Wednesday 21 November 2018

[Preview] 'Forbidden Lands' from Fria Ligan

I have been perusing the new Forbidden Lands roleplaying game by Fria Ligan, a fantasy game where you play 'raiders and rogues bent on making your own mark on a cursed world'.

I have played two other Fria Ligan products, the amazing 'Coriolis' and the wonderful 'Tales from the Loop', and both games left quite an impression on me. The quality of Fria Ligan's products and the presentation in their games is of an incredibly high standard, and this game is no different.

After the beautiful full-colour illustrations and dynamic layout of the the two previous games I have played, the thing that strikes me with this game is the black and white interiors and the stark, black and white illustrations. In fact, the book has a very old-school feel about it which I find very appealing, being the *ahem* age that I am, and makes the game very clear and easy on the eye. The artwork is excellent and very stylised, and really helps to capture a unique atmosphere that helps to make the game stand out.

And the system? It's a variation of the six-sided die system we've seen in previous games but there's the addition of a D8, a D10 and a D12. There is also a custom card deck available that helps theg ame run more smoothly, but apparently these are not needed for play.

This has been a general read-through of the book and I'm impressed. There's not a lot of detail I want to go into right now as I'll be doing a full review of the game once I've played it, and I don't want to make assumptions without playing thegame properly. However, I think this will be an easy sell to my gaming group as it has the normal fantasy tropes - you can play the standard different races as well as a couple of new ones, and there are classes to choose from, too - but there's a dark twist to the setting that appeals to me as a GM.

Look out for my full review in the future.

'In Forbidden Lands, you and your friends will be playing raiders and rogues bent on making your own mark on a cursed world. Discover lost tombs, fight horrifying monsters, wander the wilderness and, if you live long enough, build your own stronghold to defend.

Forbidden Lands is a legacy game, in which your actions will permanently change the game map, turning it into a living chronicle of your adventures. The unique rules for exploration, survival, base building and campaign in Forbidden lands play can easily be ported to any other game world.

The tabletop RPG Forbidden Lands was named one of the most anticipated RPGs of 2018 by EN World. The crowdfunding campaign raised over a quarter of a million dollars and was the third most successful RPG Kickstarter in the world 2017.

The game is the fourth English tabletop RPG from the Swedish developers Free League Publishing. With art by the internationally acclaimed artist Simon Stålenhag and iconic fantasy artist Nils Gulliksson, lore by fantasy author Erik Granström, scenarios by esteemed game writers such as Patrick Stuart, Ben Milton and Chris McDowall and game design by Free League that created the award-winning RPGs Mutant: Year Zero, Coriolis: The Third Horizon, Symbaroum and Tales from the Loop.

The core boxed game set includes the Player's Handbook and the Gamemaster's Guide - two hardcover books with leather and gold covers, totaling over 450 pages - along with a large full-color map, a sheet of map stickers, and a booklet of tables.'

Saturday 17 November 2018

Equipment design in RPGs

Two-edged Sword by D4v1d
This is a few thoughts I've had on equipment design in RPGs over the years, and how Player and GM designs can change a game. I wasn't interested in specific equipment design as that's a discussion that will vary from group to group and game to game, but I was more interested in how designs can either unbalance a game, give unfair advantages or simply decide situations from the outset, making incidents and encounters dull and predictable.

Roleplaying games wouldn’t be where they are today without players. Players wouldn’t be where they are today without their characters. Characters wouldn’t be where they are today without their equipment because, let’s face it, walking into a scenario with nothing to hand is usually a no-no. You need the tools of your trade to do your job, and without tools there’s not much of a chance of success. Or maybe even survival.

Equipment is a major part of a roleplaying game. Just look at the equipment available in any game and in various sourcebooks and game packs – there’s whole lists of bits and bobs that’ll help the average character get through the day.

One of the bonuses of many games is that it allows GMs to design all kinds of stuff to suit their campaign and gaming group. There’s always going to be situations where the GM or even the players come up with an idea for a new gadget – the problem facing the game is ‘will this gadget make things too easy for them?’

The last thing you want is for a specialised piece of equipment to ruin the balance of a well-designed scenario or campaign. Having the players run into a situation where the swing of a magical sword or the toss of a special grenade gets them out of it in no time at all will not only ruin the pace of the story but it will soon make things dull and unexciting.

‘Twenty Stormtroopers! What shall we do?’ 
‘Don’t worry! I’ll use my never-failing multi-target-repeat-hand blaster to stop them all!’ 
‘Oh. Great.’


Each and every GM and player have their own idea about what would make a handy piece of equipment. You could design a top blaster or a magical axe; everyone has their own ideas as to what will help them get through an adventure. Most will have more than one idea.

As overall referee of a game, the GM must take into consideration what effects a special piece of kit would do. If they’ve designed an incredible security kit that pretty much adds amazing bonuses to a character’s roll and gets them into anything, that might be fine for a couple of adventures. But what about later on down the campaign trail, when the story might call for the players to stay out of certain areas or help them get out of tight situations too easily? What the GM and players have to realise is there has to be a balance between what the item is capable of and what its limitations are. For every bonus it gives a character it must have a flaw  or drawback somewhere, which may make the player loathe to use it or it doesn’t work as well in certain situations. This will make the items special but also keep the game in balance so that the characters don’t breeze through every situation they’re placed in.

For example, let’s say that Brian, a regular player in Bob’s Star Wars D6 games, decides that he wants his character to have a special targeting system that wires from his blaster’s scope to a pair of goggles he wears.

‘Good idea,’ says Bob, ‘what kind of bonus were you thinking of?’
Brian: ‘I’m thinking of additions to my weapon skill.’
Bob: ‘That’s fine. You can either have a high addition but it doesn’t work well against moving targets, or you can have a lower addition which can only be used with one type of blaster.’
Brian: ‘Fair enough. I’ll go for the higher addition, which is only effective against static targets. What about range?’
Bob: ‘Low range at no penalties, or high range at… let’s say…’
Brian: ‘Every time I shoot there’s a one in six chance of the system failing?’
Bob: ‘Sounds good. It’ll cost you three times the value of your blaster.’
Brian: ‘I’ll take it.’


Belinda decides she wants to purchase a special type of medical unit. She sits down with Bob and they go over the details.

Belinda: ‘What I want is a medical pack that can be used several times and add bonuses to my medical skills.’
Bob: ‘No problem. We’ll say it’s like any other medpac but can be used six times. It can only be used on certain types of species, mind you. We’ll say four different kinds, so that will cover the other players and one NPC.’
Belinda: ‘What about the size of it?’
Bob: ‘It’ll have to be quite large, like a field pack.’
Belinda: ‘I was hoping it could be smaller.’
Bob: ‘Okay… how about it’s the size of a small pack, but because it’s small and delicate it’s prone to damage, say, a two in six chance of it being damaged every time you fall or whatever.’
Belinda: ‘Good.’


Balancing what the character’s equipment can and can’t do, along with it’s usefulness in a game and it’s chances of failure is something best discussed with the players so that you can get an idea of exactly what they want. Of course, you won’t be discussing these things with the players all the time – what if there’s an NPC you’re designing who you want to have a specially designed item?

The first instinct is to design an item that gives the NPC a bonus and then presents a challenge to the players, and that’s fine. A long-range blaster with a great scope, a small tracking device that tracks the players movements, a special grenade that damages organic material and not inorganic – these things would make a great challenge. The only thing is, if they use these items the players will be wise to them, which also means that when and if they defeat the NPC, the special item will fall into the hands of the players! The same bonus-drawback balance has to be reached with NPCs as with PCs – don’t be tempted to simply throw in an extra-special piece of equipment just to make things difficult for the players. It may backfire (so to speak).


This doesn’t just apply to modified equipment that exists within the game system. There may be items the players want to create from other sources or from scratch to help their characters out.

Brian: ‘I want a wrist unit to shoot a sticky web-like substance so I can swing about like Spidey’.
Bob: ‘What the…!’

Don’t panic – simply figure out how that item will fit into the game system and then apply any rules that you see fit and that the player won’t feel cheated on. The pros and cons system still applies so make sure that whatever is designed is, at first, even possible.

And then work out the bonuses and drawbacks.

Bob: ‘Okay, the wrist unit can shoot a long stream of synthetic liquid, like a synthrope but more elastic, up to a range of fifty meters, and can lift up to five hundred pounds.’
Brian: ‘Sounds good.’
Bob: ‘But… it dissolves in water, so it’ll be useless in rain. It’ll cost double the cost of a normal synthrope and launcher.’
Brian: ‘That’s fine.’

But there will be some things that will have to refused straight off the bat;

Brian: ‘I also want some shrug-off-short-range-heavy-blaster-bolts armour’.
Bob: ‘Don’t count on it, bub’.

So, as long as you remember what equipment you give out must balance with both performance and the game you have designed then you shouldn’t have any problems. There will be times in a game when an item will save the day – this is unavoidable and, let’s face it, it’s probably what the item was designed for - but if this item saves the day every time then it may be time to reconsider it's inclusion.

You could even make a campaign out of it; if the equipment is so incredibly good, what will NPCs do to acquire it from the player characters? What will the players do to get it back?

Sunday 11 November 2018

Cryptic old game design files

I do a lot of writing and designing for games and sometimes I'll have an idea for something, type down some notes really quickly so that I don't forget the idea I had, and then promptly forget that I had the idea in the first place.

There are dozens of files on my computer regarding these types of things, to rules ideas, skirmish game designs, adventure notes and general random thoughts on gaming. I've found entire unfinished articles, long detailed world histories and brief character designs, some of which mean nothing to me now but were no doubt incredibly important when I wrote them.

This is both a great thing and a bad thing; great because I've got loads of material I can look back on and mine for ideas, bad because most of it I can't even remotely remember why I wrote the stuff and how it was going to be used. It was obviously important at the time, but not so important that I remember the details five, ten or even twenty years down the line.

Below is an example - I'm sure that I wrote this small D&D conversion to use the red box basic D&D material with elements of the D&D 3rd Edition design. I remember that at one point that I wanted to capture what I loved about old D&D and use the modules but do away with THAC0 and some of the elements of Saving Throws, as well as simplify the experience method. The terrible thing is that not only do I not remember writing this, but I'm even doubting that I wrote it at all, and that these notes are someone else's work that somehow ended up on my computer. However, I do remember creating the character sheet.

If this is of any use to you then go ahead and use it, although there are plenty of OD&D and OSR games that do this already. I have not corrected any abbreviations or errors and this is how it was on my computer.



Basic, red box D&D was the basis for this game, but any old OSR along those lines will do. Bear in mind that the attack rolls do not use THAC0 but the roll target number of 10+AC from 3rd Edition onwards.


You can use the standard 3D6 roll for each attribute, or you can roll 4D6 and discard the lowest number. Add up the remaining three numbers and that is the score you can put in an attribute. Do this six times, once for each attribute. You can then decide which attribute receives which score based on the kind of role you want to play.

Attribute bonuses apply using the following chart:

Attribute Score / Adjustment
3 / -3
4-5 / -2
6-8 / -1
9-12 / 0
13-15 / +1
16-17 / +2
18 / +3

Roll 1D8 for hit points, or 1D4 + 4 if you want better odds.


STRENGTH – bonus to CQ to-hit and damage rolls
INTELLIGENCE – for each +1, choose an extra skill
WISDOM – bonus to WILL saving throw
DEXTERITY – bonus to Rng to-hit score, bonus to REFLEX saving throw
CONSTITUTION – bonus to hit point score, bonus to FORTITUDE saving throw


The saving throws 'Fortitude', 'Reflex' and 'Will' are scored at 10 plus the applicable attribute bonus. Fortitude uses the Constitution bonus, Reflex the Dexterity bonus, Will the Wisdom bonus. A successful saving throw is a D20, scoring less than the saving throw score.


Attack rolls are D20 plus the relevant Attack Bonus. Rolling high, the initial target number is 10 or the target’s Reflex saving throw for a successful hit. This is modified by armour, raising the target number, making it more difficult to hit.

The STRENGTH adjustment score modifies hand-to-hand to-hit and damage rolls.

The DEXTERITY adjustment score modifies ranged to-hit scores.

Armour class is based on normal armour in the book but reversed:

Leather: 3
Chain: 5
Plate: 7
Shield: +1 AC


Each player is given three points. They can use a single point to raise an 'Attack Type', this being either Ranged (Rng) for pistols and thrown weapons or Close Quarters (CQ) for fists and hand weapons. Each point spent gives a +1 bonus to their attack roll.


Characters start at level 0 and they must complete the same number of adventures for the level they want to attain. So, when they complete one adventure they go to level one. When they complete two more adventures they go to level two, when they complete three more adventures they go to level three and so on. (or, you can use the experience point system as normal).

For every level the character attains they get another single point to do ONE of the following:

Spend on either one of the attack bonuses
Roll another 1D8 for more hit points.
Add one point to a saving throw score (every 5 levels)

Monday 5 November 2018

[Interview] Joseph A. McCullough and 'Rangers of Shadow Deep'

Joseph A. McCullough bought us the excellent 'Frostgrave' and 'Ghost Archipelago' skirmish games, and now he delves into dark fantasy with 'Rangers of Shadow Deep'.

I had a quick chat with Joseph about the new game.

'A kingdom stands on the brink of destruction, as the vast realm called the Shadow Deep slowly swallows everything in its path. As the army fights to contain the tide of evil creatures teeming up out of the black clouds, the kingdom’s best soldiers, the rangers, must venture down into the shadows to gather information, rescue prisoners, and ambush enemy supply lines. It is a desperate fight against overwhelming odds, but every little victory brings another day of hope.

Rangers of Shadow Deep is a solo and co-operative tabletop miniatures game, in which players create their ranger, gather companions, and play through a series of missions in their fight to hold back the darkness. If their rangers survive, they will grow in power and ability, and be sent on more difficult, dangerous and intricate assignments.

This book also includes the first supplement for the game, Burning Light. In this mission, the rangers must venture to ruined convent, searching for an ancient artefact. As they choose what order to explore the ruins, and thus the order in which scenarios are played, they must gather clues to the artefact’s location. But they must be quick, for the longer they remain, the more the forces of the Shadow Deep become aware of their presence.'

'Rangers of Shadow Deep' is now available at and is already making a splash. What was the genesis of the game?

It really started with the words ‘Shadow Deep’. It just popped into my head one day, and then I started wondering what it was. Once I started to realize what a dangerous place it was, I started to wonder who would go down there…hence the rangers. For a while now, I’ve been interested in seeing if I could push wargaming a bit closer to role-playing and to see if I could write a game that really worked for solo and cooperative play. While I could have done this with one of the games I’ve already created, I thought it would be easier to build such a game from scratch than to tack it onto an existing game. So, it was just a case of putting my new setting idea with my game design ambitions.

Image may contain: one or more people

You describe it as a 'solo and co-operative tabletop miniatures game'; what makes 'Rangers of Shadow Deep' different from all the other miniature games available?

I think Rangers really is a hybrid wargame/rpg. You still play the game by pushing figures around on the table, but it isn’t all just about fighting. Some missions are about gathering information, solving little puzzles, rescuing people, and exploring the Shadow Deep. Skills play a big role in the game, and some of the missions use hidden information, so that players really are forced to explore.

Also, the game has a real narrative to it. This is reflected in how the characters grow and develop during the campaign, but also that the world is growing with them. Each mission pushes the whole narrative a little further.

Your previous games are the award winning 'Frostgrave' and the fun 'Ghost Archipelago'. They were very focused player vs player games, so how did you approach the design of this co-operative game?

I have used those games to experiment with solo and cooperative, and those experiments taught me a lot. However, in both of those games, the protagonists can use their powers an unlimited number of times. I think for solo play, it is much more interesting to give the heroes limited powers, than can only be used once each scenario. This brings a lot more decision-making into the game. Do I cast this spell now, or do I save it for later? Also, by adding skills to the system, it means there are a lot more ways to interact with the table. Want to go into that house – you need to make a Pick Lock Roll to open the door, or a Strength Roll to break it down. It forces the player to really think about which figures he is going to send to which areas of the table.

Finally, I wanted to make sure that each game is really telling a story, and that the players feel like they are part of that story. Rangers of Shadow Deep is about a war, and the player have a real chance to effect the outcome of that war.

The game leans much further towards defined characters, making them more than just a playing piece on the tabletop. How can 'Rangers of Shadow Deep' be used as an RPG?

In truth, I think Rangers sits right on that line where RPGs and Wargames meet. You could actually discard the miniatures and I think you would still have a pretty robust set of RPG rules. If you added a games master you could easy expand the game to include what happens between the specific missions. The ‘world’ is a little bit lite at the moment compared to most RPGs, but that will change.

Is there a larger world to explore? Will there be supplements and additions in the future to expand on the kingdom and the lore?

Absolutely. I’ve nearly finished the first supplement, Temple of Madness, which expands some of the magic rules and includes a 4-scenario mission. We learn a little bit more about the Kingdom of Alladore in it, and a bit more about the Shadow Deep as well. And that’s how I plan to approach it - little by little. That way the players get to learn more about the world in the same time that their characters will be learning about it as well.

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The background to the game is really intriguing and somewhat dark; is the game solely for use in the world you have created or can it be used in other ways?

I think the world would be a great setting for an anthology of sword and sorcery or dark fantasy short stories. And, as we talked about above, it would be very easy to convert the game over to a true RPG. I have even spoken with a couple of people about using it as the basis for a board game. I think there are a lot of directions it could go, but for the moment, I want to finish up work on the core game. We are still working on getting the print-on-demand set-up, and getting Temple of Madness ready to go.

Images used with permission