Issue #28-29, Sept-Dec 2015
John Snead Interview … Zombie Facts .. All Flesh Must Be Eaten … Liber Mortis … Open Grave … Warhammer 40K … Death in Eclipse Phase … Labyrinth Lord in the Underworld … Survival from Great Falls … Killer LARP … The Green Isles D&D Setting … The Scythe of Thanatos … Pyrrhic Victories and more in HeroQuest … You Only Live Thrice ... Death Isn't The End … Horror Game Mastery … Secret of Saltram Shore … Phaemorea … The Revenant, Crimson and Lights Movie Reviews
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Administrivia, Editorial, Letters many contributors p2-5
The RPG Review Cooperative many contributors p6-7
Hot Gossip: Industry News by Wu Mingshi p8-9
John Snead Interview with John Snead p10-11
Threats and Themes of Undeath in Warhammer 40K with Randal Henderson p12- 14
Killer: The Shape of Things to Come by Stephen Dedman p15
Survival from Great Falls in D&D by Adi Gondo Hartoo p16
Beyond Total Party Kill by Nicholas Moll p17-18
You Only Live Thrice by James Introcaso p19-22
Death Isn't The End by James Introcaso p23-24
The Scythe of Thanatos by Lev Lafayette, Stean Vitasovic p25-26
Undead in Reality by Lev Lafayette p27-39
Undead RPG Reviews by Lev Lafayette p40-51
Laundry RPG Review by Andrew Daborn p52-55
The Undead in 'Eclipse Phase' by Lev Lafayette p56-58
Secret of Saltram Shore by Robert J. Hall p59-89
Poisons in GURPS by Michael Cole p90-92
Dungeoneering in GURPS by Michael Cole p93
The Green Isles for D&D 5e by Karl Brown p94-96
Pyrrhic Victories in HeroQuest by Lev Lafayette p97-101
Game Mastery Good Horror by Kieran Brannan p102-104
Phaemorea: A Classic D&D Setting from Kieran Brannan, Ryllandra Rose p105-109
Savage Worlds Space Ship Ownership by Karl Brown p110-113
Why Computer RPGs Aren't As Much Fun as TTRPGs by Lew Pulsipher p114-117
Movie Review: The Revenant by Andrew Moshos p118-120
Movie Review: Crimson Peak by Andrew Moshos p121-124
Movie Review: Lights by Andrew Moshos p125-127
Next Issue: Superheroes! by many people p128
RPG Review is a quarterly online magazine which will be available in print version at some stage. All material remains copyright to the authors except for the reprinting as noted in the first sentence. Contact the author for the relevant license that they wish to apply. Various trademarks and images have been used in this magazine of review and criticism. This includes Dungeons and Dragons from Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro, Killer and GUPRS from Steve Jackson Games, Eclipse Phase from Posthuman Studios, etc. The Revenant, Crimson and Lights are distributed by Disney and Fox, respectively. Cover image is Chapel of Skulls in Czermna, Poland by Merlin on Wikipedia Commons Use of trademarks etc are for fair use and review purposes and are not a challenge to trademarks or copyrights. Nobody is making money from this publication, OK?
EDITORIAL AND LETTERS
I highly endorse RPG Review! Look forward to every issue, there's always something great in there (and often many great things)
Morgan Davie, Wellington, New Zealand
RPG Review is just awesome! And the new issue's editorial is just GREAT, Lev. Some serious issues raised and thoroughly discussed. I'll recommend it everywhere.
Fábio Romeiro Gullo, Sao Paulo, Brazil
A Cooperative Future
I've followed the Crux Australi newsletters with interest as I have felt for some time that there is a lack of cohesion in Australian gaming (and in the localised industry too). The focus on advocacy I think is exactly what is needed nationally. One of the core experiences shared by a number of gamers locally in my home town is that gamers are falling into a few categories (i) those that have always gamed together at someone's house and have become insular, (ii) those that have either turned exclusively to gaming via online tools or simply abandoned the hobby for video games, (iii) those that simply drift from casual game to casual game and usually don't roleplay all that much and fill in the hobby with boardgames.
There doesn't seem to be an interest in building another generation of gamers, or getting gamers to meet outside their own groups. Admittedly I'm part of the problem as I have a lot of trouble with the energy required to engage with large social groups (both of my gaming groups are two players apiece). I've run clubs in the past and a convention, but that was fifteen years ago, when one could reasonably expect between 40-60 gamers every fortnight. Nowadays, the local boardgames club is excited because they get fifteen people per monthly meeting.
This brings me to connectedness. I wondered whether the newsletter might also focus on promoting Australian gaming by highlighting podcasts, KickStarters or other initiatives like blogs? Crux Australis could then be actively building listener- and reader-ship of Australian content. There could be an arrangement that sees the Crux receive some more members through reciprocal promotion.
Lastly, it might also serve as a place for Australian games designers to seek input and maybe playtesters for their new ideas. As such, it could be a very powerful incubator for national activities.
These were just a few thoughts that occured to me as I was reading the latest issue; my apologies if my narrative has become 'stream of consciousness', but I do see an overall pattern of connectedness that could have the Crux as its' centre.
I do hope that this is helpful and I'd be happy to expand on any of the ideas or discuss this further with you.
FR Podcast, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia
Welcome to the extremely late 27th and 28th double issue of RPG Review. Those who were not in the know may have presumed our demise. A handful - fools all - wished it. However our death was somewhat overstated to say the least. Rising from the tomb, the crypt, the velvet-lined coffin, or some similar place in alleged interment, RPG Review is here - with a special double issue on the matter of everyone's favourite bad guy - the undead.
But why, by all that is holy and unholy, is this issue so late? Well, there is of course the usual level of lateness from prior issues which pushes the agenda along a bit further than it should be on this one. After all get out our double-issue of RPG Review is no easy feat - there's some seventy thousand words to find. One can note however that, with good fortune, that the next issue of RPG Review has already received several significant contributions and we may be able to play catch-up with our alleged time-table fairly quickly.
However another issue that has taken up quite some time with the normal efforts that go into producing RPG Review has been the conversion of this publication from a single-person show with some valiant, welcome, and thoroughky appreciated helpers, to an incorporated association - and not just for the publication but for a range of activities dedicated to promoting roleplaying games and promoting better roleplaying games. There are details of this association and its activities in an article immediately following this editorial.
There is of course our regular Mingshi, who is quite irate at having to rewrite here column multiple times due to these delays. But in an industry that's famous for gossip, I am sure she has not shortage of rumours to act on, with the delays, it's just that some of the rumours have become a reality.
After this we have an interview with John Snead, one of the quiet achievers in the roleplaying industry. John has produced an enormous quantity of work over the years an is without a doubt one of the most respected authors out there. From Ars Magica, to Nephilim, Star Trek, Exalted, Trinity, Blue Rose, Eclipse Phase - once you start looking you see his name everywhere. John gives his thoughts on the various influences that led him to become an RPG writer and some future plans.
After this is Randal Henderson' special article on death and undeath in Warhammer 40K. Randal deserves a special mention because he submitted this article many months ago but of course has been waiting far too long to see publiction. To say the least WH40K is a setting that is absolutely sublime in its presentation of the undead and this piece deservers a jolly good review.
Following this is a ready-to-run single page Killer scenario from science fiction writer and occassional game-author Stephen Dedman. Stephen has, of course, managed to incorporate in a single page all the horror that comes from a shapechanging alien monster from Antartica. Sounds familiar?
There is a few articles relating to Dungeons and Dragons, of various editions. New contributer Adi Gondo Hartoo gives a little snippet of a piece on a character build that engaged in falls that should die, but walks away. A game that's very close (OK, extremely close) to the traditional Basic and Expert sets is Labyrinth Lord - Nicholas Moll provides an interesting exploration on how to offer alternatives in a game system which is a little notorious for its lethalness, especially to low-level characters.
Still with the Dungeons and Dragons content (OK, it does make up at least half the market), is a pair of previously published articles by James Introcaso, who kindly and unproblematically allowed us to republish. The first refers to the lack of sufficient difficulty is bringing characters back from the dead, and the second is a logical elaboration of some plot matters arising from this. Rounding off this first bloc of Dungeons and Dragons articles is a piece by myself and Stean Vitasovic on an very troubling artifact from a Balkans historical fantasy campaign that we ran many years ago.
This begins a string of four of articles by your editor and the next two I'm must say I had a great fun writing. The first covers examples of the undead in reality - strange mythologies, unusual attempts, and more than enough disturbing modern day science which requires just a little elaboration. The second piece is a review of several undead-related RPG products; including Vampire The Masquerade, GURPS Undead, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and the two recent Dungeons and Dragons supplements, Libris Mortis and Open Grave. In keeping with the review approach - this is the name of the journal after all - the recent combination of Paranoia and Call of Cthulhu makes its appearance with Andrew Daborn's visit to the Laundry files. The final piece by your editor is a look at the role and meaning of being undead in Eclipse Phase. Following this is Secret of Saltram Shore, a massive ghostly scenario for the Hero system, but readily available for other games. Written by Robert J. Hall, it was available online many years ago but has since vanished into the ether. We bring this brilliant scenario back from the dead (very appropriate verdade?).
Long-term contributor Michael Cole provides a couple of deadly snippets with supplemental rules for GURPS. What could be more deadly that poisons and dungeoneering? In a distinctly not very undead article worthy contributor and once even editor of this 'zine Karl Brown provides an overview of the faerie-heavy Green Isles campaign setting, strictly for fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons but easily adapatble for other settings. Of course, there is nothing saying that every article in an issue of RPG Review must follow its advertised setting and theme. Thus we also see an elaboration of rules for the HeroQuest RPG, starship economics for Savage Worlds, and a pair of articles by astrology author Kieran Brannan - one on GMing horror games and one for the BECMI setting of Phaemorea, which is co-authored with the psychic author Ryllandra Rose. The setting is somewhat thematic it does involve a large undead-powered empire as a major setting feature. Also, whilst it is described as "adapted" from the author's on demand it is really an extracted selection, with an estimated 99% of the words are directly from their material - the most significant change was altering "I" to "we" and changing ampersands to "and".
Speaking of which, being published in RPG Review is surprisingly important, at least from a critical point of view. With the move from print to electronic publications the marginal costs of producing written material has fallen dramatically. Whilst there is still a significant market for physical game-system books and supporting material there is no financially supportable market for physical magazines (a hat-tip to Gygax which is making a brave effort in that regard) and electronic magazines, such as ours, only survive on volunteers who are dedicated to the hobby for its own sake. Take the effort and hunt around – how many other roleplaying 'zines are there out there which have been around as long as we have? I can think only of Alarums and Excursions.
It is little wonder that we have had such industry luminaries grace our pages in the past - and in this issue we have an article from the ever-controversial but usually right, Lew Pulsipher who has penned a deeply considered opiion on why computer RPGs aren't as much fun as traditional tabletop RPGs. You could say that we have his piece in lieu of a computer game review - but that would be a bad pun.
The issue concludes with three movie reviews by Andrew Moshos; there is a temptation by merge the reviews into a single article given the consistency in his approach and thematic selection choice. They are all movies about the undead, more or less, The Revenant, Crimson Peak, and the smaller budget Lights. Andrew continues to show his love of the big screen in reviews that can be both passionate and acerbic and his work is always a welcome rounding off to the RPG Review journal.
With that summary, happy gaming all, and sleep tight and may the hauntings be light.
Lev Lafayette (firstname.lastname@example.org)
THE RPG REVIEW COOPERATIVE
At the end of last year a small group of people met at the office of the Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing (VPAC), in Victoria Street, Carlton. Their purpose was to establish a new incorporated association for the promotion of roleplaying and simulation games.
There was a gentle and tragic narrative occuring at the same time. The board of VPAC, which had provided supercomputer services for the previous fifteen or so years, had decided to close the non-profit association down, and many would say without justification. In just days after this meeting VPAC would close its doors for the last time.
Nevertheless, from the ashes of one association another, albeit very different in scale, scope, and activities, could arise. The agenda was set, with the following purposes for the Association:
* To promote and advocacate the use simulation and roleplaying games.
* To design, develop, and distribute of simulation and roleplaying games by members.
* To publish periodicals, manuals, books, websites etc related to the simulation and roleplaying games.
* To engage in activities, including generating income and expenditure, to further these aims.
The association will use the Model Rules for Incorporated Associations, published by the Victorian Government. The association will have an annual membership fee of $10. The association will take ownership of the RPG Review website and the RPG Review Quicksales store, for use and development by members. The association will raise funds for the publication and distribution of simulation and RPG games designed by members (e.g., Gulliver's Trading Company) and will purchase ISBNs for this purpose.
The following motion was tabled and, put following discussion.
"That the RPG Review Cooperative be formed, and that the Model Rules for an Incorporated Associated be applied."
Moved Lev Lafayette. Seconded Andrew Daborn
The motion was passed, and with the election of a committee consisting of Lev Lafayette, Karl Brown, Andrew Daborn, Liz Bowman, and Nicholas Moll, the organisation was its way.
Consumer Affairs Victoria approved the application and on January 7th 2016 we received the certificate of incorporation, with the identity A0094301K.
The immediate activities was to establish a github (because that's what the cool kids are doing) for works in development, including several game systems and supplements and applications (Torquil Gault's Visual Combat Simulator is a particularly great item), open up the RPG Review Quicksales store to all members, and advertise existing game sessions organised by members. Soon after this we started organising monthly movie nights at the Astor for their invariable appropriate double-feature sessions – including a very enjoyable visit on World Aliens Day.
"All right sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal's a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I love the corps!"
As part of our advocacy role we launched a petition to Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast to give 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons and Open Game License. The Game System License which it has been granted compares poorly to the OGL (no open game content, restrictions on game terms) and as a result it means that consumers and publishers have less choice for this particular edition of the game – it is also inconsistent with the licenses granted for the third and fifth editions of the game.
The Association has also started a library of games, magazines, and supplements. There was an offer to ship the significant gaming library from the Murdoch (University) Alternative Reality Society (MARS), and organisation which the president founded way back in 1988, and is now defunct after over two decades in operation. That has not been not happened yet, but we're still hopeful. In the meantime, a library has been established with generous donations from Lev Lafayette, Paul Smith, and Simon Stainsby. Borrowing rules have been established and Charmaine Daborn has kindly taken the role of looking after the library. It's not enormous yet, but from such humble beginnings great things can grow.
To top it all off, every month the RPG Review Cooperative has provided a newsletter to its members, Crux Australi.
The Association has succeeded beyond expectations. A number of committee members are old hands at this sort of thing and they know full-well that such a body only really gets its feet truly on the ground. Already we have more members than expected and will aim to increase that even further by the end of the year. The library will hopefully continue to expand, and we will certainly continue to provide the online store, this journal (ISSN about to be established), the newsletter, our movie nights, the github, and our regular gaming sessions. The next major task will be buying a bulk of ISBNs for would-be publishers – including the superhero game, Verge, the third edition of Swordbearer entitled Spirit and Sword, the well-playtested Gulliver's Trading Company, The Eclipse Phase Companion, and The Laundry Down Under.
Something we will not be doing in the immediate future of course is holding our own conventions. We're Melbourne based and there is already several well-established conventions operated by some excellent minds in this city, including Arcanacon and Conquest. As much as we possibly can we will be working with existing groups, not in competition but in cooperation – indeed competition in a hobby like this is frankly quite bizarre. We will instead look other national oganisations such as SVEROK in Sweden and their federated approach to promoting a critical advocacy to our shared hobby, and put any differences aside in favour of that common interest.
HOT GOSSIP: INDUSTRY NEWS
by Wu Mingshi
Hosei bo, Mr. Lev,
Where you been? I think you dead! But no, just hiding behind this so very late double issue, lah? You so late Mingshi's rumors have become stale like old metaphor. You like that one? So Mingshi have to write her column again and again. It like I go on second day at Jie Bakery for stale ice-cream colored bread. You make my tasty column stale! No do again!
So in stale-bread news, the new Chaosium are now gone from California, and the new office with Moon Design and with distribution scattered all over world. But everyone know that because you so cruel to Mingshi. But new team doing well, with regular news about 7th edition RuneQuest and of course big success with 7th edition Call of Cthulhu.
In more stale bread news as Mingshi report in last issue, remember so long ago, Savage Worlds Rifts has been released mean that crazy world meet good game, equal crazy good game! Over $200K raise in Kickstarter. But that small cheese, for John Wick's second edition of 7th Sea, 11,483 backers pledged $1,316,813! Hey RPG Review have double pirate issue last time? Maybe new association get any kickback? Meanwhile Pathfider Humble Bumble bee get record $1.298 million with 77,499 Bundles sold. Minshi think that maybe she in wrong industry with real job when she could make money like this from games, lah?
(image for 7th Sea second edition Kickstarter)
Good news to see settlement reach between Jeff Dee and Jack Herman of Monkey House Games and Scott Bizar of Fantasy Games Unlimited over Villains and Vigilantes. Monkey House Games has copyright over game, FGU has trademark and license to Monkey House. So why you all fight in first place?
This issue of RPG Review so late I can even talk about 2016 Origins. It has Cthulhu Britannica from Cubicle 7 nominate for best roleplaying game, along with Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook from Pelgrane Press, Fall of Magic - Heart of the Deernicorn, Lone Wolf Adventure Game, also by Cubicle 7, and Star Wars: Force and Destiny, by Fantasy Flight Games. Mingshi give confused face, some of these look like supplements not games? My spies do not tell me of secret change!
Remember big mess over Cthulhu Mythos in Dungeons and Dragons in Deities and Demigods many years ago? Well all resolved now, and Petersen Games is publishing a Cthulhu mythos-based Pathfinder RPG campaign world entitled Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos for Pathfinder.
Internal Correspondence tell me that top five roleplaying games for last season of 2015 was (1) Dungeons and Dragons (Wizards of the Coast), (2) Pathfinde (Piazo), (3) Star Wars (Fantasy Flight Games), (4) Dragon Age (Green Ronin Publishing), and (5) Fantasy Age (Green Ronin Publishing). This compare to previous season where top three the same but (4) Shadowrun (Catalyst Game Labs) and (5) Iron Kingdoms (Privateer Press). So big congratulation to Green Ronin to have two new game in top five.
Maybe something to do with new release for 2016 announced? They say they will publish Dragon Age Gamemaster's Kit, and second printing of Dragon Age Core Rulebook. A Return to Freeport new edition also plan, and Gamemaster's Kit for Fantasy AGE also plan, and new Mutants and Mastermind Gamemasters Kit. Green Ronin like Gamemaster's Kit. Also, new edition of Blue Rose, complete with magic deer! Mingshi love magic deer, maybe we get some for our nighttime zoo?