Sunday, April 1, 2012

Don't Rest Your Head on Kindle

Woah. I keep letting this blog slide. I really need to stop doing that.

This week, I discovered that a weird little indie game I've always wanted to check out, Don't Rest Your Head, was available on Kindle for only $5. That's well within my range for impulse-purchases, and with barely a thought I clicked "Buy it now."

And it's just as weird as I expected.

The rules are very, very abstract. You don't have that many stats, and it looks like most things can just be described rather than rolled, which is nice, but I do like having some clear, statistical definition for my characters. The setting of the Mad City is absolutely wonderful, and easily the most interesting urban fantasy setting I've seen since, well, Geist: the Sin-Eaters.

Unfortunately, it's a flawed product that will probably not see much use in my game groups. The formatting on the Kindle Fire is a little wonky, and I don't know how it is on the regular Kindle. There are weirdly long spaces between some sentences, and some of the blocks of text are really, really bunched together, making it harder to read. The included summary sheets and character sheets are, frankly, useless, because you can't zoom in, and they're really tiny.

Considering how easily the Kindle manages pdf's, like my copy of Barrowmaze (so good) and my set of the DCC RPG beta rules (totally my new standby fantasy game until the real thing drops in June), it's weird that an actual Kindle document seems so fiddly and hard to handle.

It's a really cool game, though, and I think that if you have a dead tree copy of DRYH, this very cheap version of the rules on Kindle would be a great supplemental thing to have on hand, due to the Kindle Fire's merits as a gaming tool. At this point I don't go anywhere near a gaming table without mine. Though the table of contents is, for some reason, all the way in the back of the book, looking up a rule really fast on the Fire would be a great thing for the GM, and the players could use the GM's physical book as a reference tool (because let's face it, players never buy the games the GM runs).

Honestly, based on the strengths of the game from what I've read on my Kindle, I'm more inclined now, I think, to pick up a dead tree copy of DRYH. My group isn't huge on indie games, but enough of us love Dark City that a game whose author commented that it was hard to keep the game from looking like a straight-up emulation of that fantastic film would be an easy sell for a one-shot game.

And at $5, I really do not regret checking out this cool, weird little diamond in the rough.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Minis and Me

Once again, I've let my blog slide a bit. My vampire game sort of hit a wall, and hopefully I'll have a chance in the future to wrap up the storyline, and hunting for a job kept me from really having the attention to give to my analysis of DragonRaid.

Gaming, however, has certainly not strayed from my thoughts, and while browsing the forums, I've noticed that people are talking about minis in 4e, and how it's not good for a system to have the use of miniatures be so deeply inherent in a game system.

While I don't deny them their opinion, for me, it's a moot point. I need minis. I have such a bad handle of imaginary space during gameplay that, to be blunt, if there aren't minis involved, or some other form of visualization of the action, I get completely and totally lost.

I'm fine with imagining stuff like this when reading a book or writing an action scene, but when it comes to gameplay, there are so many distractions going around the table. Other people are talking, other people are rolling dice, there are things I'm not in control of happening, and it all builds and builds until I have no ability to track what's happening.

I don't care if it's something like Vampire, or Call of Cthulhu, or Mutants & Masterminds. Tactical combat or no, if there isn't at least a piece of paper with little doodles on it to help me out, I'm out.

Even when I played older editions of D&D, I used minis. I have never not used miniatures in some fashion while playing D&D. So while I can understand why some people might not like gaming a system that outright requires you to have minis to play, I'm perfectly happy with D&D 4e assuming that players are using them.

Because otherwise, I basically wouldn't be able to play.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

D&D Encounters Was Totally Fun

Well, color me surprised. Pretty much every time I go to play D&D at a store with strangers, things can get a little... well, awkward. My friends are all well-versed in the tale of Dwarftosser the Catpissman, the first catpissman I'd ever met, who tossed my dwarf because he hit some monsters with a magic missile. My S.O. and I had a very uncomfortable game at the comic store in the dirt mall near us, and we vowed to never go back again.

But we've been hankering for some D&D, so tonight we went to Game Masters in Pittsburgh for Encounters.

Shit was awesome.

While we were a little upset at being restricted to Essentials material for characters, we had some fun, and my Elf Slayer, Tyrinbaine the Fell, scored a massive 27 points of damage on one of the monsters in one hit. Ratcheting up those Renown points was a ton of fun, and our group was really nice. There was a little awkwardness at the table, but we were all in a light-hearted mood, so everyone laughed at the idea of racist horses and sewer-dwelling hipsters that the DM ad-libbed into the game.

I am totally going back next week. It's a little sad that the game is, well, one encounter, but we had a great group dynamic, and everyone shook hands at the end of the game. Nobody died, and we kicked total ass.

Now, if only it wasn't set in the Forgotten Realms...

Friday, July 29, 2011

DragonRaid: The Weirdest Game I Own, Part 3

Today I'm going to make a character for DragonRaid, because making a character for a game is a great way to start looking at how the game works.

Like most games I'm familiar with from the Silver Age of RPG's, DragonRaid uses random character creation, and has a ton of stats. I find the sheer weight of the character creation process kind of surprising, considering that it's a ministry tool intended for bringing younger gamers into the arms of the church. It's not nearly as involving as making a character for d20 games (a personal bugbear for me), but with all the division and searching through various booklets, it's kind of bothersome, and really, you don't get a sense of who you are making. Yes, you know which Christian virtues they exemplify, but you don't know what they're good at, really, until the end, since there is no class system, and since everything is dictated by random rolls except a few minor choices near the end.

While I myself preferred more complicated games in my youth, I honestly just ignored most of the rules unless I suddenly felt like bringing them into my game. Still, I got my start with the D&D 3.0 starter set, and though I would be glad if I never had to plan ahead to meet the requirements to join a PRC, I feel that 3.0's level of rules-complexity was the perfect entry point, so maybe I'm wrong in this.

Anyway. As I have mentioned, character creation is a little on the arcane side. The CD that comes with the game has both an audio guide transferred straight from the cassette tape the game used to come with, as well as an excel-based character generation program. In the audio files, a calm, firm, masculine voice leads you through the process of character creation to the sound of smooth jazz. Unfortunately, the voice tends to drone a little, and the character creation program is incredibly confusing the first time you look at it, so instead I went with the books to figure out how to.

I probably should have just listened to the calm voice and the smooth jazz.

Also, I used my own d10, because the StarLot's numbers are not filled in and it's impossible to read. It's a nice little artifact of a bygone era of gaming, when polyhedral dice weren't as common and you had to fill in the numbers, but as a gaming tool it's obtuse.

You roll 1d10 for each of the Character Strengths, of which there are nine. These are based on Christian virtues. I got Love 4, Joy 4, Peace 6, Patience 3, Kindness 3, Goodness 7, Faithfulness 4, Gentleness 10, and Self-Control 8. I actually like the idea behind these stats, because they're thematic and definitely fit into the game's source material. It also gives an idea of your character's personality. My guy, for example, is super gentle and good and pretty willfull, but he's also not that caring or happy, and... Wait, how can I not be kind by be super gentle?


Well, whatever.

Next, we calculate Physical Attributes. This involves more random rolls and addition and division, and I'm not sure how I feel about personality traits impacting physical ones. Considering how random the character creation process is, well, I don't like that there's such a strong likelihood for a huge difference in character strengths. Anyway, I got a Physical Vitality of 24, and by my Strength and Agility are 10. Which is super lucky, because otherwise he wouldn't be good at fighting, which would essentially render this poor hero of Light fairly useless. Well, more useless, since there's no way I'll ever convince my group to play this game.

Character Abilities are all based on the Character Strengths, and calculating them involves tons of addition and division. It's by no means hard, but I really don't like division. I like my math simple, because I hate math. I'm also not really sure why some of the character strengths impact some of the character abilities, but I guess Courage could be a combination of Love, Joy, Goodness, Faithfulness and Self-Control.

I guess.

I mean, it makes more sense for that than for physical qualities.

So I got Courage 5, Listening 5, Endurance 4, Quiet Move 5, Hope 4, Vision 3, Knowledge 4, and Wisdom 5. I'm not a fan of how small the range is in the abilities. Maybe I just rolled really bad Strengths, but I feel like even if I have a 10 in one score, it gets brought down badly by other, lower scores, making my character really average. Which feels weird. I want to specialize in stuff. I don't like it when random rolls make my character sucky, or generalized.

Next comes Armor. Unlike most games, you do not buy armor. Instead, your faith grants you divine protection, which is, again, nicely thematic, but there's something fun about buying a sweet suit of platemail on a fantasy game. I got a Belt of Truth 4, Breastplate of Righteousness of 7, Shield of Faith 5, Helmet of Salvation 4, and Boots of the Gospel 5. Again, I ended up with fairly average scores, but with my character's high Strength, Agility, and Breastplate of Righteousness, I feel like my character, while average everywhere else, is starting to look like a stern-but-gentle paladin kind of guy. Which is pretty cool, I guess, and something I might steal for a game of D&D or Warhammer.

I'm not yet sure what these divine armor-pieces actually do in the game yet, but I guess I'll figure that out when I try to figure the rules out later.

After that, we come to Weapon Abilities. I'm not sure what Solo Battle does in the game yet, other than impacting your skill with the weapons you choose, since the rules are fairly scattered about (and could definitely use some heavy editing), but mine is 5. I think it's just a general fighting skill, and I think if it were called, "fighting," it would be a little clearer.

You get to choose 3 weapon-classes, and since my character is shaping up to be a strong-but-silent knight, I went with Flail, Sword and Dagger. Daggers are cowardly weapons, to be sure, but useful in off-battlefield situations, and they are certainly more honorable than striking your foes from afar with an arrow or bolt. I really wanted Lance, but the formula for that weapon skill required a number I couldn't find anywhere on my character sheet. In fact, I couldn't find it anywhere, which really frustrated me. I checked the errata sheet, and didn't see anything there.

For the next twenty minutes I went through everything in the box, trying to find what the hell "SE" stood for. Was it a misspelling of "SC," or, "Self Control?" What in the world was freaking "SE?"

Then I turned my worksheet over, and found it there under Optional Character Abilities, and threw my hands up in fury.

I understand that I'm not the target audience. I'm not a fan of some of the themes and subtle ideas present in the game. However, and it may not look like it, I'm really, really trying to be impartial, for the most part, but it's hard to be impartial on the rules of a game when they're this arcane and poorly edited. I get that this isn't a product from a big company with a large staff, but it's very hard to find what I want across the various booklets and books and sheets.

Having discovered the back of the sheet, where the Optional Character Abilities hang out, I decided to do as the worksheet said, and select three.

Some of the Optional Character Abilities have odd names. Why is Water Movement not just called Swimming?  Why is Climb Skillfully not just Climb? Why does Strength or Agility not affect your ability to climb stuff? Why does Peace not affect things like Persuade Foe? Why can you only pick three? While some abilities, like Sense Evil and Hatred of Evil, make sense that you should have to pick them to obtain them, does not choosing Talk with Locals mean you literally cannot talk to people who are local to an area?

Anyway, I went with Merciful Compassion (which I thought was a little redundant with the Character Strengths), Talk with Locals, and Hatred of Evil. I felt those kind of went with the character I was starting to think up. I guess he's not very good at everything I picked, but hey, they fit the concept. And I was still kind of miffed.

Having essentially finished my character's stats, I copied them from the worksheet onto the character sheet. I kind of like the worksheet, the more I think about it, because unless you have a character creation program (which DR has, but it's baffling and ugly and excel-based, which means I'm compelled to not like it), using scrap paper or whatever can get a little confusing, and this way you don't have to sully a clean, unused character sheet by erasing things you later decide you don't want. It's a clever little tool, and while I was frustrated that it's the only place I could find the Optional Character Abilities, I'd like it if more games did this.

The character sheet itself is small, but pretty much everything you need is on it, including the Success Table (to figure out if your d% rolls succeed), and a chart that explains how to roll a d5 using a d10 (which seemed kind of silly, but then, it's meant for beginners, and I probably would have been really confused when I started playing if I were told to divide a d10 by 2). The back of the sheet has a large, open space for tracking wounds, and a space where you can check in boxes to note if you've used special WordRunes that can only be activated a set number of times. It also has a list of Standard Equipment, which is a great idea, because having to copy down the stuff everyone starts with on a character sheet eats up time, and honestly, if it wasn't on the sheet, I would have probably had trouble finding the items in the first place. The weapons are the in the LightRaider handbook, for example, which is primarily setting information, and it's odd that they aren't in the rulebook, since that's where all the actual rules are supposed to go.

While I haven't managed to play a game of it, of course, my cursory reading of the rules (obtuse and difficult to figure out as they are), I think that, if worded and organized better, they would actually be fairly simple and pretty good overall. It's mostly a d% system, and it reminds me of a skill-less Stormbringer (which is kind of an ironic comparison), with shades of Pendragon, and I like that instead of just rolling a static difficulty number (with modifiers the GM will inevitably forget to apply), a Difficulty Level is chosen, sort of like in d20 games and the like, and that sets what you need to roll against. I don't like that you don't get to choose a class until later, and I don't like that by the rules you don't really get a say in what you want your character to be good at, but it's fairly simple and from the 80's, so that kind of goes along with the overall gaming zeitgeist of the time it was released.

I feel like, with some re-jiggering, this set of rules would actually be pretty great for playing a Narnian RPG, since you have character virtues really affecting the character's stats, and it's light once you figure out what in the hell you're doing.

My biggest beef with the system, though, is the whole WordRune business. Beyond the uncomfortable propaganda-vibes I get from them, I don't like them because a player who can memorize phrases easily is automatically a more effective player. A lot of old-school games emphasize player skill over character skill, but in this case, it's not just knowing how to game the GM and know the proper trap-searching procedures, and when the GM's being a jerk and what monsters to avoid, but rather it's the ability to memorize trivia that will allow a player to be successful, and I think that's bad game design.

I think that's a massive flaw in the game's design structure. Sure, a nice Adventure Master (the DragonRaid GM) could just give players photocopies of the WordRunes, but that defeats the very point of the game, which is to teach Bible verses and try to get players to apply those verses to the situations they are in.

Essentially, the idea seems to be to get players to solve their problems by reciting the Bible.

This is something I take issue with, because problem-solving skills should involve creative and flexible thought, not to mention action, and I don't see how being trained to find an appropriate verse from a dogmatic text actually solves anything.

This is where DragonRaid's status as a game comes into question.

The game design isn't great, and it's primary purpose is to be a ministry tool. As I am not a youth minister, nor am I interested in ministering to anyone, that's where I get off the train and wave goodbye.

I don't think this makes DragonRaid an objectively bad game. It's not FATAL, or any rules system (not setting) by Palladium Games, but from my liberal, gay, agnostic-leaning-atheist point of view, it's not that great, though there are kernels of brilliance shining through an otherwise murky miasma of religious ministry through rules.

Also character creation took me like an hour, and that always ticks me off.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Vampire Play Report: The Hounds of Chicago

A few weeks ago, I started a Vampire: the Requiem chronicle, with the promise that I would make a few blog posts so that everyone would have something to reference, and also so I could write about my game and fulfill my narcisistic tendencies by putting my adventures up on the webs. So, very late, here it is.

Chicago Hounds is a little different from most games of Vampire I've played. Instead of dealing with vague plots where the Prince orders you to go do something because he's older than you and you are a neonate and everyone is out to get you, I decided to give my game a little structure, as well as grant my players a little power.

I love Vampire, but for a game where you get to play a badass, sexy, blood-drinking hellion of the night, it's rare that I ever felt like it. Sure, some of my characters have been over the top, but I always felt that the way I was approaching the game was a little different from the rest of the people at the table. So instead of making all the characters bow and quiver in fear when they come across the Great and Terrible Prince of the Vampires, and instead of making the characters all the whipping-boys of some older, and therefore more powerful, vampire, I'd give them a little power themselves.

This change of theme, I think, is helped by the fact that I'm using Requiem, not Masquerade. Requiem has, compared to Masquerade, a much looser, more toolkit approach. Not only is there no real metaplot at play in the books, but the approach the games takes allows a GM to tinker with the assumptions of the game.

Having decided I wanted my players to have a little more power in the game, I needed to give them something to do. Instead of just littering a city map with NPC's and little plot points, I wanted to give my players some solid direction.

Thanks to the Requiem Chronicler's Guide, I got some ideas.

Using the procedural-style chronicle idea, I went back to an idea I'd had a while ago, where the characters were the cops of the city, and thus got to be Miami Vice with fangs.

I made my players the Hounds of the city. Under the direction of the Sheriff, they'd go out and quiet masquerade breaches, bring the Prince's justice to those who would defy it, and flash their badges and be really important. So they would have bosses, but a grumpy, brooding boss giving you the order to hunt down a neonate who broke the Masquerade on a crowded subway car and drive a stake through his unbeating traitor's heart is a lot more palatable than being told that should you not deliver a package or inspect a mysterious warehouse, you would be put to the final death for daring to mock your elders by not doing as they say.

Both are cool and evocative, but constantly having the proverbial sword of Damocles hang over my head when I'm trying to pretend to be an awesome cool vampire with awesome cool vampire powers harshes my vibes.

Anyway, I decided to set my game in Chicago, using the setting book by the same name. I did this because Chicago is a great city for police stories. It's Chicago. Half the cop and detective shows and books out there take place in the Second City. Also, the book has a wealth of information about, and maps of, the city, which is pretty handy. It's all in one place, instead of all over the internets. Plus, the Chicago book has plenty of cool NPC's in it. I don't want the NPC's to be the ones doing all the fun, dramatic, operatic vampire stuff and threatening the PC's. I want them to be window dressing. The PC's story comes first, and if an NPC can help move that story along, awesome.

There are a ton of NPC's in the book, though, so I decided to make Chicago mine a little more by deciding who gets to stay and who gets cut. I want to make NPC's that are tailored to the needs of my PC's more than making the PC's try and fit in with the NPC's.

Oh, and most of the mages and werewolves got excised, because I'm not running those games, and also I think a cabal of sorcerers based around baseball imagery is kind of silly.

Most of the vampire higher-ups remained. Prince Maxwell, Persephony Moore, Scratch, and Birch remained, along with others. Birch is a great villain, and I want to get the PC's involved in his feud with the Invictus. I'm a little worried that that would make the story more about Birch vs. Maxwell than it needs to be, but I think I can make it work. Besides, my boyfriend hates Birch, so getting personal involvement from him won't be a problem, and I think one of the other characters, a Carthian, would love a chance to bring down a tyranical religious psychopath.

Also I think it's hilarious that Moore ruined Birch's eugenics project by giving the family he was designing AIDS.

That's how you get revenge.

I'll get into the characters themselves and their adventures later.

DragonRaid: The Weirdest Game I Own, Part 2

Just a note, all these pictures were taken with my cellphone. They're not that great, which is sad, because despite my issues with some of the game's elements, some of the art is really quite good. I'm sure there are legal issues with posting scans of the actual art within the books, so I won't do that. But seriously, I'm a huge fan of the art contained with the New Player Briefing booklet, and the maps scattered across the books are actually pretty well-made.

Let's begin with the cover.

 Good cover art draws your attention to it, and communicates the themes of the stuff that waits underneath it. To this end, the cover of the DragonRaid box does its job admirably. The font is clean and pleasing to the eye, and that logo is quite honestly really good. I'm a fan of that style of design. It's old-school, and makes me want to pick up the game and roll some dice. The art itself is also fairly good, and really surprised me. It is very well-drawn and painted, and the characters look like they've stepped out of the kind of calm, sensible art I was exposed to in church, but with awesome magic swords and wolves and a sweet ghost-stag in the middle of a dark, mildly-forbidding forest, where there are probably loads of monsters and stuff.

The tag-line below the art is something that certainly would raise a few brows. "Building warriors for spiritual battle," it says.

To be frank, this kind of skeeves me out, because I've borne witness to, and been the target of, "spiritual battle." While I'm sure this game is not designed to make players want to kick gay family members out of their homes for not conforming to God's vision of the nuclear family, I'm still a little wary of the line's tone.

Granted, I'm really, really not the intended audience of this game.

Politicizing aside, the DragonRaid box is fairly sturdy. I don’t think it would survive being thrown around too much, but it looks like shelf-ware won’t break it down very badly over years of lurking in the shadows behind the other games I own.

The back of the box displays the contents...

...but there are some changes that have been made since the game was initially printed. For one, there is no cassette tape. There is a CD, which means I can rip it to my laptop, which means I can bother my boyfriend with it on long car rides when it’s my turn to plug my mp3 player into the radio. I'll get into the CD, which contains an audio adventure and character creation software, in a later post. Rest assured, it is amazingly weird.

There are also stickers. Glorious, glorious stickers, all featuring that rad-as-hell art from the covers of the various booklets contained within the box.

So let’s take the lid off the box and look inside.

Inside the lid of the box is a note to new players. It basically tells them which books to read and so forth.
There are also a few sheets of paper on the exact same kind of paper my church used for their handouts and inserts in each Sunday’s schedule of worship, or whatever it was called.

One of the sheets is a list of all the different names for Jesus, and corresponding Bible verses. I’m not certain of the use of it. Jesus, as far as I know, is never invoked by name in the game. He’s referred to as the Overlord of Many Names, which is pretty sinister-sounding, in my opinion.

There’s a page of different websites, many of which are no longer active, and letters to new players, introducing them to the game and the Lamb's Bride, or whatever. I'll read one of them later, they're kind of long (and identical, it looks like). There's also a sheet of errata, an honest-to-goodness mail-order form (an artifact of a by-gone, pre-internet-shopping age), some combat worksheets, and two battle grids.

I’m really not certain of the utility of the grids.

They’re made of paper, so you can’t draw walls or terrain on them without them being permanent. However, they’re numbered, so that might be kind of useful somehow, I guess.

Then there are the stickers and the mini-posters, which feature some of the better art in the game. The art in the game ranges from bad to evocative, and I'm glad the stickers and mini-posters use the good stuff. It's a little corny, sure, but it captures the mood of the game perfectly.

I’m going to slap those stickers all over my city.

All over it.


My city has a huge graffiti scene, and there are stickers and spray-paint tags all over the place. Each hard surface is a ready-made canvas for art and advertisement, so I feel compelled to contribute something weird.

There’s also the spiral-bound rulebook and the CD.

The book is mostly just setting information, weapon stats, and Bible passages. Leafing through the book, the rules seem a little complex for an introductory product, and the monsters, for the most part, seem to be fairly thematic. The different classifications of dragon are based on different sins, I think, which was cool until I noticed that the rainbow dragon represented “pride.”


Rainbow pride.

Real classy there, Adventure Learning Systems, Inc.

Also there is something called a Fluster Beast.

I love this creature so much. It is a monster that flusters you. I'm pretty flustered just reading the description and looking at the cardboard cutout.

There’s also a bunch of WordRunes, which are Bible verses you recite to cause effects. They’re the spell-system of the game. I've heard the argument that there are no spells in DragonRaid, and that there is no magic system, but I don't care. If you give me a list of "runes" I'm supposed to recite to generate special rules-exceptions and to activate effects, it's a magic system. Besides, as far as I'm concerned, the only difference between divine miracles and magic is that a sizable group of people don't like their magic being called magic.

I'll get into my thoughts on the Bible-passage spells at a later point, because they're something I think is really neat and thematic, and also something I'm really, personally, opposed to.

On to the books.

There's a New Player Briefing, which has some sweet art, and generally introduces players to the concepts of the game. There's also a thin rulebook, which contains the basic system in all it's obtuse glory. There's also a shrink-wrapped pack of hole-punched rules for the GM. I’m assuming this means the GM, or rather, "Adventure Master," is supposed to put them in a 3-Ring Binder along with adventure notes and the like. Of all the booklets in the game, this is the most confusing, and I actually can't figure out if there are even monster stats in this or in any other book, despite there being a lot of information on Fluster Beasts and Mound Orcs.

There are also three adventure modules. The LightRaider Test, Rescue of the Sacred Scrolls, and The MoonBridge Raid all have some removable handouts, along with a map of the setting on the back. I won’t go into it here, but the adventure design of Dragon Raid is fairly...

Well, it’s juvenile. Which makes sense for what it is.

These aren’t supposed to be fun hack-and-slash romps or sweeping, operatic dramas, but rather they are the kind of simplistic “edutainment” sorts of content you find in the average youth group program funneled into the general structure of a D&D adventure module. This game, after all, is youth ministry with monsters and dice. I'll get into that later, but there are trolls that try to sell you cigars, because cigars make you look cool, and apparently smoking them makes you an awful follower of the Overlord of Many Names.

I guess somebody should tell that to all the old guys in my church who smoked cigars after service on Sunday.

Some of the art is nice, though, particularly the hex-maps in The MoonBridge Raid.

Finally, there are some counters, dice, and character sheets and worksheets.

The character counters are actually pretty neat, though the art is very, very 1980’s. We're talking adventurers with afros and Burt Reynolds mustaches here. I'm actually going to cut them out and contribute them to my miniatures collection, because, well, I kind of like the look of some of them, totally un-ironically. In fact, the same is true for some of the art throughout the span of the boxed set. The monster counters are sort of strange (and poorly drawn), because taller monsters take up long blocks of squares. So giants are tall horizontally, not vertically.

The character sheets are also a bit odd. It’s nice that they have a table for the different d%’s of action difficulties, but it’s a little cluttered.

Also, the stats are weird.

Your characters have numbered stats for things like Love, Peace, and Kindness. I get that, you know, the game is supposed to evoke the tenets of Christianity, it’s a little silly. I think the idea, though, could be cool if done in a slightly more interesting way.

The dice themselves are also a little odd. The numbers are not colored in, so I imagine you’re supposed to paint them in or color them in with a crayon.

There is one d10, a “StarLot,” for the player characters to roll, and one d8, a “ShadowStone,” which the monsters and servants of darkness roll. LightRaiders, the PC’s, are inherently better than the bad guys, because they have Jesus on their side. The StarLot is the shiny, gaudy orange see-through die, and the ShadowStone is, fittingly, opaque and solid grey. From what I understand, ShadowStones are the corrupted forms of StarLots that belong to those who have been tainted by the Satan-dragon's wicked promises.

Having your StarLot turn into a Shadowstone represents the loss of faith, and thus the dying of your inner light.

Which is totally metal, and rad as hell, but I think I'm making it sound way more dramatic than the game does.

Also, the ShadowStone is sharp.

If you were to step on it, or grip it too hard, you would probably bleed. Servants of Abaddon, the Satan-dragon guy (the primary villain on the distant planet of EdenAgain) might roll smaller dice, but their dice are pretty wicked. If there's a player at your table you totally hate, throw this die at them. Their blood, suitably drawn by a tool of the Abaddon, the Satan-dragon, will consign their souls to the power of darkness, forever lost to the lies, cruelty, and wickedness of the Great Enemy of Heaven.

Anyway, for a mere $24, DragonRaid does give a lot of content.

I can’t say that all of the content (barring the adventures) is actually good, but really, unlike most games, DragonRaid’s core box does try and present the average player with everything they might need to play the game.

At the very least, it’s an interesting conversation piece, and something to mull over every once in a while.

I'll be giving the rules themselves a more thorough read later, and I'm going to roll up a character and put that confusing, limited-use battle grid to use.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

DragonRaid: The Weirdest Game I Own, Part 1

Like every other gamers out there, my boyfriend and I have a special bookshelf for games. We have our favorite games right by the table we play at.

As you can see, there is a ton of World of Darkness stuff. Jeff loves Mage, and I’m all about Vampire. Our group doesn’t seem to like it, but we have a lot of D&D 4e stuff as well, along with Jeff’s Star Wars books and my Warhammer 3e and Dragon Age boxes (stuffed full of supplemental sets and hidden under the Spiderman doll we use as a bookend when we take a few books off a shelf).
Of course, these aren’t our only game books. We keep all our other stuff with our novels and comics.

We keep all our books from the Old World of Darkness there, along with our 2e and 1e D&D books (and the few 3e products we like enough to mine for inspiration). It’s also become the repository for all the weird stuff I love but can’t seem to get our group to play; Hackmaster, GURPS, Stormbringer, Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, and Jeff’s copy of Gamma World.

But wait.

What’s that, hidden in the shadows behind the boxed games and 1st edition AD&D books?

Oh my God, it’s DragonRaid.

DragonRaid was an attempt, in the 1980’s, to bring youth ministry to the gaming table. Having grown up in a Presbyterian home, I was vaguely aware of DragonRaid. My first pastor’s family had two teenage boys who were massive nerds. I was friends with their sister, and every time I went over to their house to play, I would end up wandering into their room and carefully picking up and inspecting rows and rows of Star Wars action figures and wrinkled D&D boxed sets. I’d heard them talk about Dragon Raid in a fairly neutral tone once. As the sons of a Presbyterian pastor, it must not have been as weird to them as it ended up being to the average gamer. To me, it was like the Holy Grail of... something.

I was a weird kid. I was the kind of guy who had stuffed animals and Aliens action figures. I was obsessed with the bizarre. I would stare at the VHS sleeves of Troma movies from a safe distance in the video store, curious enough to be enthralled by the weird thing I was seeing, but never curious enough to make that final leap and read the description on the back of, say, "Rabid Grannies," or "Surf Nazis Must Die."

So while for my pastor's kids, DragonRaid was just a game they didn't really play much or give a lot of thought to, to me it was weirdness given form. It was a fantasy adventure game where you murdered dragons for Christ.

Unfortunately for DragonRaid, I guess, it was blacklisted by the same audience it sought to market itself to. Because Dragon Raid featured dragons and wizards and runes, and it was a suite of rules that allowed players to take on imaginary character’s personae during play, it was deemed to be just as Satanic and vile as Dungeons & Dragons.

I have to admit, there is a part of me that gets nostalgic, in a way, when I look at this game. I’m by no means Presbyterian any more, and I haven’t been since I was fifteen. I won’t go into my history with the Presbyterian church here, but it has a lot to do with my being gay.

Even though I’m no longer a big fan of the church, I still get a little wistful about the themes of Christianity as a whole. There’s something deeply resonant about them to me. The powers of love, faith, and charity are fairly strong themes, and I will gladly admit that when I run games of D&D, I try and make the church of Pelor a weirdly idealized version of Christianity, with clerics who genuinely want to aid people, no matter who they are.

Beyond gaming, I can’t help but get warm-and-fuzzy feelings when I read Lewis’ Narnia or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, because there are loads of positive Christian elements in them. I’m sure Aragorn and Aslan would have a problem with homosexuality, but all that nobility and charity and resolve is pretty endearing.

Anyway, DragonRaid.

The game’s company has a website that sells copies of the game, and as far as I can tell, there’s only been one printing of it. There are little errata stickers all through the booklets, so I can only assume that my copy of the game, having been produced in the mid-80’s, is just a tad older than I am.

The game is legendary in my circles, because it’s just so weird. It’s not just a Christian RPG, but a ministry tool, designed to actively mold players into better Christians by having them recite passages from the Bible and slaughter the servants of Satan and stuff.

My college roommate got me a copy as a sort of gag graduation gift, and we were stunned when it arrived, especially as quickly as it did. We were almost convinced it didn’t exist, that it was some kind of elaborate hoax. So thanks, Zach. Your hard-earned money was interestingly spent, and definitely appreciated, because I have been fascinated by the very idea of this game for years.

Lately, I’ve been giving thought to the various games in my collection. I’m running Vampire for my group, but it’s not a permanent sort of game. I have pretty terrible gamer ADD, and my current plan is to wrap up Vampire in a month or two and plan another game while one of my players runs a mini-campaign of a game based on G1 Transformers. I've been flipping through my copies of Lord of the Rings and Warhammer, and wishing I had the cash for a copy of The One Ring, which is now available for pre-order on Cubicle 7's website.

This led me back to my copy of DragonRaid, which I feel so drawn to, in-spite of the fact that I will never, ever play it, unless I can get the right mix of people at the gaming table (along with plenty of booze).

So while I’ve no intention of running DragonRaid, but I’ve decided to give the thing a closer look, which I'll be posting tomorrow, or maybe later tonight, followed by a more in-depth look at the rules, and my attempt to create a character, by the end of the week.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cubicle 7's One Ring RPG is Gorgeous

Oh my God.

This game looks amazing. The covers are beautiful, and that hex map is the coolest thing I've seen in a while.

I know exactly what I'll be running once my Vampire game wraps up in a few weeks. I'm totally convinced this will be a great game, because it has a good designer, and it's being released by Cubicle 7, the company that put out Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, one of my personal favorite games of all time.
I simply can't wait for this game to come out.