Monday 30 December 2013

Review - Shadowrun 5th Edition

Shadowrun 5th Edition

Published by Catalyst Game Labs

I’ve not played Shadowrun since it’s 1st Edition release way back in 1989. We got a lot out of that game; we were all D&D and Warhammer Fantasy fans and we were also big fans of Blade Runner and Akira, so to have the two genres mixed up in some crazy cyberpunk setting was a great idea for gamers such as ourselves.

Saying that, I never really got on with Shadowrun 1st Edition as a GM. It felt like two games in one, one for the action monkeys like myself and one for the tech-savvy Deckers. Many were the times when my Street Samurai had to sit back and pick at his fingernails while the GM took a Decker into the net. We got some great games out of it and ran afoul of more than one troll bouncer - and I remember breaking a cardinal rule and being double-crossed by a dragon and vaporised - but quite simply the system and certain aspects of the setting didn’t do it for me.

The Shadowrun universe, I felt, was an acquired taste. After the initial excitement of being able to game in such a world the mixing of the two genres started to grate as we had two fans of two different types of creative fiction bouncing off one another; the cyberpunk fans who wanted to blast through the neon rain-soaked streets on their Yamaha Rapiers, and the fantasy fans who wanted to cast spells and do the suburban equivalent of a dungeon bash, as best they could in the concrete forest of Seattle, and basically do the things they used to do in the high fantasy games we played. It was two genres and two different approaches to the game, and the fact that the rules pretty much divided players up as they did their own thing didn’t help. I know that game situations such as this are mostly group specific and can’t be pinned on a facet of the actual game, but I can only go from personal experience.

Because of this I completely skipped the following three editions. Sadly, this also means that I can’t tell you how this new edition compares to all the other editions, so I’ll just have to try and explain to you what this game did for me. I always intended to return to this game some day so now seems as good a time as any; but will Shadowrun 5th Edition still have those aspects of 1st Edition I didn’t like?


The hardback 480-page full colour book is certainly an impressive thing to behold. The action-filled cover and excellent interior art really captures the atmosphere that Shadowrun wants to evoke; a dark, violent, magic-filled cyberpunk world of secrets and danger. There are some excellent fold-out pages of cityscapes, certain characters and the previous edition covers including the original Elmore cover for 1st Edition that I recognised immediately. The print is clear and mostly black on white, and it’s all glossy pages throughout. The artwork is of a very high standard and there are some well-written short stories that help to build the background and style of the setting. At the back of the book, along with the detailed index, is a character sheet and the primary charts and tables you’ll need to run a game, which is always a good thing. There’s also a code to use should you wish to play Shadowrun Online; using it will get you an exclusive in-game item, namely a Hammerli 620 handgun, and there’ll be other freebies with other Shadowrun 5th Edition products as they come out. That’s a nice touch.

Upon opening the book one of the first things that struck me was the contents; there are five pages of them and they’re very detailed. At first there’s a sense of overwhelming complication; there’s a lot going on in this book and the contents page is a bit of a shock, even to a seasoned gamer like myself. Once you realise that the contents pages detail every facet of the game then you also realise that it also acts like an index; everything is pretty easy to find just by skimming the contents. The fact that there’s a detailed index at the back of the book means that it’s pretty easy and quick to find what you need when you need it, even in the middle of the action. With a book as large and detailed as this, that’s a bonus.

The book has the usual structure of a gaming core rulebook; it introduces you to the world, takes you through character creation, skill use and combat, and then takes you through the unique aspects of Shadowrun; The Matrix, Magic and all that entails. There’s a decent GM advice section with plenty of details on NPCs and campaigns, and then the book rounds out with the details, such as equipment, toxins, drugs, magical gear and critters. There’s an excellent ‘Random Run’ generator where you roll some D6s on five different tables to generate a meet location, an employer, a job type, the macguffin you’re running for and a plot twist. It’s only a couple of pages in the entire book but it it’s great for one-shot runs to fill in the gaps between adventures or campaigns.

Before you get to the meat of the game the book begins with some pretty good and atmospheric fiction and plenty of information on the Sixth World, the world as it is in 2075, what being a Shadowrunner is, the kind of problems you might come up against and then some details about life in the cyber/magic future. There’s around thirty-five pages of this background material and it not only updates current Shadowrun players on the world it also works as an excellent introduction for new runners who may have picked up the game for the first time.

The system is quick and simple, and it’s a lot better than I remember from the First Edition; the D6 is the die of choice in this game and you roll them to try to score as many fives or sixes as possible. Each success results in a ‘hit’, and you have to beat a target threshold. Getting over the threshold is a success. I was never a huge fan of the original rules but these, while familiar, are also quite different and play very well.

The character creation is very detailed but once you get through an initial first character build it’s actually very easy. It takes you through it step by step, it’s very clear and well laid out and everything is explained in detail with plenty of very handy and well-written examples, and there are some archetypes included so that you can check out how a character is laid out or just grab one for a quick character.

Magic and Decking feels much more involved with the game and play much smoother. If played right there’s no more sitting around waiting on other players to roll their dice and then waiting for results and any applicable narrative. The game flows much better and there are some great examples explaining how make it work so that the gunbunny of the group doesn’t feel too left out when the tech-heads or the spellslingers are rolling, or vice versa. It no longer feels like there are two different games going on, but this depends on the nature of the adventure the GM has set up. If there is some serious decking going on then some players may still feel a little sidelined.


As a product, Shadowrun 5th Edition is a slick and very impressive book. The dark hues help to enhance the atmosphere, the art is never dull or lacking in flavour – in fact, some of it is pretty impressive – and the layout is clear and incredibly well presented. It’s a large tome, that’s for sure, but don’t let the thickness and page count put you off. The game itself is comprehensive, not complicated, and it’s a case of the product being filled with plenty of options and detail that you can slowly incorporate into your games, using more and more of it over time.

This size and detail may make this book a little less new player friendly; people new to the tabletop RPG hobby may be turned off by the sheer size of the book, along with the amount of information and detail in there. Seasoned gamers, however, will have no problem with this. In fact, they’ll no doubt relish the detail.

The rules are nice and easy to use and along with the magic and decking systems the core skill system is pretty quick and easy once you get used to it. Some groups may find that previous edition players will recognise the system straight away. Group coherency is certainly improved so there should always be something for someone to do even while someone is diving into the Matrix, should the GM handle it right.

Speaking of the GM, there’s an excellent GM’s advice chapter that really helps with the setting. It’s a good read for general GM tips but it really helps with running a Shadowrun campaign and GMs new to the Shadowrun universe will find it very helpful.

Has it changed my opinion of what I saw as the divisive nature of the original game? Absolutely. Not only has the game system improved and enables the group to be much more involved no matter what is going on, the setting has been refined so that it no longer feels like two settings being forced together, like a fantasy and cyberpunk version of the same game system was written and then mixed up in an attempt to draw in both fans of the genres, offering much for like-minded gamers but little for different fans of the different genres.

If you want to drop the magical part of Shadowrun and run it as a normal cyberpunk-themed game then there’s no problem at all with that. The system works just as well as a generic cyberpunk game so it can be used for any kind of setting you want; just dump the fantasy aspects.

Shadowrun 5th Edition is an excellent, well-presented book that will no doubt please those who already game in the Sixth World as well as impress newcomers to this rich and detailed setting.


Friday 27 December 2013

What made me cheer, what made me sigh, and what I want

Can't believe I'm saying this as I'm not a fan of the character, but my Film of the Year is 'Man of Steel'. The story, the music, the look and feel of it... this is a Superman I can get behind. Top stuff.

Oh, and if they decide to make a movie about the drama and action leading up to the fall of Krypton? I'm totally fine with that. One of my favourite movie opening sequences ever.

My biggest disappointment of the year is 'Marvel's Agents of Shield'. I simply got a little bored of it and couldn't get involved with any of the main characters, especially Coulson who should have been the guy you got behind the most.

It feels flat because we've had the epicness of the single character movies and The Avengers, and this feels like a cut-down version of it with the more interesting stuff happening just off-camera. Just feels like everything that's happening in the episodes is unimportant.

Here's what we need - a superhero TV show that's treated like the comics we know, by Marvel or DC or someone new. A whole new world, new cities, new heroes and villains. Not like Smallville (Dawson's Creek with a monster of the week), or Green Arrow (Hey! How 'real' can we make it?) or The Cape (Hey! We don't have the rights to Batman, but...) and especially not like Heroes (Hey! This started well cool! Now, how shit can we male it?).

Proper heroes, in costumes, with powers, living their lives and interacting both dramatically and violently. Big-ass heroes, punching shit through walls, saving the day and having melodramatic episodes of tragedy, conflicts of interest and self-doubt. Villains of both the moustache-twirling variety that you want to see punched into orbit and relatable tragic figures, and proper dynamic characters.

Don't adapt anything - build a whole new superhero mythos just for the small screen.

It could work.

Have a Happy New Year, everyone.

Monday 23 December 2013

Farsight Blogger Game of the Year 2013

That has a nice ring to it - Farsight Blogger Game of the Year 2013 - but whatever you do, don't think that this is some official award I give out every year. I've just been going over the games I have reviewed and played this year and I thought I'd choose the one I was impressed with the most. It's all a bit of fun and gives my regular readers a chance to catch up on some reviews they may have missed.

I started the year with Kings of War, a fantasy wargame from Mantic Games. I said in my review; 'The book might not be brimming with intricate artwork and production values, and some people might find the setting somewhat uninspiring, but the game itself is excellent and fun to play, and that’s what counts. I can see myself playing this quite a lot over the next few months and it’s certainly helped expand my gaming social circle now that I’m meeting plenty of people who also play. The game already has a great community and the excellent fanzine ‘Ironwatch’, so there’s plenty of support both official and non-official.'

I played it for a short while but then other priorities took over. I haven't parted with my army and still intend to play it again in the future, but this is still a great game.

Then I had a blast at the Legend Core Rulebook, of which I said; 'Legend is a solid, dependable game with plenty of options – you can make it as simple or as complicated as you like. It’s a well-produced book that somewhat lacks in presentation but more than makes up for in content. You may miss the bestiary, but the Monsters of Legend book will make up for that and, anyway, as it’s Runequest at it’s core it’s compatible with most editions, especially Runequest II, so you can lift monsters from those books if you have them. A good game built on a solid background, with easy rules, options and an OGL license to boot. I can recommend this book.'

The majority of use I ended up getting out of this book was using elements of it in a Middle-earth game using the Cthulhu: Dark Ages rules. It ended up being a great supplement.

Traveller Core RulebookNext up was the Mongoose Traveller rulebook. It was frustrating because I wanted to play this excellent game a lot more than I actually did. I concluded in my review; 'Traveller caters to all sci-fi genres and allows you to use the rules as you see fit, either going full-on use everything or drop certain aspects you don’t like. The options for character creation give you the chance to do everything randomly or choose your abilities, so that you can have complete control over your PC if that’s what you want. Mongoose have produced a quality game that many sci-fi gaming groups will get a lot of fun out of and it’s easy to see why Traveller has lasted for so long. This is a great book and I can highly recommend it.'

A great game and you can easily see why it has lasted for so long. I also reviewed the Judge Dredd book for this game and loved it.

I then changed tack a little and moved on to card games. I had a stab at Star Wars: The Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games and, while I enjoyed the game initially the replay value was lacking, even with the expansion packs. In my review I said; 'Star Wars: The Card Game is easy to learn, quick to set up and enjoyable to play. Each game is unique and the tactics you are able to employ are varied. There’s a lot of fun to be had with this game as well the gorgeously illustrated cards which would look amazing in anyone’s collection, much like the models that Fantasy Flight Games produced for their X-Wing miniatures game. There’s flexibility in deck building but then there’s always a level playing field. The core set will keep you going for a long time, but the game will need ongoing support to keep the game fresh and exciting.'

That last statement was certainly true. I had fun with it but ultimately we parted ways.

I then went back to roleplaying and got into Paizo Publishing products, primarily the Pathfinder Beginner Box. I said; 'If you’re an old hat at roleplaying - the Pathfinder game in particular - there’s nothing in here you’d need. Experienced gamers would find the Pathfinder Core Rulebook suited to their needs and wouldn’t have to get this, unless they had new gamers they wanted to bring into the hobby. But it’s not the experienced gamer this is aimed at. The selling point of this boxset is the fact that it is aimed at brand new gamers interested in getting into the hobby. For that fact alone it excels in its intention. If you’ve been gaming for a while then there’s not a lot in this boxset that you’ll find useful, unless you’ve never played Pathfinder before and feel a little daunted by the huge Core Rulebook. For new gamers, however, this is the perfect introductory game not only for the Pathfinder system but the roleplaying hobby in general, so for you it’s highly recommended.'

I loved this game and it was a serious contender for my Game of the Year. If (or when) I get back into Pathfinder again I'm going to use this boxset and then move on to the core rulebook, which is also a must for any D&D player.

I then had a short stab at Champions, which I was disappointed with but, to be truthful, did enjoy quite a lot. To quote my review; 'Where I feel Champions Complete lets me down is the sheer number of options available and even though it’d be easy to say ‘I won’t use that in my game’ the amount in character creation alone might make players think they’re being restricted and missing out on their perfect character if they’re told they can’t have certain things. The number of tables is daunting, there’s one on almost every page, and the handy index and the tables in the appendices make that easier but there seems to be a level of unnecessary complication attached to such a simple, easy gaming system. It says in the introduction that this is a lean, streamlined version of the Hero System Sixth Edition; that kind of surprises me, given the level of detail here. It makes me wonder just how comprehensive the Hero System Sixth Edition actually is. All told, Champions Complete is a good book, and the fact that you can use it as a set of core rules for any game you want, at any power level, is a great idea. Players of the Hero System Sixth Edition will definitely find this a great companion for their games. The simple presentation and the possibly overbearing amount of options available isn’t my kind of thing but it’s a solid game nonetheless.'

I never got a proper campaign going and that's a shame. Maybe in the new year I'll convince my group to have another go at this good little game.

If I was going to do a 'Most Beautiful Book' award then this would have run away with it. Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition is possibly the most wonderful core rulebook I have ever seen. My review said; 'Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition is a very rare thing in roleplaying rulebooks – it’s a wonderfully produced and illustrated book with an amazing setting and a great mechanic. There’s plenty of stuff in here to create plenty of games, and the details they give of life in the realm, the Bushido code, the ways of the Samurai and all the other information that fills out the setting with so much flavour… you could run all kinds of adventures and even set it in the real East Asia, if you wanted. It’s not an accurate guide on the true cultures of the time – it’s a fantasy roleplaying game, after all - but it’s a great jumping off point and I get the impression that the game mechanics would support an accurate historical game well. This is a beautiful book to look at, an entertaining book to read and a great game to play. You really can’t ask for much more than that. Very highly recommended.'

I have to get the right-minded gaming group together but I intend to run a full-on campaign of this game. This was also a serious contender for Game of the Year.

I then moved back to science fiction with Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game. I said in my review; 'My major problem with the boxset is that there are no rules for creating your own characters. The four characters supplied with the game are good and cover the basics of a mixed gaming group but after a while the players will no doubt want to play with something else, and create their own personalities. You can use new characters created from the main rulebook, including the Beta book, but there seems to be very little point. If the box had even included the basics of character creation, or a way to modify the pregenerated characters to suit a players preferences, then that would have added plenty of options immediately and extended the gameplay of the box. There’s nothing stopping gamers from adjusting the characters and their backgrounds, but having those very options or the character creation rules to hand would have been a bonus. The Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game is a very good introduction to the roleplaying hobby and Fantasy Flight Games’ newest RPG. It explains the rules clearly and, for old-school gamers like myself who like their dice numbered, it really helps with interpreting the symbols and their meaning. It also captures the feel and adventure of the Star wars universe really well, so even though I do feel as if the character creation rules should have been included to expand a gaming group’s options, I have no problem recommending this to new and experienced gamers alike.'

Sadly, this is another game that I have not used since my initial playtest. There was no longevity in this game and served merely as an introduction to the full Edge of the Empire rulebook. It's a great system and plays very well.

Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! Boxed SetAncient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! was a surprising pleasure. It took me back to my younger days when I was running simple Fighting Fantasy adventures, and I said in my review; 'There’s a lot of playability in this and even though it’s aimed at one-off dungeon bashes you could get a great campaign out of this as player characters can be quite well-rounded, not so much with the social skills but that could be remedied. There’s nothing stopping you from adding extra Pursuits to the list to reflect that. A great game with an excellent system, with ideas and options that could keep you going for quite a while. Highly recommended.'

I wanted to share this so I ran a competition for the book and had plenty of applicants and one happy winner. This is exactly what I wanted to see in an introductory fantasy roleplaying game and I'd like to see it do well.

 My next game EPOCH was a breath of fresh air after months of dice rolling. This card-based one-shot horror roleplaying game was a a great addition to my gaming year and made for some memorable group moments. In my review;  'EPOCH is an excellent game that suits its horror movie subject matter perfectly. It has an incredibly clever system and a unique approach to narrative in which the GM, the players and the cards that are dealt all influence the outcome of the game. This requires the group to think fast and be on their toes and for the GM to be able to react to sudden changes in the flow of the story, but the nature of a horror survival flick – a small group in a small location with few avenues of escape – certainly makes this much easier to control. Great fun and a great way to spend an evening with like-minded friends. Highly recommended.'

I recently received the adventure books 'Frontier of Fear' and 'war Stories', and I look forward to running them soon and reviewing them here. This was another game on my Game of the Year shortlist of winners.

My final game was Pelgrane Press's 13th Age. This D&D OGL game not only changed my approach to old-school gaming it changed my approach to gaming as a whole. In the rather lengthy conclusion in my review I said; 'First things first – I think this is a great game. It’s wonderfully presented, colourful, full of flavour and brimming with great ideas that can not only work for 13th Age game but pretty much any roleplaying game, D&D or otherwise. I like the Icons idea as they can add some seriously good depth to the game, and even though it’s only a small part of the game I really like the background skills as it adds even more depth to characters. The proof of the pudding is, though, the One Unique Thing that defines a character and makes them special. This can create all kinds of fantastic discussions around the table regarding the events that led up to the One Unique Thing and the possible repercussions. These conversations alone can spark the imagination and inspire GMs to come up with adventures, plots and courses of action they may not have otherwise even considered. Not only that but these One Unique Things can affect not only the adventure or the campaign but the world as a whole as the Icon relationships unfold, change and progress. It makes for some great roleplaying and allows interesting and creative collaboration between the GM and the players. Usually I’d steer my players away from creating a ‘special snowflake’ of a character. In many ways this game encourages it without compromising the game or the group.

I could see this system being used in any of the D&D settings; Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, any of them. If you want to use the One Unique Thing idea in your existing D&D campaign world I see nothing that stops you from doing that. You will no doubt benefit from the other ideas and changes in the book, as well, so it’s worthy getting even if you’ve got an established D&D game on the go using your favourite interpretation of the system. It’s not simply tied to the world of The Dragon Empire or the rules in the 13th Age book.

The system is D&D and, even with the tweaks and changes they’ve made, it is how we all know it. In fact, I like the changes they’ve made and would recommend this even without the Icons or the One Unique Thing implementations. It’s still a great game in it’s own right and I find the system much more playable with enough detail to make the game feel very rounded and full but not too much to make it feel overly complicated. There is a feeling, however, that this game has been designed with experienced players in mind. Whenever I read a new game I always come at it from the perspective of a first-time roleplayer, a person new to the RPG hobby, and I never got the feeling that this really caters for gamers who have never picked up a roleplaying game before. It’s written as if the reader is already familiar with RPGs and D&D in particular.

Another thing I liked was the little snippets of personal out-the-game information and examples supplied by Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo. They give you insights into how to use the new ideas, how they used them in their games, and lots of other stuff besides. It’s very handy and work well as examples as to how to implement certain rules into your game. It’s handy, informative and makes the game feel very personal.

I can very highly recommend 13th Age, both as a general OGL D&D game - as the changes and streamlining of the rules is very good - and the new Icon and One Unique Thing rules make for an incredibly well put together story-driven system that marries narrative games with old-school roleplaying goodness.'

In fact, I loved this game so much that after the initial playtest we decided to use this game for our ongoing campaign. I chose the setting of Forgotten Realms, using the original 1987 campaign setting boxset, as our gaming world and we've been playing it now for two months with every intention of continuing on into the new year. It tweaked a gaming system I enjoy and made it perfect for my gaming style, introduced the One Unique Thing element that has given my players a lot of fun and input and kept the things I liked about 3rd and 4th edition as well as add some new stuff to the mix.

And that pretty much sealed it for me. I played a lot of great games this year and they have all given me a lot of joy, but 13th Age has given me what I wanted when I needed it and my games have improved as a result, in playability, group involvement and sheer simple fun. That's all I ask for in a game.

Therefore, I have great pleasure in announcing that 13th Age is Farsight Blogger's 'Game of the Year' 2013.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Graphic Novel Review: Orbital Volume 5: Justice

5 - JusticeAuthor: Sylvain Runberg
Artist: Serge Pellé

Released by Cinebook

From the book:

'Following the Kuala Lumpur incidents, which almost prevented the Human-Sandjarr reconciliation ceremony from being held, the situation on Earth is increasingly tense. The mood has turned ugly, resulting in attacks against aliens and assassinations of isolationist personalities. Meanwhile, the circles of Confederate powers are afire with political manoeuvring, and Mezoke is on trial for high treason, a convenient scapegoat. But when the judges request that Caleb be brought out of his regenerative coma to testify, the Sandjarr agent’s loyalty is put to the test...'

I've been incredibly patient waiting for this book. The first four volumes of Orbital completely drew me in and I've read them again and again - my original review is here - and I've been pretty much salivating at the mouth waiting for the English version of the newest installment. There's always that nagging, doubting voice at the back of the mind, worried that a new volume in this excellent series might not be as good as the previous episodes; that one bad apple mighty sour the whole bunch. I have no idea why I had such thoughts as Orbital Volume 5 - Justice really delivers.

Caleb and Mezoke's relationship really shines through in this volume. They had already struck up a fast friendship in the previous books but this one really shows how close they have become and it's all thanks to the character of Mezoke who, once again, proves to be my favourite personality of the series. It's difficult to explain without giving too much away but she makes a decision that not only allows for some of the most exciting and dynamic illustrations by Serge Pellé but also shows her skill, heart and determination.

But I'm in danger of giving too much away. First of all, let's talk about Serge Pellé's amazing artwork. As ever, his design is amazing and the organic, lived-in feel of the world he creates is almost tangible. He includes some comical caricature-type human beings but this can be overlooked as it suits the style, but his non-human species design is incredible, as well as his designs for the tech and locations of the future. As I said, it has a lived-in feel to it. The colours are suitably drab and grey, which really helps with the mood, so when there's a brief moment of almost-respite and the colours suddenly bloom into warm, welcoming colours you really feel the change of pace and mood. His imagination is really put to the test on page 31 onwards as we watch Mezoke leap hir way through the Orbital; a myriad of buildings, starships, vehicles and aliens come to life. It's great to look at and made me wish for a movie version so I could see and hear the sights and sounds as she leaps through the busy throng of rush-hour Orbital. If I had to pick an issue with the art it's that the colours are the same drab, misty shade throughout most of the book so one location feels pretty much like the others. If that's my only gripe then I can live with that; I'm a fan of Serge Pellé's work and I can't help that.

Sylvain Runberg's script is just as good as his previous volumes; the action is tight, the dialogue is sharp and to the point and the exposition is just as entertaining. You feel that with every volume you're learning something new about the universe of Orbital but also that there's something bigger just out of reach. The political wrangling and the machinations of certain individuals to wrest political control in any way they can may have been done before but it's great to see it unfold in the Orbital universe. He creates an amazing feeling of uneasiness and tension in the opening, just as he did with Volume 1, and it only gets better until something finally gives, that something being Mezoke. His characters are well defined even though some of them aren't given much panel time, but what drew me in was the story. The stakes are higher, the state of the galaxy is deteriorating and there's the sense that a powder keg is about to pop... and then it's over. Runberg builds this tension and then leaves you on a double cliffhanger that makes you want to tear the book to pieces in frustration. That can only mean he's done a damn good job.

As for the Orbital setting; well, since Caleb and Mezoke left the Orbital in Volume 1 they never really went back to the series' namesake and spent their time on other worlds and Earth, but here they're back and you get see a little more of the great city in all it's glory. Just as I started hoping that Runberg would spend some more time here so that I could learn more about this amazing place we're off again and away. The universe is a vast place and the huge number of alien species means a vast array of habitable worlds and, whole I understand we'll never visit all of them, I'd love to see more of the known galaxy and how it all works. What we need is an Orbital sourcebook that details the history of the setting and the prime races and, more importantly, where the Orbital came from and how it works. It utterly fascinates me.

Was I impressed? I was incredibly impressed. I love this stuff; Orbital is the first science fiction setting to come along in many years that has made me want to delve into it further to learn more about the people that live there and the worlds they inhabit. You really feel like you're only experiencing the very tip of a huge, detailed iceberg and that's thanks to the amazing pairing of Runberg and Pellé. This volume is a great episode in the series and I can't wait for Volume 6: Resistance. Even the title of that gets me excited.

Very highly recommended.

Sunday 15 December 2013

A 30-year friendship

Say hello to two guys who have been my best friends for 30 years this month.

Way back in 1983, when I first started in the roleplaying hobby with my first Fighting Fantasy gamebook 'The Citadel of Chaos', I used two six-sided dice from whatever boardgame that was lying around. Inevitably, as I took the book with me whever I went and played it avidly I lost the dice and the number of six-siders we had in the house dwindled until the ones we were left with were like gold dust, and protected in a such a way that even Indiana Jones would have found it difficult to get hold of them.

So, if a board game was in full swing the chances were that I had no dice to play my gamebook with. If I was desperate I used to cut out hexagonal shapes and number the sides, stick a matchstick through it and spin it, but this was a pain the backside. The feel and the clatter of dice was what I wanted and I hated it when I couldn't get hold of them.

Seeing this rather silly dilemma, my mother decided to aid her youngest son by buying him his first pair of dedicated gaming dice as one of his Christmas presents. These are the dice you see in the picture. I have no idea where they came from or who made them but even after thirty years they're still in great shape, there's no chips or scrapes and the white of the dots is immaculate, so well done die manufacturer.

They're retired now. They sit in my dice box in their own bag, safe and snug and six-side up. I have a lot of affection for these dice, and they helped set me on my path to adventure.

I enjoyed writing that. I'm going to get them back out and have a quick game of my original, faded copy of 'The Citadel of Chaos' right now!


Agh! Paragraph 303! Killed by a Golem! Stupid dice! Back in your retirement bag!

Warhammer Offline

Well, damn.

I played Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR) not long after it was released. I bought the whole bells n' whistles boxset and got stuck into the game with gusto. I love the Old World, and my second largest tabletop RPG campaign had taken place there in the 1990s, using Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st edition.

My wife Lisa and I had not long come out of an incredibly long stint playing World of Warcraft and we'd become somewhat tired of the grind and the community. WAR offered so much more and we were looking forward to playing some proper full-on PvP; I was very tired of WoW's battegrounds or randomly running into some opposition player and getting into a pointless fight. I wanted some proper conflict, so that I felt I was actually accomplishing something other than running around building my character up so that some random high-level nobodies might even consider me for a raid.

WAR offered that with bells on. Great whacking battles with so many players that my graphic's card could hardly keep up, sieges, assaults, all kinds of stuff alongside the normal PvE stuff that gamers did in an MMO. This was WAR's strength, the fact that it honestly felt like there was a battle going on and that your victories, and defeats, made a difference. And the community was excellent; you'd always get you're odd moron, as you would with any game, but they were all passionate about the game.

WAR will be officially closed down on December 18th 2013. There's all kinds of accusations flying around regarding mismanagement, broken promises and WAR staff jumping ship, but that's not my issue. My issue is that this wonderful game that had so much potential, so much promise, is not being given the chance it so richly deserved and is being cast aside. That all those players that stayed loyal will have this amazing gameplay taken away from them. That a world so rich and detailed, a world that deserved to be explored in an MMO, will now be offline.

I stopped playing WAR about three years ago. I quit due to the world not expanding, due to feeling limited as to how far I could go with my character, but I do regret it, that's for sure. It was a game I always intended to return to. I'll keep my boxset, and my game disc, and my special edition figurines (unpainted, still in their blister pack). I'll keep them and every now and then get them out and have a read, remember what fun I had, and think about what could have been.

And goodbye to some of my favourite online PCs.  First, there was Salmonius, the human Witch Hunter melee DPS:

He was my first experimental PC for the game - I never take my first toons seriously and just use them to get a grasp of the world. He turned out pretty good, mind.

Then there was Beerswiller, my dwarf Warrior tank:

He did a little better and I got him the furthest, but as a tank I have to rely on too many other players to have my back and... well... let's just say I couldn't count on anyone, especially in Tier 1.

Then there was the cream of the crop, Hellfeur, my human Bright Wizard ranged DPS:

Definitely my favourite, and his AOE attacks were devastating. He was maxed to the... well, max.

Farewell, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. I had fun.