The Riddle of Steel Review

It came with great promise, it generated polarised debate around 2001 to 2003, it has now almost entirely disappeared, the website gone, the book out-of-print and rarely seen in second-hand sources. It is The Riddle of Steel, and when I managed to pick up a copy recently, I could not help but give it a few sessions to find out what all the fuss was about.

The Physical Product

The 270 page hardback is well bound and comes with an attractive fish-eye lens graphic of a warrior holding aloft an implausible sword. The interior art is often below average in terms of technique and well-below average in terms of creativity, although the inclusion of reprints from renaissance era manuscripts is an exception, as is the amusing female lancer on the back of the giant lizard. Nearly all of the art is placed with little regard to context either, with some exceptions (e.g., encumbrance).

The book is formatted with a two-column justified layout and a serif-font. The margins have chapter and section headings (top and side, respectively), which is pleasing. There is a good two-page table of contents and four-page index, although the formatting of the latter is a little askew. The product is broken into eight "books", each containing several chapters and some of those with sub-chapters.

The writing style is accessible and efficient with a direct statement of rules, elaboration and/or explanation and examples, although with the occasional spelling error and lapse into silliness. Each 'book' is unfortunately introduced with a short narrative with does nothing for the understanding of the game or the setting; compare with The Travels of Biturian Varosh.

Corporation Review

corporation rpg cover

The Product

Corporation is released by Mongoose Games, under their Flaming Cobra of independents, in this case, Brutal Games. It's a beautifully bound hardback, absolutely rock solid in production qualities and lies quite flat when opened. The 256 page text is two column justified, sans-serif (not a good look for print, great for online), with boxed page numbers and chapter titles in the modest margins, top right and top left respectively. This is supplemented by boxed italic text providing short, descriptive narratives, and sectioned text to highlight specific rules. The cover is simple but evocative, a group of four Agents (think covert ops, men in black etc) overlooking a misty river with a spire and an old city in the background. The internal art is competent and evocative, presenting the cyberpunk and special agent setting which is central to the game. Unfortunately the printing is far too dark and much of the detail of the internal artwork has been lost in production. I've been told the clarity of the artwork is superior in the full-colour PDF version of the game.

The book is broken up into thirteen chapters, made explicit by a very clear two-page table of contents, with a three page index supplementing. After a brief introduction the game dives right into Character Generation followed by four chapters assisting the process (Equipment, Cybernetics, Telepathics, Character Advancement), and two chapters of central setting information for characters (The Corporations, the UIG and the Order of the Truth Faith). It is well into the book (chapter 8, p137) until the actual game system is explained, and this brief chapter (13 pages) is followed by supplementary setting information for the next three (The World in 2500, The Cities, People and Places). The last two chapters are GM aids, including sample scenarios and sample NPCs (Running Corporation, Antagonists).

Cyberspace Review

There was a time in the late 1980s when there was quite a run on cyberpunk roleplaying games; Cyberpunk (1st edition and 20.20), and Shadowrun were, of course, the big names, and even Traveller 2300 (2300AD) decided to have a shot with the Earth/Cybertech supplement. From the ICE corner of the publishing market, came Cyberspace. It did strike as a little contrived and incongruous at the time. After all, ICE was known for their detail-heavy Rolemaster fantasy RPG, their Middle-Earth line, and a rather space operatic Spacemaster. Nevertheless, author Todd Foley (previously responsible for War on A Distant Moon and Beyond The Core for Spacemaster) stepped up to the task, with a stripped down version of the 'Master' system supplemented with cyberpunk setting and style.

Cyberspace came in a 206 page softcover with cover art from Rick Veitch, representing a juxtaposition of the crowded, polluted cybernetic environment and the abstract neon of cyberspace. It shows some creativity, but the technique is very much comic-book style, which is the illustrator's area of work. The interior art, by Rick Lowry, Angela Bostick, Del Harris, and Karl Martin, is nearly all good, giving a good sense of the style of cyberpunk with some images reminiscent of scenes from books and films of the time. The text is mostly presented in three-column ragged-right with an somewhat annoying sans-serif font, made up however by very clear and common sub-section headings along with obvious chapters heading and numbers on each page. Despite the density of the text finding the relevant material during play was as easily acquired skill.

After a short preface there are six chapters, The System, Running The World, Technology, Cyberspace, an Adventure and some very handy Appendices. These are supplemented by a good two-page table of contents and a somewhat short one page index. The writing style in the rules is mostly formal, to the point but supplemented with plenty of examples. There are thankfully short narratives introducing each chapter along with interesting occasional box-sections outlining annual events up to the year 2090, when the game is set.

Ninth Issue Released: Bestiary and Aliens September 2010

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

Administrivia and Editorial many contributors p2-3
Hot Gossip: Industry News by Wu Mingshi p4
Biophysics for Gamers by Karl David Brown p5-8
Yahoo! A Species for Gulliver's Trading Company by Karl David Brown p9-10

Eighth Issue Released: Science Fiction June 2010

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

Administrivia and Editorial many contributors p2-3
Hot Gossip: Industry News by Wu Mingshi p4
3:16 Carnage Among The Stars Review by Lev Lafayette p5-6
Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space by Sam Sexton p7-8

Seventh Issue Released: March 2010

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

Administrivia and Editorial by many people p2­-3
Letters by many people p43-6
Hot Gossip: Industry News by Wu Mingshi p7-8
Warhammer Fantasy Role Play 3rd Ed Review by Stephen Justice p9-11
The Crotliv Convergence: Rolemaster/Spacemaster by Lev Lafayette p12-17

Sixth Issue Released: Glorantha December 2009

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

Administrivia and Editorial by many people p2­-3
Letters by many people p4­-6
Hot Gossip: Industry News by Wu Mingshi p7
Fox Magic Designer's Notes by Christopher “Kit” LaHaise p8­-10
WordPlay Designer's Notes by Greg Spearing p11­-14

Fifth Issue Released: September 2009

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

Administrivia and Editorial many contributors p2­-3
Letters: The Young Gods Legal Debate with Alex Bialy p3­-7
Hot Gossip: Industry News by Wu Mingshi p8
The Art and Imagination of Dan Smith with Dan Smith p9­-11
New World of Darkness: Reviewed by Sam Sexton p12­-14

Fourth Issue Released: June 2009

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

Administrivia and Editorial many contributors p2­-4
Hot Gossip: Industry News by Wu Mingshi p5-6
B. Dennis Sustare Interview & Article by B. Dennis Sustare p7­-17
Sorcery & Demons and Mimesis Designer's Notes by Lev Lafayette p18-21
SLURPS for GURPS by Karl Brown p22-24

Third Issue Released: March 2009

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

Administrivia and Editorial many contributors p2­-3
Crossword Puzzle! by Jensen Schmidt p4­-5
Hot Gossip: Industry News by Wu Mingshi p6
Summerland Designer's Notes by Greg Saunders p7­-8
Fire & Sword Designer's Notes by Ray Turney p9
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