Saturday, April 29, 2017

Review: Tails of Equestria: The My Little Pony Storytelling Game

I'm a Brony.

How did this happen? Well, believe it or not, because I lost a bet. Back when I played way too much Lord of the Rings Online, one of my kinmates and I cut a deal. If helped me with a raid and we succeeded, I had to watch two hours of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Being a man of my word, I held my end of the bargain.

I have to admit that from the get go, I was surprised at the depth of world building - but it was still a show about magic pink ponies and there was no way it could be that good. Well, by the time I looked up, I'd watched a dozen episodes and had no desire to stop. I'd been corrupted. I was a Brony.

The thing is, the show really is pretty damned good and I've no shame in speaking on my love of it. It's show populated by cast of female leads who, though archetypal, all are engaging and interesting to watch. The show uses common elements from the Campbellian Monomyth and extensive elements from world mythology - particularly Greek mythology. Anyway, it's a good show. It doesn't talk down to kids as it tries to teach them the value of not being an asshole - or as they say the "Magic of Friendship." After much convincing, even got my wife to watch the show.

And she became obsessed.

Like seriously. She is a publish novelist and immediately dove headlong into the fan fiction community - even making so much of a name for herself as to warrant being a special guest at BronyCon (the biggest MLP convention in the country) for three years in a row (so far).

Why am I telling you all this?

Well, when an intellectual property becomes popular among the demographic of young men who are traditionally regarded as nerdy or geeky, then someone's going to license it for a tabletop RPG.

Enter Tails of Equestria: The My Little Pony Storytelling Game. I purchased a copy for my wife for Mother's Day and gave it to her when it arrived today. I have to say, I wasn't expecting much, and am pleasantly surprised.

The MSRP is $35 and for that you get a 150-page full color book with gloss pages, evocative layout, and a steady stream of stills from the television show. I've seen gaming books that charge $60 that don't have this level of production quality.

Now, the game is marketed from the get-go at the same audience as My Little Pony - young kids. It assumes that the reader has never gamed. Because of this, it as a simple, but functional system for character creation, task resolution, combat, and various unique elements of the setting material.

The game breaks characters down into three stats: Body, Mind, and Charm. They are rated at a die value ranging from d4 to d20. Contested rolls are made between opponents using the stat and the high roll wins. Characters also have Talents (like Knowledge, or Flying (unique to Pegasi) or Telekinesis solely the purview of Unicorns)) which have their own die value along the same scale. Some tests require the character to have a skill to even attempt it, while others do not. Roll Stat + Talent, take the highest single die, meet or exceed difficulty. That's it.

Combat is resolved in the same fashion. The winner of a combat test (which they call a "Scuffle," how adorable), does an amount of damage equal to their successful roll. Damage comes off a flat Stamina, and when your Stamina is reduced to zero, you have to rest and are exhausted. The game does not have character death.

It's a very clean and simple mechanic and excellent for introducing new gamers to the hobby. But where the game really shines is its clean mechanics for evoking the themes of the source material. For every player (including the GM) there is a pool of "Friendship Tokens" that can be used to re-roll dice, increase chances of success before a roll, or provide minor narrative manipulation. These tokens are earned by being a good person - being a friend. If a new player joins the game, they add a Friendship Token to the pool - but that token is not removed if that player cannot return to the table. Their friendship and the spirit of what they contributed remains. Absent, but not forgotten.

The game operates on a level system that runs up to 10th level. Each adventure (not necessarily session) results in every character gaining a level. When you gain a level you can increase a Stat, increase a Talent, or take a new Talent.

There is also your obligatory introductory adventure - but I have to say, its really well-written and surprisingly in-depth. Like everything else in this book it oozes with innocent charm and themes of the source material shines.

The truly excels as an introductory roleplaying and by tying it to a popular IP for the age range that many kids discover tabletop RPGs, I have to say that this game is a real winner. Not to mention the lessons it teaches are positive and very in line with the show. There's enough crunch and wiggle room to engage more experienced gamers, but the simple mechanics and approachable text make it perfect for young would-be dice rollers. I think it would be especially good for helping a parent whose child is into MLP get into tabletop gaming. The game is even playable diceless by full page drop-table for each die-type (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20). Simply close your eyes, and put your finger on the page. So it literally has everything in one book necessary to get kids gaming.

Supplementary material has already been produced with obligatory bag of Friendship Tokens. These, of course are sparkling purple plastic gems. Next up is a Box Set which includes several blank character sheets, a GM screen, a full adventure module, and a set of dice - all with an MSRP of $25.

I really think Tails of Equestria is an obvious purchase for any gamer who is a fan of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, or for any parent who has a child who is both a fan of the show and has expressed interest in tabletop gaming. Heck, my 2 1/2 year old daughter hasn't let it go since it came in the house - and she's just enjoying the art. Gotta get 'em started gaming early, right? Well, I can't think of a better game to open with.

Keep on the Borderlands: Game of Thrones Edition

So I started running the classic B2: Keep on the Borderlands using Labyrinth Lord last night. We had two players absent, so were down to three. A nature-worshiping cleric named Bjeorn and his war dog Fenris, a crude dwarf named Stonefuch, and a wily Magic-User named Castian.

They came up to the Keep, made their entry and began poking around the outer keep for news and adventure hooks. It wasn't long before they tried to get an audience w/ Baron Castilleian, Lord of the Keep. They were given a cold shoulder by the guard, who said he'd pass on their request for an audience. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the outer keep.

At the chapel they encountered the Curate, Brother Cort of the Cudgel. He is a robust, but zealous cleric of St. Cuthbert. Bjeorn was particularly interested in Cort and the faith of St. Cuthbert. Cort expressed to them his concerns about the nearby Caves of Chaos and that the Baron wouldn't risk his own men to deal with the growing threat.

At the Tavern and Traveller's Inn they hired the services of Hammish, a mute man-at-arms who was (by coincidence of random rolls) also a worshiper of Cuthbert, but no cleric. Hammish was a survivor of the dreaded Barrowmaze, a legendary tomb far, far away. He had been a non-beleiver and when a Cuthbertian saved his life and told him to never again blaspheme against the Cudgel, Hamish cut out his own tongue to show his conversion.

The PCs spent the rest of the evening negotiating with a pair of musicians, hoping to hire them as retainers - but that didn't really go anywhere, beyond good roleplaying. They retired for the evening at the Traveller's Inn - sleeping in the common room. Castian noticed one of the inn's residents was an elf and through good RP and reaction rolls, they traded spells - though the Elf got the better of the deal.

While Castian was doing that, Bjeorn wandered back to the chapel and after much discussion with Cort and asking about the Church of St. Cuthbert he actually converted to the faith - unbeknownst to the rest of the party.

Stonefuch and Castian continued to explore the keep, meeting with the Priest who lives in the large house inside the outer keep, whom I named on the fly Friar Duck. Duck claimed to be a worshipper of the God of Knowledge, and Castian immediately began to angle him to see if he had any magic-user scrolls. Duck did not, being a cleric, but did give Castian a book that would help him learn to speak and read/write Elvish.

As Bjeorn took oaths to St. Cuthbert, Stone and Cas learned the history of the Keep from Duck - the Baron was a weak man with Lizard Men threatening the keep to the south and the Caves of Chaos in the north. Duck believed he needed to be overthrown, and that Duck himself had even loaned the Baron 10,000 gold pieces to bolster the garrion several months ago - but other than hiring more troops the Baron had taken no action. Clearly, he needed to be replaced with a new Baron - a strong ruler, a wise ruler...

Cas and Stone were actually taken in by this and the three of them decided to go to the inner bailey and do just that. They were going to literally go commit a coup. Their plans were stymied when they saw Bjeorn exiting the chapel wearing the vestments of St. Cuthbert. They couldn't tell the newly Lawful Cleric they were going to overthrow the rightful ruler. So they told him they were going to go speak with the Baron and asked him to come along.

Duck, using his leverage from lending the Baron money, managed to talk their way into an audience. As the four of them, and two guards, sat in the Baron's chambers the PCs discovered a shocking revelation.

Baron Castellian was a 15 year old boy who had inherited the Keep after his father was assassinated 18 months ago. He was good intentioned, but indecisive and still mourning the loss of his father. He had no advisors and was burdened with indesision. But the Baron showed some steel in his spine. He told Duck, Cas, and Stone to leave before they could speak much, tired of Duck's machinations. Because the Baron trusted Cort, he allowed Bjeorn to stay and explained his situation to the Cudgelite. Bjeorn was clearly sympathetic and came out, and explained the truth of the situation to the party.

Cas and Stone immediately grew suspicious of Duck, who told them that he simply wanted a strong leader because if the Keep were attacked EVERYONE would die. It has a hard deed, but someone with strength needed to be in charge.

The PCs asked about the Lizard Men, who they knew nothing of. They learned the there is a loose agreement between Keep residents and the tribe. If the humans cross the river into the swamp the lizard men kill them, while if lizard men come north of the river they are slain by the humans. A harsh arrangement set forth by the Baron's father - but it has maintained a fragile peace.

The PCs get the idea that if they can somehow ally with the Lizard Men and get them to aid in defeating the Caves of Chaos, then two threats might be eliminated in one blow - but the Lizard Men are distrustful of humans and do not care for their affairs.

So as the session ends, the PCs are setting out to do some recon on the Caves and evaluate the threat, while Duck remains behind in the Keep to get a sense of how the locals feel about the whole affair.

The PCs are suspicious of Duck, of course - but have no idea he is a spy for the cultists in the Cave. Now as they head out to the Caves of Chaos (with Hamish in tow), Duck has sent messenger birds to the cultists in the Caves, and is considering traveling in secret to agitate the Lizard Men and break that easy peace - forcing the Baron to act (and hopefully fail), to make him look weak and position himself to take control of the Keep while the PCs are absent...

Not a single combat was had, but the entire session was tense and engaging for everyone at the table. The players love the intrigue and are invested in the moral complexity and the lives of the many NPCs they met. A fantastic opening session.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day 2017

I can say, without hyperbole, that Swords & Wizardry changed my life. I know that's a dramatic statement, but it's true.

You see, Swords & Wizardry is more than just a game. Somehow between the pages, the charts, the dice, the TPKs, and the critical hits, there really is a kind of magic - a kind of wizardry. I've read, and written, for most retro-clones on the market currently - heck, I even managed to publish one of my own. These are all great games in their own right, but there's something transcendent about Swords & Wizardry.

I can't explain how +Matt Finch and the folks at Frog God Games did it. When books get cracked, dice get rolled, and adventures are shared a bond gets formed. Something more than just "gaming buddies." Something more than even friendship. Swords & Wizardry is the foundation upon which the OSR community is built. My own company, Barrel Rider Games, wouldn't be what it was without Swords & Wizardry. Tenkar's Tavern, the local bar in this small town of grognards, would be just another bar without Swords & Wizardry. This singular game, and our love of both it, and the hobby, serve as the basis for much of our community. And like this community of ours, Swords & Wizardry is limitless.

With that in mind, I'd like to make an announcement...

White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying Galaxy Edition
Ace Pilots, dead-eyed Gunslingers, and irrepressible Star Squirrels blast off across the stars to save the galaxy from the horrors of the Void! Hellfire Mecha march across the battlefield, leaving carnage in their wake! From the galactic center of Omega Consor to the Marnash System on the edge of the universe, the galaxy needs heroes!

Endless galactic adventure awaits you in White Star: Galaxy Edition! Integrated and updated to include material from White Star and White Star Companion, White Star: Galaxy Edition integrates new rules, new options, and expands the original game. Now more than just a tool box, White Star Galaxy Edition offers you a universe full of thrilling adventure!

White Star: Galaxy Edition is set to be released in the Spring of 2017 in PDF, with softcover digest and hardcover digest formats to follow. The digital release will be available on RPGNow and DriveThruRPG, while the print editions will be available on RPGNow, DriveThruRPG, and Lulu.

It will integrate material from the original White Star core rules and the White Star Companion, as well as cleaning up and clarifying some rules, and adding a plethora of new material. This new material will include the following:

  • A total of twenty-five character classes!
  • Clarified rules for starships and vehicles, as well as new starships!
  • Complete rules for mecha - including customizing your own mecha and even transforming mecha!
  • Expanded options for mysticism, including Meditations, Gifts, Chitterings, and Etchings!
  • New Cybernetics, Advanced Technology, and Gear!
  • New rules, including Drawing Down the Void and Daring Deeds!
  • An expansion of the implied White Star setting introduced in the core rules and Companion.

White Star: Galaxy Edition is currently in layout. It's looking to be about 275 pages, all said and done. Credits include:

In order to maintain a thriving White Star community, I will also begin publishing the official White Star 'zine in the Summer of 2017 -

The Official White Star Magazine 

Star Sword will be a quarterly 'zine, available in both print and PDF formats on RPGNow and DriveThruRPG. Submissions will be accepted beginning with the second issue. Contributors will be paid for their work as well as retaining the rights to any material submitted. This is, first and foremost, a magazine for and by the White Star community.

The future of both Swords & Wizardry and White Star are as bright as a sun that's gone nova, so please join me as we blast off to adventures filled with swords, stars, heroes, villains, and most of all - fun!