Thursday, 26 February 2015

Review - 'Of Bone and Thunder' by Chris Evans

Inline image 1Publisher: Titan Books

Reviewed by Richard Williams

'Of Bone and Thunder' was recommended to me with the words "it's like Lord of the Rings meets Full Metal Jacket". That's a recommendation that I can't very well ignore and so it was with many high expectations that I read this book. And, despite my doubts, it largely managed to live up to those expectations.

Firstly, let me just dispel the notion that this is at all like Lord of the Rings. It simply isn't. Not in tone, style, level of high fantasy or in scope. Not that I hold this against the author since, as far as I know, he isn't the one that made the comparison. Also, let's be honest, when was the last time you heard that so-and-so was the new Tolkien and actually found that to be the case? pretty much never. Nonetheless this is a well written, engaging and enjoyable book.

As to the second part, being like Full Metal Jacket, this one is right on the money. Or, at least, the comparison to a movie about the Vietnam war. This is not accidental but entirely the author's intention and I have to say that it works really well and he has done a fantastic job of finding fantasy equivalents for well known elements of that terrible conflict. There is the close intensity of jungle warfare where you never see your enemy unless you're lucky enough to kill them, the drug addiction, problems of racial integration, the assassination of the nation's leader, a wonderful take on napalm in the form of dragon fire and even manages to include the dark machinations of a powerful covert government agency called the Dark Rangers (read: CIA). Readers who know their history will enjoying spotting the references but even those who think they might, maybe, have heard of the Vietnam war will still enjoy this entertaining tale of war at it's most pointless and harrowing.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed was the characterisation, especially the way Chris Evans managed to really capture the lingo of the soldiers. Their own way of cursing, nicknames for the enemy and the terrain and they reflexive way they respond to certain words or phrases that only the initiated would understand. Having said that I do feel that some of the characters came across as a bit two dimensional, although that could well because there are a lot of them. Even some who had really juicy character hooks, such as one with a drug habit, seemed to have their problems solved a little too easily, almost inconsequentially.

There's a lot of action in this book and a few unexpected deaths, which always adds a decent bit of suspense, and the use of magic as a military weapon is nicely handled.

Overall I found this to be a highly enjoyable, well paced and nicely imagined story and I hope the author sets more stories in this universe. After all, the Vietnam war went on a long time, so there's no reason why this couldn't.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Review - The Art Of Total War

by Martin Robinson
Inline image 1Publisher: Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

Some art books are overly wordy and I'm not a fan of that. When I buy an art book I want to see art and any words on the page had better be brief and to the point. A little something about what the picture is about, maybe what the artist was striving for and whether they felt they pulled it off. So when I opened The Art of Total War and saw several pages of writing I considered just giving it a miss. But I'm glad I didn't because it transpired to be a fairly succinct history of the Total War franchise that was actually quite interesting. Something that was mentioned that I particularly latched on to (aside from a mention that they are working on Total War: Warhammer) was a thought on how games have come along graphically and now any game looking to gain an audience had better make sure it looks good. Back when Total War began the armies were just a cluster of pixels darting around the screen, now the battles are comprised of thousands of individuals, near enough, that need to be clearly discernible when a player zooms in to see his samurai take on gun toting soldiers.

The result is a need for the artwork you find in this book. Much as first person shooters now need to have a movie style art department to plan out their every 'scene', so too the makers of real time strategy games. What is interesting about this development is the direction that Creative Assembly have taken towards their concept art. There are a lot of very nice 'mood pieces' in this book which wouldn't look out of place on a gallery wall. These pieces don't represent anything that actually happens in the game, no specific event or action, but are merely designed to convey a certain point, such as the scale of a battle or the lighting. Such pieces can be found throughout the book and they are a treat.

Other work includes the designs for soldiers, their armour and general appearance, as well as buildings. The games loading screens now show artwork and those pieces that are used can be found here too. In the case of Shogun 2 and Empire the art is really of a very high quality and is nice to sit and appreciate.

The book is organised into sections by game title and its sequel. So chapter one is all about Shogun 1&2 but the art is almost exclusively from the second game due to the state of concept art at the time that the first Shogun game was created. This applies to the chapter on Medieval 1&2 with most of the earlier games art being CG renders that were, at the time, cutting edge but which now look painfully dated. There isn't a lot of that stuff, just a few pieces to show how things have come along. Rome and all it's expansions gets good coverage as do the Empire games with a good amount of the key art pieces that were used for marketing purposes.

There is more CG work, from the modern games, than I like. I'm very much a 2D art fan but I know others feel differently on that score so I can't hold it against Titan Books for featuring it so heavily. What I do mind, however, is that on a several occasions some of the best art pieces have been printed at the size of thumbnails and crammed onto a single page. Had they done this with the CG material then I wouldn't be so bothered but I can see that most of the pictures are very nice and frankly I want to see them in all their glory. Bit of a misstep in my opinion, but there we are.

It would have been nice to see some artwork from Spartan: Total Warrior, which gets a mention in the history of Total War at the start, but there is nothing from that game. There is, however, art from the upcoming Total War Battles: Kingdoms, another game designed for tablets and other mobile devices in the same vein as Total War Battles. Total War Arena, the pending game focusing on multiplayer skirmishes, also gets a brief showing.

In conclusion I would say that this book has a good selection of art with a nice emphasis on key art and mood pieces. True, I would have preferred less CG work and lots more sketches but on the whole this is a very nice book which conforms to Titan Books very capable way of putting these things together. The descriptive text could have been a little better on most of the pages but, as I said before, if it's a case of having words or art then I choose the art. I also only saw a handful of references to the artists that produced the work and, as I've mentioned before, I personally like to know who is responsible for the art I'm enjoying. All in all I highly recommend The Art of Total War to collectors of concept art books but for others who are less enthusiastic about such things I would say it's not such a necessary purchase and suggest holding off until you've had a chance to flick through it first.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Review - Battlefield 4 (Xbox 360)

Inline image 2Battlefield 4 - Standard Edition

Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Dice
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Reviewed by Richard Williams

So I finally got around to playing Battlefield 4. I saw it going cheap in a shop and I fancied playing a mindless shooter for a bit. Because you do, sometimes, don't you. Sometimes you just want something that's no more taxing than 'shoot the bad guys as they pop up', like one of those arcade games that people old enough to remember them love so much. I saw the price and thought to myself "oh, that's cheap" and bought it.

All I can say now is 'thank God for trade-ins'. Because despite the low price I still managed to pay too much for this game which is, in my humble opinion, playable. And that's about as nice a comment I can make about it. It works. Mostly. There was a very annoying instance when I died because a wall I tried to hide behind didn't really seem to exist. I could walk right through it and, just for giggles, the enemy could see right through it and shoot me. And there was the aggravating instance of my Jeep in the first level blowing up and killing me, for no reason whatsoever, repeatedly. Reloading the checkpoint took me to the moment about ten seconds before the explosion (so I know I wasn't just being an idiot and making the same mistake over and over again) so after a half a dozen checkpoint reloads I had to restart the whole level. Which, given that it was level one, meant restarting the whole game and going through the intro cut scene again.

NOTE TO DEVELOPERS: stop putting in cut scenes and end credits which can't be skipped. Just stop it, god damn you. In fact anything which isn't gameplay should, by law, have an option to skip it. Assassin's Creed Rogue, I'm not only looking at you but glaring with an intensity that should make you blush with shame. Seriously, if you don't know what I mean, ask anyone who has played the game to completion. Credits that run for about 20 minutes, which can not be skipped, and if you think 'oh yeah? Well I'll just turn it off and restart' then think again, because the save point is right before the credits roll and you've just got to start from scratch all over again.

Wait, what am I reviewing again? oh, yeah, Battlefield 4, right.

So what's wrong with it? Firstly I would say the overall story. It's uninspired and, frankly, kinda stupid. Also, it never really takes the time to explain itself so I'm still not entirely sure what I was fighting for. Basically you start the game running hell-for-leather out of Baku with some vital intel which absolutely has to be got back to the US because the Chinese and Russians are up to some naughty stuff. OK, it's just a shooter so what the heck, it doesn't have to be Shakespeare. It's just that the game then seems to run a course that has just about nothing to do with anything. Suddenly you're getting a VIP out of China then attacks happen and then you're defending a ship and then you're going behind enemy lines for something I don't even remember then you're getting captured and sent to some remote mountain place, because why the feck not, I guess, and by the end of the game you're defending a ship in the Suez canal because, hey, you've got to end it somewhere I guess. It seemed to me that, much as I thought about Call of Duty Ghosts, there wasn't really a story behind the game. The creators just wanted to make a whole load of interesting multiplayer levels and then tried to string together a story that connects the locations. Except I don't think Battlefield 4 levels would be much fun in multiplayer. I don't know, I don't really do multiplayer because I'm old (32, so ancient, really) and there's only so many times I can be shot dead by kids dotted all over the world who have dedicated their lives to the mastery of a fast trigger finger.

So yeah, the story is pretty dodgy. But not only is it a dodgy story, it's told in a dodgy way. I got the strong impression from this game that it wanted to be a movie. Again, welcome to the modern world of video games. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare spawned a whole new approach to FPS games that resulted in some fantastic cinematic game play and stories. I don't have a problem with games being cinematic. But just as you have good films and bad films, you now have good cinematic games and bad cinematic games. And Battlefield 4 is a Michael Bay kind of game. Which, depending on whether you're old enough to have hair on your balls, is either a great thing or a terrible thing. Speaking as a venerable ancient I say it sucks the aforementioned hairy balls. You get the feeling that nobody enjoys a Michael Bay movie more than Michael Bay. And I'm going to stop myself there before I go off on yet another tangent. Suffice to say that this game feels like it's trying to be a bad movie.

Another couple of quick negatives. While it's not on a par with Metal Gear Solid for standing around watching people talking this game does, nonetheless, have you standing around while some scripted piece of whatever goes ahead. I got so bored of this that whenever it started to happen I would start doing laps of whatever room/space I happened to be in.

NOTE TO DEVELOPERS: Let the gamers play the GOD DAMNED GAME!

Sorry, I'll try to stop doing that. I'm not Angry Joe.

What makes this problem even worse is that your character is supposed to be in charge of the team but all you end up doing is watching everyone else talk about what to do and making decisions. Call of Duty got around this quite nicely by either having you play a mission solo or, as perfectly demonstrated in the ghillie suit mission in Modern Warfare 1, having a superior officer there with you calling the shots and telling you what to do. In Battlefield 4 I just feel like a really bad NCO who is happy to watch his troops scream obscenities at each other and do what they feel like. This problem is even highlighted in the game when one of the characters is talking about another behind his back about how wrong it was to make a call because 'that was your call sarge'. Well shit, I would have made it had there been a way of doing so built into the game. But there isn't so I guess I'll just go run some more laps while you all play out your scripted BS.

Also the characters are all just a bit too over the top and while I'm not a member of the US navy I've got a strong suspicion that captains of aircraft carriers don't freely toss around the F word with their crew. I don't know but I've been led to believe that you have to demonstrate quite a high degree of professionalism and restraint before they let you have that kind of authority. But I could well be wrong about that. Worse than over the top, the characters are also quite thoroughly clich├ęd. The Chinese woman who had to endure her village being burnt to the ground by government forces, the US soldier with a nickname which is slowly explained over several conversations (by which time I solidly do not give a toss), the two team members who don't trust each other and are at each others throats every five seconds but who eventually become bestest buds, the CO who bravely sacrifices himself in just about the most stoic, heroic and god damned square jawed way possible. Ok, that last one was kind of cool and I wished they'd kept that guy around because a) he seemed like a decent character and b) I wouldn't have felt like a waste of space sergeant who might as well have stood around with his thumb up his ass while everyone else decided the course of the mission.

On which note I also want to point out that, having decided what to do for me, the characters then feel the need to constantly shout at me what to do. This is annoying, especially when nine times out of ten the instruction is incredibly vague such as "DO IT! DO IT NOW!". Sometimes it's fairly obvious what they're talking about but other times I'm standing around (and sometimes getting killed in the process) thinking 'do what?!'.

The following paragraph contains a spoiler:
Not long after starting the game I looked at the achievements list to see if there's anything I should be looking out for. I noticed that there were a couple of different achievements based on which character you choose to sacrifice at the end of the game. At the time I had only met the one character but, since the other name was female, and I like to think of myself as a bit of a gent, I said to my team mate (AKA the television) "sorry chap, looks like you don't make it". By the end of the game, and the big decision, my only regret was that I couldn't sacrifice both characters. Plus, screw you game creators. The one choice I do actually get to make and it's which person gets to die? Because I'm supposed to care for these characters now? I chose the one I happened to be looking at after they got through their 'it's got to be me' 'no it's got to be me' 'no, I won't let you sacrifice yourself' etc etc I don't care let me kill one of you and go make a cup of tea.

On top of all these quite specific problems there is the fact that the action manages to only be kind of gripping, the sections where you control a vehicle mostly left me wanting to just walk it (and indeed I did go into a tank battle on foot with some RPGs as a preference) and the level designs felt deeply uninspired. While I'm sure this game must look very impressive on the Xbox One on the 360 it... well... didn't. It was OK. Had some nice detail.

Right... something nice to say to end the review. Hmmm... let me see. Oh, yeah! Did I mention that I didn't pay a lot of money for it? That was good.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Review - Kick-Ass 3

Inline image 1By Mark Millar (Author) and John Romita Jr. (artist)

Released by Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

I firstly want to echo the words of Jeff Wadlow when he said in his introduction to Kick-Ass 3: "The end of KICK-ASS?!?! What kind of demon-semen are those two ass clowns mainlining? Why would they end KICK-ASS?"

Because this sadly is the end of Kick-Ass and I too am something of a fan (I even liked the movies). But what an ending. Full of all the usual high-octane blood-splattery, sharp wit and outright profanity that the readers of Mark Millar have come to expect, this is the send-off that Kick-Ass needed. But is it a perfect send-off?

Not exactly. Kick-Ass, frankly, should have died a half a dozen times during the course of this third installation to the series. When will bad guys, especially super tough, hard as nails, mean as a starved dog, killers, learn to just shoot people when they catch them? This consideration goes double when talking about Hit-Girl. They know she is a near unstoppable killing machine that delights in taking on impossible odds and staggering numbers of villains yet they don't just kill her when they have the (several) opportunities to do so. This isn't a major complaint, just something that I wish wouldn't come up so often.

There's also the fact that there are a handful of interesting characters introduced in this book, with the potential to have a real impact on the direction of the storyline, but who are very much underused. They are introduced, throw a minor spanner in the works, then just seem to tail off.

Also, and it has to be said, the direction sometimes feels a little wayward. I don't want to give too much away but sometimes the heroes still just come across as pathetic. By this point in the story you hope for something a little more spectacular.

But that's about all that bugged me. What did KICK-ASS 3 get right? well, just about everything else. Hit-Girl in particular is a treat and we get to see more about her back story and get to see just how damaged she is. While Hit-Girl is undoubtedly the toughest character here (and possibly in comics ever) I can't help but feel that she is really a very tragic character and I'm left feeling sorry for her. When she's not maiming all holy-hell out of mobsters, bent cops and perverts in general, that is. If Hit-Girl went to Gotham they could close Arkham and all sleep safer.

As for Kick-Ass himself? His character story is nicely rounded out. It might not be the ending you expect, but it should be an ending you like. We get to see him mature, despite having all manner of violence done to him, and become something like normal.

The art style retains the cartoonish look, not surprisingly since it's still John Romita Jr. doing the honours, which was something that I took a while to get used to but which I've come to like. I still think some of the characters look as though they've had extreme facial reconstruction which has left the skin pulled taught back towards the base of the skull but overall it's a good solid look.

Overall I found this to be a very enjoyable and engaging read and I think that fans of the other books in the series will feel their beloved characters have been treated well. Recommended.

Unless you hate violence, nudity, swearing and scenes of a sexual nature. Yeah, there's a lot of that.

- Richard Williams

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Review - 13th Age Soundtrack

Soundtrack coverMusic by James Semple, Marie-Anne Fischer, Thery Ehrlich, Chris Nairn, Tristan Noon.

Released through Pelgrane Press

I like to think that I know something about soundtracks. I grew up with them on my favourite films, favourite TV shows and favourite games. I have a collection of 300-plus soundtracks covering every genre, from the cinema classics to the modern blockbusters, from the first faltering bleeping notes to the great gaming scores. By their nature, scores are written to suit the mood and atmosphere of the product being created. Soundtracks, if done correctly, can highlight the impact of the moment and invoke waves of emotion and memory when listened to again outside of the product they’re designed for.

This makes them difficult to use when running a game. I like to use music in my sessions as I feel it adds to the atmosphere, and as my games are generally cinematic in their construction I like to have soundtracks that suit. If I’m gaming in a licensed world that already has a score associated with it then so much the better; the music itself will enhance the mood. However, if I use music that the players recognise in a setting that does not have a dedicated score then it can ruin the session somewhat. The players tend to associate the tracks with the product it was written for and not with the game I’m trying to run, and that can be distracting.

You’d think it would make sense to have music written specifically for a game setting, but this in itself is a difficult thing to do. The mood of a game setting is decided by the gaming group’s style, so if the music is too dark for a light-hearted game, and vice versa, then the atmosphere is lost straight away. Gaming is subjective and so the music can’t always capture the feeling the GM is trying to invoke, even more so if the music is written specifically for that setting.

Alternatively, the composers of such music could create something that not only suits the themes of the game itself, but mix up the content so that there’s something that everyone can use; mystical, light-hearted, fast-paced, thunderous… if there’s something for everyone, then the soundtrack is going to be useful in whole or in part.

And this is what the 13th Age soundtrack does – it delivers an overall theme that suits the atmosphere of the 13th Age setting and rules as well as offers a large number of different themes and styles that you can use to enhance the atmosphere of your game. In fact, there’s 30 tracks here of varying lengths and styles, and each one can be used to play and create by.

There’s a lot of tracks on this so let me talk about how the music will help you in your game. First off, let me be blunt – if, like me, you’re a lover of music in your game then this soundtrack is fantastic whether you intend to use it in a 13th Age game or not. The themes stand out and once the group hears them during their first few games then they’ll forever associate the music with the sessions, up to a point where an evening’s play will feel peculiar without having the music playing in the background. Let me explain why that is.

There are tracks on here that evoke atmosphere in any given location; there’s music for creeping through dark and dangerous dungeons (‘Exploration’) to visiting great cities (‘Starport’), and plenty of material in between. There’s music to inspire the players to travel the lands (‘Dreams of a Lost Age’) and make them feel like they’re in over their heads (‘The Demon Coast’).

It’s an amazing selection of music and I can’t see any gaming group not getting something out of it. More than anything, it’s unique; there are no movies, shows or games that have this music so the player’s will not have heard any of it before and will always equate it with their 13th Age games, or whatever ongoing RPG setting they’re gaming in. If that’s not perfect for a gaming group then I don’t know what is.

My favourite tracks are:

‘Dreams of a Lost Age’ – The 13th Age Theme is excellent and I’ll play it when I’m setting up the game so that everyone knows where they’ll be for the evening, almost like an overture, but this is the music I’ll use to start the game proper. It feels epic yet personal, and as the game is primarily about the individual characters at the gaming table it’s nice to have something less bombastic to bring the players into the session.

‘Crusader’ – This is an amazing piece that I’ll use for epic battles. Chase or one of the Escalation loops is great for personal fights and encounters, but when I want great expansive battles with hundreds of combatants, or when I’m narrating the scene regarding a castle siege or a cavalry charge, this is the track I’ll use.

‘Escalation Loop’ – These are great as they reflect the ever growing intensity of the escalation die in the game, which raises the tension and excitement. As the encounter progresses the music becomes more intense and driven, and that works well when used in a fight (especially when the combat isn’t going in the PCs favour!).

‘Exploration’ – This a fantastic track and really enhances the atmosphere of a dungeon delve, or a trek through ruins, or just wandering into a deep, dark forest where you know you shouldn’t be. It’s creepy – really creepy – and when used sparingly, especially when the players know that where they’re going is dangerous and deadly, it can be truly effective.

‘Tales From Around the Fire’ – The absolute perfect downtime/tavern/camping music. It’s a light, folksy piece that’ll suit pretty much any tavern or inn as the players take a break from the epic adventuring they’ll no doubt be inspired to do by the rest of the tracks. Left on loop in the background it makes for some very atmospheric music, especially when the PCs are visiting a town, a marketplace or village, and even more so when there is no immediate threat… or when you want the players to let their guard down.

As well as locations and atmospheric music, the tracks cover the great Icons in the game and this in itself gives a level of atmosphere I’ve not experienced before in a session. Using the music of the Archmage, for example; it’s an airy, mystical theme that glides from gentle into ominous, but it starts with a thunderclap. That sound alone is enough to merit a huge scene of introduction and when played, the players will know straight away who’s presence they’re in. Every great character in any movie or TV show has their own theme, and this soundtrack gives an Icon character an iconic piece of music. I listened to each of the tracks as I read the Icon’s entry in the core rulebook, and each one suits wonderfully.

And that, at the end of the day, is what this soundtrack does – it delivers iconic music that not only suits the epic atmosphere of 13th Age but is so varied it contains a style of music that will suit most games in pretty much any fantasy setting. Left on loop in the background it’s perfect for any gaming session and has enough variety to help enhance the atmosphere of many playing styles.

The team of composers and performers on this album have done a sterling job on this soundtrack and they should be commended; I’ve got a few game-centric soundtracks and this is, by far, the best one yet. If you’re looking for an album that’ll help to take your games up a notch, or if you feel that your games are missing that little something that’ll take it to the next level, then this album is an absolute must.

On top of all of that, it’s just a great album filled with solid, wonderfully crafted music. It’s a soundtrack waiting for a movie to be put to it.

Very highly recommended to players of any epic RPG.

From the Pelgrane Press website, where you'll also find some samples of the music: Track Listing

1. 13th Age
Prophecies fail. Demons invade, living dungeons rip towards the surface and the Empire’s protectors falter. A sweeping anthem for the heroes who will save the world, or die trying.

2. Archmage
He has preserved the Empire for centuries and created astonishing new lands. He has also threatened the fabric of reality with experiments you’d have to be brilliant or hugely arrogant to attempt.

3. Crusader
He’s the armored fist of the dark gods, crusading against demons — but happy to stomp out virtue or innocence if they’re stupid enough to get in his way.

4. Diabolist
Unlike the demons she controls, the Diabolist doesn’t necessary want to destroy the universe. She wants to play with it, as a tiger plays with a troupe of monkeys. Those who dance best may not be eaten.

5. Dwarf King
The Dwarf King remembers when his kingdom in the deeps was the mightiest in all creation. Forced towards the surface by elven treachery, he guards the Empire from threats such as the orcs while calculating how to claim the Empire for his own. Or maybe he’s content to mine the treasures of the earth, and build great things that his ancestors would have coveted. Maybe.

6. Elf Queen
Once upon a time, the Elf Queen united the dark elves, wood elves, and high elves as one people. Now she is the only thing they have in common.

7. Emperor
The ruler of the Dragon Empire holds his Empire together with armies, magic, force of will, tolerably wise rule, and grand squadrons of dragons. You may not agree with him, but you’re not going to mistake him for someone who does things halfway.

8. Great Gold Wyrm
This great gold dragon is the champion of the oppressed and those who fight for justice. Unfortunately the Wyrm is stuck holding the gates of the hells shut against the demons, so the Wyrm’s champions must do its work in the world.

9. High Druid
She is the champion of the resurgent Wild, and the spiritual and magical leader of spirits of nature and the elements that were chained by the Emperor and Archmage but are now working themselves free.

10. Lich King
The Lich King is the not-quite-insane lord of the undead, a fallen tyrant who plans to conquer the Dragon Empire. He mostly understands that ruling a kingdom is not the same as destroying it.

11. Orc Lord
The leader of the hordes. An apocalyptic icon of war, disease, and endings that could be worse than death.

12. Priestess
The gods are distant but she hears all the gods of light and speaks for those who please her. Part oracle, part mystic, and part metaphysical engineer, since she created the Cathedral, an ever-expanding temple with rooms or entire wings for each of the faiths she favors.

13. The Three
Three ancient dragons cooperate to become one of the dominant evils of the world. The red dragon embodies fury, the black masters stealth and betrayal, and the blue has used sorcery to become a legally appointed governor of the Empire as well as an evil mastermind!

14. The Eyes of the Stone Thief
The Stone Thief is a terrible centuries-old living dungeon that cuts through the earth, surfacing to swallow people and places that the heroes love.

15. Tales Around the Fire
For the rare moments when nothing is trying to kill you.

16. Exploration
Descending into the ruined temple. Opening the gates of the living dungeon. Moving in the dark down a corridor that might be made of stone, but then why is the stone breathing? Wind from up ahead, but it’s not the wind from the surface. Welcome to the underworld.

17. The Demon Coast
Coastlines can be bad business on the Midland Sea, home to all the evil things forced out of the ocean by the Empire’s magic. The coast just north of the Abyss is even worse, hit by tides of evil from both directions.

18. The Fangs
The rivers that feed into the Midland Sea are dangerous places and this is the worst of the bunch, fast moving forks of water populated by sahuagin and sea devils and other creatures forced out of the Midland Sea by the Blessed Emperor. Another great tune for ramping up the tension.

19. High Dock
There aren’t any actual docks in these rolling western hills, and the name may or may not be a joke. For magical reasons no one understands, all the flying realms of the Empire eventually drop low and bump up against the hills or take out big chunks of the terrain in terrible skidding ‘landings.’ Eventually the realms lift off again. If you want to hitch a ride into the overworld, head to the High Dock and take your chances.

20. Omen
This island started small. It’s growing like a cancer in the center of the Midland Sea, bulking up the worst way possible as living dungeon after living dungeon tear up to the surface, depositing their payloads of monstrous weirdness. On the bright side, there’s nobody competing for space on the beach, you should be able to catch a good thirty minutes of sun before the monsters smell you.

21. Starport
The stars come to this mountain for repair and refitting. What does this mean, you ask? We don’t know — we left it open for each game table to decide for themselves.

22. Dreams of a Lost Age
Every culture in the world has its own version of this song. The world is ancient, all have lost things they would have wanted to preserve. They summon the dreams in song.

23. Chase Music
Who is chasing who? Doesn’t matter. Put it on loop to cue frantic backward glances, quick changes of direction, and short cuts that lead to greater peril.

24-30. Escalation 0 through Escalation 6
You can use this music to accompany the escalation die, starting at 0 and topping off at 6; or loop the low levels for relatively normal situations, then switch to high levels when power makes the air hum.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Stargate D6 System RPG

I'm a big fan of Stargate. I'm not a huge fan of the movie - the idea was great but I thought the actual film was a bit flat - but the TV shows were awesome. SG-1 was great fun, Atlantis was a great companion show and Universe may have took itself a bit too seriously and become a bit thin on impetus in the second season, but it was still a solid show. The characters, stories and adventures were fun and exciting, and I followed it quite closely.

The very premise of Stargate, the idea of a team of people with various skills going from world to world having a series of adventures, screams out for an RPG. I never played the official Stargate game, but as with every science fiction setting I thought the cinematic action of the D6 system was a good fit for the setup.

John Tynes wrote the game for West End Games just before the company collapsed, and he put his unfinished work on his website here. Afterwards, The Snake Farm took the rules and fleshed it out, adding some of Andy Slack's work to fill in the gaps.

What we have is a pretty much fully complete Stargate D6 RPG, and it's a pretty good system, free to download in it's entirety from The Snake Farm here.

All it really needs is some artwork and it's good to go. I'd run it in a heartbeat.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Review - Star Wars Force and Destiny Beta rulebook

By Fantasy Flight Games

The Force and Destiny Beta Rulebook is the precursor to the full roleplaying game due out from Fantasy Flight Games soon. It’s the final book in the series of core rulebooks and it’s probably one that a lot of fans have been waiting for. This rulebook covers the powers of the Force and the people that wield these mysterious abilities.

First off, the cover is really cool and atmospheric. The image of the Jedi Temple with an Imperial shuttle parked outside is impressive and very telling; the Empire control everything, and this former bastion of the Jedi Order is now in their hands, their power gone from the universe. It’s a very good indicator of what to expect in the book.

And what you get in the book is just that – the era when the Jedi Order was diminished and the only two fully-fledged Jedis were hiding on a desert world and a swamp planet. The players get to play force users not at the height of their abilities, but fledgling force users in danger of being hunted and destroyed by the agents of the Empire. If you had any ideas about your PC giving someone a hard stare, igniting your lightsabre and leaping impossibly high into the air to bring untold lasersword destruction on your foes, you may be somewhat disappointed.

The game is written with the idea that the PCs can use the Force and are trying to keep true to the old Jedi way, hunted and constantly in danger. This makes for some great roleplaying opportunities; do you use that power and give yourself away? Are the people trustworthy, or will they sell you out to the Imperials for a few creds? Are your team members trustworthy? It certainly would make for some great drama, but this is Star Wars and jumping about the place Force-pushing bad guys off ledges and blazing a trail through the enemy with a sabre is pretty much a must, surely. This book doesn’t really cover that but that’s not to say that you can’t adapt it to take place in your chosen era, such as the Clone Wars or The Old Republic. It’d take a lot of work but it’s totally possible.

There are new rules for using the Force, as well as a new mechanic about Morality - so that you know if you’re bending to the Light or the Dark side of the Force. This is a nice little mechanic that encourages roleplaying so that PCs don’t just turn into Force-choking killing machines, and it even encourages playing the Dark side of the Force so that you can have a go at being devious and calculating, and even allow for the age-old redemption storyline.

There are six Careers in the game; Consular, Guardian, Mystic, Seeker, Sentinel, and Warrior. Along with these we get Force powers to use, all in line with the original film trilogy.

So, what we have here is a good book with the atmosphere and feel of the previous two rulebooks, with some nice extra rules for Force users but limited access to what a Jedi can really do. The PCs you’ll be able to play will not be as powerful as the Jedi or Sith – heck, they’ll not be as powerful as Luke Skywalker in the movies – but you will get to touch on the all-encompassing Force and create some really good characters and adventures to roleplay out.

This is just a precursor to the full rulebook, but if it follows the same track as the previous books then there won’t be too much difference between this and the final release. If this is the case, then this promises to expand the character options of the gaming group even further, and in turn help to expand the fun you’re going to have with the Star Wars roleplaying game.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Review - Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide

By Wizards of the Coast

Now, I know this isn’t true for everyone, but to me a Dungeon Master’s Guide is one of those things that I always wonder ‘do I really need it?’ This is primarily because of my long history of gaming and the conceited self-aggrandising notion that I already know what I’m doing and I’m pretty darned good at it. Why would I want to spend a chunk of cash to get a book that tells me things that I quite obviously already know? ‘Pocket that dosh and buy more supplements’, I tell myself. ‘You know what you’re doing’.

I just need to get something out of the way, and this is something I’ve addressed in my previous reviews of the first two D&D 5th Edition books; I still don’t like the cover design. The artwork is great, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think the image suits a D&D rulebook cover and the lettering is still plain and uninspiring. That’s been my gripe about all these books – while the insides have been really well laid out with great illustrations, the covers have all been lacking for me. There’s a cracking picture on page seven that would have made a better cover. Trust me, though, that’s just a personal irk and doesn’t reflect on the quality of the interior.

The book is in three sections:

‘Master of Worlds’ for world-building, campaign atmosphere and themes, and the general layout of the worlds of D&D.

‘Master of Adventures’ for adventures, encounters and NPCs. Oh, and magic items. Ooooh, those magic items.

‘Master of Rules’ for those of you who want to reach into D&D’s engine and tinker, along with words of advice on playing the game and different approaches to it, with guidelines on running adventures that’ll stick in the minds of your players.

And this new DM’s Guide is very much that, a set of guidelines to give you some handy pointers so that you’re comfortable and confident in your DMing role. But it’s also so much more than that; in fact, this is more than a tome that helps you along the path to DM mastery with hints and tips on how to run a game, and how to utilise the rules touched upon by the Player’s Handbook. This book gives you the tools to stick your hands into the guts of the system and flail around like a first-year doctor on a rampage. It doesn’t just give you the ability to use the system to the best of its abilities, it also allows you to mix things up and create your own stuff, quick and easy.

You’re getting the normal gaming advice, running adventure tips and extended rules to give the player’s a few surprises they didn’t see in the Player’s Handbook, but you’re getting a whole lot more besides that. You can make changes to the rules and add/take things away that you think might make the game more fun, which in turn enables differing levels of complexity. Want a more basic D&D game? Strip the rules out and play with what you have left. Want to go the way of the rules god? No problem. Just pile in all those optional rules and let the dice fly.

Not only that, but there’s a lot of advice and guidance on creating your own world. This is fun and a great read and gives you plenty of ideas and inspiration so that if any of the new D&D campaign settings aren’t to your liking then there’s plenty of stuff here to kickstart your own world, and the easy-to-use monsters of the Monster Manual will help you populate it no problem. Old hands at worldbuilding might not find much to fuel their already burning creative flame, but newcomers to the idea will find it a great way to start. There’s also an adventure creation section that helps you with the campaigns that’ll no doubt take place in the world you just created, or the D&D campaign world you’re in.

In the appendices there’s this neat little random dungeon generator, which we had a lot of fun with one evening as the DM created the dungeon on the fly and threw in random monsters and treasure as we went along. This felt a little bit like my first days of Basic D&D when we just had fun and weren’t too sure what we were doing and the DM was either struggling to make sense of it all or just winging it. Although it’s really to help design a dungeon before play, rolling the dice to see where we’d end up next was fun and unpredictable for everyone around the table. For a moment – and dare I say it - I thought the game had captured the giddy feeling of excitement and anticipation I used to have in my first days of tabletop RPG, but it was fleeting. Can’t wait to try it again, though.

The magic in the book has a few magic items to play with. And when I say a few, I mean about a hundred pages. Along with the advice in the book that helps you create your own spells, this is a fantastic section that’s going to have players kicking down every dungeon door they see in the hope that they’ll get their hands on some of the things on show. Just let the players have a brief look at the pages and I guarantee that you’ll not have to worry about impetus, motives or reasons to go on that quest. The simple idea that they may get that random item will be enough to send any player character running out that door and into the greater world.

There’s plenty in here that got me excited and will no doubt prove invaluable when I finally begin to run the two-book Tyranny of Dragons campaign later this year, but it’s certainly not for everyone. At the beginning of this review I said that I sometimes wondered if it was worth buying the DM’s Guide, and to be honest I don’t know how much use I’ll get out of this new book before I go back to my old habits and do things my way. The simple fact, for me, is that there’s plenty in this book to help me along with my 5th Edition games and make them a hell of a lot of fun. Not only that, now that I’m much older and my time is precious, the time it takes to create new things with this book is vastly reduced and that suits me just fine. No longer am I labouring over stats, threat ratings and challenges, I’m just throwing a few things together that might make the game fun.

And that’s the thing about D&D 5th Edition as a whole; the game feels fun again. It’s quick and simple, and the rulebooks don’t feel like detailed stat-filled instruction manuals like they used to, but more like an enjoyable read that kind of sits you down and says ‘hey, take it easy, bro – it’s no big deal, just go with it’, and pretty much the only instruction is to do what you feel is right with the game and have fun with it. It doesn’t feel like it’s trying to set a standard that every gaming group must adhere to. It feels very much like a set of guidelines to help a DM and the gaming group as a whole play the kind of game that they want to play.

That’s been my outlook on tabletop roleplaying games pretty much since day one. This final primary book for the D&D 5th Edition rules really is the cherry on the top of a fabulous RPG pudding, and I have a lot of love for it.

So here it is; I’ve not been truly excited about D&D since 1989, and D&D 5th Edition is my favourite edition, period. I’m not into mathematics and I’ve never cared much for game balance, so I know that these books and I are going to be close friends for a long, long time.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Please do not adjust your set...

Farsight Blogger is still here.

Things have been busy over the Christmas and New Year period, and with the long break comes a short period of 'getting back into things'.

I won't be changing the format of the site but I will be adding new content soon. with reviews, interviews and random thoughts.

If you'd like to catch up on some of my tabletop gaming reviews, they are all now available at, so please click here for the full list of reviews that I've done up to yet.

Be back soon.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014