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Review: Die #1

Die #1 is a strange beast. It’s part love letter to the fantasy genre, and it’s part puking revulsion and wanting to move on with your life. Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans’ story begins in 1991 when a teenager Sol decides to run a custom fantasy RPG for his and his friend Ash’s 16th birthday and invites Ash’s sister cyberpunk obsessed Angela and their friends Chuck, Isabelle, and Matt to play. Sol makes a big deal of how the RPG isn’t your run of the mill Dungeon and Dragons clone with the interesting gameplay mechanism of having a character roll a certain “die” depending on their personality. However, once the dice are rolled, scary unseen things happen to the party, Sol goes missing and is presumed dead, and the story jumps to the characters in their forties.

Gillen writing middle aged characters is quite a treat, and Hans’ art is both immersive and tragic. She shows some amazing depths as a cartoonist that I noticed most not in the rain swept vistas or introduction to the RPG turned real life fantasy world, but in the not so pretty faces of characters like Chuck. Up to this point in her career, Hans has drawn badass lesbian angel bounty hunters, problematic white girls dressing up like Japanese deities, Norse trickster gods, and the Father of Lies himself in Vertigo’s Lucifer, but Die #1 shows that she gets ordinary people too while still displaying amazing command of light and atmosphere. Every time a die is thrown, the page is vivisected into points of light, and the barrier between our world and the fantasy one is non-existent. People talking in shadow filled rooms is nice, but Die really reaches another gear when Hans gets to draw panel after panel of fantasy environment and put the main characters into their in-game “costumes”.

However, she doesn’t skimp on the kids in a room talking shit about a game part either, and Gillen definitely takes his time in Die #1 establishing the ensemble of characters and the mystery of the Grandmaster and this RPG world before a big time final page cliffhanger. From his work on well-crafted series like WicDiv and Journey into Mystery, he knows that giving away too much about the world and the underpinnings could lead to disinterest so Gillen leaves out much of the world-building minutia and spends time on the interactions between the main cast of characters and using the game to fill it out like Sol’s pretentious girlfriend Isabelle, who creates a way too cool for school character and chides him for not reading the Mervyn Peake novel she lent him.

Thankfully, knowledge of table top RPG and high or portal fantasy (Think Chronicles of Narnia) ephemera aren’t required for Die #1, which has a simple and accessible core centered around childhood friends who have grown apart and are trying to reconnect after experiencing a tragedy at a young age. It’s like Stand By Me 20 Years Later, but more DnD, or Stranger Things if the main young male cast plus Eleven experienced the events of the show, but no one else did. But, unlike this slowly improving TV show, Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans aren’t really beholden to any kind of nostalgia except for the long lasting kind of the first time you dip into an epic fantasy series, roll a D20 during your first DnD campaign, or wander around an open world fantasy RPG.

Die #1 is a book where you kind of geek out about the formerly drably dressed kids/40-somethings in full epic mode with swords, cool hair, and jewelry and then realize that they’re only in this world because they were transported by an object with the blood of their long lost friend. Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Han don’t treat the fantasy elements of Die like an adventure, but more like a mystery or something freakier. What happened to them at Ash and Sol’s 16th birthday is something so traumatic that they haven’t spoken about it in decades, and it shows even though we only get the slightest of details about what went on towards the end of the comic.

Stephanie Hans shows these unspoken moments through silent panels of people walking, rain falling, and keeps her color palette low before going a little dream world for the die throwing sequences and bright for the scenes in the fantasy world. The group of friends might exchange friendly small talk when they meet up to discuss Sol and the bloody D20, but there is a strain to their relationship that is revealed through Kieron Gillen’s caption boxes and the shadows in Hans’ art. It’s the awkwardness of meeting with people who once meant a great deal to you, but not for some time combined with the dredging of old trauma.

I’m here for Stephanie Hans’ fantasy world construction in Die and Kieron Gillen’s tempering of the joy of fantasy with the horror of loss. Die #1 makes a smart choice by presenting character dynamics in the foreground and cool, scary fantasy world-building in the background. But Hans’ memorable visuals is what will stick with me the most. Never has the casual roll of dice had so much power.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Stephanie Hans Letters: Clayton Cowles
Story: 8.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Super Hero Diversity Alive And Well In New Role Playing Game Superhero 2044

Checker Book Publishing Group has made known that with all of the recent controversy surrounding diverse super hero universe, one group of very diverse heroes has found a home. Contrary to large comic book publishing conglomerates stating ‘diversity is dead’ a new role playing game based on super heroes has seen nothing but positive reviews upon playtesting the various characters with divers backgrounds and motivations.

Super Hero 2044 features such classic characters as the African American legend John Henry as well as the Hispanic hero Fantomas who steals for the rich to aid the poor.

Super Hero 2044 is a comic book themed role playing game originally published in 1977 with a substantial upgrade to the game being launched on Kickstarter in August of 2017.

Check out more about the game where you’ll be able to create your own superhero adventures.

Around the Tubes

It’s new comic book day! What are folks excited for? What do you plan on getting? Sound off in the comments below! While you wait for shops to open, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web in our morning roundup.

Around the Tubes

NBC – #RedefineAtoZ: Thi Bui, the Artist Who’s Graphic Novel Debut Honors Her Family’s Refugee Story – This is a fantastic graphic novel.

ICv2 – Greg Rucka’s ‘Lazarus’ Converted to RPG – Yes please!

The Beat – A Year of Free Comics: Panda Express is giving away FREE copies of The Shadow Hero #1 to kids – Free comics, go!

 

Around the Tubes Reviews

The Beat – Eartha

Talking Comics – Predator: Hunters #1

Talking Comics – X-Men: Gold #2

Newsarama – Youngblood #1

The Goon and Fear Agent Come to RPGs

Pinnacle Entertainment Group has launched two Kickstarters running simultaneously for the pulp scifi setting Fear Agent and “zombie Noir” The Goon comics. Both were funded in less than 90 minutes and have already passed numerous stretch goals!

The Goon RPG for Savage Worlds

Multiple Eisner-award winning comic The Goon pulls no punches when Goon starts swingin’—usually at the chug-heads, changelings, and snake-riddled rival gangs what get in his way. Now your strangers, weirdos, and ne’er do wells can join his crew, make Lonely Street a bit less zombified, and even save the Town in the dramatic Plot Point Campaign “From Hell’s Heart We Bite at Thee!”

The Goon was created by Eric Powell and published by Dark Horse Comics.

Fear Agent RPG for Savage Worlds

The Earth is decimated in an alien invasion—then the “backwards” survivors are invited to join the United Systems as a sort of half-hearted apology. Just like the star of the comics, the “Last Fear Agent” Heath Huston, your heroes are stuck cleaning up the mess in a planet-hopping, time-traveling, conundrum-unravelling journey against the strangest and weirdest aliens the Deep has to offer. And all with a few twists worthy of this phenomenal series!

Fear Agent was created by Rick Remender, Tony Moore, and Jerome Opeña, and published by Dark Horse Comics.

The Goon RPG and the Fear Agent RPG for Savage Worlds Kickstarters each offer a core book, GM Screen with adventure, Bennies, dice, and amazing miniatures sculpted by Bronze Age Miniatures. A copy of the Savage Worlds core rules is required to play ($10 at www.peginc.com).

If you are new to Savage Worlds, Pinnacle announced an Un-Stretch Goal: PDFs for Deadlands, Rippers Resurrected, The Last Parsec, and East Texas University. Digital or higher level backers on either Goon RPG or Fear Agent RPG Kickstarter get these PDFs for FREE after the Kickstarter. That’s a terrific way to get a feel for the variety of genres Savage Worlds can handle.

Dungeons & Dragons Goes Beyond

At PAX East, Wizards of the Coast announce D&D Beyond an official digital toolset for use with the Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition rules. Partnering with Curse, the app goes beyond the pen and paper and provides rules, character building, digital character sheets, and more.

The app contains a D&D Compendium with official content, allows you to create, browse, and use homebrew content, manage characters, manage campaigns, news, articles, forums, and you’ll be able to access it anywhere on any device.

Its goal is to make management easier to play the popular roleplaying game. It’ll be available on any device and will empower by beginners and veterans.

Game Review: Blades In The Dark

bitd-logoBlades in the Dark by John Harper is a tabletop games set in a fictional post-post-apocalypse, gaslight fantasy London-Venice-Prague mashup called Doskvol. The world essentially ended long ago with the destruction of the gates of death, land masses breaking apart to form the massive island nations of the Shattered Isles. No one has seen the sun clearly in ages. The dead never seem to find peace. The seas are a black ink full of horrors but the blood of those horrors is needed to power massive lightning barriers around cities that try to keep out the dead. The governments and their agencies are corrupt. More often than not, gangs and shadowy secret societies rule the streets. In all of this, you play as a crew of upstart scoundrels new to the scene of the criminal underworld.

The setting of Blades is definitely an interesting one. A new normal has been established after the world as people knew it stopped existing. Technology and magic sit comfortably side by side, often needing each other to pull off the largest and most flashy of feats. Most importantly, I feel, is that you as a PC are not considered to be the hero in any capacity. Very few people within the setting could be considered heroes. Within the first paragraph of the manual, you are told that you are playing a scoundrel and part of a gang committing criminal acts. In a world of tabletop games in the heritage of Dungeons & Dragons that consistently frame you as heroes despite the fact that you rarely do more than leave death and destruction in your wake, Blades is refreshing. As a player, it also encourages you to explore some of the darker sides of humanity through its use of mechanics as they relate to fiction. And in Blades, fiction is king.

blades-in-the-dark-1Blades uses a d6-based pool system for rolling, based on skills and the situation. That may sound off-putting to someone who has dealt with games like Shadowrun and Vampire: the Masquerade with massive handfuls of dice to deal with what should be simple tasks. No one wants to slowly tally up 27d10s or 46d6s anymore. Blades is closer to a happy marriage between Burning Wheel and Apocalypse World: the acting player and GM work out what will fictionally happen then find the skills that best fit that. Other players can choose to help in the same way. You can gain more dice for your roll by, very literally, pushing yourself and getting stressed out or making a deal with the devil and taking a negative to gamble on a chance of doing better. You can attempt something even if the stats sheet says you have no idea what you’re doing or flashback to having planned for your current situation.

Once the dirty deeds are done, your crew has a chance to take stock and deal with payouts, heat from the Bluecoats (the beat cops of the Blades universe) and other gangs, attempt to de-stress by indulging in your vices, and generally deal with a life of crime. Then you work together and decide what you want to do next and how, using the engagement roll to drop yourselves in media res to do it all again.

The mechanics are modular and progressive, moving smoothly from one to the next. Doing certain actions on the job leads to stress which can lead to either indulging in vices or not dealing with that stress and gaining traumas and complications which then can gain you experience to allow you to do more while on a job and more likely than not will cause stress. And so the cycle continues.

blades-in-the-dark-2From the other side of the screen, things are far less extensive than most games would demand of you. There are no dice to roll by default. A GM can choose to roll dice for decision making if they wish and that’s it. Even though there are times when it makes the most sense, like when choosing entanglements as the result of a score, you can instead just cherry pick from the listed table. The only thing that is absolutely demanded of the GM, aside from facilitating and guiding the game, is tracking factions within the world. If you’ve played or especially GMed Stars Without Number, you may have just recoiled at that. In Blades, this is much less arduous of a process and doesn’t involve spreadsheets unless you want it to. You don’t need to decide what’s happening with a gang until the players are or might end up interacting with them. For instance, a gang may have no ties to and never interact with the various consulates of countries. You don’t need to decide what high-powered political games they’ve been playing until the gang decides to kill, kidnap, steal from, or smuggle out a foreign dignitary. And trust me, kidnapping a foreign dignitary will probably be one of the less far fetched ideas you get from a crew.

Looking at just the mechanics of Blades, it sounds like it should be an endless grinding slog that burns through characters like paper a la Advanced D&D. In practice, it’s a very real feeling trek through the murky waters of criminality in an enclosed fictional setting where it’s hard for a PC to simply die and stay dead but easy to hyper-complicate their lives and make things interesting.

With how planning a score and the engagement rolls are set up, it takes a lot of the tedium and arguing out of a plan. You simply pick a type of plan, fill in the single detail for that type, the GM answers a few questions based on the fiction that fill out a dice pool that someone rolls. Based on that, you are dropped into the situation. Nothing more than that is needed to start.

Your characters can act towards their goals in pretty much any way they see fit and applicable. A Cutter (a character archetype all about dealing with problems physically and usually permanently), a Spider (the ever-plotting brains of the outfit), and a Whisper (your probably friendly gang occultist) can all deal with the same challenge in wildly different ways. Or the exact same way. Their chances of success may change but the choice is always there. That’s something that seems to come up constantly when playing Blades: there’s always a choice to move down one path or another.

Speaking of choice, one big one that was made in development of that game is that the focus would be on the characters and their interpersonal and tangential relationships. A large part of the game can be spent in the downtime phase, where PCs recover after missions, pursue their vices and personal goals, and maneuver themselves to set up for the next score. Alternately, your group might focus more on the action or find some other aspect of play that they latch on to. Here a few examples of actual play to give you an idea of how the game flows:

Since Blades was partly funded through Kickstarter, there are a lot of stretch goals that will be fulfilled over time. One of the first is an alternate setting for the base game, U’duasha. There’s also multiple hacks there were stretch goals. Harper himself will be penning a cyberpunk hack called Null Vector. There’s Stras Acimovic and John LeBoeuf-Little’s Scum and Villainy, for a mix of Star Wars-style rogues and Firefly/Serenity. Adam Koebel’s Womb of Night takes a more psychedelic metal approach with the Sword’s Warp Riders album as a touchstone. Sean Nittner chose to be a little more true to the source with Blades Against Darkness, where you play as vigilantes. One look at the Google+ community for the game will show you even more hacks of the game that have been in development since before its release. There’s Fallout-inspired Gamma World, a mashup of HGTV and Lovecraftian horror in Mortally Bankrupt, the American South crime drama of Copperhead County, and many more. A full list will be available on bladesinthedark.com when it launches.

This is definitely a game I would recommend picking up, even if you think your group might be put off by the idea of it at first. If you have a group that’s most interested in weaving a story together, this is definitely one to try pitching to them. You can buy the game via BackerKit or DriveThruRPG and take a look at the downloadable materials here. The digital version is available now with print version due out this spring.

Note: I am also one of those people writing a hack of Blades and John Harper is one of my backers on Patreon for it. However, he didn’t ask me to write this review. I just really love Blades and what it accomplishes with regards to gameplay, storytelling, and table dynamics. Consider this me spreading the word.

Coriolis The Third Horizon RPG Launches from Modiphius

core-rulebookModiphius Entertainment and Free League Publishing have launched the new sci-fi RPG line, Coriolis – The Third Horizon including: Coriolis core book, Atlas Compendium, Icon Deck, Gamesmaster screen and map – plus a special Coriolis ICONs bundle for Coriolis collectors.

Coriolis – The Third Horizon is a brand new science fiction role-playing game from the makers of the critically acclaimed Mutant: Year Zero.

All the titles are will be available from your local gaming stores in March or in print and PDF now at the Coriolis Collection on Modiphius.net with the Core Book and Atlas Compendium also available in PDF on DriveThruRPG.com.

A free 74 page Quickstarter including rules, adventures and pre-generated characters is available from both Modiphius.net and DriveThruRPG.com

Core rulebook: This massive and beautifully illustrated384-page hardcover book gives you all the rules you need to play Coriolis, and an in-depth description of the Third Horizon. £19.99 / £39.99

Modiphius.net Print / PDF / DriveThruRPG

  • Create your unique player character – including skills, talents, gear and relationships – in mere minutes.
  • Fight fast and furious battles, praying to the Icons to overcome your enemies.
  • Build and crew your own spaceship, to explore the many star systems of the Third Horizon.
  • Experience thrilling spaceship duels, using a game system that puts all player characters at the heart of the action.
  • Take part in the intrigue between powerful factions on the majestic space station Coriolis.
  • Uncover the mysteries of the Third Horizon, a rich tapestry of cultures that have settled the stars.

atlas-compendiumAtlas Compendium: This 60-page booklet reveals secrets of the Third Horizon and gives the Gamemaster tools and tables to create star systems, planets, missions and encounters. £7.99 / £14.99

Modiphius.net Print / PDF / DriveThruRPG

The Icons’ promised land, the vast cluster of star systems called the Third Horizon, is full of unsolved mysteries, ancient ruins, and deadly secrets. The mighty wonders left behind by the Portal Builders and the true nature of the mysterious Emissaries have only been myth to the common people of the Third Horizon – until now.

  • Description of the most important systems of the Third Horizon.
  • A historical overview of the Third Horizon.
  • The story of the Portal Builders and descriptions of the wonders they left behind.
  • Tools and tables to help you create your own systems and planets.
  • Mission generators for quick adventure creation.
  • Expanded rules for space travel and unexpected encounters.

icon-card-deckIcon Card Deck: With this deck, you can foretell the future, create scenario seeds, determine combat initiative, emulate dice rolls, manage your ship crew positions, and more. Modiphius.net Print £11.99

This Icon Card Deck lets you summon the mysterious Icons directly in your game of Coriolis – The Third Horizon. With this deck, you can foretell the future, create scenario seeds, determine combat initiative, emulate dice rolls, manage your ship crew positions, and more. The deck includes 36 Icon cards, 12 NPC cards, 5 ship crew cards.

gamesmaster-screenGamesmaster Screen: This deluxe Gamemaster Screen for Coriolis – The ThirdHorizon is made out of three sections of 3 mm thick hardback, measuring a mighty 855 x 216 mm when unfolded. Modiphius.net Print £19.99

This deluxe Gamemaster Screen for Coriolis – The Third Horizon is made out of three sections of 3 mm thick hardback, measuring a mighty 855 x 216 mm when unfolded. The outside features beautiful full-color artwork, and the inside contains charts and tables for easy reference during play.

coriolis-horizon-mapCoriolis Horizon Map: A large full-color map of The Third Horizon on the front and the Coriolis station on the back, in the format 39.5cm x 55.8 cm. Modiphius.net Print £9.99

A large full-color map of The Third Horizon on the front and the Coriolis station on the back, in the format 39.5cm x 55.8 cm.

The Coriolis ICON Bundle (online only) contains all products so far released for Coriolis – The Third Horizon is also available for the special price of £69.99, for collectors who want to sample this exciting new sci-fi universe saving 20% on items bought separately! Modiphius.net Print £69.99

the-coriolis-icon-bundle

 

By Crom! Conan RPG Core Book and Jeweled Thrones are now available!

Modiphius Entertainment has announced athe first two releases for our Conan roleplaying game, the Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of core book, and Jeweled Thrones of the Earth, its first major adventure supplement

Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of core book, and Jeweled Thrones of the Earth
are now available in PDF form from Modiphius.net. There’s also still time for Conan fans to join in with some of the bigger Conan RPG Kickstarter pledges! Both books will be available in print later this spring once the Kickstarter ships and if you purchase the PDF’s, you qualify for a discount on the hardcopies.

Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of takes you into the world of Conan the Barbarian, where heroes raise blood-spattered swords against dire sorcery, exotic lands beckon to the daring, danger and treasure lurks in forgotten ruins, and where loathsome creatures haunt the spaces beneath the earth… as well as in the throne-rooms of mighty kingdoms! Seek your fortune in forbidden tombs or upon blood-soaked battlefields. Cast dark and terrible spells of unimaginable power, at the price of your soul. Sail upon untamed seas to lands where no human in living memory has walked. Fight for the fate of civilization – or barbarism – on a savage frontier!

  • Complete 2d20 game system, including combat, skills, talents, sorcery, and equipment suitable for adventuring in Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age.
  • An extensive gazetteer covering the whole of Conan’s world: featuring fair Aquilonia, gloomy Cimmeria and magic-haunted Stygia, and the far-off steaming jungles of Khitai.
  • Extensive guidelines for running scenarios and campaigns in the Hyborian Age, allowing gamemasters to create thrilling Howardian adventures.
  • Fearsome foes, ranging from bandits and sorcerers, to apes and giant serpents, Children of Set to frost giants, forest devils, and characters of renown such as Conan and his most deadly foe, Thoth-Amon.

conan-adventures-in-an-age-undreamed-of-core-book

Jeweled Thrones of the Earth presents six complete and ready-to-play adventures for Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of. Within these pages gamemasters will find the means to take heroes across the whole of Conan’s world.

  • Explore a lost city in the steaming jungles of the south and dare to face the Feathered Ape, as well as other menaces in Devils Among Green Stars.
  • Sail across the eons to an island enthralled by a demon-goddess, and attempt to escape the hand of fate in The Pact of Xiabalba.
  • Seek unimaginable wealth within The Caves of the Dero, whose denizens harbor a terrifying secret.
  • Defend the frontier against an attack by Picts, spurred to war by an ancient evil known only as The Ghost of Thunder River.
  • Discover the secrets of a sinister thief-cult hidden within the heart of a city, watched over by The Thousand Eyes of Aumag-Bel.
  • Fight slavers in a desperate battle to win freedom and escape the horrors of The Red Pit.
  • Uncover a degenerate race lost to the desert and time, in The Seethers in the Sand.
  • Guidelines for linking these adventures together into complete campaigns.
  • Scattered Jewels… a dozen exciting adventure seeds to help spur further exploits.

jeweled-thrones-of-the-earth

Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of is Conan roleplaying as Robert E. Howard wrote it – savage pulp adventure battling ancient horrors in the Hyborian Age. After a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign which raised £436K from over 4,300 backers, it now has over 20 planned source books and adventures in prospect including The Book of Skelos, Conan The Thief, and Beasts of the Hyborian Age, as well as dice and tile sets, posters, maps, dice trays and the limited Edition Conqueror’s Edition bag.

With a team of iconic fantasy and Conan artists, including Brom, Tim Truman, Simon Bisley, Esteban Sanjulian, Maroto, Mark Schultz, Tomás Giorello, it was developed in close consultation with award-winning Conan scholars, making it the most authentic roleplaying depiction of Conan and his world ever published.

Pathfinder Battles: Deadly Foes – Available Now!

WizKids has announced that Pathfinder Battles: Deadly Foes has arrived at an FLGS near you! The award winning Pathfinder Battles line of miniatures from Paizo returns with a new set of 52 characters in Deadly Foes. From Doppelganger to Gynosphinx, along with a legion of other high-quality monsters and heroes, this set brings to life another beautiful line of pre-painted miniature characters suitable for any fantasy roleplaying campaign.

Be sure to pick up your Pathfinder Battles: Deadly Foes miniatures at your FLGS today!

pathfinder-battles-deadly-foes-1

Dungeons & Dragons, Volo’s Guide to Monsters is Out Now

Wizards of the Coast has announced the release of the newest supplement to Dungeons & Dragons, Volo’s Guide to Monsters. In Volo’s Guide to Monsters, adventurers explore the breadth of D&D’s monsters in an immersive 224-page volume filled with beautiful illustrations and in-depth lore designed for the fifth edition. Volo’s Guide to Monsters provides something exciting for both players and Dungeon Masters and is now available online and at hobby stores and mass-market retailers across the country. Also, Volo’s Guide to Monsters will be released in a limited edition format exclusively available at core hobby stores that features an alternative-art cover beautifully illustrated by Hydro74.


The esteemed loremaster Volothamp Geddarm is back and he’s written a fantastical dissertation, covering some of the most iconic monsters in the Forgotten Realms. Unfortunately, the Sage of Shadowdale himself, Elminster, doesn’t believe Volo gets all the important details quite right. Don’t miss out as Volo and Elminster square off (academically speaking, of course) to illuminate the uninitiated on creatures both common and obscure. Uncover the machinations of the mysterious Kraken Society, what is the origin of the bizarre froghemoth, or how to avoid participating in the ghastly reproductive cycle of the grotesque vargouille.

Dungeon Masters and players will get some much-needed guidance planning their next ventures, traipsing about some dusty old ruin in search of treasure, lore, and let’s not forget … dangerous creatures whose horns, claws, fangs, heads, or even hides might comfortably adorn the walls of your trophy room. If you survive.

dnd_trpg_volosguidetomonsters_alt_cover dnd_trpg_volosguidetomonsters_main_cover

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