find their "sweet spot" in terms of design. Dungeons & Dragons certainly did, as did RuneQuest, and GURPS, and the various White Wolf games; but this is a game that's had over thirty years of backing design and it is notable that this most recent edition comes from a new publisher, and one which is a little closer to the grognard RuneQuest community. It is assumed that the reader has some familiarity with previous iterations of RuneQuest, or at the very least, has read reviews of such products.

Mongoose RuneQuest II Review

Introduction and Product

After a number of ordinary-to-positive reviews, the folk at Mongoose Publishing decided that it was time for a second edition of RuneQuest, which it must be admitted was a very good decision and shows that the company was listening, even if a little late in such an execution. Bringing in author's Whitaker and Nash was also a wise choice given their prior writing histories. On the other hand the decision to call the product RuneQuest II was a bit of a marketing disaster. Clearly they wanted to capture the popularity of RuneQuest second edition fans; instead they annoyed the grognards from that era - lose 0.1 points of style, right away, for not being cool.

Ringworld Review

Ringworld cover

Introduction and Product

Ringworld, perhaps the most famous landmark in Larry Niven's "Known Space" series was one of the few science fiction roleplaying games to come from Chaosium. Unless, of course, you count Call of Cthulhu as science fiction, and there's certainly a good argument for that. So let's say futuristic science fiction. The game is quite old of course and has not been reprinted, at least partially due, so I've been told, because of licensing issues. As a result it apparently quite collectable and commands a price to boot. Nevertheless I recently had the opportunity to run several sessions of this old classic, and thought it more than worthwhile to express a few thoughts on this classic.

The product comes the early boxed era of production from the folk at Chaosium, and was primarily designed by one Sherman Kahn (ably helped by Lynn Willis, Sandy Petersen, and Rudy Kraft), who went on to write the Ringworld Companion (also worthy of a review), and write an article on the Dolphins of Known Space in Dragon magazine - but that's about the extent of his contribution to our hobby, as far as I can tell. The cover art by Ralph McQuarrie is of a strange set of humanoids (grass giants), a landscape of the Ringworld horizon, with a floating city in the background. The interior art is simple, evocative, and contextually appropriate. The work of Lisa Free in particular is notable. The text itself is in three-column, ragged right, in a small serif font (a little harder to read), with chapter heading on each page and page numbers. The writing style is clear, formal, and exacting, packed with information, albeit a little dull.

Ringworld comes in a fairly sturdy box, with three saddle-stapled books with cardstock covers. Each of the books has its own table of contents on the back cover, and is damn useful, like the boxed edition of RuneQuest, for allowing distribution around the game table during actual play. Split up in such a fashion also negates the need for an additional index. The inside covers of the Explorer's book includes a well-formatted character sheet, and this is repeated with several sheets in the autopilot print out. The four-page reference sheets are likewise useful and if printed on cardstock would have made a GMs screen! There is a set of cardboard heroes, plus an explanation of why there is no map - a band on the bottom of the box contents sheet explains, that if extended a further 12.5 feet in either direction, the 597,000,000 mile circumference (with a million mile width) "will give players a very good idea of the actual proportions of Ringworld".

Open Game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Volume II

The second anthology of roleplaying blogs by Open Game Table is much like the first in terms of presentation. The murky green cover with the barely distinguishable Victoria-era technician is replaced with an improved tone with advanced cyborg warriors. The internal artwork has improved somewhat as well, as has the general layout with much better use of white-space, although notably with more advertisements taking up the gaps. As per the previous edition a two-column justified serif font is used throughout and articles are specified by domain rather than absolute URLs.

Open Game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Volume I

Open Game Table has the accurate subtitle of "The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Volume 1". Editor Jonathan Jacobs has scoured the 'net in a quest of a number of articles that provide a snapshot of what is happening 'on the street', as it were, within our hobby. It is, of course, a highly selective and subjective process, however it is evident that some effort has been made to seek a diversity of sources. The book is softcover, well bound, with two column serif font throughout.

A Multitude of Settings : A Typology of RPG Gameworlds

To think that tens of millions of individuals over the world in the past thirty-five or so years have participated in improvised story telling in the fictional settings created by the roleplaying game hobby is, quite frankly, quite staggering and certainly one that will receive some small mention in cultural history of our time in the future. But how do these various published worlds stack up? There has been, by now, more than sufficient time to generate quite a variety of styles and thematic considerations which can be reviewed with the objective to tell whether there is any particular elements which provide lasting aid in the establishment of such settings. The overall orientation is, as always, constantly seeking improvement and further improvement for the RPG industry.

As an attempt to derive a typology, a simple classification is used which illustrates the key features of a multitude of settings. This is not, of course, an exhaustive study as the sheer quantity of game worlds is beyond the scope of this article. First, is the what can be described as (i) heroic fantasy, (ii) mythic fantasy, (iii) historical fantasy, (iv) modern fantasy, (v) science fantasy, and (vii) science fiction. The emphasis on the word "fantasy" will become apparent. The terms do not necessarily represent just a spatial-temporal location, as this is just the most obvious component of setting, but also setting devices in place which contribute to character generation and which can drive the narrative.

Jonathan Tweet Interview

Jonathan Tweet is a significant figure in the game design industry. With the first publication as co-author with Mark Rein*Hagen for the award-winning Ars Magica in 1987, Tweet is also the designer of the surreal Over The Edge (1992) and Everway (1995), two rules-simple narrative-heavy games, the designer of Talislanta Guidebook (3rd edition) also in 1992, and most notably the core rule books for third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. With more than twenty-five other supplements and scenarios there can be no doubt that an indelible mark has been left by Tweet on the industry.

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