Twilight 2000 (2nd edition) Review

Twilight 2K cover

"Few may recall today, but in the early 1980s, the world was fatalistic and paranoid about the prospects of nuclear war.

Introduction and Product

It was in this milieu that GDW released the first edition of Twilight 2000 in 1984. The PCs took the role of U.S. soldiers left in Poland after a brief limited nuclear war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The first edition came in two notably slim books with an equally slim game system which, whilst with its problems, was usable, and perhaps most memorable for the "Coolness Under Fire", which represented how many phases in a combat turn a character would effectively hesitate whilst bullets were flying around. The game was quite a success with a run of scenarios, although the real world engaged in its typical habit of interrupting the assumed history. By the time the second edition was released in 1990, the eastern bloc and the Soviet Union was on the way out. Nevertheless, the second edition looked representative of the game's popularity.

The new book was more than ten times the size of the first edition, suggesting that significant effort had been spent in elaboration and development. Consisting of some eleven sections, the game is presented with realist shaded ink-pencil drawings and a three column justified sans-serif font throughout. It looks attractive, but is actually quite difficult to get past the wall-of-text in actual play. Page numbers are clearly marked, but not sections. There is a good two-page table of contents and an index of equivalent length. The cover art by Dell Harris is but fair in technique and creativity, suggesting a certain wildness of behaviour by the mixed-force band of PCs represented, although the ugly yellow background is distracting. I will readily admit having preference to the cover art by Steve Vetners in the first edition. Notable is the "vehicle cards" and "weapon cards", the former consisting of on average half A4 sections and the latter quarter A4. Each provides an image and summary of the relevant item. Taking up some 65 of the new pages, they are nominally designed to be photocopied and distributed to players when they have such equipment, but this use in play is marginal at best. The book itself is softback and excellently bound with a strong glue.

The game begins with an official "countdown to armageddon", which shows a fair knowledge of the international geographical and politics. The cause of the official war is tensions between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, and is followed up a year later by conflicts between a re-united Germany and Poland eventually leading to a NATO and Warsaw Pact conflict (yes, once again Germany re-negotiates the Polish border). You may be very surprised to discover in the game history it is the Soviets that launch the nukes first, initially tactically against the NATO forces, but with far less restraint against China. There is much I find questionable about the official history, especially the notion of a "limited nuclear war" (more on that later) but the game is only weakly tied to the official history and it does provide sufficient detail for those who want an "out-of-the-box" back story.

Call of Cthulhu, 5th edition

Introduction and Product

With the notorious calendar change, the stars are right for another review of Call of Cthulhu. This classic of horror roleplaying games has gone through around a dozen editions, albeit spread out through versions one to six, along with several other new systems (Trail of Cthulhu, D20 Call of Cthulhu etc). The edition being reviewed here however is 5th edition, by which I mean 5, 5.1, or 5.2 for the sake of argument. Anyone would think that Chaosium is playing with our head, but they wouldn't do that would they? In any case, we're referring to a game that has won at least three Origins awards, so we know where we're at. The fifth edition consists of 240 pages, two-column justified with a serif font and several styles of boxed and highlighted section.

Page numbers and chapter titles are clear, there is an ideal amount of white space to separate the text without losing density. The writing style is mostly very good, although there are some sections where it becomes annoyingly chatty. There is a handy section tab for "Rules" on the margin, but oddly not for anything else. The cover art "The Eye of Cthulhu" by Lee Gibons, illustrates the Great Old One gazing upon some hapless investigators; it is fair-good in terms of creativity and technique. The internal art is a combination of black and white sketches from previous editions and some excellent newer line drawings with a slightly cubist and pop influence. Many of the latter are used for chapter title pages and fillers. The portraits in the Lovecraft personalities section however leaves a little to to be desired. The artwork is mostly appropriate to context, especially (thankfully) in the "Creatures of the Cthulhu Mythos" section. There is a table of contents and index, but both are somewhat short, however there is an excellent selection of tables and example characters in the appendix. As a softback book, the book is very well glued and seems to be able to take a fair bit of usage.

There is an introductory chapter entitled "Orientation", which establishes the source material for the game (the mythos generated by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft), recommended characters (investigative), an non-systematic encouragement to roleplay ("A player has a duty to roleplay an investigator"), a distinction between Investigators (the Cthulhu word for "player characters") and the Keeper (the Cthulhu word for "game master"), and recognition of the three potential settings of the game (1890s, 1920s, and 1990s). A very sensible set of general hints is recommended for player characters ("use your head", "avoid gunfights"), concluding with use of figures, source material, and an extremely handy two-page graphic summary of character generation.

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".

Sixteenth Issue Released: Science Fiction Games

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

Administrivia, Editorial, Letters many contributors p2-3
Hot Gossip: Industry News by Wu Mingshi p4
Interview with Marc Miller with Marc Miller p5-9
Eclipse Phase Review and Character by Lev Lafayette and Stew Wilson p10-19

Fiftheenth Issue Released: Indie Game Systems

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

Administrivia, Editorial, Letters many contributors p2-3
Hot Gossip: Industry News by Wu Mingshi p4
Interview with Liz Danforth with Liz Danforth p5-9
HeroQuest2 Review by Chris Jensen Romer p10-19
Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes by Chris Jensen Romer p20-23
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