I’ve realised I haven’t posted how I’ve been doing in my quest to read every RPG I’ve Kickstarted, so here’s February’s offerings.
The first month went pretty well. This one dragged. My RPG reading happens all over the place and there were some times where I just didn’t feel like ploughing through the many pages of Exalted Third Edition’s powers, or waited until I was in bed and could mindlessly skim through them a bit.
I also had a few books I started but didn’t finish this month. One Ring Second Edition (as I’m playing in a campaign of it) and Trophy Dark (as I needed a reward for finishing Exalted).
Exalted Third Edition
By Onyx Path Publishing
Read before? No
Played? Not this edition
At 686 pages, this was my white whale. The biggest single book I’ve Kickstarted and probably the biggest one I ever will.
Exalted Third Edition launched on the May 9th 2013 and was fulfilled on October 24th 2015. When I backed the game I was mainly a White Wolf/Onyx Path person having bought almost every New World of Darkness book and owning everything for Exalted including Dreams of the First Age which was tricky to track down. By the time it arrived, I had become a different roleplayer. I’d discovered story games, I’d discovered Google Plus communities, Powered by the Apocalypse games and so on, compared to the mild dabbling with indies which I had done before.
Exalted Third Edition remains Exalted. The world is massive, sprawling and fascinating as a kind of mess of high fantasy and historical myths filtered through the lens of anime and jRPGs.
The gist of the world is that there were these godlike beings called Solar Exalts, powered by the sun. They had Lunar Exalted partners, Sidereal Exalted advisers and Terrestrial Exalted underlings. The Sidereal Exalts knew different futures and saw only problems if the Solars stuck around, so they conspired with the Terrestrials, locked them away in a jade vault under the sea and kept killing the few who got away as the pesky buggers kept resurrecting. Fast forward many years and the Terrestrials rule most of Creation, a flat world which has an island in the middle and then stretches out in each direction according to different elements. The centre is earth, the north is snowy and becomes all air, the east is wood and becomes endless forests, the south is desert that becomes fire and the west is all water. At the edges, the Fair Folk try to push inwards. The Terrestrials have grown corrupt and complacent. The Sidereals wrote themselves out of history and the Lunars hid, often too near to the Fair Folk. Finally we have the heroes, Solars who are beginning to reappear after the jade prison broke open. They try to do hero things and not get corrupted by their power. Some have died and gone through a goth phase as Abyssals, who are even more enemies you have to deal with.
The world is rich and massive, with so many things to play with, but the lore have a gaping hole where your player characters can come in. I love that in an RPG and it’s a good sign that this isn’t someone’s frustrated writing project.
The system goes between ‘dull’ and ‘too much’, upon revisiting it. The basics are like any White Wolf/Onyx Path joint of combining an attribute and a skill, rolling that many ten-sided dice and counting successes. Exalted like to do this with fistfuls of dice to show the power of your characters. It also has a ton of Charms, which are the powers you use as an Exalt. They all chain off each other so there are massive progression trees. You’ve got different kinds of attacks to try and damage or slow down your foe. There are tons of bits of equipment and sub-systems for if you want spells instead of charms, or martial arts instead of charms.
It’s all too much. I’ve got the demo adventure and it’s tempting to skim that at some point to see if there’s a more succinct, interesting way of presenting the rules. As far as the core book, I went from engrossed at the lore to completely turned off by the system at incredible speed.
Feng Shui 2: Action Movie Roleplaying
By Atlas Games
Read before? No
Another potentially challenging read. I’ve tried reading Feng Shui 2 a couple of times and never managed to keep going. This is an action movie RPG, specifically through the lens of Hong Kong cinema like Hard Boiled, movies like Big Trouble in Little China and possibly even Planet of the Apes?
The game’s world is a mash-up of several different timelines in the past and future, all through present day-ish Hong Kong. Time’s gone weird and now you can play any of the genres opened up by these portals or smash them together!
Characters are selected with mostly-built archetypes, customised a little and sent out into the world.
The system uses a die mechanic I’m not keen on, and that’s a rare thing. You roll two six-sided dice; a positive die and a negative die. You subtract one from the other and add your skill, creating a kind of spread. I ran Icons which used this and it was a faff. Personally I prefer Fate Dice, even if they have a smaller spread, as they make for easier maths than quickly adding and subtracting to make a -5 to +5 spread. The ‘shot clock’ system for fights feels like a fun idea, with actions costing an amount of initiative, including dodging out of the way of things.
Some of the archetypes and abilities seem fun, but like Exalted it feels like it’s trying to do too much. There are even more sub-systems for things like cybernetics and various magical abilities. This is an older Kickstarter and feels like it wants to serve a lot of masters and be all things, despite being mostly a fun-looking action movie game.
Like Exalted, this one’s no longer on my iPad and unlikely to ever see the table.
Play Dirty 2: Even Dirtier
By John Wick Presents
Read before? Yes
I like John Wick, but I also understand why folks might chafe at some of his advice. I’ve read Play Dirty a bunch of times and watched his videos talking about any number of gimmicks, tricky and ways of spicing up RPGs. Some of them feel cruel, some feel like they’d take a lot of work and some feel a little outdated given how RPGs have come along. And so have the ways we talk about them.
After reading Play Dirty, I talked to my friend Andy about it and he recommended Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley. Over the years I’ve definitely been more of an Unsafe than a Dirty person, as far as books on play.
I did, however, back Play Dirty 2 back when it was on Kickstarter. This was a sequel to Wick’s original book and one of the interesting things about it is that Wick knows his reputation. He’s softened a little and is a bit less authoritarian-sounding. Similarly, he did some videos a little while ago re-examining his original Play Dirty and it was interesting hearing his insights on what still worked and what he might do differently.
This book includes some anecdotes like Sylvia Hates the Bye Bye Box which he’s delivered on video and Get a Helmet Part 2 which features one of my favourite pieces of advice by him. Wick’s talked about “DIRE PERIL” in other places, but it’s nice to know one specific source I can point people to, as it’s a fantastic tool for setting stakes and getting player buy-in on situations where death is on the line and rules cannot help them. I still carry a DIRE PERIL card in my RPG bag.
Would I recommend it as advice? Probably not as much as I would other things? Would I recommend it as anecdotes? Yeah, Wick’s always fun for those.
Ten Candles – A Tragic Horror Storytelling Game
By Cavalry Games
Read before? Yes
The world is ending, all the power’s off, the lights have gone out and monsters walk the Earth. You will die, but this game shows how you live in those last moments.
That’s the setup, but it’s not the important thing about this game. The big twist is that this is a game played using candles. Well, ten tealights and a bowl of water. The resolution mechanic’s fairly simple, with six-sided dice you roll and character traits you stack in a pile of index cards. When you use one of them, you burn it with one of the candles, then drop it into the water.
If a tealight runs out or if you accidentally blow one out then the scene changes and you’re one step closer to the end. Players help set the scene with a mantra each time the scene changes, getting shorter and shorter until you reach the finale. Once that’s over, you’re in the dark, and so is the world.
I’ve yet to play it and reading the system, it feels like it’s got a bit more work in the system than I expected. I still want to run this at some point as it’s a fascinating concept.
The Last Days of Anglekite
By Magpie Games
Read before? No
I used to be a massive Dungeon World GM, so when I saw this cool looking cover, I figured I’d check this out. In retrospect, it’s by the author of Masks, one of my favourite RPGs! It’s fine. The book’s a setting in a kind of apocalyptic fantasy world. There’s a lot here, including locations, enemies, treasures and fronts (threats and their path of progression). It’s okay, although I tend to use my own campaign settings and I don’t really run Dungeon World anymore, so I might harvest some of the concepts even if I don’t use the rules provided.
Time Cellist RPG
By Wheel Tree Press
Read before? No
One of the earlier indie RPG podcasts I listened to was The Jank Cast, and when they started publishing RPGs I figured I’d check them out. Time Cellist is a one-shot story game which has players acting as the child companions of a time travelling musician who is facing a Maestro in episodic battles of wits. It’s basically kind of Dr Who, only all the companions are kids and the mechanics are playground games. The Time Cellist will always win in the end, but you’ll see how well you can save the day yourself. It’s quite structured in the process of play, but feels like it could be fun. It’s a short book and will need to be reread before play, as there’s a lot to keep track of. I might run it as a one shot at some point.
Extreme Meatpunks Forever!
By Sinister Beard
Read before? No
Let’s move onto the newest arrivals which I’ve read. Extreme Meatpunks Forever is a gloriously chaotic, messy and queer RPG about characters who pilot huge fleshy mechs.
The is a Powered by the Apocalypse game and there are playbooks for characters, but also customisable mech mechanics. It’s interesting as I’ve seen PbtA stabs at mechs before, doing things like making the mech and pilot combined into a playbook. Here you get some abilities from the playbook, but most of the building comes from you.
The playbooks are:
- The Airwave – who looks great and projects that outward, even glowing
- The Bright Child – a weird, weird playbook, almost like the Brainer of this outfit
- The Emblem – you stand for a cause, a mission and you have a standard to fly
- The Firebreather – it’s nice they made a playbook specifically for the chaos engines in the group, with a move literally called ‘mischief’
- The Honey Artist – a kind of manic pixie, potentially into cryptids
- The Meatshifter – a shapeshifter of meat
- The Untethered – you don’t like being in a mech and are better without it
- The Weird-O’-The Wisp – the goth one and kind of the wizard
The world’s fascinatingly chaotic, too. It feels like a fresher version of Gamma World (if a slightly meatier one). The world has been turned 90 degrees, and there’s a fun joke about all the direction-based names having to move accordingly (apart from Africa, which doesn’t have one).
It’s fascinating seeing what PbtA games this far along the development cycle can be like and this one was a really fun read. I nearly missed it being a lifelong vegetarian and put off by the meaty name, but had to back it when I saw it was a Sinister Beard game. I’m pleased I did.
Our Shores: Capitalites
By Samuel Mui
Read before? No
The last of the ‘Our Shores’ games and the only one I’ve read so far, this was the one which I backed the Kickstarter for. You play wealthy young Asians trying to figure their shit out and being a total mess. I admit I’m not as aware of Asian dramas which fit this style, but I’ve watched all of Gossip Girl, I think I know the mindset this sort of thing is going for.
The playbooks are mostly fairly self-explanatory by their names and there are a ton of them.
- The Absintent
- The Actual Celebrity
- The Artist
- The Career Woman
- The Crazy Rich Kid
- The Cynic
- The Dilettante
- The Fanatic
- The Himbo
- The Hot Chick
- The Hustler
- The Heathen (I believe this got changed)
- The Leftover
- The Material Buddha
- The Player
- The Queer
- The Sensitive Man
- The Slut
- The Social Justice Warrior
- The Spiritual Escape Artist
- The Washout
- The Zha Boh ‘Typical Asian Girl’
As it’s quite a broad setting and some folks like me might be less familiar with the subject matter, there are some series pitches which start you off and suggest playbook combinations:
- The Baking eXchange
- Rick People Problems
- The Wretched and the Alone
- Emotionally-Repressed Theatre Group
- Together House
- Stars & Wishes
- Saint Young Adults
- Queer Nose for the Straight Bro
Exalted was a big challenge this month and I dragged my feet enough that it’s caused me to slide back. I didn’t skip ahead for any quick wins, either, sticking to either really new games or carrying on in chronological order. The older games definitely feel that way, even Ten Candles. I think that’s the one I’m most curious about from the older selection, and I’m intrigued by both Capitalites and Extreme Meatpunks Forever, although I’m probably going to have a hard time selling them to different members of my group.