Tuesday, 10 May 2016

ANNOUNCEMENT - Farsight Blogger closing down... well, sort of...

This won't make too much of a difference to the world at large but I do get the odd email every now and then about content or review material for Farsight Blogger so I thought I'd just put this out in the open.

I've been doing this blog since June 19th 2009 and I've had a great time with it. I originally started writing articles, doing reviews and creating stories for a Star Wars fansite called Lightsabre (now www.jedinews.co.uk), and after a while I had a go at a small e-zine called ODDS, which I edited for nine issues and enjoyed very much. It was only natural that I created a blog and, after seven years, I've decided to take a deep breath and let Farsight Blogger go... of a sorts.

I've been gaming a lot recently and not for any other reason than I enjoy to game with friends. I've not been analysing a system, or seeing how it works for me and my group, or examining the setting. I've simply played the game and had a hell of a lot of fun, and I realised that I spend so much time writing about games that I'd drifted away from simply enjoying them.

This rush of creativity has stimulated several other areas of my brain and I also realise that I miss other things - writing for the joy of writing, creating stories and simply working on my own projects. I feel the need to write again, to create and get my jumbled thoughts on paper, and maybe even look to getting some more work in print. It's been eleven years since I was published by the British Science Fiction Association, and ten since I wrote that Battlestar Galactica computer game. I need to flex my mind again and to allow my brain the freedom to do that something else has to go, and that something else is Farsight Blogger.

I'm not blaming the blog for my lack of creativity - far from it. This blog has opened so many doors and given me so many avenues to walk down that I've experienced a whole new arena of gaming. I've reviewed amazing games and books, I've interviewed some of the tabletop industry greats, I've met all kinds of wonderful people and I've made plenty of amazing new friends. This blog has done wonders for me and my hobby, and I've gathered so many experience points that I should be levelling up several times over. Thanks to everyone who has been involved.

The blog won't completely die; there'll still be my monthly 'Hints and Tips' articles that have been queued up and will last for a couple of years yet. I'll also be carrying on with the interviews as I do love to hear from those-in-the-know and I enjoy sharing their thoughts and views. In fact, if you're in the industry then drop me a line - not only do the interviews appear on Farsight Blogger they'll also appear on WWW.RPG.NET for the whole world to see.

I've had a great time with this blog, and I still will in an incredibly reduced sense. As much as we all like talking about our love of gaming on the internet, I've realised that, for me, the best way to share that love is to actually play some games!

Cheers, all. 'Tis been a blast!

Monday, 9 May 2016

Another D6 character sheet

Here's another D6 sheet I made a draft of - I wanted to do a generic action-adventure sci-fi game and use the Star Wars rules, but knew that if I just used the Star Wars character sheet the players might get distracted and we'd end up just doing Star Wars.

I figured I could use this for pulp action sci-fi, with rocketships and Martians, as well as for more gritty or militaristic sci-fi adventures.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

High adventure D6 game

I've been having some amazing fun recently with Call of Cthulhu - the Friday night campaign we have on the go at the Lunar Games Society in Lichfield is going at full steam and, as the GM, I'm doing all I can to keep the story moving while at the same time making sure that the players are having fun. As this is a new group and this is our first campaign together, there's also a large part of me trying to impress them all with what I've learned over my many years of gaming. Hopefully they're having as much fun as I am.

I'm a massive fan of the Call of Cthulhu RPG - we're using 4th Edition right now - but there's always going to be a little voice in my head pushing for adventure and pulp-action excitement. I try to reign myself in when I hear the Indiana Jones march raging in my head, and as much as I'd love to have the group get into running gun battles or punch Nazis in the face, I've got to try and keep it in the reality of the setting.

It's not just that - the rules of Call of Cthulhu don't lend themselves well to cinematic action. So, I've gone back to the games system that I know will serve me well; the D6 System.

The one I use is from the first edition Star Wars RPG rules; it's fast, intuitive and easy to run. As well as being player friendly it's simple enough to grasp quickly yet detailed enough to create some properly fleshed-out characters. I ran a successful Star Wars campaign with it from 1987 to 1996, so that's a win in my book.

I want to do the action adventure thing, with treasure hunting, tomb raiding and villain bashing, and after playing the PS3 'Uncharted' games and having a blast with Nathan Drake, as well as the new 'Tomb Raider' games and getting into some serious shit with Lara Croft, I'd like to set it modern day and include secret societies, government agencies, criminal organisations and rogue military nutjobs, all taking place in the far corners of world. There's a shadowy world of secrets and lies, and history can make people very rich and powerful...

So, I've knocked  up a basic character sheet, I'm going to flesh out the background a bit more and I'm going to suggest that the players play as fortune seekers - mercenary treasure hunters who fall foul of organisations both official and unofficial in their search for that big score. Mix some modern-day dungeon bashing with some grudging heroics and I think we've got ourselves a campaign.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Frostgrave, and why it's a fantastic game and setting

Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City by Joseph A. McCullough, Dmitry Burmak, 9781472805041The game Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City is one of my favourite games. I'm not a huge tabletop wargamer - in fact, I haven't played a wargame for a long time, as RPGs are my bag - but this is one of the very few wargames that I've played that has left a lasting impression on me.

First of all, it's just so accessible. It's quick and easy to learn, you don't need hours to play it and with just ten figures per side you can set up a warband and be ready to go with very little expenditure. If you've already got a bunch of 28mm fantasy or medieval miniatures from other games then you're pretty much ready to go. Small groups means a lot less time collecting and painting, and just getting on with the game.

The game also has a brilliant, enigmatic setting that's great for a roleplaying campaign. This is from the 'Frostgrave – Tales of the Frozen City' short story collection blurb:

"Long ago, the great city of Felstad sat at the centre of a magical empire. Its towering spires, labyrinthine catacombs and immense libraries were the wonder of the age, and potions, scrolls and mystical items of all descriptions poured from its workshops. 

Then, one cataclysmic night, a mistake was made. In some lofty tower or dark chamber, a foolish wizard unleashed a magic too powerful to control. A storm rose up, an epic blizzard that swallowed the city whole, burying it deep and leaving the empire as nothing more than a vast, frozen wasteland. The empire shattered, and the magic of the world faded. As the centuries came and went, Felstad passed from history to legend and on into myth. Only a few wizards, clinging to the last remnants of magical knowledge, still believed that the lost city had ever actually existed. But their faith was rewarded.

After a thousand years, the fell winter has passed. The snows have receded, and Felstad has been uncovered. Its buildings lie in ruins, overrun by undead creatures and magical constructs, the legacy of the empire's experiments. It is an evil, dangerous place. To the few hardy souls who inhabit the nearby villages, the city has acquired a new name, ‘Frostgrave', and it is shunned by all right-thinking people. For those who seek power and riches, however, it is an unparalleled opportunity, a deadly maze concealing secrets of knowledge long forgotten..."

How awesome is that? How is that not screaming out for some incredible dungeon-delving, ruin-searching, crazy madcap magical gonzo insane exploration escapades? The actual Frostgrave game and system can be easily converted into a quick and easy RPG, so that you can game your way through the city and still have those wargame sessions you love so much. I added a basic skill roll, which is simply roll 1D20 and beat a target number; easy 5, average 10, difficult 15, impossible 20. That's it - instant roleplaying game.

The enigmatic setting is also open to interpretation, as the author Joseph A. McCullough has purposefully left the setting and history vague. This means you can add all kinds of monsters, races and personalities and just go crazy with the city. High fantasy bad-guy blasting? No worries. Gritty medieval dungeon grinding? Take your best shot. Frostgrave welcomes all kinds of approaches, and there's almost nothing you can't do - the Frostgrave Facebook page is proof of that.

This a great game and a great place to adventure, and even though the wargame gives you a chance to create some real personalities and get attached to the magician you've created, it really deserves a dedicated roleplaying game to really get into the meat of the setting.

I've looked into it further, and to set myself up with the game from scratch (based on North Star Military Figures, who supply the official miniatures and stuff) it would cost:

£14.99 for the rulebook
£6.00 for a wizard and an apprentice
£20.00 for a box of 20 modifiable soldiers
£8.99 for a modelling equipment starter set
£2.00 per pot of paint (for argument's sake, let's say I'd need 5 pots for a decent mix, so that's £10.00)
£3.00 for a tape measure
£2.50 for s selection of D20s

So, that's £65.48 to not only get started in the game, but stay involved for a very long time without having to make constant purchases.

Of course, the cracking thing is that I've already got 28mm miniatures, dice and a tape measure, so even to dabble in the game will only cost me the rulebook.

Other than the game and setting, I really see the appeal of this!


On the first Monday of every month, read a new hint or tip from Jonathan Hicks, as featured on www.rpg.net and available on Kindle as 'The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and Ideas'.

How to make your bad guys more realistic.

The last thing you want is to make your chief NPC protagonist two-dimensional, for your players to turn round and say 'well, that's another power crazy megalomaniac dealt with - who’s next?'

The difficult question is how can the players find out about the past of the bad guy? Unless they knew the nasty before they went bad, which can be a brilliant plot hook, the players don't have many chances to get to know them, what with dodging their blasters and bombs.

PC's turning bad is a great idea, and roleplaying games are brilliant for this. If or when a player character turns to evil, the character sheet can be handed over to the GM and then played as an evil NPC. Isn't that a great idea? The character that the players have been adventuring with and getting to know over the past few sessions is now one of the opposite side, adding a fresh new perspective to the game. Maybe the story will follow the same lines as the Star Wars movie Return Of The Jedi, with the PC's trying to convert the evil NPC back to the good side. Talk about high drama. If the players really take to the story well, then the roleplaying opportunities are enormous. This need not only apply to that particular genre. Lets say a player has gotten tired of playing a particular PC, and wishes to retire them or have them killed in a glorious end battle. Why get rid of the character when they can suit a better purpose as an NPC, an evil one at that? This way, the personality of the character has already been defined by the player who controlled it, and if the referee plays that character with the same traits, but with a little more hint of nastiness, the players will respond in a much more eager manner than if they were up against another NPC nasty.

Alternatively, and easier to pull off, the bad guy can be an old friend of the PC's, an NPC who turned nasty, as simple as that. A good plot twist is to have the NPC act like a really good friend to the characters for many sessions, and then the final twist is to find that the NPC is the chief behind all the problems the PC's have been investigating, and didn't want to directly hurt the PC's because he really did get on with them. Nice twist, huh? Bad guys, or at least the characters on the opposite side, can suddenly take to new depths with this kind of personality input.

Why should the chief protagonist be evil? It's pretty much assumed that any NPC who tries to thwart the ultimate goal of the PC's is a nasty. It need not be that way. The NPC who is trying to stop the PC's from finding the sacred diamonds of Lutz, for example, may be doing so out of a religious or belief-driven motivation. Look at the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That group attacked the heroes straight away, and you immediately think that they are on the wrong side, but it turns out that all they are trying to do is protect the secret of the Holy Grail. Fair enough. They think they're doing the right thing, and maybe they are, but all it was, was a difference of opinion on what the goal of the story meant to each participant. Maybe you could generate that kind of opposition between the player characters. One could be out for the money, another for the glory, and yet another could be thinking 'maybe we should leave these diamonds of Lutz where they are'. It's quite simple to have that escalate into heavy in-party rivalries, but this should be stopped if it seems to be going too far. The main reason why a group plays together is to co-operate and perform as a team, anyway. Unless you’re paranoid.

The bad guy could even take the form of an animal. Yes, it can be done, and if it goes according to plan it can be quite effective. If it doesn't go as well as expected, then it could turn into a cheap re-hash of the Alien movies.

What am I talking about? Well, lets take Ridley Scott’s movie Alien as an example. The film was about an alien life form, which gets on board a spaceship and proceeds to eat the crew, moving and hunting as a predator and running circles around everyone. The creature killed in a nasty way and had a real dark, evil look to it. When it finally gets vaped, everyone cheers and the evil alien is defeated.

But, it wasn't necessarily evil. It wasn't necessarily malevolent. It did what came naturally to it, it fed and reproduced. That is the basic requirement of any life form (unless your playing a totally whacked-out game), and, if you want to look at it simply, the alien was doing what it did.

But that's not how you would see it if you were on the receiving end. This creature would be doing things that would abhor you, eat things that would make you feel sick, move around and kill in a fashion that would scare the hell out of you. Basically, you would think that what the creature was doing was evil. Evil if it was human, maybe, but we can't judge other life forms by our own standards, be they ones from outer space or ones we share our planet with.

Before I get too heavy, I'll get to the point of all this. The protagonist of a game could be such a creature. You can get a very entertaining game if you keep the players on their toes wondering what to do next. You see, they can't guess what a creature is going to do like they can guess the next move of an intelligent being, and that is what makes the game entertaining. They are continuously looking over their shoulders and watching each other's backs. It need not be done with an alien. You can get the same effect with a large predatory lizard, and an even more effective way is to have a swarm attack the PC's in the form insects or some other lifeform, making defeating them much more difficult. The point is, creatures have no qualms about doing what they do. Where the more intelligent bad guys would observe and calculate, the creature would get stuck in. Simple as that.

Well, I think that about wraps it up. I hope that this little piece has given you a few ideas on how to improve what threats the players will face. Remember- if you make notes about what your head bad guy is like, and stick to those traits, then it will make for a more believable NPC. Not only that, when you come to create a new protagonist, you can see what has come before and create an original one to keep the game fresh. Another key thing to remember- don't be too proud of the bad guy you create. Ultimately, they'll be defeated, and after all, you're not in contention with the players.

Of course, you don't let the players know that.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

RPG Review: Strongholds of Resistance

Published by Fantasy Flight Games

'Strongholds of Resistance provides thorough descriptions of several Rebel bases, Alliance Worlds, and the NPCs that your group of Rebels may encounter in these locations. It offers players three new species to craft characters from and a panoply of vehicles and gear to help characters carry out dangerous Rebel assignments. For Game Masters, it includes new modular encounters which can serve as single-session adventures or be easily integrated into your Age of Rebellion campaign.'

I like locations to game in and this book gives me those locations in spades, along with some new equipment, races, ships and encounters. If you're looking for a handbook to give your places new things to do, new places to see, and experience some of the key locations in the Rebellion such as Echo Base... well, you'll be launching strikes against the Empire from these fortified places before you know it, and after your operations you'll be looking forward to getting back 'home' to a meal and some R&R, and maybe a quick dip in a bacta tank.

The locations are my favourite section of the book by far. Not only do you get the worlds that have stood up against the tyranny of the Empire, you also get detailed Rebel bases to play with, which you can use as they are designed or adapt for your own use, renaming them and using them as templates for hidden fortresses across the galaxy. You get Polis Massa (espionage, starfighter support, and medical research), the Defiant Core (constructed out of a salvaged Star Destroyer from the Clone Wars), Tierfon (starfighter support) and, my all-time favourite, Echo Base on Hoth. The period that the book is set in means that Hoth is the central base of the Rebellion, so enjoy it... but don't get too attached.

There are several planets including Mon Cala (it's a bit damp there) and Sullust. Along with these worlds you get some new playable races, a Polis Massan, a Quarren, and a Verpine. The Verpine, and the Roche Asteroid field, are a favourite of mine as I remember with fondness reading about their adventures creating fighters at a secret base for the Rebellion, nearly thirty years ago now. Along with these new locations and races you also get new gear to utilise.

There's also some very interesting encounters to utilise. From fighting TIE fighters, to handling diplomatic negotiations, from fighting with the Sullustan resistance to destroying Imperial operations, each adventure will give you a game session or two each and are pretty good fun. There's everything a gaming group needs and there's something for everyone to do; battles, espionage and diplomacy will abound.

All in all this is a well laid out, informative and very atmospheric book and gamers looking to heighten that sense of Rebellion, of hiding in the stars as they fight against the evil Galactic Empire, will find this invaluable. As well as containing plenty of information about worlds and locations that will help to germinate seeds of adventure, the details in here will give you plenty of gaming hours interacting with both the strongholds and the denizens far beyond the adventures included.


Saturday, 23 April 2016

The SKETCH System

Many years ago, and the main reason why I came up with the name Farsight so that I could have a label to gather my creations under, I created a really stupidly simple RPG system called the SKETCH system, because it was a sketched out version of a larger system I wanted to create and the name kind of stuck. SKETCH isn't an acronym of anything- I just thought it looked cool in big capital letters.

I did some simple settings covering most genres, and even had a stab at creating some unofficial games using established settings (purely for fun and not for profit - I have to say that because I can't afford a solicitor) and I had some fun with it.

For ages now I've considered doing a second edition of the game, but it's so simple I can't see point. There are some things I'd like to change, but right now it serves it's purpose.

My horror version of the SKETCH system can be downloaded here - the other settings are at the website here and they can all be downloaded for free.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Book Review - Steampunk Soldiers: The American Frontier

Steampunk SoldiersBy Philip Smith and Joseph A. McCullough
Illustrated by Mark Stacey

Published by Osprey Publishing

Available May 19th 2016

'Even as the discovery and exploitation of hephaestium helped bring the Civil War to its close in 1869, the arms race it engendered resulted in a cold war just as bitter and violent as the open hostilities had been. With neither side willing to rely solely upon the talents of their scientific establishments, saboteurs, double-agents, and assassins found ample employment. Against this backdrop of suspicion and fear, thousands of Americans - Northerners and Southerners alike - headed west. Some to escape the legacies of the war, some to find their own land, some for the lure of that great undiscovered strike of hephaestium that would make them rich, and some simply to escape the law. Ahead of these pioneers stood the native tribes, behind them followed the forces of two governments, while to the north and south, foreign powers watched closely for their own opportunities. 

This newly unearthed collection of the works of Miles Vandercroft fills a considerable gap in our knowledge of the travels of that remarkable individual, and also provides a fascinating guide to the costume and equipment of the forces active in the great drive westwards.'

Every time I come to a product such as this I always start with the same explanation of my exposure to steampunk; it isn't huge. I'm fully aware of steampunk and it's alternative take on history, and the way it blends technological innovation with the capabilities of the period - and maybe even throw in something exotic to help things along - but other than a couple of books and a few other smaller things that exposed me to this popular genre I've never really had any involvement in it. I do like it, but I've never truly delved into it.

I think one of the things that has kept me from it is the fact that nothing has ever really reached out of the pages and grabbed me, convinced me that I should explore it more. I've always enjoyed it but I've never really been encompassed by it, or really wanted to dedicate any time to it. I think, with all the other things that I'm passionate about that take up my time, it'd take something pretty spectacular to make me want more.

If I was sucked into this world it'd have to be something in the tabletop roleplaying arena and I think Steampunk Soldiers: The American Frontier may be the first book I've read to make me want to choose an applicable gaming system and run a series of adventures in an Old West steampunk setting.

I like the idea of the Old West, but as an Englishman I may have an overly romantic view of the period; that frontier mentality, danger on the borders, the politics of the country, the brutal law and the radical lawlessness... yes, incredibly inaccurate historically but I'm not looking for accuracy in a roleplaying game like this, I'm looking for adventure. Running a straightforward Western RPG may not be right up my street, but add steampunk contraptions, an alternative American history and a couple of glorious Alamo Fortified Suits... seriously, go to page 31 and I guarantee that as a gamer you'll want to stat that baby straight away. I could get some serious mileage out of it.

The book itself is a full-colour hardback at 96 pages, and is illustrated throughout. The book details the two governments of the country - The North (The Union) and The South (The Confederacy), The Disputed Territories where the native tribes remain, The Far North of Canada and Alaska, The Old South of Mexico, and The Manifest Destined - which to be fair, is where I'd set my games, right on the frontier.

Written as if Osprey Publishing are presenting these details as facts, each section has a brief introduction to explain the state of this particular part of the country and then there follows a series of illustrations that give us an example of an individual who lives there (and when I say lives there, I mean fights there) and it gives the role of that person, the role of the organisation they are involved in and what it is they do.

And it's really well done. The writing is crisp and needs only a page to explain what they are and what they do, and as you make your way through the book it slowly builds a much larger picture of the country, larger than the brief introduction was able to give. It gives some great background and reality to the alternative history that's been created and acts as a great sourcebook for anyone wanting to use the material for their games, be it creating something from scratch or using the setting for their existing steampunk campaign, Even if you're not intending to use it as a gaming resource, it's just a great read with some amazing illustrations that'd look great on the bookshelf. Steampunk enthusiasts and cosplayers will find lots of great images in here that will no doubt give them some inspiration for their next project.

The combination of atmospheric writing (the fact that straight away they deal with the history and the images as fact and not fiction adds so much depth) and great art (each image has a great dynamic and gives real character) makes Steampunk Soldiers: The American Frontier a great evening's read. It's not long at all, but I found myself revisiting it to check out certain images and backgrounds, and as a tabletop roleplayer I found a lot to help me into my first steampunk-themed game. Everybody likes a good western, and having the ability to add an Alamo Fortified Suit, a postman with an armoured dog, a Confederate trooper on a camel, flying natives, Banditos with flamethrowers and land Ironclads... I mean, come on, who's going to say no to that?

Steampunk Soldiers: The American Frontier is a great book that really makes you wish the west really was that wild.


Sunday, 10 April 2016

Book Review: The Cthulhu Wars

By Kenneth Hite and Kennon Bauman

Published by Osprey Publishing

'From the Patriots' raid on the necromancer Joseph Curwen to the Special Forces' assault on Leng in 2007, this unique document reveals the secret and terrible struggle between the United States and the supernatural forces of Cthulhu. In this war, immortal cultists worship other-dimensional entities and plot to raise an army of the dead. Incomprehensible undersea intelligences infiltrate and colonize American seaports, and alien races lurk beneath the ice of Antarctica and high in the mountains of Afghanistan. It is only through constant vigilance and violence that the earth has survived. Also included are threat reports describing the indescribable - humanity's deadliest foes serving Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones. Strange times are upon us, the world is changing, and even death may die - but, until then, the war continues.'

At the moment I'm running a Call of Cthulhu (4th Edition) game for my local gaming club. It's set in the late 1920s and there's already been an arctic expedition, a brush with some Mi-Go and some zombified human constructs, a bit of a clash back at Arkham and a dead-but-not-dead incident on a train across the USA from Boston to San Francisco. Nobody's dead or insane yet, so they're either being incredibly good players or I've been an exceptionally bad GM.

As some of the players are new to the Cthulhu Mythos there has been a lot of questions about what it all means, and as I don't want to give too much away I'm building up to an incident where they can find out more by reading the report of a man who had done his own research, namely the Lovecraft story 'The Call Of Cthulhu'. Just by reading this story they should have a much better understanding of what is going on.

It was great fielding these questions, but one that came up was 'What do the government know?' which was a question I could not answer because they still had a lot of research and adventuring to do before they found that out, and mainly because I didn't really know myself.

So that got me asking the question; what do the government know about the cosmic horrors that plague the world? As if my mind had been read - as if the stars had aligned and the power of the Great Old Ones had ordained it to be - three days later a book landed on my doorstep, and this book was 'The Cthulhu Wars'.


This 80-page colour softback book details the United State's struggle with dark forces from 1585 onwards. The fact that it's just from the point of view of the USA works for me, even though  realistically the conflict is world-wide, because the United States is always the starting point of my own Call of Cthulhu roleplaying campaigns; for me, Cthulhu is all about New England in the 1920s, so this is just fine.

This isn't a proper, fully-fledged sourcebook per se; you won't find stats or hints for any of the Cthulhu games be it RPG or boardgame, but what you have is an entertaining read that takes you from the very early records of the first settlers having issues with these monsters, through the better known mythos stories such as Innsmouth, through the use of nuclear weapons in 1962 (which is, in a word, epic) to more modern conflicts. The book is written as a document, intertwining fiction with historical incidents and figures, as if you've either just joined the ranks of the people fighting the danger and you've been given this book to orient yourself with the fight, or if you've received this to learn the horrifying truth from a conspiracy theorist.

It's also written as if Lovecrfaft wrote his stories not as macabre tales, but as memories of things that happened, and that he himself was privy to the truth. Indeed, the introduction by Kenneth Hite reads as if he has researched the book and fears for his life in doing so, and then this is followed by Kennon Bauman explaining how he's completing Kenneth's work as a tribute to the man. That's brilliant, and it adds a whole new level of reality to the book.

The artwork and images in the book support the text really well, from period images to eerily doctored photographs, to some fantastic art from Darren Tan that really helps sell the story. Even the 'Sources' section at the back of the book, which talks of where the information came from, helps with the overall atmosphere. It's a great read, and the suggested reading, games and fiction was helpful as it pushed me in the direction of some films I'd not considered before.

Ultimately, how useful was it? From a gaming perspective I can see it being quite useful but only for small pieces of background and inspiration across several campaigns in different ages. Right now I'm in the 1920s, and it gives me some idea of what was going on but, to be truthful, I have my original Lovecraft stories to give me the background and atmosphere I need. If I ever decide to run a game in the present day, during the Cold War or during World War Two, I can see this being really helpful, and it's already given me a couple of great ideas regarding special units in the ETO.

Overall, this is an entertaining book. It really tries to sell the reality of the war against the Mythos as fact and in this it succeeds very well. This would be a great addition to the collection of Lovecraft fans and gamers alike.


For the last twenty years Kenneth Hite has worked as a full-time writer and role-playing game designer, contributing to many famous games including GURPS, Hero System, Vampire: The Dark Ages, and Savage Worlds. He has also written or co-written numerous books on esoteric subjects such as Cthulhu 101 and Where the Deep Ones Are. 

Kennon C. Bauman is a professional analyst whose writings on weird history, forteana, conspiracy theories, and adventure gaming can be most frequently found at theIlluminerdy.com.

Born and raised in Malaysia, Darren Tan grew up drawing spaceships, dinosaurs and the stuff of his imagination, which was fuelled by movies and computer games. Inspired by these, he went on to study animation and later graduated as a Computer Animator from Sheridan College, Canada. After a brief stint in 3D animation, he decided to trade in polygons for a wacom tablet. Now he works as a digital concept artist at Imaginary Friends Studios and is enjoying getting paid for his hobby.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Interview: Ed Jowett of Shades of Vengeance

Shades of Vengeance LogoPlease welcome Ed Jowett, the man behind games company Shades of Vengeance. Ed took a bit of time out from his schedule - he's a bit busy at the moment with a Kickstarter on the go for his new game Era: Survival - to answer a few questions.

Hi there and welcome to Farsight Blogger! Perhaps you'd like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

First, I would like to say it is great to be here!

Hi! I'm Ed Jowett, Game Creator. I love Sci-Fi, games of all shapes and sizes and am a former software developer, now a project manager in my day job. By night, I develop games for Shades of Vengeance!

To date, I have created 4 games and produced several more, along with development assistance.

I tend to focus on creating my own universes because I particularly enjoy that aspect of game creation.

Tell us about your RPG history - what got you into the wonderful world of tabletop roleplaying?

The first RPG I ever played was Paranoia. 2 sessions later, I was GMing my first game of Paranoia!

I was totally hooked from the start - I am a very tactical gamer and I would create complicated plans about how to frame up the others and generally bluff my way past suspicion... and I found I was very good at it.

I began branching out into other games, mostly as a GM, and it was not long before I was called upon to help create a setting.

By that time, I was in my second year of University, and the one I attended runs a 24-hour game each year. The tradition is that a setting is created by the 5 or 6 GMs that rotate through those sessions (across usually about 4 player groups, so you get some rest). As the previous year had been a low fantasy game, it was quickly agreed that we would do Sci-Fi. The vague concept was "Firefly with aliens", and that's when I came forward with concepts for two alien races, the Eulutians and the Ximians (which would later evolve further and appear in Era: The Consortium).

That game went great and it firmed up the foundation - I was never going to stop being a roleplayer!

What is it about the tabletop RPG hobby that attracts you? What do you enjoy most when playing a game?

I like the freedom of choice which can only come from a human GM. Video game designers can't predict all of my crazy schemes any more than I can, and I love the opportunity to let loose with something that the GM had never considered as a possible solution to a problem.

I am very frequently in the GM chair, though, and when on that side of the table, I enjoy allowing people to experience the same - I will often create problems that I don't necessarily see a solution to and see whether the group can come up with a way out. It definitely keeps the players on their toes!

I don't think that video games will reach that kind of flexibility for some time, still, so I think that tabletop roleplaying games still provide a very unique experience.

What's your favourite game? What games that are out there at the moment float your boat?

This is going to sound self-serving, but I just love Era: The Consortium. We finished playtesting 2 years ago and I am still running two groups through 7+ hour long games at least once per month! I never run out of ideas in that Universe and the history really does give you both a solid foundation and flexibility. I would have to say that is my favourite game.

I will always have a special place in my heart for Paranoia, as well, because it got me started, but I find it less good for longer campaigns... as I think many do!

I have also played and particularly enjoyed World of Darkness (Malkavian for ever!), Edge of Empire and Firefly.

Tell us more about the Era roleplaying games; what was the inspiration to create the ruleset and the first two settings, Consortium and Lyres?

I have loved games since a very young age - I started playing computer games at about 2 (which, I know, provides clues to my age!). I started "designing games" when I was about 7 - silly kids' stuff mostly, with dreams of doing better.

After the 24 hour game I mentioned in answer to question 2, I finished university and went to London to work. For a year, I didn't play anything and I missed it a lot. I invited a group of work friends who were interested, and also several of my friends and family to join me in a game.

We played Paranoia first, and after a session or two of that, people said they were interested in something that was more long-term.

That's when I started on Era: The Consortium (although it wasn't called that yet, of course!). I reformed the Universe from the 24 hour game, tweaked the races around what had not worked, changed the universe around, and when the players created their characters, Stiletto Unit was born.

After the 5 session campaign (which had an epic ending we still run as an introductory session for people at conventions!), one of the players asked to run a session. He had a vague idea about the rules, but requested I write them down.

I did so, in the clearest way I could, which took a few weeks and, in the meantime, showed the underway to a friend I have in Canada to ask his opinion. His first thought was "Oh, cool, are you publishing this?"

Well, things went from there, through artwork, rewrites and editing, to the Era: The Consortium you now see - 500 years of playable history!

Era: Lyres was totally the opposite in terms of development. I had a silly thought one day, because I, personally, am not a huge fan of diceless RPGs. I wondered what it would be like to include minimal dice rolls, but let the players loose to say whatever they wanted.

A silly storytelling game in a D&D-like Universe when everyone is sat around in the tavern, trying to con people out of their gold, is something that just came to mind naturally as the logical conclusion, in the space of an hour (...does that say something about me?) and I was talking to one of my team about it right away!

It turned out really well, a genuinely fun game that people have really enjoyed playing!

That covers the settings but not the rules. Both games (and our planned future ones) run off the same rule set. It is a multiple d10 dice pool system with variable Success Threshold (somewhat similar to Old World of Darkness or New Shadowrun). I have worked on it to make it easily accessible to newcomers (as nearly everyone I had in my personal groups was new to RPGs when I started) but also holding enough interest and variety for the Mathematicians and Computer Scientists that make up my group! I am pretty happy with what has come out of that, people are genuinely able to pick up the game in minutes at conventions, even if they have never played a tabletop RPG before.

...and an added bonus is that all of our games have modular rules, so if you want to run a game with elements of Era: Survival in the Consortium universe, such as limited ammo and weapons that break, the rules support that!

The newest one is Era: Survival, and as of this interview it has just funded on Kickstarter. What's it all about?

Era: Survival (on Kickstarter now: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shadesofvengeance/era-survival) is a game where you're trying to live in a post-apocalyptic world.

It's 100 years after the Cataclysm and Humanity has somewhat adapted to "Infected" wandering around the world. It's split into many different factions, each of which has a different solution for how to survive the ongoing decline of Humanity.

Some factions choose to hide underground in pre-Cataclysm bunkers (known as "Vaults), attempting to maintain the ancient technology for as long as possible, protecting all but a few front-line warriors from what's outside. Others believe that the Infection is inevitable for Humanity and react to that in their own way. Still others seek new Vaults, which may contain riches beyond their wildest dreams in the form of vehicles, weapons and equipment - enough to live comfortably to an old age.

It's a post-apocalyptic game and there's a lot of post-apoc fiction in all kinds of media right now, so what makes this different from the others?

I think there are several things that separate it from other post-apoc universes.

The first is the factions - Gaia is politically complicated, and things are changing. Two large factions are expanding from the North and the South, the most concentrated areas of Infection are expanding and most of the "ordinary people" are caught in the middle of all this. For some, capture by the Swarm or the Sisterhood of Pyrus is a worse option than being Infected! I think this is quite unique in this genre, because although many do describe cities, they tend to assume that all societies that survived are different.

It's also based 100 years after the Cataclysm, so rather than being someone who remembers what the world was like before, you're a third generation and, while you might have heard stories, you've grown up with the knowledge that Humanity might be gone entirely not long after you die. I think that's less common than the "sheltered with these people through the apocalypse" story types you see in other games and media.

Shades of Vengeance are not only getting their own games out there, they're also offering help for up-and-coming games designers; you offer services such as design, art, printing, and even podcasting and comic strips. Tell us more about why you decided to offer these services, and how it can help the fledgling games designer.

Actually, it was at a panel at Animé North!

We were asked to appear on this panel because they don't do one-person panels there and someone wanted to talk about game creation. This individual was a successful (board) game creator - he had created 2 board games bought by publishers. He was also one of the most unhappy people I've ever seen.

Someone asked him how to go about creating a game. His response was "Don't, if you don't want to spend a huge amount of money and time and risk getting something on shelves that potentially has nothing to do with what you had to start with."

My co-writer (this was just after Consortium first came out in its initial form) and I looked at each other and he grabbed the microphone and said that, alternatively, if you want to make a game and have it come out the way you envision, come and talk to us. We'll give you the benefit of our experience, help you avoid our pitfalls and get your game to print.

Seven people followed us back from there, including the creator of Amazing Space Adventures (the first external game we published) and the guys from Dice and Stuff (http://www.diceandstuff.com), who still run Podcasts of our games every week.

We've turned that into something that really does happen, does work. We've helped 3 people bring their games to life and we're working with 3 others right now.

Everyone who works with us works at their own pace. They pay for the contract work (artists and writers) that they need help with, but don't pay us anything for our work until we get to the Kickstarter, and even then only out of the profits after fulfillment. Does that mean we take a risk? Yes, a big one. We don't always get paid very much at all.

But, you know what? It's worth it, because cool indie games that would otherwise never see the light of day can make it into existence.

What else can we expect to see in the future?

Well, I hope you can expect to see more games!

We're currently working on a high fantasy game called Era: Silence, which will be ready pretty soon now. We're also working on a few more expansions and source books for the Consortium universe, which aim to answer some of the questions people have...

I can't say too much more than that, really! There's more coming, and it's going to be great, and you can keep an eye on our website for more details: www.shadesofvengeance.com