Final Fantasy 6 (Boss Fight Books), a review

There probably isn’t a series of games that has ever captured my imagination quite like the Final Fantasy series. I have sat and played most of the games, although I have admittedly not touched the MMOs. They are well-conceived games and merit discussion in their own right, but for me, and I suspect many others, the sixth entry into the series stands apart.

My reverence for this particular game brought me to pick up Final Fantasy 6 from publisher Boss Fight Books. The book is a critical analysis of the game, most specifically, its music, and by extension celebrated composer, Nobuo Uematsu. And that music is iconic. I’d even go so far as to argue that most nerds would recognize “Prelude” from the Final Fantasy series of games since it has become a staple of the franchise’s soundtracks.

Most fans will debate which entry into the series is the best, with many people taking sides in favour of the sixth or the seventh game. Regardless of whatever acrimony there might appear in this respect, just about everyone agrees that the music is always top-notch in every single iteration of Final Fantasy. I would place myself among these people, and the first video game soundtrack I made a point to own in physical form was Final Fantasy 6. Obviously, it’s I have a deep affection for this game, even if it might be tempered by nostalgia at this point. Uematsu himself is highly respected for his body of work, similar to how John Williams is held in high regard for his film scores. Deken takes issue with this comparison in his examination. (After considering his approach that Uematsu and Williams are not really a good comparison, I concede that he makes a strong case.

FF6 came out almost 30 years ago. Being in North America, I was only able to play the first and fourth games in the series, or FF1 and FF2 as they were known in my corner of the globe. I loved them both and was anticipating FF6 when news broke that the game was finally coming. I don’t recall purchasing it as a ‘Day One’ release, but I definitely didn’t wait long to add it to my collection. Once I had it in my hot little hands, I was not disappointed. It was and is a masterpiece.

Neither was I disappointed with the book that reviewed the game’s legacy. People can say whatever they want about the game’s place in history, for a long time it was the benchmark that every other RPG was measured against. The game’s music helped make that possible.

As author Sebastian Deken discusses, the game took some interesting turns by incorporating an expansive soundtrack. It was on three CDs! Each character has their own song and the game makes expert use of them. Not only that, but the composition itself is ambitious and wildly varied. I’ll leave the formal critique to Deken because he was extremely adept at it, but I found myself agreeing with a lot of his assessments.

The book does a great job of discussing ideas about why the music from FF6 worked so well, and how it differed from its predecessors. One point that I thought was also interesting was the infamous opera scene. This had to be in this book, and Deken’s take on it was very thoughtful. It worked in the game in a way that fit the game, beautifully, but, as he points out, it only truly works in the game. This is obviously a bit of a flaw, but something that didn’t really make a difference to anyone helping Celes sing her part. At the end of the day, the limitations of the hardware didn’t matter. The opera scene fit the game. It doesn’t need to be recreated in the real world because it was written for the game.

One of the problems of this book though is that it doesn’t treat the game as a whole. It really only addresses the music, and so aspects of the game that really stood out, both for good and bad reasons, weren’t really investigated as much as they could have been. Could there be another book-length critique of FF6? Sure. Should there be? That’s a good question. Perhaps Boss Fight would consider authorizing another foray into FF6 legacy, but Deken’s book stands well on its own, even if it’s a bit limited in its scope.

Ultima-atley, this book was great. I felt like I was reading an easily digestible academic thesis. Yes, it could have been longer and covered more ground, but what’s available is perfectly substantive. At no point was this book ever pandering, or petty. Rather, it is intelligent, insightful, and frankly, a must-read for anyone that is a fan of the Final Fantasy games, especially FF6. This was my first time reading one of Boss Fight’s books, and I’m impressed enough that it almost certainly won’t be the last time I purchase something from this publisher.

The Artefact (part 2)

*Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the organizations named in this review, nor have I received any form of compensation. I paid for my copy of the game through the original Kickstarter.

A couple of years ago, I reviewed a beta version of a solo RPG titled, The Artefact. (The link for that review is here.) This follow-up review is late. My apologies, especially to the game’s author if they were hoping for a more timely treatment of the final product. Unfortunately, this is something I’ve been putting off for a while. Fortunately, the game being discussed isn’t impacted by the tardiness of my updated examination of the final version of the game. For anyone that might be unfamiliar with The Artefact, the idea is that an individual player will write a story from the perspective of an inanimate object. The game is a short, zine-style RPG that is available in both digital and physical formats.

When I first played through the game in the beta version, my impression was that the game was more of a creative writing exercise than anything else. There was a wide variety of artifacts, as well as some interesting prompts to kickstart the writing process. When I ran through the game, I was left with a unique item that had a relatively complete story about its existence. I was happy with the result and wanted to find a game I plug my item into.

Where that original run-through of the game faltered was, I believe, at least partially, the result of its incomplete status. It was the beta version, but it had no end. I arrived at the “end” of the game, and there was no resolution. I had simply run out of game to play, as there were no more pages in the book.

The final iteration of the game, which can be purchased here, is a significant improvement over the beta version. The game does now have a resolution. Using the charts, the object that lies at the heart of the story will probably have a different life span for each play of the game. Once that lifespan has run its course, the game ends. While the object in question may linger on, the story terminates with the object being lost, damaged, forgotten, or what have you. Yet, the object created had a life, regardless of how that span plays out.

My main takeaway after playing through this game, both the final version and the beta, is that I had something that I could drop into a TTRPG with no issue. If nothing else, The Artefact is a worthwhile tool for creating compelling content for other games. So much so that it was included in the Bundle of Holding for Novel Writing Tools that corresponds to the annual “National November Writing Month”, aka NaNoWriMo. (At the time this article was written there were 14 days left to purchase the bundle.)

I enjoyed creating a timeline for my artifact, a shield to be specific, and got to build out a meaningful tale around it. In this story, the game ended with the shield having been locked away in a vault for safe keeping, and ultimately was forgotten, along with everything else it was stored with. A fitting ending for a revered item, but one that leaves room for the story to grow. Perhaps adventurers stumble onto this vault, discover the shield, and then are able to piece together its history. It would be a compelling game in and of itself to do that kind of sleuthing, and it’s easy to see how using something like The Artefact could significantly add depth to a regular game.

What’s more, it can be a way to circumvent writer’s block since all the player needs to do is respond to prompts, rather can concoct the story from their own imagination. After I played it, I was left with pages of a compelling story (2,118 words to be exact) that worked as much of an explanation of my shield, as it did to articulate the world the shield was a part of. If I wanted to explore all of this further I’d be able to develop a sort of archaeological approach to worldbuilding that could be very fruitful.

None of this is to say that everyone needs to play this game. It’s purely optional, and really only suggested for those that enjoy writing these kinds of backstories. There are lots of gamers that prefer things be kept as simple as possible. A few lines or a couple of short paragraphs are all that some people require for their own games, and that’s fine. If you’re one of these people, then The Artefact, and games like it probably aren’t for you. However, if you enjoy writing, then I would suggest you consider picking this game up. It’s a short, affordable, and infinitely re-playable solo game that can be an excellent complement to creative writing, as well as numerous TTRPGs.

In Filth it Shall be Found, a review

*I originally posted a short verision of this on Goodreads, but didn’t feel that I had properly done my opinion justice. The publisher’s site is here.

Transgressive fiction is pretty niche, and this book embraces that. This isn’t to say that the stories aren’t varied, they are. There’s a great range of talent from authors that I wasn’t familiar with at all, as well as a mix of genres. When I saw this anthology pop up on Kickstarter I was intrigued enough to back it. Let me just say that, if hindsight is 20/20, then I am on occasion, a genius. This is a quality anthology.

Each author’s contribution did what it was supposed to do, challenge the reader’s perspective by presenting people who articulated themselves in ways that are generally not, shall we say, expected. There were people who were down and out, criminals, scumbags, victims, and so on. As I said, there was a great range presented in this collection. There are a couple of authors whose works I’m going to explore further after reading their stories. That’s a success as far as short story collections are concerned.

One example of a standout I particularly enjoyed Isaac and Me by Don Logan. The story started out with a guy killing his wife, only to end up living on the streets. When he befriends a male prostitute, his life takes a turn for the better. However, the book’s conclusion was a great surprise, and this was an excellent psychological thriller. I’ve shortlisted this author for the sake of checking out other things they may have written.

There were other stories that rubbed homicide and mental illness in the readers faces, as if the author wanted mash the audiences nose in shit. Some of the stories were, in a word, ‘abrasive’. This was the point though. Figure out where the line is in respectable daily life, and intentionally cross over it so as to linger in the shadows where less pleasant things are concelaed.

Other reviews have pointed out that there is a fairly mixed group of authors, and this is also a positive. It’s one thing to have a range of content, but it’s refreshing to see that equal attention was probably paid to content creators. Fiction as a whole benefits from this. There are too may perspectives to leave people out, intentionally or not.

Where the book faltered was that I didn’t feel like my assumptions of proper conduct in society were challenged enough. It’s one thing to show people acting in ways that might not meet our expectations, but that’s not enough. There needs to be a contrast of where the actions deviate away from what’s regarded as normal. Here and there, yes, that sort of juxtaposition is present in small quantities. Yet, more often than not I had the impression that the authors were trying to toe the line of what would be considered “shocking” to the average reader, but that was enough on it’s own.

In a way that’s a success because there are a couple of stories that made me feel a bit dirty after enjoying them. The problem was that I expected to have the conventions of the world around me challenged by the characters in the story. People needed to break free from the confines of polite society, and there wasn’t enough of clear break present in a lot of the stories. A lot of the characters were just varying shades of deplorable. Unfortunately, despite the quality of the book, I had wanted a bit more in this respect. Trangressive fiction shines brightest when that sort of divergence is central to a narrative’s architecture. Otherwise, it just ends up being people trying to upset the squares, which can be a bit tedious after a while. At least in my opinion.

As an anthology, this book scratched an itch. It’s a strain of storytelling that isn’t on most people’s lists, but it has its place. Don’t be fooled either, this stuff is dark. It isn’t for everyone, but for anyone that does enjoy having their limits tested, then this book is for you. The selections within miss the mark occasionally, but not one of them was poor quality. I genuinely enjoyed this book from start to finish, even if it was sometimes a little hard to read them all. Ultimately, a job well done by Outcast Press.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance: Chronicles #1), a review

What books do fans of fantasy fiction think of when they reflect on the works that define the genre? After The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, or A Game of Thrones and its subsequent sequels, it’s fair to challenge people to name works of fantasy fiction. “name your top five fantasy novels…” I imagine people would name Harry Potter or Conan as well, so we’re up to three or four now.

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? People might struggle to name more than a few. Despite its apparent popularity, fantasy is not well-explored by most people. Interestingly, one of the books-series of books, actually-that I often see on shortlists of “Best Fantasy Novels” is Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. In fact, I picked it up and read it because someone else suggested it as a favourite work of fiction.

This novel is the first in a trilogy that details the adventures of a group of heroes in a fantasy world (Krynn) created for the tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. Tanis, Sturm, Caramon, Raistlin, Flint, and Tasslehoff find themselves pitted against the forces beyond their comprehension, and seemingly well beyond their capabilities. They read like archetypal fantasy. Dragons, medieval wizards and warriors, elves, dwarves and so on. So much about this book perfectly encompasses what I suspect most people imagine when they think of fantasy fiction, for better or worse.

This book scratches a particular itch. On one hand, and let’s just get this out of the way, detractors of fantasy will point to books like this as an example of why the genre is garbage. Overall, the sophistication of the story probably fits with YA novels. The characters feel somewhat contrived and based on well-worn cliches. On the other hand, who cares what they say!

So much of what has become a staple of geeky culture is evident in this book. The humour, the character archetypes, and of course, the fact that the story is one giant D&D reference. Back when this novel was published, in 1984, people thought about stuff like TTRPGs much differently. There was the infamous Satanic Panic, which would have been at its peak when this novel was published. Tabletop gaming, in general, was much more niche 38 years ago when this book hit the stands. Yet, this book has endured and has cultivated fans for decades. From start to finish, Dragons of Autumn Twilight is like a precursor to every geeky joke and anecdote you might expect to hear people swap at a gaming table.

This last point is probably the most important for the novel’s legacy. It’s easy to tear this book down because it isn’t highly refined literature. However, it is fun, and it is fun in a unique way for its fans. Sometimes a book can be greatly enhanced when the audience gets the “in-jokes” that are peppered throughout the story. Weis and Hickman wrote their tale to include all of that, but the thing that stands out for me is that they get the in-jokes as well. They could be swapping them with the readers because they’re also the audience. Both author and reader played TTRPGs, principally D&D.

It was a level playing field between the creators and the consumers, and even if the stories don’t break the mould, they bring to life what a lot of gamers were engaging with during TTRPG sessions. These novels were created to breathe a different sort of life into D&D (see Shannon Applecline’s Designers & Dragons), and they ultimately succeeded. The original Dragonlance modules served as inspiration, and have become something of a cult classic in fantasy fiction.

No, Dragons of Autumn Twilight is not for everyone. People who like fantasy and D&D might not even like Weis and Hickman’s treatment of the source material, but there are those that do. These novels are for the people that play games, first and foremost. That was always the intended audience, and it always will be. If you’ve ever played D&D and enjoyed traipsing about the wilderness, clashing with evil spellcasters, and slaying monsters, then these books are for you. They were always meant for you.

Star Trek Adventures: Enterprise Player Characters

*Originally published at British Fantasy Society

One of the fun aspects of playing a game that already exists as a movie, television show, or in any other medium is that there is the chance to rewrite how things could have gone. Ever watch an episode of any show, perhaps Star Trek Enterprise, and say something like, “that’s a terrible choice, what they should have done was…”? Well, now is the perfect chance to test those ideas! Modiphius has published an affordable supplement that gives fans of the show pre-generated characters for Captain Archer and his crew.

Within this brief supplement are the crew of the Enterprise. It’s short and focused, only including the characters needed for the supplement. There are enough characters for players to pick one, and still have crew members leftover that can function as NPCs. Modiphius even statted out the Enterprise among the characters-a nice touch. 

 The book is extremely attractive visually. Cover to cover, it’s quality vibrant full-color art. In keeping with other products in the Star Trek Adventures line, the publisher kept the standards high. There’s a nice little introduction to set up the supplement so it isn’t just a compilation of characters. Additionally, each character has a short paragraph outlining who they are and their role onboard the ship. It’s a nice touch that deftly adds a bit of personality, and background to each of the characters.

Something that might have been nice would have been suggestions for character progression if players had wanted to emulate the show. How might the characters grow under players’ control, but in a manner similar to what a viewer might see on television? This would have been a small way to let players even more fully immerse themselves in the show.The product has limited use, but that’s kind of the point. These characters are pre-made to take the guesswork as well as prep work out of people’s schedules. They were made to suit a specific purpose, and they don’t really leave anyone purchasing them wanting for more. While the characters feel a bit static, players should feel empowered to put their own unique spin on each member of Captain Archer’s crew as the adventures progress at the gaming table. If you’re a fan of this iteration of Star Trek, then this is a solid addition to your collection.

Shadow of Mogg

*Originally published at British Fantasy Society

Welcome to life after “The Event”! Manic Productions has published a post-apocalyptic game called the Shadow of Mogg after a successful Kickstarter campaign. Will you and your fellow survivors hang on to the shreds of democratic civilization, or will it all fall apart?

The game is centered on surviving a devastated world in a small and highly democratic group. Anything is up for debate, and everything needs some kind of consensus. The title gives the ultimate hint of what those stories might be like. Shadow of Mogg is a “post-brexit” ttrpg. Players are tasked with trying to hold on to the remnants of their now ruined civilized society.

The game is set primarily in the London Underground and this where the players will collaborate with the game’s Speaker (gamemaster) to help the story unfold. Weighing in at 90 pages, Shadow of Mogg is easy to define as “rules-light”, and their tables to help make what is present very straightforward. 

At Shadows of Mogg’s core is voting. Literally, anything can be voted upon in this game, and one of the more amusing examples in the book is “who eats first?” This is a central component of the game, and overall, the rules are fairly simple. Everything is resolved via die rolls, often d6s. The voting mechanic is a fun element of the game. However, it could quickly degenerate and require The Speaker to intervene to ensure the game functions smoothly. Additionally, the game’s designers included, and encouraged, the use of safety mechanisms (“X card” and the “Lines and Veils”) to make sure everyone at the table is comfortable and having a good time. Notably, these come before the rules and are suggestions for running the game itself. 

There is a very strong DIY “zine” aesthetic throughout the text. Everything is laid out with the appearance of having been printed and cut out of something and glued onto another piece of paper. It adds a great effect to the tone the game wants to capture. Unfortunately, at times it’s a bit too much and there are places where words are obscured by gray smudges. This was likely intentional, but it doesn’t necessarily help people reading the game.

Something else that tripped me up was, “why the London Underground? Couldn’t this be anywhere in the UK?” The designers could just as easily have used a generic term such as “abandoned train tunnels”, and nothing would really have changed. What’s more, the mechanics felt loose enough to be played as something along the lines of Mad Max or Waterworld, which is a strength. It’s fairly obvious that the game is a satirical take on life after Brexit, but the rules don’t tie into the setting enough for my liking.  

Altogether, this is a unique ttrpg, and a fun take on group dynamics, which are front and center in Shadow Of Mogg. While it won’t be for everyone, there’s a lot to be said for giving people a neutral forum to discuss the controversy. Shadow of Mogg does just that. It provides a venue for players to look back on things, and reflect on what unfolded and why. This could be comedic or dramatic, but that’s determined at the table. Will the group survive? Will the players continue to uphold their past society’s political ideals? Should they? Shadow of Mogg takes life after Brexit to its logical extremes and beyond in a fairly irreverent and creative manner. If you’ve got an itch for disaster scenarios, but don’t fancy pummeling your way to a brighter tomorrow, this game might be worth a look. 

Dune: Adventures in the Imperium

*Originally published at British Fantasy Society

Published decades ago, Frank Herbert’s award-winning Dune spawned a series of novels and is now a tabletop roleplaying game from Modiphius. The game puts players into the complexities and nuance of Herbert’s deep space interpretation of the future of human civilization. This adaptation of the classic story is primarily focused on the novels to develop the game, rather than any other media.

There’s a lot to like about this book, and it is very readable, containing everything needed to pick up and go with minimal effort. The art is fantastic, and although it feels a bit dark, it captures the atmosphere of the novels. Additionally, Dune’s massivetimeline is annotated,  listing each book as they relate to the game’s lore. This is great for referencing the original source material, and for newcomers. Predictably, the default setting is Arrakis, the planet Dune is namedafter. Arrakis is nicely outlined, but it would have been helpful to have visual aids since there are only a couple of cities on Arrakis. 

Need friends and enemies? There’s a useful NPC gallery containing some of Dune’s most important personalities, as well as NPC archetypes that can easily be re-skinned. What’s more, there’s even an introductory adventure module that can be run to give people a taste of how the game plays without having to prepare the material. Resources are plentiful to assist people just to easily dive right in.

Some of the rules are innovative, for example, there are two ways to create characters. Players can take the time to develop a fully-prepared persona, or create a skeleton that grows as a campaign progresses. There’s even  “troupe-style” play where players use ‘supporting characters’, basically, NPCs, that are important, but not necessarily managed by the GM. This adds complexity to the game, but these secondary characters give players a different presence at the table, a fun twist on gameplay. 

One aspect of the system that stood out is Assets. How this appears to work is that a player could spend Momentum to introduce an asset to help them overcome an obstacle or a conflict, for example by calling in a debt. In principle, this is a pretty nifty idea, but in practice, this could be problematic. GMs will need to be alert, and ensure assets fit the game’s scope. 

Beyond designing characters, players construct a House. The rules for this process are simple, containing pros and cons for the scale of the House. Unfortunately, the characters are supposed to all belong to the same house. While this makes perfect sense, it would be fun to have rules allowing characters to be members of different, even rival houses. 

What makes this game stand out as a TTRPG is in the chapter for Gamemastering on how to implement Dune’s themes, such as religion, the effects of spice, the scale of the environment, and so on. What’s in the book is great, but a bit academic. Here’s an example from incorporating faith,

When incorporating elements of faith and religion into their stories, you should try to balance these meta-narratives implicit in the setting against the characters that experience these concepts as authentic expressions of themselves and their beliefs. 

The section is vital to making Dune unique, but it could be presented with language that was a bit less opaque.  As an RPG, Dune has resulted in a remarkably comprehensive book. There are areas that are lacking in detail, but this is a game that is loaded with opportunities for supplements. It would be stunning if Modiphius wasn’t already working on these. Like any other game adapted from existing media, it’s going to be for fans of Dune before anyone else. However, there is a lot in the core book, and it all feels very open for anyone that might be looking for a well-developed science-fiction line.

Talisman Adventures RPG Core Rulebook

Originally published at British Fantasy Society

Originally released in 1983, the board game Talisman has been around for decades. As noted on publisher Pegasus’ website, the game is currently on its fourth edition and has ventured forth into new territory as a tabletop roleplaying game, Talisman Adventures: Fantasy Roleplaying Game. Transitioning from a fantasy adventure board game to a fantasy RPG seems simple enough, but there are areas where re-creating the classic game could go awry.

Ultimately, Pegasus has done a great job. The core rule book is a complete full-colour standalone product with great art. It is a player’s guide, gamemaster resource, bestiary, and introductory module. Reading through the game gives one the impression that it was designed to be efficient, but still offering enough that players had options for customization. No, there aren’t overwhelming lists of equipment, spells, or feats. There is enough to give a respectable variety of options.

The game makes use of some interesting mechanics such as the Kismet die and fate.  The kismet die is a very simple way of augmenting the action in the game. For example, a rapier might be able to ignore armour on a good kismet roll, or it could break if being used against a two-handed weapon on a bad roll. In either situation, it could significantly impact the game. Then there is what’s called light fate and dark fate that can be used to swing the momentum towards or against the players. It’s a fun tactical/dramatic element that can abruptly alter the course of the action.

Pegasus included some fun options for playable characters as well, including being either a ghoul or troll. That’s right, players can hunt for treasure as the walking dead or the much-maligned villains of classic fairy tales. The book even takes a jab at trolls saying that, as great builders, “no one knows bridges, as well as a troll does.”

In contrast to its more unique elements, the game feels a bit lacking as far as the setting goes. Even though Talisman has been around since the early 1980s, this RPG feels as if it were embracing fantasy as broadly as possible, maybe even to a fault. Now, some might appreciate this, but it lacks any distinctive flair. There’s even a city called, “The City”. It’s the kind of thing that feels like a placeholder in a homebrewed adventure, not a professionally published game.

Adding to this is that the world feels very “contained”. The borders are very clear and even though the scale isn’t specified on the map, it still gives a sense of being kind of limited. That doesn’t mean that the world couldn’t be expanded upon by a GM, but once players have trekked through a couple of forests there could be the sense that they’re running out of terrain.

Without actually saying it, Talisman feels like a tool kit for tinkerers. Beyond fans of the board game, this would be a great fit for people that like creating their own gaming material. The specifics were intended to be left to the players. Instead of offering fleshed-out details for everything, the game poses questions to consider throughout the rulebook. 

Ultimately, this is a tightly conceived ttrpg, derived from a board game that has endured for decades. While it lacks flavour for its default setting, the devil is in the details. For Talisman, it appears that the point isn’t to reinvent fantasy RPGs, rather it aims to put its twist on the tried and true of the genre. It is a simple d6-based game, with a very open world that invites players to make it their own. 

Call of Cthulhu: Children of Fear

*Originally published at British Fantasy Society

There’s nothing quite like diving into a new book by a favourite author, even if they’re dead. When it comes to RPGs, massive campaigns such as Chaosium’s offering, Call of Cthulhu: Children of Fear most definitely offers a heaping-helping of H.P Lovecraft. This historically set tale sees players following frightening clues all over Asia to get to the bottom of a terrifying mystery. 

First, the book is not for everyone. There are some extreme themes within this yarn, as one would expect with anything that has to do with Cthulhu.  What is available is a robust, intelligent book, but it’s substantial and adult-oriented. There is no shortage of information, almost to a fault. 

In fact, there’s a fine line between “too much and not enough” information in gaming. As expected, there are maps, (well-made) NPCs, and even material (books, music, movies,…) to help people who want supplemental content to get more context, but that isn’t all. Some people will appreciate nuance and presentation of extensive details, such as the make and model of a car, plus its top speed. On the other hand, some people see stuff like that as superfluous. Is it excellent context for setting and theme, or too much notetaking? The resulting effect is that the book sometimes struggles under the weight of all its finer points

There are tips for character creation that will help the players, such as a list of occupations that the players, (great for newbies!) would benefit from incorporating. It’s easy to be a bit harsh, letting players go without guidance, but it’s nice to see that suggestions are available.  This kind of approach to the design makes it clear that the game is meant to be played as thoroughly as possible. 

Reading through it, I couldn’t stop feeling that it reminded me of a novel that was slow to get going. Sometimes a story doesn’t really come together until it’s a third to halfway through the tale. That can be OK for fiction but tough for an RPG, and slow pacing can be an issue for a group of people playing a game. Depending on how long it takes to get through a session, there’s a risk that things drag a bit before the plot gets going. Anyone stepping up to run the game will need to keep this in mind to ensure players are engaged. 

That early gradual progress must have been anticipated because there are multiple optional “extras”, that are themselves at times fairly substantial, that can be thrown at players to keep them on the edge. What’s more, some sections say things like, “If the investigators take this course of action…,” and offer different ways of dealing with different situations-a nice touch. 

 An exceptional amount of work went into creating this book. From start to finish it’s probably as dense a resource as anything I’ve ever read. Some may find the sheer volume of what’s available to be simply too much. When combined with what can feel like an incremental rate of storytelling throughout the book, this mission has a sense of simply plodding along, but everything builds as the adventure progresses. 

By the time the campaign comes to a head, there is an abundance of freakish horror present in the story. Along with all of the historical research that creates the entire book’s architecture, loads of extras, fantastic production values, and suggestions for gameplay, this book is packed from cover to cover. It is a complete product and one that will keep a gaming group occupied for quite a long time.

Conan: Waves Stained Crimson Campaign

*Originally published at British Fantasy Society

There have been a slew of releases for Modiphius’ Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed of since the initial Kickstarter brought the game to life. However, the multi-part campaign, Waves Stained Crimson Campaign stands apart from the others. It’s a dark adventure on the high seas where the PCs are tasked with rescuing a kidnapped member of an elite family. On the surface, it feels fairly straightforward, but it’s absolutely not.

This really felt like a story-a tale by Robert E. Howard told in five acts. If someone were to readapt this into a novella of about the same length, it would read like a sort of harsh Lovecraftian fantasy. Elder gods, depraved sorcerers, deadly duels, intense battles, and more. It works very well at capturing the elements of Conan and puts players in what they’d expect to see in the classic fiction. Run it as a series of one-shots, or in its entirety. It’s flexible and accommodating.  

The art complements this very well, and there are great full-colour illustrations of the story all throughout the book. It’s a very reasonable length, despite being much more than a single quest. Players are given a lot of latitude for resolving the different sections of the campaign, but it’s all smoothly crafted.

However, this is not for people that really like their characters. It is difficult. As expected, every chapter ends with a short section on rewards for successfully completing that particular part of the story. Yet, that same rewards section for every chapter begins with a phrase such as, “Characters that survive…” and then the rewards are listed. It’s fairly clear that PC death is to be expected while running this from start to finish.

Ironically, despite the difficulty, I couldn’t help but wonder whether this campaign should have had some kind of timer. Players should need to finish in a certain amount of time in the game world, or they lose. This might seem unfair considering how hard this already felt, but the primary antagonist has a plan that they want to see through to its conclusion. Although, the fact that PCs aren’t really on a clock makes Waves Stained Crimson more forgiving.  If this had been a race against time, it would ratchet up the tension even further, but it also may have been a different kind of story. 

This tale is worthy of Conan, but it might be a rough way to introduce new players to the game. Someone might be all excited about creating their first character only to have it die by the time the group has completed the first leg of the adventure, and then have another character die in the next section, and so on. If you want a swashbuckling challenge that is filled with freakish occult horrors, this will scratch that itch. Pirates, demons, treasure, and more! This is a great, albeit very difficult, addition to Modiphius’ Conan line.