Sunday, 15 March 2020

Why, to me, the Prequel Trilogy feels more 'Star Wars' than the Sequel Trilogy

Image result for star warsI’ve realised something – I think that the prequel trilogy is more Star Wars than the sequel trilogy.

I’m not a fan of the prequel trilogy for all kinds of reasons, but I don’t switch them off when they’re on. In fact, recently I’ve sat down and watched them again and there’s plenty to like, even love, about these movies. I understand now, and probably realised back then, that these films were never going to grab me the way the original trilogy grabbed me; I was 8 when I first saw Episode IV: A New Hope and I was 28 when I saw Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I was two totally different people.

I was 44 when Episode VII: The Force Awakens hit the cinema. I enjoyed it because I entered the cinema prepared, I shed myself of the expectations I had when I went to see Episode I and watched it for what it was. It was a new, fresh take on the saga and was exciting, fun and emotionally charged. Then I saw Episode VIII: The Last Jedi and I felt severely let down; the rules appeared to have changed and characters were flat and a little lifeless, even the original trilogy characters I grew up with. Then Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker hit and it was fun but… well, let’s just say it wasn’t the ending I would have chosen, and spectacle appears to have taken the place of story and drama, which was a problem I had with the prequel trilogy. I’m not a huge fan of the sequel movies – apart from The Force Awakens – as it feels very disjointed to me, with a lot of things thrown in to serve the action with changes made to the Force and what it’s capable of that, quite frankly, pulled me out of the saga and made no sense to me.

Anyway, I was watching the prequel trilogy again and I realised that even though they have what I think are flat scripts and some special effects that have not dated well, they felt really Star Wars. The world was rich and vibrant, detailed and really well defined. The locations were huge and really evocative and there were some really good world-building moments.

Then there’s the other movies and the new TV show; Rogue One, Solo and The Mandalorian. As these were depicting characters and events that had no bearing on the overall saga I liked them, loved them in the case of Rogue One and The Mandalorian. They were taking the galaxy in a different direction and they could explore other aspects of the universe, so the expectations were different or, in the case of The Mandalorian, simply not there so you could watch fresh and exciting new material. Also, the background is either already established, such as with Rogue One and Solo, or it was properly explained, as it was with The Mandalorian. They, too, felt very Star wars to me but in a very different way.

I didn’t get any of that with the sequel trilogy. I didn’t know much about the events between Episode VI and Episode VII, wasn’t sure what the First Order was about or why they were doing what they did, and didn’t fully understand why the Resistance was fighting without the help of the New Republic, or the Galactic Alliance, or whatever they were calling themselves. It just felt like the Big Bad Guys were still around in their big pointy warships, flying their TIE fighters and wearing white armour. It felt like the events of Episodes IV, V and VI were for nothing.

The worldbuilding was dropped in favour of spectacle and the movies suffered for it; if I had no understanding of the conflict, or had any idea how or why the conflict was taking place, then why would I care what was happening? I felt all three sequel movies suffered from this. I understand that there’s a stack of source material that explains all this, but… I paid my money to watch a movie that should have explained it, and I shouldn’t be trawling the internet or buying extra product to enable the movie to make more sense. It’s like downloadable content, or a ‘Pay To Win’ game. You want the full experience? Let’s see the cash. That’s really unfair, especially to the casual cinemagoer.

Also, the main characters from the original trilogy were being used as throwaway characters in the sequel trilogy, characters who you know are important and have a history but they’re only there to move the main characters forward – a line of Ben Kenobis from Episode IV, if you will – and they felt underused and a little wasted considering their pedigree. Why do I mention this? Well, perhaps, that’s another factor as to why these movies don’t feel very Star Wars to me, because the trilogy characters simply felt so, so different (apart from Han Solo, for the most part). I honestly feel they would have been better movies if these main trilogy characters had been left out.

The prequel trilogy, however, explained everything, however badly I felt it was written or however clunkily I felt it was acted. Everything you needed to know was on screen and, even though I was somewhat confused as to why certain things happened – especially the whole Sifo-Dyas thing – that was more the plot not making sense to me the first time. I didn’t need to research, purchase or otherwise search out the reasoning behind what was happening on the screen. I knew what was happening and, in some ways, I cared.

So there you have it. This probably makes more sense to me because I know how I feel, but I thought it was something worth sharing.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Alien RPG Notes

Image result for alien rpgI've made some notes on the kind of game I want to run with the new Alien RPG, and most of them have nothing to do with the creature at all but the machinations of the companies trying to profit from them.

Also, I've decided that the 'big bad company is bad' angle doesn't work for me, and I'm looking at creating secret organisations within the firms, or just really ambitious individuals trying to line their own pockets using company resources, to add a layer of threat. I think it will add depth to the story and dissuade the players from going after the big guy to expose their lies in some misguided cyberpunk/Shadowrun mission.

The Alien itself will have a showing, but as the finale to a campaign. I'm imagining the game building up to a huge adventure with the monster, like a build-up to the events on Sevastopol where everything comes together.

I've also created a new company called Omega Centauri, who buys patents and copyrights decades out of date and produces them at cut prices - 'Reliable Technology From A Reliable Time'. They're looking to make the big time... All notes. I need to get a game on!

Saturday, 29 February 2020

The Farsight Podcast

Okay, I've just published my first #ttrpg podcast, it's very simple and quick, only around 11 minutes. Feedback and questions for future episodes welcome!

The Farsight Podcast.

The Farsight Podcast

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Non-western fantasy settings

A fantasy world with no Western influences. No white faces anywhere in the setting. Not based on the eras, just influenced by them as I don't know enough about their history or myths.

So, I'd ask designers from different countries to create a kingdom based on their own country and folklore/myth, and then bring it all together in one book.

So, I'd ask someone in South Korea to create an original fantasy kingdom based on their history and legends, someone in Japan, China, Africa, India, South America etc. Each one would be unique in design and presentation and a whole land and lore to explore.

Then I'd bring it all together in one book on one world. Tie it all up in one system (most likely D&D) and then work out the relationships between each kingdom. There's so many more opportunities for creativity instead of sticking to the standard western tropes as well as seeing interpretations of fantasy races from other cultures. Players can still have their elves and dwarves, but they'll look and feel very different.

I can see potential in that, and it would be so refreshing.

I was watching some of Ice Fantasy recently, and now elves with a Chinese influence is how I see them, now. Such a great fit aesthetically.

Image result for ice fantasy

Sunday, 16 February 2020

I need to get my Alien/Aliens thing off my chest... again.


Me: look, I think I need to state that I don't think Aliens is a bad movie - I love it, it's one of the greatest 80s action movies - but I think it was a bad sequel. Gone the tense Lovecraftian nightmare. Now they're big insects you can shoot, and they have a boss level.

Aliens is fantastic - action, suspense, it's eminently quotable and it looks amazing. The thing is, when they make the alien just a drone in a hive that has a queen laying eggs you have a real-world analogy and any mystery is out of the window.

They're no better than the ants from 'Them!' They're no longer that dangerous, you can 10mm explosive tipped caseless them into the stone age as long as you're not standing too close. Any mystery, horror or threat is minimized. Aliens did an amazing job of the tension as the marines were unprepared, but I can't help but imagine that the Aliens are manageable if you are prepared. The cosmic horror and mystery is just flattened and the whole thing is just a shootout.

There was a lot more to explore as far in the alien's mysterious past, and Prometheus and Covenant tried that but misfired. Perhaps not exploring the history of the creature and leaving it vague would have been the better choice. A queen laying eggs is a little dull, but an Alien morphing a body into an egg? What the hell? That's infinitely cooler.

But now it's classed as a Xenomorph and it's been given labels and a defined background, the mystery is gone and with it the horror. Any 'fear of the unknown' is redundant, because it's not 'unknown' any more.

The greatest strength of the alien was the fact that we didn't know, and it was so far beyond our understanding it scared us. Terrified us.

But now we do know, and it's a terror we could deal with. So now the terror is gone and we can sleep easier knowing we have options. Options to rid ourselves of the nightmare. Guns. Nukes. Sharp sticks.

And that's kinda sad for me.

Nobody: What?

Me: Nothing.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Review - Alien RPG Game Mother's Screen

'A top quality, deluxe Game Mother's Screen in landscape format for the ALIEN roleplaying game. It features Martin Grip’s awesome art on the outside and a host of useful tables and important information on the inside while keeping the GM’s plans hidden from the eyes of inquisitive players.

Please note this is a physical-only product, there is no supporting PDF.'

This is a really handy GM screen that does help with the game. The landscape format is decent and doesn't intrude on the gaming table, and the artwork is fantastically atmospheric.

The tables are concise and helpful - there are tables for measuring time, sneak attacks and ambushes, stealth, a difficulty chart, a breakdown of slow and fast actions, the critical injuries table, the panic roll table, two range tables and a types of cover table. The game is covered in most areas realting to direct results on the game so it's handy having them to hand so that you can make a quick reference and get on with the game.

However, as functional and handy as it is, what you're getting for your money is just a three-panel foldable piece of card with charts on, with a little art on the player facing side. It would have been nice to have seen an adventure, a supplement or some kind of addition with the pack because it works perfectly as a GM screen but that's it. Some extra material - perhaps some simple encounter ideas or even a floorplan or deckplan of a location a GM could use - would have been nice.

It's an excellent product, but could have been more.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Review - Alien RPG custom dice

There are some special dice for the Alien RPG, some simple six-sided custom printed dice that really add to the atmosphere of the game.

Are they needed to play the game? To be honest; no, not at all. Unlike the custom dice with special symbols specifically made for other games - making them essential for play - these are just 16mm six-sided dice with a single number changed with either a target for a six or a facehugger for a 1.

There are two sets, the Base Dice Set and the Stress Dice Set.

The Base Dice Set is coloured black and have a target where the 6 should be to represent successs when rolling a standard action.

The Stress Dice Set are yellow, with a facehugger where the 1 should be to represent a failed Stress roll.

Having different coloured dice to represent the different kinds of rolls that are made is a neat little idea, and having a target appear is a cause for celebration whereas the facehugger can lead to groans across the table. It does add a bit of atmosphere and seeing the symbols come up results in an immediate emotional reaction, but this fades after some use and then they are regarded as regular dice.

And that's my issue with these - they're great for the collector or the completist and really do add to the game's aesthetic, but at the end of the day they are just six-sided dice and the only difference is the symbols. If you buy the rulebook as it is then you really don't need them, but they are a fun addition to the game and collectors will get a lot of fun out of them. The gimmick and the price may turn a lot of people off.

Me, as a collector? I like them. And they're going to look great in the custom dice bag I've ordered with the open Alien egg on the fabric.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Review: Alien The Roleplaying Game by Fria Ligan


‘Space is vast, dark, and not your friend. Gamma rays and neutrino bursts erupt from dying stars to cook you alive, black holes tear you apart, and the void itself boils your blood and seizes your brain. Try to scream and no one can hear you—hold your breath and you rupture your lungs. Space isn’t as empty as you’d think, either—its frontiers are ever expanding. Rival governments wage a cold war of aggression while greedy corporations vie for valuable resources. Colonists reach for the stars and gamble with their lives—each new world tamed is either feast or famine. And there are things lurking in the shadows of every asteroid—things strange and different and deadly.

Things alien.

This is the official ALIEN tabletop roleplaying game—a universe of body horror and corporate brinkmanship, where synthetic people play god while space truckers and marines serve host to newborn ghoulish creatures. It’s a harsh and unforgiving universe and you are nothing if not expendable.

Stay alive if you can.’

Before I get into this review, I feel I should explain my background with the Alien franchise.

I first experienced Alien on a black-and-white TV set in 1982. It scared the living crap out of me, but it also completely changed my view on all things science fiction, and what a film could do to manipulate feelings, instil terror and create a world so mysterious and yet so familiar that you could hardly comprehend it. Alien is, without a doubt, my favourite movie of all time.

The sequels I’m mixed about; Aliens is my favourite action movie of the 80s – I saw it on opening night at 15 years old – and it coloured and influenced my view on sci-fi action for years to come. However, I love it as a movie but dislike it as a sequel. The full reasons for that are for another time, but I felt it reduced the alien to simple overgrown insect that could be shot, and that kind of ruined the mystery for me. The majority of the following expanded material, from comics to novels, followed this theme and I never got heavily involved in it because of that.

Alien 3 was a good film but slightly ruined by it’s treatment of two major Aliens characters, which made them and the finale of that film redundant when you go back and watch it after. However, the Assembly Cut was excellent, it fleshed things out and made for a better movie and visually – apart from some of the creature visuals – it was stunningly shot.

I don’t talk much about Alien Resurrection. To be honest, the only reason I own it is because it was part of the Quadrilogy/Anthology box sets.

It’s the same with the Alien Vs Predator films; they’re another pair of movies I could quite gladly forget, and the fact that they pretty much tied the two franchises together so that a lot of fans can’t separate them is a massive shame. They’re fan fiction, I think.

The two new movies, Prometheus and Alien Covenant, are a mixed bag for me. Visually stunning with some great characters, they fall a little flat on story content and a lack of sensible connection to the original films. Did they ruin the franchise? Certainly not; any problems the franchise had were already well established from Resurrection onwards, maybe even before, so it’s a bit disingenuous to say that Ridley Scott ‘ruined the franchise’…

Oh, no. I did it again. I went off on a tangent. Okay, so my opinions on the Alien franchise are out there, but it illustrates my feelings on the franchise and what it means to me, and I promise it will make sense when I talk about the game.

The game.


I’m not going to mess about here – this is a stunning book. I mean, it’s beautiful to look at, you crack it open with what is akin to reverence and the fresh print smell and the sheer atmosphere it exudes is somewhat overwhelming. Am I exaggerating? Not as a huge Alien, tabletop roleplaying and Fria Ligan fan, no. These are my three favourite things coming together so my expectations were not just high, they were probably unrealistic.

The presentation is probably the best Fria Ligan has ever produced. I loved the visuals of Coriolis, I adored the nostalgia of Forbidden Lands, but Alien is stunning, a great mix of visuals and setting. It’s dark, moody and really drives home this sense of bleakness and strange Lovecraftian adventure, and the artwork by Martin Grip, John R. Mullaney and Axel Torvenius is pretty spot on. It suits the excellent writing of Tomas Härenstam and Andrew E.C. Gaska perfectly, and it makes for a fantastic read that really helps to suck you in to the world.

It’s a thick hefty tome, but the print is quite large and there is a lot of dead space, with large black areas with barely anything on them. The text is either white-on-black – which isn’t easy on my eyes – or presented in data readout-style boxes. It all adds to the atmosphere, but I imagine the guy at the printers in charge of the black ink was a busy guy when this was on the presses.

The book is divided into sections that covers everything you’ll need to play a general sci-fi game, not just an Alien game, so there’s plenty of use for these rules even if you somehow get bored of the whole alien wrapping. There’s Space Is Hell (an introduction to the world), Your Character, Skills, Talents, Combat & Panic, Gear, A Hard Life Amongst The Stars, Your Job As Game Mother, Governments & Corporations, Systems & Planets, Alien Species, Campaign Play and the obligatory adventure Hope’s Last Day. There’s everything you need to run a sci-fi game, it’s even got starships and starship combat for those of you who want to go that extra lightyear, so the options you have are quite varied and useful.

The rules system is a D6 dicepool. Players divide points between Attributes and these have relevant Skills. Rolls are dice pools of D6s, adding Attributes and Skills together to create a number of dice, and any that score a six garners a single success. They’re the same mechanics found in ‘Coriolis’, ‘Mutant: Year Zero’ and ‘Tales From The Loop’ and they work just as well here. As I’ve said before in previous reviews, low dice pools can be extremely frustrating with continued failed rolls, but that adds to the tension and atmosphere of the setting and just makes the single six that sometimes appears all the more exhilarating.

There’s a new mechanic in here called the Stress Dice. This addition allows players to put extra dice into their dice as they try to get through rolls or experience gruesome… things. This helps them succeed in stressful situations where they may otherwise have failed, but it can work against them in the long run and the more risks or pushes through rolls a character takes, the more dangers they face later. It’s an interesting mechanic and it really helps to add another layer of tension and pressure on to the already stress-laden characters, making games unpredictable and heightening the already tense atmosphere.

There are two kinds of play, best explained by Fria Ligan:

‘Cinematic play is based on pre-made scenarios that emulate the dramatic arc of an ALIEN film. Designed to be played in a single session, this game mode emphasizes high stakes and fast and brutal play. You are not all expected to survive. The core rulebook contains one introductory Cinematic scenario, Hope’s Last Day.

Campaign play is designed for longer continuous play with the same cast of player characters over many game sessions, letting you explore the ALIEN universe freely, sandbox style. The core rulebook contains random tables and other powerful tools to quickly create star systems, colonies, missions, encounters, and NPCs for your campaign.’

This is a great idea as the Cinematic play caters to the horror fans who don’t expect to survive a single session, and Campaign suits the players wanting to explore the larger world of the Alien universe and have ongoing adventures. I fall into the Campaign area of play, but Cinematic is perfect for one-shots, or even two-three session games. It gives the GM and group choice and caters to different play styles.

So, what kind of Alien game can you play?

Any kind you want.

Do you want to play a game inspired by the claustrophobic tension and horror of Alien, Alien Isolation and Alien 3? No problem.

Do you want to load up and get yourself to fry-up city? Want some Aliens action? Got you covered.

Do you want the wonder and terror of exploration, delving into the mysteries that Prometheus and Covenant gave you? Done.

Do you want to explore the political/business side of things, deal with the human element and face those willing to cast innocents into the fire into the name of profit? You’re sorted.

The Alien RPG lists all the equipment, ships, and foes you’ll need. From shady businessmen to soldiers, from nasty facehuggers to different xenomorphs appearing in the different movies, games and comics, the game lists everything that could be a potential threat to you and your team. You could go entire sessions without having to face off with an alien because there is so much a GM could throw at you. In fact, that’s another great use of the Cinematic and Campaign styles; if your players just want to dive in to alien shenanigans then Cinematic it is. If the group want to go the long way and build up to the reveal, then Campaign is the way to go. There is so much more that a group can do with this game that isn’t simply ‘oooh it’s dark-alien!- dead’.

The fact is, the game has taken most aspects of the Alien franchise and incorporated them into this game so that the majority of the franchise can be emulated. The timeline runs from 2023 (Peter Wayland’s Ted Talk) to 2180 (three years after the events of Aliens).  To be honest, there’s enough material to go beyond that and reach the outer years of Alien Resurrection if you really wanted to, as well as create your own version of events and situations.

In my game, I opted for the timeline surrounding Alien Isolation and the events leading up to the Sevastopol’s destruction. I ran a game of agents going after the Nostromo’s black box the USCSS Anesidora picked up and arriving at Sevastopol as things went wrong. The period between Alien and Aliens is my preferred time as it still holds that mystery and horror before the franchise classified and detailed the alien and it’s life cycle, which took away the unknown for me.

But that’s what’s great about the Alien RPG, you can use it however – and whenever – you want. It’s designed so that you can take what you like, discard what you don’t like, and play it as you see fit. There’s no hard and fast rules as to how or when to run your game, and the system is really malleable and flexible so if you wanted to add something ‘out there’ - such as a Predator – you can easily do so.

The D6 pool system may not be to everyone’s liking and the starship combat system seems a little superfluous, but overall the game gives you everything you need to run a dark, mysterious science fiction game. As I said earlier, even if you got tired of using the franchise elements you can use this system for any kind of science fiction RPG you can imagine, using the rules for any other kind of campaign. You can even drop the Stress rules, if you want to just go pure gung-ho action movie, and it works fine. There’s a lot you can do with the system and the options the rulebook gives you.

So – my favourite franchise, my favourite hobby and my favourite publisher coming together, creating a game in a universe I love using a system I got a lot of use out of in Coriolis? It’s a foregone conclusion that I was going to love this game. I put it on a pedestal and I had my expectations and, for the most part, Fria Ligan met them. They’ve taken the horror, mystery, action and overall terror of the Alien franchise and somehow managed to put it into the pages of this rulebook. It’s an incredible job.

Yes, I have my issues with elements of the franchise but they’re not in the rulebook to be enforced, just to be utilised. If you played in my game of the Alien RPG I’d ask you to watch Alien and play Alien Isolation beforehand, because that’s the kind of atmosphere I’d go for; however, before any of that happened I’d explore the corporations, do some games in the seedy backstreets of the settlements, go for that cyberpunk vibe. Then I’d throw in the overall story, start to hint at the alien and then introduce it in to the mix. Not the Bloodburster, not the Neomorph, but the original 1979 movie creature you couldn’t see in the shadows.

Because the Alien RPG allows you to do that.

And that’s why I love it.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Why the cover of Dragon #126 is important to me

When Dragon magazine issue #126 hit the shelves I was 16 years old. It was around December 1987 when I got it and I was only about three years into the roleplaying hobby so I was pretty new to everything. Dragon magazine, as well as White Dwarf, were my two publications of choice when it came to reading material and they served me well.

Up until I saw this amazing Daniel Horne cover, which remains one of my very favourite pieces of fantasy art to this day, the depiction of women in fantasy circles wasn't great. In my experience they were busty fighters clad in scanty clothes (no matter what the weather was like), they were desperate princesses chained to columns, or they were sexy sorceresses with a long, curved leg sneaking out from under their tight robes. No matter the situation they were in - fighting a dragon, casting a spell, wailing for their hero to save them - their hair was immaculate and their figures full and alluring. It was everything a teenage boy getting into the hobby needed and the target demographic was catered for in almost every way.

Then I saw this image.

'Woah', I thought as the magazine pretty much jumped from the newsagent's shelf and into my hands, 'hold on a minute...'

The woman wasn't scantily clad. In fact, she was dressed in a fashion which seemed to suit the environment she was in, with fur-lined clothing and gloves. Her leggings were tattered, not in a sexy suggestive way but, by the looks of it, she'd been fighting this dead dude for a while and had managed a lucky escape. Her hair was wild, a little unkempt, as it should be if you were fighting an 8-foot tall undead bastard with a massive axe, and she didn't look like she was trying to suggest something lewd; she was rightfully concerned, because she was preparing her last shot against some crazy skeleton who had already taken a few arrows and a sword. And she was on her own - she wasn't standing behind a fighter while preparing a spell, or heaving her bosom forward while hefting an ineffective shield.

She was fighting, desperately against the odds, and trying not to die. She was a hero and, for the first time, she was a female character I could relate to without wondering about how suggestive it was, or without me reacting to the blood-pumping sexuality of the image first and then wondering about what it meant later.

Since this image I never took bikinimail, boob armour or slinky sexy mage robes seriously ever again. In fact, if I see any art that depicts this kind of thing I immediatelty veer away from it, because it's just not representative of the kind of games I want to play and if a game feels it needs cleavage or legs to sell itself then, perhaps, that's not a game I want to be playing.

At 16 years old, that's quite a revelation. I still had my reactions to suggestive images - I can't apologise for that, I was a hormone-charged teenager - but I also learned that I couldn't take those kind of images seriously and, by extention, couldn't take the game they were attached to seriously. That was most likely unfair and I probably missed out on a lot of great games becsuse of it, but sadly that was the way I felt.

I can't be done with suggestive artwork of any gender. Give me something tangible, real or possible or don't give me anything at all because my suspension of disbelief only goes so far. Like I said, that's most likely unfair and almost certainly a bit strange because we're talking about make-believe fantasy worlds here, but I've always been for the low-fantasy, gritty games anyway, so that's just me.

Anyway, this Daniel Horne painting was a game changer for me. Literally. I dropped the damsel in distress, saucy female fighter and beefcake barbarian games and switched to stronger, more realistic games with much less over-the-top imagery, That took a few years, to be sure, because I still had a lot of maturing to do, but I like to think I got there in the end.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Don't bin your old work!

Typewriter &, keys - Clip Art LibrarySometimes you might be writing something and you think 'you know what, this really isn't working for me' and you might be tempted to shelve it or bin it.


I've dug out an old piece from several years ago and it never worked as a scifi RPG adventure for me, but it's working great guns for me as a screenplay.

Even though they never come to anything, writing screenplays really helps me with visual cues, dialogue and narrative. Explaining a story, describing a setup or location and portraying how a character acts/feels/thinks are all staples of a decent gaming session, and the best way to get that feeling across, I've found, is to script it out. Writing adventures is open to a lot of interpretation by individual GMs and their groups, but the basics are rooted in storytelling tools, and scripts are part of that.

And, I just really enjoy writing scripts. I'm a great lover of the moving picture and my inspirations are varied, and it helps the creative juices when they get mixed up every now and then.