Jadepunk Review

Disclaimer: This pdf was graciously given to me by Ryan Danks of ReRoll Productions. All opinions within the review are my own.

I mentioned before I have decided to take a second look at the Fate system. There have been some recent additions to the Fate Universe that have really impressed me. The Dresden Files RPG captured the feel of the novels superbly. Atomic Robo RPG had me laughing while reading the core rule book. And Mindjammer has jumped to the top of a very short list of Science Fiction games I have to run. But nestled in all the Fate discussions I have had with friends recently, Jadepunk has kept popping up. In talking with Ryan Danks, the publisher and lead developer on the line, he offered to send me a copy. Well, I read it, and here we are.

Jadepunk – Review

Jadepunk

Jadepunk – Tales from Kausao City, is a 139 page PDF available from ReRoll Productions or Drivethrurpg. For $9.99 you are getting a complete game. The system is powered by Fate. From my understanding of the Fate world, Jadepunk is more Fate Accelerated than Fate Core. That being said, Jadepunk serves as a great example of the Fate engine and good place to dive into that system. The game is extremely friendly to new players: new to Jadepunk, new to Fate, new to RPGs. The book is littered with little callouts which boil the system and setting down into brief overviews. It would super simple to grab those and make a GM screen or player handout with all the pertinent information.

So, what is Jadepunk? It is genre mash setting, westerns meet wuxia, with a generous helping of jade powered tech thrown in. The game takes place in Kausao City. This city is a jadetech marvel. White jade airships travel between tower skyscrapers of Green jade. Blue jade provides stable forms of energy and Red jade provides violate ones. The great nations of the world all are represented in Kausao City, seeking to control the flow of the Jade, which exists in abundance under and around the city. The rich look down on Kausao City, corrupt and greedy, seeking to oppress those beneath them. The writers sure know the punk genre. In my mind, you can’t call it punk without having oppression to fight against.

Characters play as a developing society of vigilante martial artists called the Jianghu. They are trying to bring justice to Kausao City. Martial Artists, rebels, jadetech engineers are viable character archetypes in this game. With fist, blade, and red jade six-shooters, you and your group fight for the soul of Kausao City, and tell stories worthy of Hero or Tombstone.

The setting is rich in flavor and focuses mainly on Kausao City. The major players in the city (nations, religions, ect.) get enough detail to give players and GMs a springboard to make this game their own. In fact that is especially true of Kausao City. While you are given rich information on the city, the writers want your Kausao to be uniquely yours. For example, when talking about using the map of the city, the writers don’t give you a huge key of places. Districts are sketched out, and important places are given write-ups.  But, then they suggest you mark the map up as you play, putting your game’s locations into the city.

Conclusion

I know I did not talk about the system side of Jadepunk. That was on purpose. Partially because I want to do a standalone Fate review, and partially because I feel that the settings are what make Fate games unique and interesting.

This is especially true of Jadepunk. The book gives you a great setting, mashing two genres in a fun way. If you like the idea of martial artists armed with six-shooters, fantasy westerns, or a fresh take on punk tropes, pick this game up. The layout and design of Kausao City is how I always envisioned releasing Shadow’s Reach from Ta’nar; invocative without being restrictive. You can also, drop the city into any campaign, and hit the ground running with western-wuxia goodness.

ReRoll already has a number of expansions for the game that you can purchase from their store. Also, as a side note, if you purchase from the ReRoll Store, 30% of your purchase is donated to charity. Treat yourself to a fun game and feel good about it while you do.

The Translation Codex

Disclaimer: This pdf was graciously given to me for the purposes of review by Ryan Chaddock Games. All opinions within the review are my own.

I was about to crash for the evening last night, when I received an email telling me that I had a review copy of a book called the Translation Codex waiting for me.  I figured I would download it, flip through it and then head to bed.  Three hours later, I finally made it.

Translation Codex – Review

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One of my issues with The Strange, it is a small issue but from what I have seen a pervasive one, is that the core rule book spreads the setting a little thin.  Earth, Ardyen, Ruk, and The Strange itself are major settings, and the book contains a number of other smaller recursions. They manage to cram a lot of information into the setting sections, but unlike Numenera whose setting enflamed my imagination, it was not until the adventures started coming out for it that I felt like I connected with The Strange.  Another major part of this feeling of thinness is the foci. While there are 25 foci, this is 5 less than the Numenera core rule book, and they are not universally applicable.

Why am I bringing this up? It is a problem that Monte Cook Games already has a book in the works to resolve.  It was an understandable issue due the nature of the setting and it doesn’t make The Strange unplayable.  All of this is true, but it still makes The Strange somewhat constrained for now.  However, Ryan Chaddock Games’ newest PDF is designed to address this problem.

The Translation Codex is a 142 page PDF, available for $5.00 from Drivethrurpg.com.  This PDF contains 100 foci and 18 new recursion write ups.  100!  The book separates the foci between 5 broad genres and 5 more niche ones.  You can drop these foci into the current settings of The Strange, use them with the books provided settings, or mix and match them to create your own recursions.

The broad genres covered are: Low Fantasy, High Fantasy, Mad Science, Earth, and Psionics.  The narrow ones are: Lovecraftian Horror, Mythic (Greco-Roman), Space, Strange, and Wild West.  These are not just foci that expand upon the current core settings of The Strange.  Low Fantasy covers your Song of Ice and Fire, low magic worlds.  Mad Science and Psionics allow you to build an effective Super Hero recursion.

Each of the broad genres have fifteen foci, and the narrow ones possess five. As I read through them, I found ones that were spot on for their genres, as well as some creative surprises. For example, the High Fantasy section covers the standard Dungeons and Dragons tropes of: Cleric, Bard, Invoker, and Druid.  It also has the Carries the Weight of Destiny foci, which allows your players to play a character on Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

The Mad Science genre has a great side-kick foci Assists a Mad Genius as well as Plays with Portals, which I really want to play. Within the Earth genre, you find everything from action movie tropes, to professional athletes.  The Space genre contains only 5 foci, but they are ripped from Star Trek, so this is a huge win.  There is even a Red Shirt foci.

Conclusion

Excluding the obvious cross-use for a Numenera game, or the fact that you could use it to play in your own setting before the Cypher System Rulebook comes out, The Translation Codex provides a lot of meat for your Strange game.  The foci are as useable with the recursions in the main book as they are useful in creating your own.  It stands alone, and provides a much needed expansion for The Strange line.  At .05 cents a foci, The Translation Codex is an amazing deal.

Play Dirty – A Full Review

After my post on Monday, I had a number of people ask for a full review of Play Dirty. Being the magnanimous blogger that I am, and with the Kickstarter for Play Dirty 2 going on, here it is.

Play Dirty is 118 page PDF available through Drivethrurpg.com for $5.00.  You can get the hard copy (or the PDF) at John Wick’s website here. Play Dirty contains 11 articles that Mr. Wick wrote 15 or so years ago.  Be warned, Play Dirty is rough.  John Wick admits with his introduction to the book.  He chose not to edit the book when assembling it, for reasons that I will let him explain.  But they are reasons I can empathize with.  The articles within have been called controversial, divisive, and, more than a little antagonistic.  It is hard to tell if this tone comes across because it is the true nature of the author, or just the voice he chose to write in to convey his points. But the heart of Play Dirty, in my mind, is to provoke you to think about ways to push your game to be better.  John Wick is sharing his stories and experiences as a GM, to make you question how you run games.  A lot of them are shared out of context which can hurt the narrative.  But, as in my case some 8 years ago, his goal help you raise the quality of your game.

One note. Writing a review of a product is usually easy for me, but I have struggled with this one.  As Play Dirty is a book of GMing advice, reviewing a lot of the content defeats the purpose of buying the book.  And, as it was so seminal for my GMing style back in the day, I struggled with objectivity.  I will try to highlight the chapters that I feel either, exemplify the tone of the book, or the type of advice that it contains.

Episode 0 – Hit ‘em Where It Hurts & Episode 2 – The Return of Jefferson Carter

Episode 0, the article that lead to the column Play Dirty, talks a lot about character death.  And a lot about how to dick with characters in your games. Reading through it you may begin to wonder, why the hell am I taking advice from this killer GM? And that is fair, John walks you through a number of ways to use character’s advantages and disadvantages to abuse them.  This is a perfect example about the adversarial tone and the controversial advice I was speaking about above.  But, look for the lie this chapter contains.  As Mr. Wick admonishes, he says one thing but shows another. The second Episode provides more context to this episode, and it helps pull this opening article into perspective.

While these chapters portray an adversarial GM cackling maniacally as player after player quits his game, there is something else there going on.  There is a GM who is delving into themes and stories at time where Narrative gaming was in its infancy.  It is a bloody, messy affair that gave birth to what sounds like an amazing conclusion.  These chapters remind me that the characterization and struggles I love in literature are not exclusive from the stories we bring to the table.

Episode 3 – Living City

The Living City chapter is indicative of John Wick’s unorthodox GMing techniques found in Play Dirty.  Other examples of these can also be seen on his Play Dirty You Tube channel. (Check out the Dirty Dungeon Technique for another great example of this type of technique.  Seriously, that technique is gold and my players have loved every Dirty Dungeon we have created.) The basis of the Living City technique is to get your players to do the heavy lifting of city design and management.  Have them design, and even play if you are brave enough, the NPCs of the city.  Have them establish scene and location specifics as they come up.  Basically, push some of the narrative control of your story back at the players.  This not only lifts a huge burden off your shoulders, but ties the players to the story and the events of the city.  It raises their investment in the world and the story, which is always a good thing.  And, perhaps, is the defining goal of John Wick’s play style and this book.

Episodes – The Rest of the Book

There is a chapter on dealing with problem players that makes me cringe (and always has).  They are horrifying and brutal.  I can only imagine they would solve the issue of a problem player, by driving them from the table.  But, he does tell you real way to deal with problem players, which is not any of those techniques.  Talking with your players is the way to deal with issues.  It is this dichotomy that makes me believe that some of the antagonism is intention, to showcase the true advice.  He also tries to impart the idea which seems like it should be intrinsic to the hobby, but I deal with on a regular basis in store games.  RPGs are social, group events. Having fun in spite of everyone else is a surefire way to ruin that fun.

The rest of the book, in my opinion, is all about challenging player and GM perceptions.  Perceptions about mechanics, the nature of the game, the stories you can tell, even the nature of the player characters. There is a lot of great, easy to digest material in the remaining eight episodes.  These episodes are the less…. provocative, but no less informative.

Conclusion

As I said Monday, you will either love or hate this book, but you won’t look at your game the same way.  I stand by that.  I think that in the chaos of the original Play Dirty, John Wick shines the light on a lot of great GMing techniques.  At the time, it was one of the few sources of Narrative GMing advice that now pervades the hobby.  The Dresden Files RPG has more than a few of elements of the Living City.  The World of Darkness embraces the kind of story-based tomfoolery of the original article. While controversial, I believe that Play Dirty was on the leading edge of an industry wide shift in perspective.

Play Dirty is entertaining, and serves as a reminder (and for me, the source) of many of the techniques I love to use at the table. I have never found these techniques or stories as controversial as many on the internet did.  But, I have also had knockdown, drag out fights over how I run my games.  For $5 is it worth the read.  And for $10, you can get both Play Dirty, and Play Dirty 2 over at the Kickstarter.

Wits Alone Review

Disclaimer: This pdf was graciously given to me for the purposes of review by Ryan Chaddock Games. All opinions within the review are my own.

It is no secret if you read this blog that Ryan Chaddock Games (RCG) has produced some of my favorite Numenera supplements to date. That includes the Glimmers that Monte Cook Games itself has produced. RCG’s supplements expand on a lot of aspects of Numenera that fascinate me. They recently released Wits Alone, a supplement centering on crime and law in the Ninth World

Wits Alone Review
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Wits Alone is a 94-page pdf that you can snag at Drivethrurpg.com. This is their sixth release for the Cypher system, and they are still going strong. The book is broken up into four chapters. Deep Shadows which focuses on crime in the Ninth World, Watch Keepers looks at the Law, Black Goods presents dastardly new cyphers, and finally Uxphon briefly ties a number of the elements from the rest of the book into one of the cities mentioned in the Numenera corebook.

Wits Alone provides 15 foci, 7 descriptors, 4 artifacts, and 36 new cyphers. If you have not read my other reviews, RCG’s foci are always incredibly well done and coupled with the cyphers they create, make the PDF well worth the cost of admission.

Like Whisper Campaigns, Wits Alone gives a GM a lot to work with. It looks at the archetypes of the law and crime, and gives you plenty of plots and options to combine to add to your story. RCG created a half-dozen syndicates and three law-aligned organizations to be dropped into your campaign. They are tied together to make a great tapestry of interwoven groups for games on either side of the law.
Finally, in Chapter 4, Wits Alone takes what it has built in the previous chapters, and dumps them into the city of Uxphon in the Steadfast. There is a ton of information, plot, and adventure ideas packed into this chapter.

Conclusion
To date, my favorite of the RCG products is still Angels & Ashes, followed closely by Whisper Campaigns. Moving firmly into third place is Wits Alone. For $5.00, it is chock full of great mechanics, advice, and campaign fodder. Also, if Uxphon sounds familiar, it is the city that the Devil’s Spine starts off in. Which just adds to the utility of this book. The information in it enables you to flesh out the story before and after the official campaign, and perhaps send it spinning off in strange new directions. Check it out!

The Sun Below: City on the Edge – Review

Disclaimer: This PDF was graciously given to me by John Marvin for review. All opinions within the review are my own.

Thanks to the Monte Cook Games’ limited license, Cypher fans have been treated to a variety of third-party supplements.  It is no surprise to anyone following this blog that I am a fan of Ryan Chaddock Games’ products, as well as Numenera in general.  Metal Weave Games’ books (Ninth World Assassins & Naval Encounters) have been fantastic as well, setting the bar very high in my opinion for new Cypher supplements.  So when the call went out for reviewers for a new Numenera adventure, I jumped at the chance.
The Sun Below: City on the Edge – Review

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The Sun Below is a 66-page supplement by Dread Unicorn Games, available for purchase at DrivethruRPG.com.  The first thing that stands out about this product is the formatting.  The thing looks like a Numenera book.  The call-outs, the boxes, and the layout all harkens back to the core book.  Crammed into this book is a 41-page adventure, a 16-page bestiary, 2 cyphers, and 8 artifacts.  And it contains rules for a new classification of creatures, Mooks.  This simple addition of a way to turn any creature into cannon-fodder adds a lot of flexibility to Numenera’s already fluid combat system.

The Adventure

The Sun Below is a very, VERY weird adventure; in the science-fantasy landscape of Numenera, this is good thing.  The introduction gives the GM a brief overview of the story as well as a number of character hooks to tie the group into the narrative right away.  The adventure takes characters beneath the surface of the Ninth World to the realm of the Sun Below.  There they encounter the decaying remnants of a dying empire.  Various factions vie to influence the characters, seeing them as a wild card that could tip the balance of a stagnant ecosystem.  Navigating the strange subterranean world and returning to their home is the focus of the adventure.

I have not seen an adventure this flexible in a while. First of all, it is scaled for all six character tiers.  So no matter when you get The Sun Below, you can use it right away in your home game. Secondly, the structure of the scenario has more of a web structure than anything resembling a straight line. While the format takes a bit to absorb, each scene has a number of scenes that feed into it, as well as a number of scenes that it flows into.

The result is a published adventure which feels very much like how I plan my own games.  Characters will have to take some initiative, but a savvy GM can seed the options for subsequent scenes, as well as have a pretty firm handle on where the players could go next.

Bestiary

The bestiary contains 16 new monsters.  Most of them are given three sets of stats, allowing you to adjust for your characters’ tier.  While the monsters are tied into the narrative of the Sun Below, they are all fantastic additions to any game.  There are everything from floating heads sarcophagi, to ooze creatures, to automatons, and floating gas bags.

Conclusion

The Sun Below: City on the Edge is $7.99 at the time of this review and well worth the price.  The flexibility you get from this supplement is staggering.  The setting is weird and interesting, the adventure is flexible, and the creatures are inventive.  There is enough material here to continue to bring your characters to the world below even after the main adventure has been completed.  It is a worthy addition into the ranks of other stellar third party materials.

Next week I will post my review of Wits Alone, another third-party Numenera product.  So stay tuned.

Book of Loot Review

One of my many purchases at Gen Con and the first in a long list of products that I plan to review is the Book of Loot for 13th Age.  I immediately started reading it on the long drive back home.  The Book of Loot was a book I had been eagerly awaiting.  I really wanted a larger range of items to hand out to characters; I am running three 13th Age games, and certain items keep showing up in every game (like the Wand of the Mage’s Invisible Aegis).  Add the crazy nature of 13th Age True Magic items to Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s creativity (Gareth is quickly becoming one of my favorite RPG writers), and you are left holding a damn-fine tome of magic items.

Book of Loot Review

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The Book of Loot is a 72-page, black and white softcover.  One of the first things that stands out to me about the book is the paper quality.  It is thick and glossy and much nicer than what I am used to seeing in a splatbook-style publication.  You can buy a copy at the Pelgrane Press site (here) which includes a copy of the PDF, or you can support your local FLGS by purchasing it there.

Introduction

The book opens with a brief overview of what the book contains (Loot!) and a reprint of the default item bonuses from the Core rules.  Just like in the 13th Age Bestiary, we also have a number of fun lists of entries that demand to be looked at in-depth.  Check out Items that Demand a Story and Campaign-Defining Artifacts.  They practically write your adventures for you.

The Icons

The bulk of the book consists of the magic items listings.  But Gareth puts a 13th Age spin on the layout by organizing the items by Icon.  So when you are planning your game or when you have to pull an Icon connection out of a hat, you can just flip to the Icon you need and find a plethora of themed items.  And themed they are: the Crusader’s items are cruel, the Orc Lord’s brutal, and the Dwarf King’s are….well… dwarfish, just to mention a few.  Finally, each Icon’s section ends with three adventure hooks.

I will be honest, in most game systems, I don’t read the magic item books.  Oh, I buy the book, but I don’t like reading them.  I might skim through them, but I usually trust the random table or search for a specific item.  But the quirks for each item, as well as their descriptions, make this book a fun read. Not only did I read the Book of Loot cover to cover, but I read a significant portion out loud to my wife and our friend while we drove across Kansas.  We were laughing so hard it made Kansas bearable.  KANSAS!

The book wraps up with some new one-use items and a summary table of the items found in the book by item type. I originally wished that this table was comprehensive, ala the Bestiary, but as I was writing this review, I remembered how quickly the Bestiary’s table was rendered obsolete.  Here’s hoping that Pelgrane puts a magic item list together on their website, like they did for the monsters.

Conclusion

At $17.95, this book is a steal.  You greatly expand the scope of the True Magic items for your 13th Age game, receive at least 39 adventure ideas, and will enjoy the time you spend reading the book.  Honestly, after realizing that Gareth made my journey through Kansas enjoyable, I might just go out and buy this book again.

Skyscrape Review

Disclaimer: This pdf was graciously given to me for the purposes of review by Ryan Chaddock Games.  All opinions within the review are my own.

Three months ago, I reviewed Echoes of the Prior Worlds by Ryan Chaddock Games (RCG).  I was surprised with how much I enjoyed it: its take on Numenera, and how much it focused on the part of Numenera that I enjoyed most, exploration.  RCG has returned to the themes of Echoes with their new release, The Skyscrape.

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The Skyscrape Review

The Skyscrape is a 56-page pdf that is available on Drivethrurpg.com (for $3.00 at the time of this post).  RCG has settled into a great format for their pdfs, developing a unifying style and layout that is very professional and easy to digest.  There are three creatures in the book that are not blocked out in callout boxes like the rest, but this is a minor fix that can be addressed in an update.  Just be prepared to find these stat blocks nested within the description text of their location.

The focus of this pdf is discovery – specifically the exploration of a floating Numenera city known as the Skyscrape.  RCG returns to the Points of Discovery adventure design that they introduced in Echoes.  Each area of the Skyscrape has seven discovery points, and players earn XP by exploring these locations.  It is a great framework for setting up Numenera adventures and helps reinforce the differences between Numenera and traditional RPGs.  In fact, the Skyscrape could be looked at as a dungeon crawl that focuses on the exploration rather than the monster slaying.

Chapter 1 – Ascension

Before the adventures, the Skyscrape gives three new descriptors and foci.  Players can now craft Erudite, Impervious, or Voracious characters who Decipher Signs and Symbols, Remove Barriers, or Repair Ancient Devices.  RCG continues to provide descriptors that are different from what have been presented in other books.  For example, Erudite characters are masters of a single field of knowledge to the exclusion of all others, and Impervious allows characters to be resistant to the toxins and chemicals found throughout the ruins of the Ninth World.

The foci, like those found in Echoes, are discovery-based.  Of all of them, I feel like Repairs Ancient Devices has the most broad application, but RCG does pepper the others with Tier abilities that are more applicable outside of the scope of the foci.   For example, Deciphers Signs and Symbols gives the ability to identify Numenera without a roll, and Removes Barriers allows character to carry an extra Cypher, as long as it is a travel cypher or one that allows the character to bypass an obstacle.

Chapters 2 – 7 – The Skyscrape

The majority of this book covers the sections of the Skyscrape.  The floating city serves six location-based adventure sites.  Each site gives a skeleton adventure within a section of the site, totaling seven pre-defined locations for the players to explore.  Each section has a map, of which the seven locations account for less than 25% of the area.  RCG gives you a great taste of each of the city’s zones, but you can flesh each one out into a much larger adventure.

Within each chapter are new monsters, puzzles, and artifacts.  RCG does a great job of giving each area its own unique challenges and tone.  We also receive 100 new oddities, which are always a welcomed addition to Numenera games.

Chapter 8 – Skyscrape Cyphers

36 Cyphers round out this supplement.  Like their other books, RCG formats these Cyphers in an easy to print-and-use card format.  The Cyphers are themed for the Skyscrape environment, but I did not see any that could not be useful elsewhere, and they are a satisfying blend of the bizarre and beneficial.

Conclusion –

The Skyscape is a great deal for $3.  RCG packs a lot into their books.  This one has 3 Descriptors, 3 Foci, 100 oddities, 15 monsters, 5 artifacts, 36 Cyphers, and six adventure frameworks.  Personally, I would run the Skyscrape as a reoccurring location.  The PCs, having traveled there once, continually leave and return as the campaign unfolds, allowing the Skyscrape to evolve with gameplay.  It also would serve as a fantastical location for a contained story-arc, where the PCs crawl through the dungeon in the sky.

As a final update, you can now order Echoes of the Prior Worlds in hardcopy!  I am hoping that Celestial Wisdom, Whisper Campaigns, and Angels & Ashes soon get the same treatment!