Tuesday, 16 January 2018

J.R.R. Tolkien and my roleplaying hobby

A BBC ad for LotR
My love affair with The Lord of the Rings began when I was in the fifth year of school. I was ten years old and it's one of the things from childhood that I vividly remember.

Every week were made to sit in groups around a tape recorder that had about six huge, clunky sets of headphones plugged into it, and through this we were subjected to the BBC radio dramatisation of 'The Lord of the Rings'; all 26 wonderful, magical parts. It was the most exciting few weeks of my school life as I became immersed in this incredible world of magic, monsters and heroes of all sizes.

And that was it. After finding out that we had copies of both the books at home, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I set about reading them from cover to cover and savouring every page, and I also did my best to record the BBC drama on an old radio cassette player. And that was it. I declared my love for all things Tolkien and as the years passed by my meagre collection grew and grew.

Roleplaying in Middle-earth never truly started until the late 1980s, and even then the games never really delved into the richness of the world. I'd been playing fantasy games since 1983, roleplaying since 1984, and even though I immersed myself in the fantasy worlds of the game I never had the chance, or really the urge, to game in Middle-earth. Tolkien's world never had the plethora of monsters that the D&D worlds had and I was having fun making my way through the beasties of the books, and exploring whole new fantasy worlds such as Titan, Forgotten Realms and several home-brewed locations of varying quality.

Image result for merp
I began to play once a friend of mine got his hands on the Middle-earth Role Playing game - MERP - and I created my first ever fully-fleshed and detailed player character, Tere Swordsong. It was with this character that I was able to finally understand the creative power of roleplaying games and I allowed myself to become fully attached to the character. It was an amazing adventure and I was giddy with excitement when I walked through the doors of The Inn of the Last Bridge in the Trollshaws, and I finally began to roam the lands I loved so much.

The divergence began when the gamemaster began to create adventures that became bigger and bigger in concept, and began to affect not just my character or the location but the world as a whole. We were both wary of contradicting established Tolkien lore, probably I was more than him, and so it was then that he decided to change it from Middle-earth to a general fantasy Europe. As it turned out, it was a great choice. Now he could bring in all kinds of monsters and bad guys and have full control of the game, without any second-guessing or worrying about what was right or wrong in Middle-earth, and he didn't feel hemmed in or restricted by the setting - or by my expectations.

The time I did spend in Middle-earth was incredibly gratifying and the fact that it also enabled me to finally get under the skin of a player character and play him to the hilt was a vital turning point in my roleplaying hobby. Every character I have created since Tere Swordsong has failed to recreate that feeling I got when playing him and, even though I played the characters as well as I was able, they never measured up.

It is strange that, considering my love for Middle-earth, I never spent much time gaming there. I could never figure out quite why that was, not until I ran my own somewhat disastrous MERP games in the mid-1990s and realised fully why it was I had shied away from it.

It was because I was a snob.

I was trying to run a MERP game with a couple of players - post War of the Ring - but couldn't quite figure out why it was I wasn't enjoying the game. It hit me at the beginning of the second session; the players weren't playing the game the way I expected them to. I had an image of Middle-earth in my head, the way everyone acted, spoke and basically presented themselves, and the players were not playing it that way. They were playing it the same way they played old D&D and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay games, speaking normally and messing around. They just weren't taking this amazing setting and world seriously enough. I'd even go as far to say that I was angry at them because they didn't have the same level of respect that I did for Tolkien's world.

Crazy? Oh, yes, it was a crazy attitude to have but after more than ten years being brewed in my head it was going to be difficult to let go of the images and attitudes I thought should be present in a Middle-earth game. Before the game descended into madness I did exactly what my former MERP GM did; I changed the setting to a fantasy Europe. The games were considerably better now that I wasn't emotionally dragging the game down and the campaign, though short, was a good one.

This was a dilemma; how could I game in Middle-earth when the players involved didn't have the same attitude - dare I say it respect - towards the setting as I did? Had I ruined any chance at gaming in my favourite fantasy setting? What I needed was something that would unite imaginations, make sure that we were all working from the same page and were approaching the game with the same attitude. This was why my Star Wars D6 games worked so well, because we all had the same visual and emotional attachment to the films so they were very easy games to run and get involved in.

So when Peter Jackson's 'The Lord of the Rings' movies were released, and the Decipher version of the rules was published, I finally had my visual and emotional anchor. I thought I'd give it another shot.

The Decipher CODA
Core Rulebook.
Peter Jackson's 'The Lord of the Rings' movies hit the cinemas and (after breathing a huge sigh of relief as I really enjoyed them, and had spent the previous two years anticipating disappointment) I felt ready to tackle Middle-earth as a campaign world once again.

Instead of using MERP or any other fantasy RPG I decided to start from scratch and use the new Decipher ruleset, the CODA system. This had been used pretty well in their Star Trek RPG and so I had high hopes for The Lord of the Rings.

Although it didn't tick all my boxes it was a pretty good system and it played really well, and having the visuals of the movies really helped. Instead of several people sitting around the table with differing thoughts regarding the aesthetics and attitudes of Middle-earth, we were all on the same page. The players could visualise their heroes, they knew the look and feel of certain locations and, dwarf-tossing jokes aside, they pretty much stayed the course.

After several successful sessions it was the lore of Middle-earth that started to cause the problems.

Fifteen years earlier I had created and gamed in a Star Wars setting called 'The Setnin Sector', and we had been very careful to create a slice of the Star Wars galaxy that was somewhat removed from the rest of the universe, so it not only existed alongside the official Star wars universe it didn't intrude on it. This gave the sense that the players could still have their huge sector-shaking adventures yet not have any direct influence or effect on the Star Wars galaxy at large. It honestly gave them a sense of really 'being there'. The only golden rule we had was that no player character or story could outshine or contradict the established characters and saga.

Not so with this game. It was not the system that was at fault but, once again, it was the attitude to the game. Once the players were comfortable with the system they wanted more. More adventures, more places to explore, more power and glory. We had come to the game with the same mindset as far as the setting was concerned but the players still wanted to grow in power an influenced as they had in other RPGs. As I was trying to treat Middle-earth the same way as I had treated the Star Wars sector I had created and that was simply impossible; thousands of planets versus a continent? Where could the players honestly go?

With things like Warhammer's Old World and the Cthulhu Mythos I had more than gladly taken liberties with the setting, even changing the entire history and the pantheon in the case of the Old World, but with Middle-earth I could not bring myself to do such a thing, similar to how I couldn't intrude on the Star Wars setting's reality. This was partly my fault as I had come at the game wanting to adventure in the world but I still had the 'epic campaign' mindset, in that the players would expect their adventures to be world shattering. I simply couldn't do this with Middle-earth as it was far too dear to me and changing it in any way, even though it was just a game, just felt wrong.

The games were abandoned and the Decipher rules were discarded. I haven't really ventured into Tolkien's world since and that really is my own fault, but I have the books for Cubicle 7's 5e Middle-earth game, so at some point I will play there again.

I wonder how I'll feel about it?

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Wargame Review – Dracula’s America: Shadows of the West

Dracula's America: Shadows of the WestBy Jonathan Haythornthwaite

Published by Osprey Games

It is 1875, and Count Dracula is President of the United States of America.

In the wake of the Civil War, with the country struggling to regain its balance, Dracula seized power. The Count's thralls assassinated President Lincoln and his entire administration in a single night and, in the ensuing chaos, their master made his move. Dominating the Senate, he declared himself President-for-Life, and now rules the Union with fear and an iron fist. His vampiric progeny, the Coven of the Red Hand, infest every strata of society, and enforce Dracula's will with ruthless efficiency.

Drawn by the shadows gathering across the nation, secretive cults and evil creatures emerge from their lairs to thrive in the darkness of the new regime. Fleeing from the oppression and menace of the East, hordes of pioneers head to the West, hoping for a new life.

Dracula's greed, however, knows no bounds, and his reach is long…

Dracula's America: Shadows of the West is a skirmish game of gothic horror set in an alternate Old West. Secret wars rage across the country - from bustling boom-towns to the most remote wilderness - as cults and secret societies fight for power and survival. Players will throw their support behind one of these factions, and will lead a Posse in fast-paced, cinematic battles for dominance and survival.

I like my alternative histories, the idea that if something was done differently or if a certain side won a conflict they originally lost could change the course of history, and how the repercussions of that would echo throughout the ages. The power of a ‘what if?’ story can be quite an eye-opener.

But when someone puts a wargame rulebook in your hands and says ‘Yeah, it’s the wild west but Dracula took over America and it’s all a bit gothic’, it’s something of a surprise. It certainly wasn’t the first thing that went through my head when I thought of alternative realities, so how do you make that work in tabletop skirmish wargame?

The book is a 140-page hardback and is really well presented. An evocative cover and some really nice interior art by RU-MOR sets the atmosphere and the mood of the game, and the layout is crisp, easy on the eye and simple to follow. It’s a great quality rulebook that you can leave open on whatever page you require without fear of the pages falling out or rolling over onto the wrong page.

The writing is sharp and to the point – sometimes rulebooks can be filled with flowery descriptions and filler material, but this game gets to the point in the first four pages with little preamble; this is the game, this is what it’s about and here’s what’s expected of you. I like that, it gets me into the very reason I have the book in the first place; to play tabletop battles.

You’ll need three kinds of dice for this game – the D6, D8 and the D10, which can also be halved to be used as D3s, D4s and D5s. You’ll also need a deck of normal playing cards, which is a nice touch because there’s always been a connection between westerns and poker.

Image result for Dracula's America: Shadows of the West
Image from rulebook

The game mechanic is quite simple. A game is divided into eight game turns, and each game turn is split into four phases; the Draw Phase, where each player draws cards that help decide the order of play. The Action Phase where cards are played, models are activated and they perform their actions. The NPC Phase where all non-player models take their turn, and the Recovery Phase where models are reset for the next round.

Each model can use dice depending on their skill; Novices use the D6, Veterans use the D8 and Heroes use the D10. These have different costs when putting together a Posse, a player’s team of between 6 and 8 miniatures, and the die used determines their skill. You roll a number of dice and aim for a target number of 5. 5 or better is a success and 4 or less is a failure, and the number of successes determines the outcome of the test.

A posse can be chosen from different factions; The Twilight Order,The Red Hand Coven, The Skinwalker Tribes, The Crossroads Cult, The Congregation, and The Dark Confederacy. These give your posse a selection of powers and abilities you can use and abuse during a game. Each of these factions help to realise the atmosphere of a supernatural gothic wild west, but you can also use the game as a straight forward western skirmish game if you drop the insane reality of the setting. In fact, we played out our first game that way to get used to the rules, just kept it simple, and then used the supernatural elements and the advanced rules in the book to fill the game out. We found it much easier that way, as there are plenty of options and it might be a little overwhelming if you played it as it is straight out of the book.

There’s a nice section on campaigns in there, too, so there’s a great framework for an ongoing battle against – or for - the darkness, and the seven scenarios included give a nice cross section as to what you can do with different situations. With arcane powers, insane supernatural events and some unnerving monsters, the game is filled to the brim with ideas and opportunities to create some really interesting encounters.

So, how did we get on with it?

We started with two simple Posses; the Plonkertons, a team of six private agents had a shootout with the Messy Wales Gang. We had no dedicated miniatures for this game – these can be purchased form www.northstarfigures.com and www.artizandesigns.com - so we used some 28mm figures from a sci-fi range for the first game and some random wild west printable figures for further ones. It was good fun; we didn’t take it too seriously and it was a great way to shake down the rules.

As we progressed and introduced new elements, got into our chosen factions and used the powers on offer the game dynamic changed. The setting didn’t play much of a role in the game itself, to be honest; the whole ‘Dracula takes America’ story was fascinating and adds depth for those looking for extra levels to their gaming experience, but with only a few pages dedicated to the actual events that led to the installation of the big D into the Whitehouse there’s little to go on. However, the story is a means to an end, and we get all kinds of gloriously cool and cruel powers and monsters to play with in the game itself. Hopefully, further expansions to the game will help grow the mythology of the setting, but right now what you have here is exactly what the game offers; dark and bloody conflicts in a strange, twisted, untamed land.

In fact, we seemed to play two kinds of game here; there was the straight-forward shootout game, a fun and fast-paced western skirmish wargame where we could quote Clint Eastwood, look at each other with narrowed eyes for few seconds before rolling dice and shout ‘Yeehah!’ as we rode into battle, and then there was the darker supernatural game, where we could really sink our teeth into playing out a dark, twisted nightmare of a setting.

One thing we did notice was that the miniatures we were using really pulled us out of the game, and there were only so many times we could play out in the wild as we had no model buildings. What this game really calls out for is immersion, and there are some lovely photographs in the book of well-painted miniatures in some amazing surroundings, like towns and wildlands. If you had the right miniatures and could put them onto a game board that gave you the main street of a wild west town, with saloons and general stores and the like, the game would be amazing. Alas, we had some paper cutouts and some cardboard with hastily drawn shop fronts and small boxes as buildings. Hey, it worked and we had fun, but modellers will have a field day recreating the world to get the full experience. It just takes a bit of dedication.

This is a really good, fun and entertaining system that will benefit from further books to flesh out the lore, the setting and playing options.  Longevity will come from mixing things up and having a love of the wild west as a whole, but overall the matches were satisfying and, if you take the options in the book one at a time and build up the experience, it’s a very rewarding game.


Image result for Dracula's America: Shadows of the West art

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Making sure that the PCs and the Campaign match

Old man with a Flashlight by j4p4n
Players sometimes go to a lot of trouble to design a PC that they can really delve into. This can take the form of a detailed history on multiple sheets of paper, a drawing, a short story; any and all of these things can give the player character depth and a player can take great pleasure in playing the PC and exploring their character further.

With small groups, I tend to create games based around what the players have created, on the characterisations and personalities that the players have spent considerable time designing in and out of the game. So it gets somewhat frustrating, then, when the personality of the character changes suddenly, or the player turns up with a completely different character to the one you catered for in your adventure design.

I was setting up a game of mystery and suspense in a Call of Cthulhu game set in the 1930s and the two player characters taking part were both university professors. They were learned men, in their forties and very well educated and both had been designed with the idea that they had travelled the world and experienced all kinds of things that drove them to learn more. The game was set in the jungles of middle Africa and was going to be a game of travel, exploration and mystery. I designed the NPCs around that, with low combat skills and high knowledge skills. It was going to be a fun, investigative game. I was pretty shocked, then, when the game became an Indiana Jones-style escapade and instead of communicating with the NPCs the players simply beat their way through them, got into fistfights to obtain information and hacked their way through the jungle with machetes and Thompson machine guns. In the intervening time between creating the characters and turning up for the game the players had completely changed their minds about what kind of characters, even what kind of game, they wanted to play. The only problem with their change of mind was that they had neglected to inform me of their decision and I was totally unprepared for it. To be fair, I managed to run a fun action-orientated game but my heart wasn’t in it as I was in the mood for mystery and suspense, and this came across in the session. We never continued that campaign after that one game, so that was a lot wasted work for everyone.

These days, I tend to create games with two different versions of the same NPC – the combat and non-combat versions. If the playing style of the game swings towards either action or mystery then I’m mostly ready for it but there’s nothing I can do about what mood I’m in. It’s easy to have NPCs prepped for different kinds of games but being in the correct frame of mind, that’s a whole different thing entirely. If a game’s atmosphere is disrupted by the GM being on a separate level of expectation, or even a couple of players out of the whole group, then the session will suffer.

When players create PCs, when they detail the characters in both history and personality, and they hand them over for the GM to agree on then they have to realise that the chances are that GM will design a game based around what kind of PC they have designed. Players have the right to change their minds, of course – they may have a better idea of what they want to do with the PC the very next day - but it helps to give the GM notice of this change so that he can plan accordingly. The same sort of thing applies to the GM; if the players create investigative PCs and the GM throws them into high-adventure battles that the players are unprepared for then the game will collapse due to either expectations not being met or PCs biting the bullet.

Decide on a style of game and try to stick to it. If anyone has a change of mind about their game or their PC then make sure that everyone knows what it is they want to do. The whole game doesn’t have to change but at least these changes will be expected and catered for.

Originally posted March 2012

Monday, 8 January 2018

My convention disaster

A simple table by photofree.gaIt was the UK Games Expo in 2009 and I offered my services for the Friday RPG sessions as a GM to help fill a table and demo my SKETCH game. I designed a dungeon, advertised it and got some interest. I was allocated six places and I filled them all.

I got there in plenty of time on the Friday, set up, and watched the eight or nine other tables around me fill up. I sat there eagerly waiting.

And nobody came.

While the other gamers roared and laughed and rolled their dice I sat there with a vast empty table, the seats all pushed under, the spaces filled with character sheets and notes. The dice were piled in the centre of the table in a neat pyramid and didn't move for the two hours I waited. I sat and wrote notes and tried to look busy, but considering the trade halls were not open until the next day I couldn't even take a wander around the show.

As I was also covering the show for two online magazines I was given a free pass for the weekend so it wasn't a total loss. But I never found out why they never came - as far as I can tell they all signed up independantly and they never knew each other, so it's not like they all bailed for the same reason.

The thing I remember the most is the DM running a game at the next table looking over at me with a pained expression, like she really felt my pain, and then she leaned over and whispered, 'Are you sure you got your times right?'

Yes. Yes, I did.

Friday, 5 January 2018

My ego-trip gaming period

EGO Man by aungkarnsI had a huge problem in my first few years of running roleplaying games.

I had a huge ego.

When I used to GM I loved to have complete control over the game to the point where the players became mere spectators. But I also had another problem, one that was much, much worse than railroading the game. I used to love my GMPCs. That’s right – I had Mary Sue characters.

There was one particular NPC I had in a Star Wars game who I’d heap adoration onto. The problem here was that this character was also my own PC so, of course, he’d automatically be the cool character in my game. There’s absolutely no excuse here – I’d use my powers as GM to fully control the destiny of my character until it became worse than a railroad game, it became a biography of who my character was and what he could do and the players would watch his life and abilities unfold, as if they were supposed to be impressed or something. This was all about me, at the end of the day. I barely gave a thought to the players and concentrated on how cool it would be if this or that happened to my character. This was a direct result of my PC not getting the limelight in the game in which I played him in, and it was my chance to have his fate unfold as I wanted it to happen.

I wasn’t alone in this – a friend of mine also had a favourite PC he’d run as a GMPC, and we would frequently swap GMing duties. It became a battle between us, who could outdo the other in the Mary Sue department, right down to ‘my GMPC saves the day!’ events. We burned ourselves out doing this and after a climactic PC vs PC fight that ended in a kind of draw - his PC won by skill and my PC won with subterfuge – we kind of realised what it was we were doing and also realised that there was no fun in this, no sense of achievement or fulfillment at all. We were in our late teens when all this happened and so we managed to get it out of our system very early on and thank heavens we did. Our games improved because of it and we went on to run bigger and better campaigns.

Years later we took part in games where supposedly older and wiser gamers were doing the same thing. We looked at each other knowingly and sat back to watch the Ego Show, and enjoyed letting the GM indulge themselves. My friend even encouraged it, partly for the fun of it and partly because we’d get the same experience points regardless of whether the GMPC won the day for us or not. We got past this phase in our early gaming years but it appears that no matter how much experience a GM has they can still fall into the same habits and traps.

I see this kind of gaming as pure self-indulgence on the part of the GM. There’s nothing positive about it at all and only ever creates dissatisfaction and boredom within the player group. It’s an incredibly selfish way to game and although I still sometimes create a top-notch NPC who I’d like to see do well I have to realise that it’s the player’s characters who are the heroes of the game. To reduce them to trivial spectators or sidekicks makes their entire reason for turning up for the game utterly pointless.

If you’re new to this GMing lark, don’t think you’ll find satisfaction in playing like this. You honestly won’t, even though you’ll think you will, or are. All you’ll end up doing is losing players and looking back on the games with the realisation that running a GMPC as the focus of the game is possibly the most pointless thing you can be doing at that table, and that it’s a massive waste of the time that you could have been spending running a decent game that involved the players and revolved around their characters. You know – the reason why they turned up to play your game in the first place.

I cut my ties with that way of gaming by killing off my ego trip PC completely and it was a great moment as I was able to totally let go of my Mary Sue tendencies.

Originally posted April 2012

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Using RPGs as an emotional release

Theatre Masks by wasatI had a player once who took the game quite seriously. He took it incredibly seriously. In fact, he took it so seriously he actually scared me a little.

I’m into my roleplaying games, that much is obvious, enjoy getting under the skin of a PC, figuring out what makes them tick and using that knowledge to determine what the character would do. I’m playing as intended, I’m playing a role. I find it fun, rewarding and fulfilling, which is no doubt what the majority of players get out of it.

This particular player – I’ll call this guy Bill – was a nice bloke and a good friend. We spent a lot of time together and I knew he had certain emotional issues which he never really talked about but seemed to regard with a very ‘that’s all over and done with’ positive attitude. He joined the gaming group very early on and attended games regularly for a couple of years. We started to do some one-on-one gaming in several different genres and, slowly at first but with gaining momentum, his attitude towards the game started to change.

Bill enjoyed the game as a bit of fun and had a great laugh at the table when we were in a group, but when the one-on-one games began he began to change. The characters he started to play were becoming much more intense, much more defined and a lot more emotionally unstable. Out went his fun-loving carefree adventurers and in came some very dark, detailed PCs with incredibly twisted pasts. They all began to share the same trait; they had all had a traumatic incident in their younger years that involved the death of someone very close – I have no idea if anything like this had happened to Bill in real life - and this made the PC angry at the world and he would take gruesome, meticulous revenge on anyone who crossed them. The PCs, in many respects, were the exact opposite of what the game setting required. Be it Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer or MERP they were always the same dark, brooding, emotionally disturbed characters. And when Vampire: The Masquerade was released… well, it was as if someone had written the game to satiate every one of Bill’s roleplaying requirements.

Now, let me make something clear here – Bill was only this way in the games. Outside the game he was the same old Bill, funny and friendly, but in the game he stopped being himself. I could have put this down to him playing the character he had designed but every character he created was the same. I felt he was using the game as some kind of emotional release and, as I simply didn’t understand what he was trying to get out of the game or why, he would get highly frustrated and angry when things didn’t go the way he wanted, probably because events hadn’t transpired the way he had pictured them in his head. He demanded total control and if things slipped away from him he would react quite badly. More often than not I found myself fudging the game to let him ‘win’ to avoid the barrage of anger and vitriol that sometimes came out should things work against him. I was constantly bombarded by detailed, five thousand word character backgrounds and illustrations, some of which were somewhat confusing and even disturbing, and in the game he would go off on long speeches about how haunted he was, how these events had affected him, how deeply scarred he was. These speeches usually preceded him being particularly brutal or vicious to particular NPCs he perceived as deserving his retribution.

It was obvious that Bill was using the game to either express his darker side or he was trying to excise personal demons or feelings through his PCs. The deeper he got into the game the darker it got and I found myself disliking the sessions and then I blatantly stopped running them. It was getting too much and I was becoming scared about how he was living out certain parts of his emotional state in the game. Once I cut down and then finally stopped running these games for him I saw less of him. I didn’t know if he was still playing, I do know he had approached another group in a neighbouring city, but he moved away soon after and we lost contact completely. I’ve not spoken to him in more than twenty years, now. I hope he found what he was looking for.

Using roleplaying games to vent emotional problems, or any problems at all, is never a good idea. It’s not fair on you (as you’ll just taint the game for yourself), the GM (he can’t mindread and therefore can’t cater for what it is you want from the game) or the other players at the table (they’re attending to have fun, not take part in a psycho-analysing session). The nature of roleplaying games is that they are not real, and you are living in a fictitious world through the eyes of a fictitious character so any emotional experience is not grounded in reality. In my experience – I am guilty of taking out some of my stress and darker feelings in the game, I’m sure a lot of players are – any emotional payoff is short lived and never addresses the real reason why you channeled those feelings in the first place. The very fact that the game and what occurs in it isn’t real means that any experiences you have in the game are also just as false. You’ll never take away any sense of closure the way you would should you address the problem directly and outside the game.

I think this was Bill’s problem. He kept looking for that moment of closure but never truly found it and the harder he looked the worse it got. He was a great roleplayer, that much is sure, and I can say with certainty that if he hadn’t been so emotionally invested the games would have been up there with some of my best memories and experiences of the hobby. What I should have done is realised the problem, realised why it was he playing the game in such a way, and stopped the games straight away, or at least changed the focus. Maybe Bill would be in my group today and he’d be the happy Bill, the fun game-loving Bill he was when he first started roleplaying.

Originally posted February 2012

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Stars Without Number - Revised Edition

Image result for Stars Without Number: Revised EditionWay back when I played a game from Sine Nomine Publishing called 'Stars Without Number', an OSR-influenced science fiction roleplaying game that really shone. Now Kevin Crawford has Kickstarted a revised edition; he was originally looking for $10,000, and the campaign ended at $192,036. Yeah.

There is a full-colour free edition you can download, which is excellent. I've had a read through it and I'm really excited about what I've read, and I'm all geared up to purchase the full physical edition.

In the free edition alone you get:

- Backwards compatibility, as the Revised Edition is built to work cleanly with existing Stars Without Number supplements and materials. The new systems slot in smoothly, and you can take or leave them individually as your group prefers.

- Expanded character creation, with PCs now customized by special talents and character foci, new options for psychic characters, and new ways to make your hero mechanically distinct. Yet the process is still smooth and quick, with a special quick generator spread to create a hero from nothing more than a half-dozen die rolls.

- Refined psionics, with more options to distinguish your psychic hero's powers and more flexible choices for their abilities. Tailor your psychic to your concept, whether as a cynical gunslinging brainguard or an ascetic psychic healer from a world of austere psionic scholars.

- Improved starship combat, with decisive roles for every member of the party. Build your own starships with the included system and employ new hardware and new starship mods to make your ungainly crate the fastest contraband runner this side of the Veil Nebula.

- New systems to support additional types of play, including rules for hacking, remote drones, and expert technical modification of gear and starships.

- Upgraded tools for sandbox sector creation, with forty new world tags to help define a GM's stellar creations, guides for adding additional system points of interest, and material to help a GM define the interesting traits of the worlds they create. These tools aren't just a clump of random tables, they're a framework to boost your own creativity and help you make fast, good, playable material for your game.

- Augmented adventure creation guidelines. Aside from a hundred piping-hot adventure seeds that mesh smoothly with the world creation tools, Stars Without Number: Revised Edition also includes content to help you turn your vague ideas into a playable evening's adventure. Guidelines on challenges, rewards, and complications in play are all aimed toward the working GM, the man or woman who's not just theorizing their adventures, but actually responsible for making something fun for the whole group.

- Tools for creating aliens, Virtual Intelligences, and hostile human foes, with guidelines for handling potentially-hostile encounters and creating the kind of fearsome xenobeasts that can challenge the doughtiest explorer. Or perhaps you want to be an alien or robot? You'll find the tools for that in Stars Without Number: Revised Edition.

- Faction rules, for handling the background warring and intrigues of hostile groups. Need to add life and motion to your stellar sectors? Sprinkle in a few factions to make news for the PCs to respond to, or use these rules to handle the colonies, spy agencies, mercenary companies, or other enterprises your heroes establish.

Isn't that fantastic? If you go for the paid-for version, you then get this:

- Transhuman tech, with rules for bodyswapping, digital identities, post-scarcity economics, and just as importantly, GM guidelines on making exciting adventures when all the old pillars of familiarity have fallen away.

- True AIs, the vast and terrible intellects that can bring forth wonders and ruin in equal measure. Playing a synthetic VI or aspiring organic godmind? Learn how your PC can accumulate the tech they need to ascend to this new plane of being.

- Mechs, for those GMs who relish the thunder of steel titans on their far-future battlefields.

- Heroic PCs, for groups that want to trade the gritty, lethal tone of a standard campaign for classic space opera, with larger-than-life heroes and superhuman skills.

- Society creation, customizing a world or a hab with its own culture and history, pre-designed with fault lines and conflicts to engage your heroes. You'll get more than a dry recounting of details; you'll get the information you need to build adventures that fit with this world's smouldering tensions.

Kevin has done an amazing job with this and he deserves all kinds of congratulations. Me, I can't wait to get a dedicated group on the go and explore the stars without number.