Wednesday 29 July 2015

Review – Tyranny of Dragons Campaign

Hoard of the Dragon Queen
The Rise of Tiamat

Published by Wizards of the Coast

Well, how do you review a pair of tabletop roleplaying campaign books? With difficulty, that’s how. There’s so much I’d love to say about the plot, the characters and the story, but there’s always the risk that I’ll spoil it for players of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, and in turn for their DMs, too.

I was originally going to review the books individually, starting with Hoard of the Dragon Queen and then later The Rise of Tiamat, but I always thought there might have been a problem in doing it that way. There might have been what I thought were flawed plot points or directions that I may have thought were a little rubbish, only to have that view corrected by the events in the next book. No, I thought, I’ll wait until I’ve played through the entire campaign.

Well, here we are six months later and the campaign is over. Only two PCs bit the big one and everyone hit level 15 as promised by the adventure.

That’s pretty good going in my book. We’re a semi-regular group and this campaign suited us well as it gave us half a year’s adventuring, with a little bit of side questing thrown in when the players wanted to do some exploring, so I certainly got my money’s worth.

Hoard of the Dragon QueenHoard of the Dragon Queen

‘In an audacious bid for power, the Cult of the Dragon, along with its dragon allies and the Red Wizards of Thay, seek to bring Tiamat from her prison in the Nine Hells to Faerûn. To this end, they are sweeping from town to town, laying waste to all those who oppose them and gathering hoard of riches for their dread queen. The threat of annihilation has become so dire that groups as disparate as the Harpers and Zhentarim are banding together in the fight against the cult. Never before has the need for heroes been so desperate.’

The game starts out quick and to the point – the PCs arrive at a town under attack and are compelled to act. This opening feels like a questing zone in a fantasy MMO – that’s not a bad thing as it works well for beginning DMs and gives a familiar framework. Speak to character A, go to zone B, complete the quest, return, repeat. The small missions help to set up the story and the system and allows the group the chance to break into D&D 5th. This is something a new group, even new gamers, will need.

As the adventure unfolds the players are given to chance to fight, explore and interact with their environment and the NPCs that populate it. This early in their careers – the opening is designed for level 1 PCs after all – there’s a lot of combat (my group had their first fatality in the second chapter after misjudging a situation) but there’s plenty of chances to avoid all that and concentrate on getting to the end of each chapter with more than zero hit points.

I, as the DM, had a good time running this campaign. I found the book easy to use and the story enjoyable enough for even me to want to see how the players reacted to what was coming. I didn’t think it was overly new DM friendly, mind you. If the DM was a seasoned roleplayer and this was their first time in the big chair then I’m sure they would find this book a great way to get them into the role, but for newcomers to the hobby I’m not so sure. I can see them, and a new group as a whole, struggling with this.

Overall, it was a great first part to the campaign, which was then followed up by…

The Rise of TiamatThe Rise of Tiamat

‘The Cult of the Dragon leads the charge in an unholy crusade to bring Tiamat back to the Realms, and the situation grows more perilous for good people with each passing moment. The battle becomes increasingly political as opportunities to gather allies and gain advantage present themselves. From Waterdeep to the Sea of Moving Ice to Thay, it is a race against Evil. Succeed or succumb to the oppression of draconic tyranny. Win or lose, things will never be the same again.’

After the fun we had with Hoard of the Dragon Queen I expected more of the same with the second half of the campaign. It didn’t disappoint.

This second half really raises the stakes and really throws the characters into world-changing events. Now, instead of gleefully adventuring along, the players are going on adventures and making choices that have consequences. There’s a council that the players either impress or disappoint, and choices, actions and successes change their influence and support with certain factions. This plays an important part in the game as this popularity with the council will determine what kind of aid and support they get in the final battle with the big boss herself, Tiamat. This put the players beyond the simple hack n’ slash approach and they had to think how their actions would change things. That was a great touch and it kept the players on their toes.

However - oh, and SPOILERS - the finale is impressive but I couldn’t help but think that the reputation and aid the PCs gathered over the adventures really meant anything as once the action begins the support that the council has provided takes care of business off-camera while the PCs get their dungeon on. The players thought it was a great setup and that the enemy was being held off by their actions, whereas in reality it didn’t really matter who turned up for the fight.

Not only that, the players had to travel a lot and fight, negotiate and trick their way through missions. There was something for everyone and, as with Hoard, there was something for everyone of every career to do. It was a good ending to a great campaign, and me and my group had a lot of fun with it all the way through.

Overall, Tyranny of Dragons is a great campaign. It’d be easy to accuse it of railroading and that may be true, but that’s the nature of published campaigns, and any DM worth their salt would be able to run smaller adventures if the PCs go off track. There’s plenty of material to use even after the game is finished, or even if you have no intention of running the campaign but want some places for your group to do some adventuring. I like the idea of the council, and the actions of the PCs having an influence on the outcome of a huge event, but the payoff of this was lacklustre and could do have done with actual consequences. I’m sure the system presented could be adapted by a DM for other uses.

A great first campaign for D&D 5th and well worth the asking price for half a year of gaming.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Book Review - The Skyrim Library Vol. I: The Histories

Publisher: Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

I can't claim to be one of the longest term fans of the Elder Scroll. I'd dabbled a bit with Oblivion but it was already a bit old when I got it so it wasn't until Skyrim came out that I really discovered what the fuss was all about. I first bought the art book that was released with the special edition (via a helpful chappie on the world's foremost auction site) and loved the look and design of the world so much that I thought I should really give it a go. It didn't hurt that I had friends who were already big fans saying that I would love the game. My only reservation came from the fact that I didn't think first person hack'n'slash games really 'worked'. First person shooter works, that makes sense, but first person walk up and hack at them? I remembered games of old, such as Witchhaven, that had impressive Frank Frazetta cover art on the boxes but which were hardly playable. As should already be obvious I relented and found out that games have come on a little since the 1990s. Who knew. And one of my favourite activities, aside from the quests, was to gather the books. There is such a wealth of lore and history to the Elder Scroll games that I loved to stop and just read (something that didn't much impress the people watching me play) and even, thanks to the Hearthstone expansion, managed to build libraries in all my properties that I worked assiduously to stock with one copy of every book.

So, getting to the point, you can imagine my excitement when I heard about the Skyrim Library collection. I can't remember exactly but it's entirely possible that I kissed my fist and punched the air. A rich, detailed history is essential for a solid fantasy offering. Fact. Try to imagine The Lord of the Rings without the immense wealth of background material. Likewise Game of Thrones. Even if it is never mentioned directly these rich tapestries have a direct impact on the stories and ground them, make them more than just a simple adventure story. It puts the reader/player into a context much larger then it would have been otherwise. To play as part of something epic, rather than just flashy.

Now, before I carry on, it is worth mentioning that whilst quite comprehensive this history is not at the level of Tolkien. I don't consider that a harsh judgement, however, since that's one hell of a bar to reach for. On a level with Game of Thrones? I would say that, in terms of scope and breadth, then yes, these are on a par with George Martin's masterpiece but, you won't be surprised to hear, are not written with the same quality of story telling. Again, though, I say that there's no shame in not reaching that lofty height. Especially when you consider how many stories are included in this book. There are forty-seven entries grouped in to four sections spread across two-hundred and thirty-two pages. So the stories are definitely on the short side, approximately the same length as a decent Brothers Grimm tale. Some are longer, some are shorter, and the early history section includes parts that are just lists of dates and corresponding events.

The four sections are History, Skyrim, Morrowind and Dragons. Most stories are in the History and Skyrim sections and collect the stories that players were able to find throughout the games. This is a very welcome collection, therefore, since I really enjoyed the stories but didn't really want to waste hours of my life reading instead of playing the game. I did, because I'm nerdy that way, but it probably wasn't what you'd call 'time well spent'. Having the stories gathered in hard copy is great.

My only concern, therefore, is that there were a LOT of stories in the games and I get the feeling they've barely scratched the surface with this first volume which, it has to be said, isn't cheap. I'm not saying that it's not worth the money, just that by the time they've completed the library I'll have spent a lot of it. I do feel that they are slightly overpriced, by about five pounds or so.

The only problem I have with the actual book itself, which is very well made, is the quality of the art work. The art that exists for the Elder Scrolls, which I have seen in the special edition art books released for Skyrim and The Elder Scrolls Online, is frankly incredible. The art included with the library, however, mostly isn't. It simply isn't that good by comparison. I'm not saying there aren't any decent pictures, there are, but I was left wondering what happened to all the quality pictures that I had seen before.

But you don't buy a book like this for the pictures. That's what the art books are for. You buy a book like this for the histories and lore and on that playing field it scores highly and is a very nice collection. Needless to say this is one for the fans above all others so if you're not a player of the games, and Tamriel might as well be the name of a country in the Middle East for all it means to you, then you might want to give it a miss. If you just like a nice fantasy tale then I suppose you could enjoy it but without being able to place things in the wider context of the games, things like the races you've played as and the monsters you've killed, then it might feel like a fairly hollow experience.

But if you can tell your Khajiit from your Argonians and feel confident you could walk from Hammerfell to Morrowind without winding up in the Black Marsh then this book is for you.

Sunday 26 July 2015

Science Fiction D&D... again

Once again, I’ve hit that time of the year when I start to muse about a science fiction version of Dungeons & Dragons.

I recently posted a mini review about Hulks & Horrors, a D&D retroclone that puts the game into the sci-fi genre with aplomb, and swaps sword for blaster and horse for starship. The entire roll-under on D20 skill setup is excellent – although I’ll always prefer the roll high approach as those natural 20s are always a fistpump moment – and it’s as close to a proper D&D sci-fi game as I’ll get.

I’ve always loved the Buck Rogers XXVc RPG, as it’s a great science fiction version of the original AD&D 2nd Edition.

So, we’re on to the next edition of D&D and up to yet I’ve loved it; 5th edition is my favourite edition by far. It has the right balance between ease of use and complication and it focuses on fun and not mechanics. So, does this new edition have room for a science fiction version?

Absolutely. The system is quick and fluid and there’s already a hint of tech in the rulebook. All you need to do is create some races and classes, add some new skills and starship rules (the starship rules from Hulks & Horrors would work just fine, I reckon) and some extras for equipment and the basics of a setting, or at least some guidelines on different kinds of settings.

With the correct approach the game could be used to great effect; hard science fiction, space opera, post-apocalyptic, deep space exploration and everything in between could get a crack at the whip and gaming groups embedded in the D&D rules wouldn’t have to be worried about changing systems to start a sci-fi campaign.

It’s not just the genre or the setting, but the era as well. Classic pulp sci-fi? Golden age? 1970s low-fi sci-fi? 1980s space opera or cyberpunk? The game has the chops to cover everything and suit every sci-fi fan. Using the three core books of the D&D game and creating a new book, you could dedicate only a part to new characters and skills and a lot of the book to tech, settings and the different science fiction genres.

Of course, this is just me dreaming again. Every fantasy game that comes out I always think of a sci-fi version of it but I always come back around to D&D.

Wednesday 22 July 2015


Ulisses Spiele Announces Return of Torg in New Updated Edition

CHANDLER, AZ (July 21, 2015) – Ulisses Spiele US, a division of Germany’s premiere game manufacturer and distributor, today announced the return of the influential Torg roleplaying game.

The new game is entitled Torg: Eternity, and is a new and updated take on the original game and its setting. The design team includes many who worked on the original Torg line that debuted from West End Games in 1990.

Torg co-creator Greg Gorden has been involved at a high level and given it his blessing: “I really like this re-imagining of the TORG mythos. The streamlining and modernization of the game mechanics feel spot on. I cannot wait to play this game!”

The game’s rights were sold after the closure of West End Games and were eventually purchased by Torg fan and president of Ulisses Spiele, Markus Plotz. “TORG is a one of a kind RPG. The setting is unique and for over 15 years, I dreamed about releasing a new and updated version. Now, with the help of the amazing Shane Hensley, that dream finally becomes reality!”

Shane Lacy Hensley heads up the United States studio where both Torg: Eternity and The Dark Eye are being created. “Though my plate is pretty full with my own company, Pinnacle Entertainment Group, I couldn’t resist working on the game that gave me my start. I also met a kindred spirit in Markus Plotz who truly loves and appreciates what a turning point Torg marked in RPG development, so I just couldn’t say no.”

Torg: Eternity will debut in 2016 in deluxe, full color hardback format.

About Ulisses Spiele
Ulisses Spiele is the premiere manufacturer of RPGs in Germany. The company’s portfolio includes amongst other games The Dark Eye (the biggest Fantasy RPG in Germany), the German version of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game (as a license from US RPG giant Paizo Inc.) and the new German V20 version of Vampire – The Masquerade.

Additionally Ulisses Spiele is known as the German distributor for the critically acclaimed tabletop games Warmachine and Hordes from Privateer Press and Infinity from Corvus Belli.

With TORG: Eternity, Ulisses Spiele publishes its first English RPG.

Monday 20 July 2015

Book Review – Old Venus

Edited by George RR Martin and Gardner Bozois

Published by Titan Books

It’s usually the authors or the editors that get me excited about anthology books, but in this case it was the subject matter itself.

A selection of authors were asked to create stories set on a Venus that exists in another reality, when the cloud-shrouded world of yesteryear was thought to be covered in steaming jungles, or oceans, or a myriad of habitable climates. A Venus before science overtook imagination and we realised that it was dead and totally hostile.

‘From pulp adventures such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Carson of Venus to classic short stories such as Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Long Rain’ to visionary novels such as C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra, the planet Venus has loomed almost as large in the imaginations of science fiction writers as Earth’s next-nearest neighbor, Mars…’

The book’s cover artwork (a glorious painting by Stephen Youll with my favourite kind of rocket ship) and blurb above set me up for sword-and-planet adventures but what we get is something totally different. There are some adventure-style stories in the vein of those classics, such as ‘Godstone’ by Mike Resnick and Joe Lansdale’s ‘The Wizard of the Trees’, sure, but the general drive of the stories reveal a sometimes harsh, sometimes mysterious and sometimes downright mystical world. Beyond the adventures - which I have to admit were some of my favourites as that style of pulp adventure appeals to me – there are some wonderfully introspective stories that examine love, the human condition and quite modern high-concept science fiction. Between the introspective, the hard sci-fi and the adventure there certainly is something for every science fiction fan.

The writing style of the authors creates a wonderfully varied selection of stories on the second world of the solar system. Characters visiting, returning to or living on the planet are given plenty of time to shine and the stories are long and involved, which most likely explains the 608 pages and the heftiness of the book; you certainly get your money’s worth. Although not all the stories are masterpieces there isn’t a single one that I did not like and that’s quite a feat for a short story collection where I’m concerned; I have a tendency to lock myself into a mindset when reading and dismiss stories if I’m ‘not in the mood’ for them, but whatever mood or sense of perception one story put me in, the next story succeeded in drawing me in and encompassing me in that new world.

The subject matter aside, Old Venus is a great book, one of the best short story collections I’ve read, and hopefully the editors are thinking about creating a follow-up on the planet of clouds.



‘Frogheads’ by Allen M. Steele
‘The Drowned Celestrial’ by Lavie Tidhar
‘Planet of Fear’ by Paul McAuley
‘Greeves and the Evening Star’ by Matthew Hughes
‘A Planet Called Desire’ by Gwyneth Jones
‘Living Hell’ by Joe Haldeman
‘Bones of Air, Bones of Stone’ by Stephen Leigh
‘Ruins’ by Eleanor Arnason
‘The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss’ by David Brin
‘By Frogsled and Lizardback to Outcast Venusian Lepers’ by Garth Nix
‘The Sunset of Time’ by Michael Cassutt
‘Pale Blue Memories’ by Tobias S. Buckell
‘The Heart's Filthy Lesson’ by Elizabeth Bear
‘The Wizard of the Trees’ by Joe R. Lansdale
‘The Godstone of Venus’ by Mike Resnick
‘Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan’ by Ian McDonald

Sunday 19 July 2015

Review - The Imperial Handbook

By Daniel Wallace

Published by Titan Books

This beautifully presented 160-page hardback book is just the thing you need now that the war against the Empire is pretty much over. The Battle of Endor is finished and the Emperor has fallen, and now that peace is finally breaking out across the galaxy there are many things surfacing, and this book (distributed to the Imperial forces before the Battle of Yavin) makes for interesting reading.

The book is introduced by Luke Skywalker and details the ins and outs of the Imperial war machine, from the military, the navy, the army, the stormtrooper corps, the Imperial doctrine itself and some notes from Palpatine himself. Throughout the book there are hand-written notes about the content by high-ranking rebel officers, even Han and Leia, and the whole thing feels like a war report prepared and annoted by the victors.

And that’s my first problem with the book. The introduction by Skywalker looks like it was typed on a 1940s typewriter. That’s a design choice that immediately pulls me out of the atmosphere of the setting as I’m pretty sure that there were no Underwoods in the Star Wars galaxy. A stylised computer screen would have worked just fine and suited the style of the rest of the book, which is crisp and well laid out.

My other issue is that the annotations can be sometimes humorous but are ultimately pointless. As I’m reading the book and I’m learning about the Imperials, a distracting  note or remark grabs my attention. It doesn’t ruin the book but I don’t feel that it adds the charm and personalisation that it intends.

Other than that the book is really good – the design is excellent, especially the stark black and white cover and black-trimmed pages, and it’s an easy read. The artwork is excellent throughout (the recruitment posters are an exceptionally nice touch) and the details aren’t exceptionally deep but it gives you an excellent idea of exactly how the Empire operated.

As a life-long fan and an avid player of the Star Wars roleplaying game when it first came out in the 1980s, it reminded me very much of the Imperial Sourcebook. The details - such as the structure, the different Imperial departments and even the design of the Imperial garrison – threw me back and it was a nice read.

Apart from my obvious issues with some aspects of the design choice it is a good book. Star Wars fans with deep knowledge of the way the Imperials ran things might not learn anything new from this, but those wanting to know more will get a lot out of it. Not only that, it looks great on a collector’s bookshelf.


In Which Three Dudes Play Star Wars: Edge of the Empire

It’s a Star Wars event that’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally happened. On Saturday 18th July something occurred that would change everything, an incident so rare and explosive that nothing in the history of Star Wars fandom could compare. The galaxy would tremble.

Me, Mark and James met up to play the Fantasy Flight Games Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game.

Now, before you pass out from the shock and excitement and start posting reaction videos on Youtube, let me assure you that this will happen again at some time in the future so don’t worry, you will get the chance to experience it all over again.

I don’t get to game with James and Mark often. In fact, it’s a rare event as it’s a pain to get all three of us together. James Semple, composer and avid tabletop gamer, and Mark Newbold, Fantha Tracks editor and Star Wars aficionado, and myself got together in possibly the best place you could wish to play a Star Wars roleplaying game – Mark’s room dedicated to his collection known as Echo Base. He had it built especially to house his collection and it’s awesome on so many levels it’s hard to describe.

And this is just a part of it...
The edition was Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire, and James was running it for our two characters Moss the smuggler (played by Mark) and Ajanar the mercenary (played by me). Moss was the prisoner being bought to a prison facility and I was one of the guards watching over the place.

After a brief altercation with some other guards who were trying to kill him, under orders from the prison governor, I step in and help him out – of course, I didn’t fully trust him and kept my gun to bear (which is where Mark’s incredible collection comes into play for props).

One thing led to another and we destroyed the command station and stole a ship. Yeah, not exactly the plan but hey – this is Star Wars.

It was a great game. James was as new to the system as we were – it’s been a long time since I played and reviewed it when the original beta rules came out – so there was some stalling on getting the dice and interpretations right but other than the odd moment the game flowed really well. Over a roughly five hour playing period we got at least three encounters in and decent starship chase scene, so the system didn’t really slow us down and it gave great scope for some dramatic moments. James’ game was well designed and was very enjoyable, with the typical Star Wars moments of melodrama and high action, and we felt like heroes which I do feel is the driving core behind the original trilogy nature of Star Wars, which Edge of the Empire, and the follow-up core books, is all about.

There were some downer moments, as you can expect in any roleplaying game, and there were some great high-five moments when the dice came up trumps. We played the characters to the hilt and blasted our way through the game, enjoying the roleplaying aspects just as much as the action.

They’re good rules and played well, so I can recommend the game just as much as when I originally reviewed it, but there was an extra element to this session – we were surrounded by one of the greatest Star Wars collections in existence, we were all hardcore Star Wars fans, all three of us are driven by imaginations that keep us awake at night and we were all singing from the same sheet. Mix that with spontaneous creativity and a fun rules system and you’ve got a potentially explosive situation that will be long remembered.

A great game with a fun system and some amazing friends. This is why I love my hobby.

Friday 17 July 2015

Mini Review - Hulks & Horrors

I'm a big fan of the TSR Buck Rogers XXVc roleplaying game - the big chunky boxset was great value and had everything you needed. Although the game was clunky, and the Buck Rogers label was tacked on to it for various reasons, it was a solid game and was great fun. As a fan of Buck Rogers I didn't mind the setting, but it was easily adaptable to any sci-fi setting regardless.

I always thought it was a wonderful contender as a generic sci-fi game, just as Dungeons & Dragons was a generic fantasy game, and it was a shame they didn't make the leap into making it into the official sci-fi version of D&D.

There were two game systems I always saw as the sci-fi version of D&D; Traveller and the D6 version of the Star Wars which I used to great effect in various sci-fi settings. With these other great systems, did D&D really need a sci-fi version of itself?

Bedroom Wall Press seemed to think so, and so they created Hulks & Horrors. The completely free 156-page book is a great little system and easy to use. If you know Basic D&D then you'll know H&H, and you'll be zipping across the cosmos in no time. The book contains:

Complete rules for characters up to Level 6 and beyond
7 character classes: Pilot, Scientist, Soldier, Psyker, Hovering Squid, Omega Reticulan, and Bearman.
Easy to learn old-school inspired game rules and combat system
Weapons, armor, and equipment inspired by classic science-fiction
Spaceship construction and combat rules
Random tables for creating whole sectors of space
Loot generation rules
Dozens of alien monsters as well as guides for designing your own
Dungeon-mastering advice for sandbox space exploration
Optional rules for customizing Hulks & Horrors

It's quick and easy, and other than the odd rule change it's the system we know and enjoy. I've always enjoyed Basic D&D and this game certainly reminds me of that. The combat system is pretty good - you have to roll below a target number on a D20, which is the attacker's To Hit bonus plus the AC of the target, which is better the lower it is, and a base target number of 5 - and it's easy to use.

The spaceship system is nice and easy and helps give ships a bit of a personality, and there's enough customisable options to help personalise a vessel. Then there's a great big galaxy to fly the thing in, with sectors and planets to explore.

You get a complete game with this, and there's plenty of options and material to get a few hefty campaigns out My gaming group had fun with it last year and we're about to embark on the second lot of adventures; we've already been exploring planets like we've explored kingdoms, abandoned space stations like age-old citadels and mined asteroids like dungeons. Other than the jetpacks and the laser pistols, this is a great D&D clone.

This is the sci-fi version of D&D I've been waiting for.

Thursday 16 July 2015

Boardgame Design

Our future masterpiece
Me and my eight year old boy Bruce spent an hour brainstorming some game ideas tonight, and we came up with a new fantasy boardgame with RPG elements that can be played solo, can be used with dice and can also be used as a trading card game.

How? I hear you ask. Well, I'm not telling you as we're in development.

What I found inspiring about the whole thing was bouncing ideas off a boy, not even in double digits, who got excited about things because there were things to get excited about, and aspects of the game we were creating were cool because they were cool and not because they work mechanically.

That was refreshing. I get so bogged down in mechanics, design and how it all fits together and flows I sometimes forget about the most crucial part - having fun.

Next time you sit down to brainstorm a new game plan, I suggest you get an 8-year old to sit in on a few sessions. It could change your whole perception of game design.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Book Review - Halo: Hunters in the Dark

By Peter David
Publisher: Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

Halo is great. I'm a huge fan of Halo and have consumed quite a considerable amount between the games, books, comics and films. But I can see now that Halo has been so successful it has fallen into the trap of being contributed to by more and more authors and the quality, as with any mass production, must therefore go down from time to time.

In a nutshell Hunters in the Dark revolves around a team of humans and elites going to the Ark (from the 3rd Halo game) to try and stop a countdown that has begun and will result in all of the Halo rings firing, wiping out all life in the galaxy. Therefore the portal that is on Earth, that was used by the Master Chief, is re-activated and the team head off and much adventuring ensues. That's the main premise and it's not a bad one, fitting nicely with what we already know about Halo.

Unfortunately Peter David wrote it.

Peter David is an author I really enjoyed as a teenager. But his work is one of those things that I look back on now and realise that I simply wasn't able to tell a good book from a bad one at that age. He uses lines like 'in a voice that sounded as if it came from beyond the grave' in an attempt to add flair to simple dialogue. Good authors don't do that. Or, if they do, they use something that at least makes sense and isn't quite so hyperbolic.

This doesn't feel like a necessary book (as Fall of Reach did) but very much has the air of something that was churned out with the Halo name on it for no greater reason than to take my money. This book neither complements the larger Halo universe or seems like it will in future. It does, however, feel like a Halo product (which is more than can be said for the backstreet abortion that was Halo: Nightfall). The setting feels authentic and the characters feel like Halo characters, albeit exceedingly two-dimensional ones.

Regarding characters; the human ones are much more poorly presented than the Elites. The humans say and do things that leave me thinking 'no they wouldn't'. Or they suddenly comprehend things that they have no reason to. Or they are able to do things that frankly requires such specialist training to achieve at the standard being described that I'm left thinking 'nonsense'. Such as being able to speak to a Huragok flawlessly in their own language which, for those not initiated into the lore of Halo, revolves around sign language using their multiple tentacles. This strikes me as about as likely as talking to a chameleon by changing your colour. Which I know isn't why chameleons change colour but you get my point. The Elites, on the other hand, come across well and are not given any abilities that seem out of keeping with their traditions, training and culture. Aside from the gunnery officer being an A-class medic able to fix human bodies that have sustained massive trauma. Which is especially strange given that Elites shun medical treatment for themselves, let alone others. The book makes this point but I don't think the author pointing out that something doesn't make sense is a suitable way to address the fact that it doesn't make sense.

Sadly there's the usual B-movie quality sub-plots that you might expect from a tie-in novel like this, revolving around old feuds and missing family members that (Surprise!) turn up later in the book. There's also the way the book moves on at a rollicking pace as though it had to keep to some kind of time limit. And the action lacks the authenticity that Karen Traviss brings to her works, no doubt informed by her background as a defence correspondent during her time as a journalist.

Looking for positives; the cover art is absolutely brilliant. That can't be denied. And the Monitor on the Ark, called Tragic Solitude, is an engaging presence that I enjoyed reading and learning his thoughts and perspectives. His dialogue with, what I suppose, is the lead female protagonist, Olympia Vale, is for me one of the highlights of the book. His time stuck alone for 100,000 years on the Ark have left him with some interesting ideas on what needs doing to the galaxy and why.

But overall this book felt like a slog to finish it and I'm still not really sure why it's called Hunters in the Dark. I think this book will seem like a great read to younger audiences (my 15 year old self would have loved this) and people who just can't get enough Halo of any quality will, presumably given those criteria, find it an enjoyable read. But I personally found it an unnecessary tie-in with generally weak characters, unsatisfying action and too many implausibilities.

Sunday 12 July 2015

NEWS - John Carter RPG coming from Modiphius

John Carter fans, return to Barsoom with a series of officially licensed tabletop games from Modiphius Entertainment!

The Dying World of Barsoom Needs Heroes: Will You Answer the Call? 

First brought to life by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912,  John Carter is a Confederate officer who survives the American Civil War only to find himself transported to a fantastic version of Mars called Barsoom. The Mars stories spawned a generation of writers who went on to create such classic worlds as Dune, Star Wars, Superman, Avatar and Dungeons & Dragons. It is only fitting that John Carter is brought to life in the industry Burroughs’ ideas helped inspire.  As with many other gamers, the John Carter books inspired a love for Barsoom in Chris Birch, founder of Modiphius, who nurtured a collection of gradually disintegrating novels:

“I remember finding the whole set in a quirky bookstore in Shepherds Bush when I first moved to London, complete with gorgeous 70’s art. The adventures of the Warlord and his friends were hugely inspirational. These classic planetary-romance stories took me on a fantastic journey, and it’s been a dream to see Barsoom come to life through a series of games and miniatures.”

Modiphius is committed to a faithful adaptation of Burroughs’ planetary romance and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter draws directly from Burroughs’ original texts.

John Carter —The Roleplaying Game-- Due for release: Christmas 2015
Explore the wonders of Barsoom from the vast deserts to the ancient cities. Discover the forgotten secrets of a world that was old when life first spawned in the oceans of Earth. Play as pilots, warriors, scientists, or one of the terrifying green Tharks.  Create you own Barsoom adventures or take on the great journeys as John Carter himself along side Dejah Thoris, Kantos Kan, Xodar, Tars Tarkas, Thuvia of Ptarth, Carthoris of Helium or any of the other major heroes and heroines of Barsoom.

The John Carter roleplaying game uses 2d20 LITE—a streamlined version of the 2d20 system featured in the Mutant Chronicles, INFINITY and Conan roleplaying games. Designed for fast flowing action accentuating the exuberant adventures of the original books, 2d20 LITE let’s you dive into the game immediately with a sleek, pulse-pounding system. Major industry artists will help bring Barsoom to life.

John Carter: Swords of Mars—Miniatures-- Due for release: Spring 2016
A line of collectible miniatures for use with the roleplaying game brings your adventures to the battlefield. Play small skirmishes or fight a war for the dying planet—scalable rules provide for both. Defend ruins against a horde of Tharks, raid the city of Helium to capture the Princess or take your battle airborne with the Red Martian navies.

John Carter: Warlord of Mars—The Board Game—Due for release: Summer 2016
Enact the greatest adventures across the ancient world of Barsoom as you lead your heroes through crumbling ruins and take to the skies in the beautiful ships of the Helium Navy. Can you save Barsoom from ruin at the hands of dastardly scientists or ancient forces?

For more information on the John Carter tabletop gaming line by Modiphius please visit