The Artefact, A Review

*Available for purchase via download at

Stuck at home with due to social distancing? Maybe you’ve just got a really busy schedule and need something to do on your own? If you’re a gamer, now is as good a time as any to try a solo RPG-something like The Artefact by Jack Harrison.

This game was part of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest 2 which allowed creators to make do-it-yourself magazines. It was a way to develop content, as well as pay homage to the early days of RPGs when zines were developing material for the then fledgeling hobby. What better time to take a risk creatively than to embrace the medium that helped create all kinds of home-grown rules for table-top games?

The Artefact is an entire solo game in a neat and tidy 24 pages pages. It is black text on white background, and features minimal, but useful art. Those illustrations that are available actually do help to depict the game. The real question is, how does it work?

Harrison’s solo game permits a player to creates a system agnostic item that has at some time or another been in the possession of someone, a Keeper. This means, in a nutshell that you are taking on the persona of loot that you might find while adventuring. Pretty fun idea, right? That’s what I thought as well, and why I backed it.

After reading through, and actually playing it, I would say that this isn’t really a game as much as it’s a fun creative-writing exercise. When you begin you basically start sketching out notes based on prompts, and the further you carry on, the more complete your object becomes-including an illustration. Tables help randomize the experience, and the whole process is guided from concept to fully-conceived the creation becomes.

From start to finish the whole thing takes about an hour, and so its highly playable, while not being a major time commitment. There are ideas baked into the game, such as turning out the lights for a short period of time to replicate the isolation of a lost object that are quite clever. Additionally, there are different types of items, and nothing about the game is specific to any fantasy world. This could easily be used for the table-top role playing game of your choice. In fact, I felt like I wanted to hack it and figure out how I could expand upon the experience.

I came up with a few ideas:

Perhaps it could have expended categories for the items being created. The game currently boasts three kinds of items, but this could easily expanded.

I wanted a sort of historical aesthetic to the game. Wouldn’t specific cultures of civilizations have different techniques, designs, and patterns worked into the objects? This could be a nice touch to add some specificity to the item being created.

More options for how the item changes hands. One of the features of the game is to examine how an item changes hands from one “Keeper” to another. This could be from nefarious means, or benign. However, its a feature that could be developed further to enhance the scope of the storytelling aspect of the game.

This was a fun game, but felt limited. Granted, this was supposed to be a “Zine”, and wasn’t intended to be a large game. Even calling this a game is a bit of stretch because you don’t really win. The whole purpose is to walk a player through the creation of an object, and to examine how it changes hands from one Keeper to another. Once you’ve done that you’ve created an item with a backstory, but it would be reaching to say that this is anything other than world-building.

Ultimately, The Artefact stands out because it is immensely re-playable, something that other solo rpg experiences lack. It also shines because it can be a handy tool to help people create content for other games, which is a plus for people short on time. Even though it’s highly playable, it never felt like a game-at least not to me. There aren’t conditions for victory, and there really isn’t a point where a player starts, or ends. You just run out of rule book. This last point isn’t necessarily negative, the game just could have been longer. It’s a great compliment, and why indie game development is always worth looking into. This is a great system agnostic supplement that could fit on any gamer’s shelf.

Odyssey of the Dragonlords. RPG Review

*This was originally posted on the British Fantasy Society Website.

After a very successful Kickstarter campaign, Arcanum World has brought antiquity to the “world’s most popular role-playing game”, and created an epic quest inspired by ancient Greece. Not only is this an adventure, but it is also an entire fully-developed world that players can explore. Instead of adding elements of Greek mythology into your D&D games, Arcanum World has allowed D&D to be put inside a Grecian setting.

This is an ambitious and well-executed campaign for Dungeons & Dragons 5E. My device counted this book as 482 pages from cover to cover. It is a monster that will take characters from levels 1 – 15 (or more!) in a world called Thylea. Early on, the book references Jason and the Argonauts, and this is the approach encouraged throughout the book. The players will be asked to create characters reminiscent of classical Greek heroes. Titanic tales of bigger than life adventurers! 

Everything is tightly wound around the plot, and all of the places, people, and things introduced refer back to the central story. The text is clean and well-written, as well as set against an attractive book. All of the art reflects the historical period that inspired it and is a judicious mix of original creations and public domain images.

Some fun ways to make characters fit in the world of Thylea are added to the appendices. Options for classes (and class archetypes), playable races, and more are detailed for players to make use of. For example, my favourite was the wizard’s class archetype, ‘Academy Philosopher’, which makes real philosophical schools, such as the stoics, playable in the game. This is a great addition and shows a level of research and nuance that I truly appreciate. Additionally, one spell was particularly fun, Theogenesis. Essentially, this is a spell to turn someone into a god. That’s a really interesting idea and is innovatively incorporated into the campaign. 

While the quality isn’t in question, I couldn’t shake the feeling the authors had put the cart before the horse with this book. As much as this text is one single gigantic adventure, it is also a setting. After going over the whole thing, I would have liked Thylea as just a setting to have been a separate book. There were individual sites that would have been great to drop into other quests. While removing the story from the setting isn’t terribly difficult, having a dedicated setting book, and an adventure for that particular backdrop would have been better. The page count for the two tomes would have been about the same. When you consider that the appendices comprise a significant amount of Thylea’s setting material, and count for about 160 pages of the current Odyssey of the Dragonlords, a second book makes sense.

Arcanum World did a fantastic job with this and it is as good as anything else out there. If you’ve been looking for something different that is on par with what Wizards of the Coast has created, this is probably the kind of thing you’ve been looking for. It is ready to go out of the box, so to speak, and allows you to immerse yourself in a world that would have thoroughly embraced Hercules. I wish there was a release for this setting that wasn’t the campaign, but that doesn’t take away from the scope of this book. Odyssey of the Dragonlords is absolutely loaded with content that can be plugged into all kinds of campaigns. If you have any fondness for ancient Greece, this is definitely something that is worth checking out.

Conan : Ancient Ruins & Cursed Cities. RPG review

*This was originally posted on the British Fantasy Society Website.

Someone once said that, “when it comes to role-playing games, the most important thing is location, location, location!” Or something like that, because all the action needs a somewhere. With Conan: Ancient Ruins & Cursed Cities, publisher Modiphius has added a book that helps sprinkle far-flung locations into an existing world.

Excluding the introduction and the chapter on treasure, the book effectively has two sections, sites derived from existing fiction, and rules/guidelines for creating your own places. Interestingly, there are a few maps in this book. Most destinations contain, an overview, the kind of threats players might face, and suggestions for what successful explorers should receive for their efforts (experience and treasure). Additionally, it would be relatively easy to re-use the material here in completely different games.

However, the two chapters helping people create ruins, and offering suggestions for breathing life into the environment are where this book excels. The writing is substantive, compact, and offers insight into how Howard thought about the world he created. There are also some traps and tables that can be made use of without much prep work.

Overall, the book is mixed. At 120 pages, the PDF was never a challenge to get through. Aside from a few hiccups here and there, both editing and layout are quality, and some excellent art combine to make this an attractive book. All throughout, notes refer the reader back to the core rule book, doing a good job of tying the supplement back to the base rules.

The specific sites listed are interesting and fun, but sometimes the book feels a bit confused. While Howard may have tied his fictional world to that of H.P. Lovecraft, it often felt like the additions of Lovecraft’s ideas steered the text away from the world of Conan, and into something else. The muddled tone made it awkward when trying to conceive of a single consistent game-world. Additionally, it would have been nice to have had a bibliography of some sort for the works cited throughout the text.

Regardless, the book is a good addition to the Conan line, and contains intriguing places for players to explore. For anyone that wants to scatter their maps with the Hyborian Age’s ancient past, this is an entertaining addition to the product line.

Infinity RPG. Roleplaying Game System review

*This post was originally posted on the British Fantasy Society Website.

Set in the far reaches of the cosmos, Modiphius’ 2d20 version of Corvus Belli’s space opera wargame, Infinity, provides gamers with a formidable core book. Numerous politically motivated factions compete to claim territory, vie for superiority, or simply just for the right to be left alone. Life as we know it became fundamentally altered through technological breakthroughs and significant shifts in political power. There’s a lot to Infinity, but some things stand out more than others.

The book is a comfortable read, although the sidebars are plentiful enough that they could have been written into the text itself, and simplified the layout.  Otherwise, the tone of the game is well represented in the art, coloration, and even the font. Additionally, the game is likely intended for adults. Not necessarily because the themes are too mature, but because the sophistication of the language is likely above that of a younger player.

True to its skirmish roots with a strong military element, Infinity pushes “combat” by using such conflicts such as hacking and psyops. Diversifying combat creates fun ideas, and Infinity, for example, makes use of firewalls as armor against hacking in the same capacity kevlar might stop a bullet. Having rules for conflict beyond shootouts is refreshing, and gives the game greater depth of play.

Character creation yields potentially antagonistic interests between individual player characters (PCs). If two players create characters from rival factions they may be actively trying to undermine each other throughout a campaign while simultaneously aiding their group. Compounding these complex relationships are Infinity’s careers. This might imply expected archetypes such as “soldier”, or “police officer”, but there are others. Infinity offers career options such as “Lobbyist” or “Politician”. The idea that you could be playing a character that needs to appease constituents is both novel and unexpected for a space opera game steeped in military confrontations.

The game’s setting is particularly detailed, and is perhaps the most elaborated upon feature of the book. Not only have specific sites been created, but reasons for those sites to exist are present as well. However, this is also where Infinity’s largest issue is evident.

The chapter on setting (The Human Sphere) is just under 200 pages. The table of contents has the section spanning pages 140-325, and if you add in the approximately fifteen pages of history that begin the book, then that comprises over ⅓ of the 523 page PDF referenced for this review. Perhaps the core book could have presented one highly contested location that could serve as the backdrop for the game, and the additional setting material could be mentioned, but only truly developed in supplemental books.

Along with the sites, the world-building for Infinity included terminology specific to the game. While not problematic, and the game does include an index, it might have been better to include a glossary as well. As enjoyable as reading the jargon was, after a few hundred pages remembering it all became a bit cumbersome.
The core rule book for Infinity is admittedly a bit intimidating. There is simply a lot of game that was written into this one book. It boasts great potential for customization and fun tactical gameplay, but at times it feels like it’s trying to do too much. Infinity’s incredibly well-conceived and nuanced setting offers an exceptional opportunity for gaming, especially for people short on time for prep. While the core book might be a bit off-putting because of its scope, this game is ready to play immediately and provides enough material to be playable for a long time in a single text.

Infinity: Ariadna, RPG supplement review

*This was originally posted on the British Fantasy Society Website.

The Ariadnans are descendants of survivors and now vie for respect within the Human Sphere. The book presents a young civilization that grew up out of a re-discovered population most had left for dead. Modiphius’ supplement for Infinity explores the planet Dawn, and its place within the Human Sphere.

The nation of Ariadna is named after the ship that carried explorers deep into space, but the expedition was cut off from the rest of civilisation. Ultimately forgotten, the progeny of those lost explorers created a civilization largely comprising several cultures from Earth (Russia, Scotland, USA, and France). 

At times this is an extremely detailed text with notes pertaining to architecture, art, anthropology, biology, history, and more making this book a valuable addition for people that read the primary material and thought Ariadna intriguing. In this respect, the book does not disappoint.

There are options specific to this supplement that allow players to create characters originating on Dawn. The book includes Dog Bowl, a sport that exists on Dawn and describes it as a unique cultural phenomenon. Additionally, the book incorporates prejudice against the “dog-blooded” as part of what makes Ariadna the unique place that it is, and the book elaborates on that and more.

Unfortunately, the Earth nations that comprise Ariadna are defined through contemporary cliches, i.e., the arrogant French drink wine and prize refined aesthetics. While the authors tried to portray the negative impact isolation had on the Ariadnans, the overall effect of this section detracts from book by relying somewhat on stereotypes. Considering what else this book had to offer, I felt that the bar could have been set higher regarding this content. Additionally, some, not all, of the book’s artwork features miniatures from the wargame, rather than commissioned art. 

Overall, the book builds on the core text, and in a very digestible size. Ariadna is itself a fantastic plot hook, whether it’s a one-shot or an extended campaign. While the warts are visible, much like the Ariadnan’s unrefined teseum rich planet of Dawn, this supplement is ripe to be mined for game content.

Infinity: Haqqislam. RPG Supplement review

*Originally posted at the British Fantasy Society Website

The religion of Islam has taken on new principles, and re-invented itself, Haqqisam. The Haqqislamites took to the stars, deep into space ending at Bourak. By carefully terraforming the planet, the Haqqisamites have crafted for themselves a beautiful home on a previously uninhabitable planet. This addition to Modiphius’ line of products for Corvus Belli’s Infinity provides gamers with information on a small, but powerful and important member of the Human Sphere.

The Haqqislam supplement paints an intriguing picture of a society that is, due largely to Silk, a significant presence, and opulently wealthy member of the Human Sphere. The incorporations of quasi-institutionalized assassins and assassinations were surprises, as was the inclusion of corsairs. Incorporating corsairs is an especially fun idea, because it makes it possible to have state-sanctioned piracy in the game. I had expected this book to focus much more on the technological developments associated with Silk.  

At one point, there was concern that the book would veer off into describing the residents of Bourak in a sort of “desert trader” pastiche, but it never came to fruition. There is, however, an area where the book could have been stronger. All throughout the text, the book speaks to layers of social class and the power of the political elite, but never really added in substantive ways to make these ideas more gameable. The means of leveraging the benefits of having the kind of social capital associated with wealth and a network of powerful allies could have really been interesting, especially when piracy and assassination are more or less endorsed by the government. 

The Haqqislam supplement  puts a unique twist on Islam that showed the religion to be a living thing in a space opera setting, and how the ideas fit into the Human Sphere. The material in this book lends itself to activities all throughout the Human Sphere. Silk is ubiquitous and definitely a part of what makes the world of Infinity unique. By extension, so are the Haqqislamites. The book is a strong addition to Infinity, and leaves you wanting more, but in a good way.

Star Trek Adventures, Strange New Worlds: Mission Compendium Vol. 2. RPG Review

*This was originally posted on the British Fantasy Society website.

Strange New Worlds is a collection of one shot adventures for the Star Trek Adventures role-playing game by Modiphius.  This book reads like a year of broadcast television’s Star Trek, and that’s great for this game and the gaming table. Every so often, you and your group can sit down and make your way through missions outlined in this book in a rather episodic fashion-just like the televised show.

The overall concept and design on this book is fantastic. It looks like Modiphius simply copied and pasted the user interface from the Next Generation computer onto the pages. The colours, the organization of the information, everything looks just like you’d expect to see it displayed on the computer. Combined with the self-contained nature of the missions, you really get a sense that the book was designed to emulate a televised season’s worth of material. It’s a strong concept that really capitalizes on the visual aspect of Star Trek, but also the medium most people associate it with.

Running the missions forces the players to filter their decisions through the Prime Directive. This is absolutely key to Star Trek, and it’s good to see that the authors took the values of the Starfleet Federation into consideration when designing the missions. There is an excellent blend of science and ethics that make Star Trek what it is, and this is present throughout the book.

Where this compilation faltered a bit was that I found myself wanting the missions to be a bit more diverse. I’ll avoid spoilers, but one thing that wasn’t evident was the full scope of Star Trek. While focusing largely on the Original Series and the Next Generation, the individual missions can be adapted in different ways to accommodate the different time periods for Star Trek, and this is a good thing. However, the missions only really aim at those two iterations of the broader intellectual property. Voyager? Deep Space Nine? These more recent additions to the Star Trek pantheon seem to be a bit left out, and since Voyager really dealt with unexplored space it felt like an odd omission.

All in all, these are fun missions. Despite feeling a bit limited in scope, the text in its entirety brings together the ethics, aesthetics, and objectives of the televised show. It really tries to capture the spirit of Star Trek via exploration and embracing the unknown through scientific inquiry, and to the benefit of the gamers, it largely succeeds.