Archive for the ‘recommended’ Category


Lancer: Comp/Con character builder

January 12, 2020

This.  This is what I’ve been wanting TTRPGs to start doing more often:

Lancer RPG Comp/Con Character Builder

Even if you’re not interested in playing or buying the Lancer game, you should check out the free program for this.  It’s a great example of what we should have for more games that have character builds to track.

  • Easy and clean interface.  Short comments let you know what skills/powers do.
  • Free. Available for Apple, Windows and Linux.
  • Local data.  You don’t need to be online for the app to function.  You don’t need to hope the company will be still running servers 2 years from now, or that someone isn’t funneling malware through it later on.

Now, I also understand that building software isn’t a snap, but for the publishers with more money and resources, this sort of thing is basically the future for mid-to-high build complexity games.

I know a couple of years back people were really excited about D&D’s character builder, but it premium locks most of the options until you pay for that specific book, and whatever point WOTC decides to move on and shut down the servers – you basically have nothing for it.

This is such a contrasting difference in approach to Lancer’s putting the player base first – the people who buy your game and want to play your game need good design tools – money locking it just makes it harder to play your game.

(It’s a far lesser scale, but does remind me of the problem with the D20 attempt at open source design – the way in which it was set up encouraged everyone to only put their LEAST interesting stuff as free, and everything else was held behind a premium barrier – so you got a glut of material, but nothing to encourage increasing quality of design.)


Double Cross RPG

February 12, 2014

Ended up picking the Double Cross RPG – this is a Japanese rpg that hits that Shonen Manga trope of the “people get superpowers and are caught between secret organizations” genre.  My anime references are older -mostly stuff like Guyver and Baoh, but newer stuff like Towanoquan or Darker than Black would also apply.

The game has a lot of neat design tricks, but it suffers from the White Wolf problem – the game advises Illusionist/Railroading play, while much of the actual game mechanics work against it.


The protagonists all get their superpowers from “The Renegade Virus”, which, can take over one’s mind, reducing one to a mindless monster bent on destruction.

The score players will track is their “Encroachment Rate” which goes up and up – 1D10 per scene you show up in, a certain amount everytime you use powers, 2D10 if you encounter immense stress.  At the end of the game you get a chance to reduce it – if it’s over 100% at the end, your character is lost to the virus.

Reducing the virus requires holding onto important relationships – reasons to STAY human.  Also, you get more XP the closer you were to losing your character at the end of the game – you’re rewarded for risking yourself.

Lois / Titus Characters

Each PC will have a number of relationships – Lois and Titus characters.

Lois characters are reasons to stay human – friends, family, lovers, rivals.  Each Lois you have at the end of a session allows you to reduce your Encroachment by 1D10.   You can have a maximum of 7 Lois relationships, but you can only carry 3 between sessions -so that means you’ll be wanting to play up the drama and connect with other characters to get those additional Lois relationships.

The randomization also means you can’t exactly game the system – you’re risking your character between the randomized gain (1D10 per scene) and randomized recovery (1D10 per Lois).

If your Lois character dies, or your PC is distraught over them (betrayed, etc.) you can change them into a Titus character.  Titus relationships give you a one time bonus from a short list – but the options are really powerful – stuff like a 10 die bonus (when you’re usually rolling 3-5 dice), the ability to instantly recover from being brought to zero hitpoints, etc.

The funny thing is that this totally means characters who have a mess or shamble of life connections – tragic loss, or perhaps a frenzy of self destructiveness, will end up able to overpower a lot of things… in the short run.  There’s no limit to the number of Titus relationships you can carry over session to session, so having a protagonist who leaves a trail of tragedy behind them is genre appropriate AND supported by mechanics.

You can see pretty easily how this makes for amazing relationship situations in play, but also is terrible for Illusionism.

Positive/Negative Feelings Chart

For any Lois/Titus character, you list a positive AND negative feeling about them.  And you pick one that your character is actually conscious of.  You might be jealous of your best friend but also admire his determination.

What’s interesting about choosing one to be conscious is that either you end up forced to face the things you don’t like about the people you care about, or find redeeming qualities in the people you hate.

Again – amazing space for things like Narrativist play, also shitty for Illusionism.  What happens when you decide to acknowledge Sympathy for the villain and don’t capture/kill them?  What happens when you decide your mentor has actually been just using you and you quit the secret organization?


The power design is pretty smart.  All of the powers are generally designed to easily combine with other powers.  There’s no “skill tree” set up – a power either directly does something, or it stacks onto another power.

While each power might have multiple levels – it only increases it’s effectiveness or number of times it can be used – it’s not like some games where a new level in the same power unlocks extra abilities.  This means you don’t have to do deep planning ahead on your character builds.

Whereas a lot of game design, such as D&D 3.5 fails with their power set up – where you pick an optimal power/feat set and just do the same thing turn after turn, Double Cross has the Encroachment cost.  I may have an uber-combo of 5 powers I can use together to be awesome, but maybe that pumps up my Encroachment 14 points, and I’m not sure if this encounter is worth it.  So there’s an incentive to consider using less of your powers just for your own character’s sake.

There’s also the “Simple Powers” which are the non-combat powers.  These are supposed to be less powerful, but… consider the basic power every PC gets: “Warding” – you can release a virus cloud that knocks out all the non-powered humans in the area.  This drastically changes how you deal with investigations (“Oh, knock em out, let’s just get the keys and go through the files ourselves”) or fights (“Crap, the subway is full of helpless, unconscious bystanders… how are we going to get them out of here?”).  Again, stuff that can break Illusionist plans greatly.

There’s 12 “strains” of the virus, and each PC can either have 1, 2, or 3.  Each strain actually has a wide enough power set that you don’t feel cheated if you go with just one, at the same time the advantages to specializing are well balanced out with going with variety.

Other bits

Outside of the Illusionism, there’s actually functional advice also in the game – stuff on how to communicate with each other and developing listening skills, the fact that “I’m not being a jerk, My Guy (TM) is being a jerk” is shitty and actually just you being a jerk, etc.  It helps to remember this advice is from 2001 as well, and it’s been good progress in the last 10-12 years of overcoming dysfunctional behavior.

The game has a pretty light/sparse description for most powers, and the setting is also relatively light.  If you’re already familiar with a lot of “modern powers” manga/anime, this is all going to fit perfectly for you, especially the love/hate complexity of all the characters.

The layout is… not that great.  It’s not too hard to find things, but there are some rules which require bookmarking or remembering it’s mentioned in one section but not another.  The worst part is the character sheets – I hope some fans put together something cleaner and easier to read.

I’m definitely looking forward to playing this, but I’m going to have to excise all the Illusionist bits.


Blade of the Iron Throne

December 11, 2013

For years and years I’ve been telling folks about the amazing, out of print, Riddle of Steel.  I finally saw that apparently folks released Blade of the Iron Throne, which takes 90% of the RoS engine, and adapts it to pulp sword and sorcery.


Passions, which are the renamed version of Riddle of Steel’s Spiritual Attributes, are the driver of the game.  Your character has goals, relationships, ideals they believe in, and when they are acting to further or protect those things:

a) the GM gives them another point in that Passion

b) they get to roll extra dice equal to that Passion

This is only the first part – the second part is that you then spend down those Passions to permanently give improvements to your character.  So the best way to power game is to roleplay, and roleplaying IS the method to power gaming in this system.

Riddle of Steel had initially allowed players to add multiple Spiritual Attributes to any action which encompassed all of them – but in Blade, you are limited to one.  I’m guessing they weren’t as big of a fans of the uber-ing out of characters, which is about the only change I’m not a fan of.

Tactical Combat

The tactical combat system is fun, has depth without requiring deep mastery to use, and is fast – it also doesn’t use a map or minis either.

There’s basically 3 ideas which run the system:

Dice Pool

Combatants have a dice pool which represents their skill at using a particular weapon or fighting style- these dice will be used over the course of two exchanges before the pool is refilled.  The core of gameplay is trying to figure out how much to commit and which maneuvers will be the best use of the dice you have… and getting your opponent to commit their dice poorly.


If a weapon has reach advantage (the longer weapon if you’re on the outside, the shorter weapon if you’re up close), each range difference is a die penalty to the disadvantaged side to attack.  Smart positioning puts you in a situation where you can take bigger risks in offensive maneuvers because the enemy won’t have the dice to hit back.


Unlike a lot of games, “initiative” here doesn’t mean taking turns in a given order, if you have initiative, you are the attacker, and you can keep doing attacks as long as you keep the initiative.   If the defender manages to defend with more than a tie (that is, getting at least 1 success more than you), they take the initiative.   This can be a big deal, because if you can take the initiative after the enemy has over committed, they’re basically left open for a serious counter strike.

Wounds tend to hit hard and fast, and few characters take more than a couple before being incapacitated enough to not be effective in a fight.

Setting and Imagery

So the game is built on pulp sword and sorcery… which means problematic parts too.  Mostly there’s the offhand comments about wenching or that men are mighty and women are voluptuous.

Most of the default setting civilizations are described as people of color by their physical descriptions – but even though you get stuff like stand-in-Egyptians as an “Enlightened” culture, you also get stuff like “dusky skinned” or the asians as literally described as “yellow skinned”…

So, you’re not going to be reaching or having to revise to have heroic POC in this game, you’re just going to sometimes wince at the language in the setting chapters at places.  I feel like I have to give the representation 3/5 for doing much BETTER than I expected,  and sadly, still much better than a lot of rpg settings out there despite the issues.


Sorcerer Kickstarter

January 6, 2013

The Sorcerer RPG is up on kickstarter – you can get the PDF game and 3 supplements are there for $25.

The game is solid and the supplements are great – a lot of advice that is useful across a lot of games, especially if you’ve come from traditional rpg background. The supplements break down a lot of ways to improvise during play as a GM, allowing you do get great sessions with minimal prep.

Worth checking out!


The Drifter’s Escape – in play

January 5, 2013

I finally got around to not just watching folks play the Drifter’s Escape, but playing it. We were all a bit tired by the time we got to playing, and I was a bit doubtful about whether our energy levels would go well with it, but it was a lot of fun.

One of the things I saw upon reading was that the game is designed to put you in a bind: if you’re The Drifter, you basically are at the whim of GM Fiat (from one of the two GMs – either The Devil or The Man) unless you Make a Deal. When you make a Deal, both the GMs draw a 5 card hand and offer to give you their hand if you do a specific thing they request – and neither one is obligated to tell the truth about the quality of their hand. If the hand you take beats the other GM’s hand, then you get what you want regardless of the GM Fiat.

The thing I didn’t realize was that the dynamic in play is exactly that of an abuser – when you’re one of the GMs, when you control the scene you’re basically causing problems and fucking up the Drifter’s life and then you immediately turn around and offer them “help” at a cost.

What makes this not completely fucked up as a play experience is that these roles (as the Devil or the Man) are clearly assigned, you KNOW that this is the players’ roles and it changes the situation by drawing the boundaries of what is going on. In speaking with the designer, Ben Lehman, he pointed out that one of the things the game teaches is survival skills in an abusive situation – “Get what you need and get out. Sometimes helping others is what you need, but don’t stick around and let other people’s problems become your own” – which was a pretty accurate assessment of what happened in play.

The second thing which came out while playing the game is the Drifter holds three options which are pretty powerful in play.

1. The ability to ditch a Deal if the terms offered are too weak/terrible.
2. The ability to decide when it’s time to leave town the situation altogether.
3. The ability to Redeem any NPC – to spend a token and right then and there, regardless of how fucked up they were before, they are NOW a good person, and the person playing that character MUST try to have that character do the thing which the player considers the morally right thing.

In our game, everything changed when an extremist survivalist militia type just shot a corrupt sheriff to death and was in a standoff with his friend the meth dealer, the Drifter and her friend – the Drifter player spent a token and immediately Redeemed the survivalist which shocked the whole damn table and ended the standoff.

The Drifter’s Escape manages to paint the world with a brutal cynicism and at the same time, surprise you utterly at the potential for changing your views on characters (or really people).