Sunday, October 1, 2017

Seven Worlds Test Drive Review

For those of you that may not have heard, Seven Worlds is a new Savage Worlds setting coming to Kickstarter soon. It is written by Luis Enrique Torres and published by Intellistories. You can get the Seven Worlds Test Drive at DriveThruRPG here. The Wild Die Podcast did an interview episode with Luis but as of this writing it is a Patreon supporter only episode. Here is a link to their Patreon page if you would like to pledge your support to listen to the episode. I believe it will be released to the public when the Kickstarter campaign goes live so you may want to wait.

Right off the bat my first question is, what sets this science fiction RPG apart from all the rest? First of all it has the Atomic Rockets Seal of Approval. What is that you ask? It is a highly sought after approval by Sci-fi writers, game designers, and programmers. It's basically just an acknowledgement that the fiction written is based upon real science and therefore more closely related to hard Sci-fi.

My first impression of this document is it looks really good. The layout by Thomas Shook is clean and simple, I like it. The first page after the cover is the map of the known universe. The map is usually the first thing I look for in Sci-fi settings. This 2-dimensional map looks fantastic and has 7 colonized planets. Hmm, I wonder where they got the name from? You can also go to their webpage at and get yourself a 3-dimensional map. I tried the Instant Reality InstantPlayer but it seemed pretty glitchy to me. I have yet to try the Cortona 3d Viewer.

There are 6 pages of setting background information (I like to call it the fluff). After looking for the map, I then go looking for the fluff. This is where I get a good sense of how the rest of the book will be written. The game starts out in the year 2217, exactly 200 years after the Circle Foundation is created. There are two major organizations, The Circle and The Brotherhood. The Circle, founded by Donovan in 2017, is focused on space exploration, expansion, and protecting humanity from the dangers therein. The Psion Brotherhood, founded by Michaels, is dedicated to protecting and educating people with psionic abilities. These two founders, Donovan and Michaels, were high school friends who had a falling out over a girl named Melissa.

In 2021 Helium-3 fusion reactors are invented and the search for a stable supply of this fuel leads the human race to mine it from the gas planet Saturn in the 2050's. Around this time Donovan passes away and his longtime partner Melissa gives his personal notebooks which include theoretical formulas to what would become the basis for an Interstellar Engine. In 2089 the first test of this engine is successful with a 6 light year jump. Two years later an alien race makes itself known to humanity. The N'ahili race arrived, attracted by the interstellar jump to Barnard's Star, and shared coordinates of jump membranes to several new stars within 12 light years of Earth (Sol).

Humans have now colonized two new worlds and are eager for more expansion. The N'ahili come to the rescue and provide more star coordinates. Now the known universe has expanded to 22 light years from Sol and two more planets are settled. This second set of planets are nearly identical to that of Earth making them important to humanity's survival. In 2133 an unknown comet was discovered on a direct path to Earth. The planetary defenses are able to break up the comet into smaller pieces but it is too late. The effects of an impact induced nuclear winter will last until around 2150. Evacuees are transported to the planets of Concordia and Bay Jing making them equivalent to Earth in both population and importance. By 2165 the N'ahili surprise us again with new coordinates which increase the human presence to 30 light years from Sol.

This new expansion of human kind brings on the settlement of 2 new planets of which one is important. It is important because Concordia and Bay Jing both settle on the planet of Nouvelle Vie. Conflicts between these two colonies leads to the first war humans have in space. During the war, the Circle is instrumental in stopping war crimes mostly by the use of the Stellar Communications Network. Widespread news updates keep the warring planets honest, or at least as honest as possible during war. The Brotherhood also plays an important role in the war by helping to prevent atrocities through the use of "suggestion" and mind-reading without direct mind-control. By 2181 the war is over but the government of Bay Jing is secretly manipulating the population into blaming the Brotherhood which leads to the Psion Riots of 2188.

This brings us to the present day of 2217. Earth has now returned to its former glory and is seen as an equal among Concordia and Bay Jing. Nouvelle Vie is still being torn apart by home grown terrorists waging guerrilla war. The last colonized planet of Logan's End has become the ultimate frontier world with exotic jungles and tourist attractions. Recently, strange energy signatures have been detected in space around an asteroid belt in the far reaches of Nouvelle Vie. Ships are disappearing and stories are circulating about suspicious activity.

Included in the Test Drive are new setting rules, skills, hindrances, edges, psionics, a new derived stat, space ship combat, four pre-generated characters, and an adventure designed for four players. This Test Drive doesn't go into creating characters or covering all the new stats. It is meant to provide you with the necessary information to play the included characters and adventure. Mental Toughness is the new derived stat which is equal to two plus half of your Spirit. This is a measure of how tough your mind is against Psionic attacks.

The two new setting rules are Microgravity and Zero-G and Assistants. Microgravity and Zero-G reduce the character's pace by half and cause a -2 physical action penalty. A roll of a 1 on the trait die regardless of the Wild die causes the character to slip and tumble in around in three dimensions (treat the character as Shaken recover with Agility). Weapons that are not rated for Zero-G use cause the user to become Shaken as before on an attack roll of 1 or 2. There is a -2 penalty for using non Zero-G weapons as well. In Seven Worlds most characters own an Assistant. This virtual assistant appears in your Augmented Reality (AR) glasses, lenses, or on display screens. There are numerous functions the assistant can help the hero's with. During combat the assistant can be activated with the use of a bennie and perform a smarts trick, test of will, generate an advantage/disadvantage, or use a special action. If the assistants roll succeeds with a raise the player gets the bennie back.

There are 7 pages dedicated to space combat in Seven Worlds. Right away that should tell you something. In my opinion this is where Seven Worlds falls short. In a system that's supposed to Fast! Furious! Fun! space combat feels way too crunchy for Savage Worlds. This almost seems like a mini's game within a roleplaying game where distance and facing are important. They do a good job of explaining how to do it and provide examples but it's just now my cup of tea.

That was a highly condensed version of fluff in the Seven Worlds Test Drive document. If any of that sounds interesting to you then I encourage you to read it for yourself. I really hope the final setting includes more fluff. I enjoyed Luis' writing and look forward to reading the full setting once it is published.

Overall 9 out of 10 Lotus Masters recommend Seven Worlds.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Some Thoughts On Railroads and Sandboxes

Yesterday, my friend Eric Lamoureux posted a link to David Hartlage's (a.k.a. DM David) blog post and asked the Nerds-International Google + community what they think about this topic. I posted my brief thoughts on this and the comments afterwards made it clear to me that they misunderstood what I meant. Below is an excerpt of the discussion with my response. Here is a link to the G+ post.

In order to explain what I mean I'll have to get the D&D 5th edition version of The Curse of Strahd out. Hang on a minute. I'll be right back. This is what Bill Lear is asking about. On page 35 you'll find a map of Barovia which details 26 points of interest. 

This campaign is what I would call railroads in a sandbox. With 26 locations on the map players are free to move from one Point Of Interest (POI) to another POI. They get to choose where to go and what to do. Each POI could be a single event or multiple encounters. In the case of one POI containing multiple encounters, I would call that a mini sandbox. Again, the players are free to choose where to go and what to do. 

Up to this point it sounds like one big sandbox, right? Well, yes and no. Each POI has at least one railroad and sometimes more. The premise here is that the players are trying to get home and in order to do that they need to defeat Strahd. In order to defeat him they need to gather clues and obtain magic items to help weaken the vampire. So, how do we find these magic items? Railroad adventures within the sandbox. With a clear defined goal of defeating Strahd to return home, the players are being railroaded into following the story plot. They may accomplish this in any order but the DM has a big influence on where the players will go next by which clues were given at any given POI.

So, with that out of the way, I can explain what I was thinking when I said "Players want a railroad with the illusion of a sandbox." I wasn't referring to a campaign when I made that statement. I was thinking on a smaller scale of a single adventure but that could be expanded to campaign play. For the purposes of a single adventure, I was thinking more along the lines of a GUMSHOE adventure. In the case of Ashen Stars, the adventure has a clear objective set out by the contract the Lasers agreed to take on. This could apply to any adventure though. 

I probably shouldn't post this next picture because I want to run this adventure and it will spoil the game for those potential players but here it is. The picture below will help explain what I mean by a railroad with the illusion of a sandbox. It is a simple flowchart, well it seemed more difficult when I made it, but it is simple nonetheless. 
As you can see, this flow chart represents 13 scenes from an investigative adventure written by Robin D. Laws. The first 3 scenes are on the rails but then the players could potentially have a choice to go in two different directions. This is an illusion of choice though because they converge back to a common scene. Then they could have 3 more choices which split off in different directions (sandbox illusion) but they again converge back to a common scene. And finally, we're back on the rails again for the conclusion of the adventure. The players think it's a sandbox adventure because they have what appear to be free will choices, assuming they ask the right questions to find the clues, but you and I both know that this is a railroad. It is more of a plot-driven story than character-driven one. Sure the players have choices that affect their course through the adventure but they won't change the completion of the story.

This same method could be used for a campaign. Just make another flow chart but replace the scenes with adventures. In the beginning the GM can set them on a path (railroad) and then give them a choice of a couple of adventures to choose from. Whichever path they choose the next adventure will be back on the rails. Now you can give them 3 or more choices of adventures to pick from and they will then converge back to an adventure the GM chooses. It's a masterfully crafted railroad with the illusion of a sandbox.

Well it's late and I'm getting tired as I write this so I hope it makes sense to the 3 people who read this.

P.S. I think both of the approaches I've outlined here are excellent but I prefer the second one.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Which Cthulhu game is the best one?

With the online Fantasy Grounds Convention around the corner on Friday the 13th, I've been waning back and forth on which game I want to run. My first thought was a Savage Starship Troopers game but I don't think it lends itself well to interludes or role playing in general. I've never been a fan of hierarchical organizations in role playing so it's down on my list right now. I mean who wants to be told what to do by another player at the table and you might not even know who that other player is. I sure wouldn't want to.

That brings me to the topic of this post. Cthulhu. Which version of Cthulhu RPG is best? For this topic I'm going to limit it to Call of Cthulhu using the Basic Role Playing system from Chaosium, Trail of Cthulhu using the GUMSHOE system from Pelgrane Press, and Cthulhu Dark using it's own rules-light system from Graham Walmsley.

Lets start with the new kid on the block, Graham Walmsely. Before I get going here's a free copy of the official rules for Cthulhu Dark. As you can see, Cthulhu Dark really is rules-light. Here's a different version of the same free rules that I personally think looks better. The only difference between the two are that the official version of the rules uses Insight instead of Insanity. The simplicity of it makes me think there's something wrong with it. My first impression was that the insanity rules were a bit over the top but then I started thinking about it and I think it fits in with the theme of Lovecraftian horror and the possibility of quickly going insane. Then I saw this section of final points and it made sense to me. 

I need to run this game to make my own conclusion on whether this game will be good or not. In my opinion Graham Walmsley is a good writer and the preview book I have shows that. I have no doubt in my mind that the adventures written for this would easily be compatible with any of the Cthulhu games with a little tweaking to make it work for the respective system. That actually says a lot about how something is written. The adventure provided in the preview book takes place in London 1851 and is more of a true H.P. Lovecraft investigation style story with just a little chance of combat. 

Next we have Big Brother. Call of Cthulhu has been around since 1981 with little changes made until the most recent 7th edition. For the purposes of this discussion I'll stay away from 7th edition because I own 6th edition and don't plan on buying 7th anytime soon. I understand there were some major changes made to 7th edition and not all of them loved by the CoC fans. I have not completely read this book or played in any games which is why these choices are difficult for me. I have seen some CoC games played on The Dice Stormers Youtube channel. They do a good job with their production of the channel and now I want to play it. This version is mostly a percentile based game. The action resolution mechanism for CoC is percentage based which means it is a d100 roll. The player rolls d100 and is looking for a result which is at or lower than his/her indicated skill score. For opposed attribute checks there is a resistance table in the book but it doesn't include rules for opposed skill rolls.

Finally we have Trail of Cthulhu which promises to fix the ever popular misconception that failed rolls will leave an investigator floundering and stop the scenario dead in it's tracks. The GUMSHOE system uses only one d6 for resolving conflicts and the clues are automatically given to the players provided they utilize their skills appropriately. Player characters have investigation abilities and general abilities. The main difference between the two are that investigative abilities can always be used even if their pool is at zero. General abilities are gone once they are down to zero. Players use their ability pools to gather information to solve the mystery before losing all of their health or insanity. It is up to the players to narratively use their abilities to uncover clues and solve the mystery.

I like the feeling of players rolling dice to randomize the outcome of a possible ability/skill. If the Keeper of Call of Cthulhu can improvise then the game wouldn't come to a screeching halt when a player fails a roll. I also like the use of ability pools in Trail of Cthulhu which give the player's more narrative control but I feel like there needs to be more dice rolling. The rules-light approach of Cthulhu Dark would definitely give more narrative control to the players while still rolling dice for random outcomes. My only concern with Cthulhu Dark is that the dice mechanic of Insight is almost entirely in the hands of the player.

I can't decide which one is for me. I need your help. Tell me your thoughts on which one you think is best and why. What do you like about it and what do you dislike about it?