This year has been crazy for me. I got married back in January, and now we’re expecting a kid sometime after our anniversary. One of those crazy situations where the world at large seems to be on fire, yet on a personal level I have so much to celebrate.
Needless to say — between married life, school, parent prepping and other real life shenanigans, I’ve been pretty quiet on the gaming front. I just realized it’s been 5 months to today since I last posted! Which is a shame, since my big take-aways from this year happened over the last few months.
My New Favorites of 2017
Note that A) These aren’t listed in any order and B) Some are 2016 titles that I didn’t pick up until this year.
You think “grimdark fantasy” and I’m willing to wager Warhammer is one of the first games that comes to mind. While many of us are excited to hear that a 4th edition of WFRP is on the horizon, I’m actually more thrilled to be coming through Zweihänder now.
It captures everything I loved about older Warhammer editions, makes some modern tweaks, and delivers them in a very complete package (we’re talking just short of 700 pages here.) The print copies aren’t cheap, but the full artwork version is $10 and the no-frills version is completely free.
It literally has all of the iconic tropes, professions and ideals of the Old World with the serial numbers filed off. This is a boost to me — I hate running settings for others that know them intimately. And another boost — the game is released under CC-BY-NC-SA license. So it’s free to share, remix, and reuse. Which, Games Workshop property is notorious for being the opposite of.
The game is pretty hefty, but not too overbearing. I may not get it to the table anytime soon, but it’s a masterpiece and its heft comes from its completeness. You have in a single volume what took a few books in WFRP 2e.
This year saw me embracing the simplicity and flexibility of The Black Hack family of games, despite having some minor criticisms of the core game and the immediate flood of hacks for sale. But if any single one gets my vote as prime-choice cut and favorite, I’d vote The Rad Hack.
The Rad Hack is worth every one of the 666 pennies it charges you for. You get a normal PDF and a version laid out perfectly for printing a booklet at home. The whole thing is filled with amazing line art by the author. It’s goofy, grungy, cartoony — but it’s so perfect for the gonzo mutant presentation it gives.
It was the core book for my Gutterpunk Sprawl-Crawl. It’s honestly my favorite of Gamma World clones. If paying for good artwork and layout isn’t your jam the no-frills Open Game Content is free online. But Karl Stjernberg is a good dude and is an indie author/artist worth supporting.
Speaking of Black Hack related stuff, if I had taken the time to read this before working on The Lazaro Heresies I would have just stuck with this instead. Even though I was trying to bash together different things to create a simpler high-fantasy compilation, the damn simplicity of SS&SS is winning to me.
Diogo Nogueira pretty much took The Black Hack and added in elements and tweaks from other games that definitely change the feel. Notably is the Luck Die, which is based on the Usage Die mechanic but is pretty much the replacement of what would be Fate/Action/Luck points in other games. There’s also “Pushing the Roll” which allows a player, in exchange for detailed role-playing, to re-roll for a failed action — at the risk of failing again and at worse conditions. There’s also only four stats: Physique, Agility, Intellect and Willpower.
SS&SS has only 3 “Archetypes” — Warrior, Specialist, and Magic-User. But the flexibility comes in with “Vocations” which are part Fate Aspect, part free-form background. Perform an action tied to your Vocation, you get a Positive die (their term for Advantage). Simple, but works. This is the kind of system of you can write a whole character on a notecard with, and still have many entertaining sessions.
The mood of the game is Sword & Sorcery, which entails magic being more random and dangerous. Spells aren’t Vancian (thank God). Instead you’re permanently armed with spells that upon failure could backfire — fumble, and you have catastrophic effects go off.
The game offers some fun tables to randomly generate Adventures, taking overtones from the usual bunch of pulp fantasy authors. Where the game really stands out, is when you pair it with the Addendum — a collection of optional rules that really expand the game into its own. Expanded vocations, Sanity and Madness, abstract money, random monster generation, drugs, more strange magic — it’s great.
What I really adore from the Addendum is the section talking about learning new abilities, and how instead of offering them as level milestones making your players adventure for them. Want your barbarian to go Berserk? Find the spirit of Primordial Rage and beat it with your will. Want to shape shift? Perform the ritual for the appropriate totem. This makes a lot of the “cool” factors of D&D tropes more about the journey than the XP. Matter of fact, I’ve taken to running my online SS&SS game without levels at all.
You can grab both the Core PDF and Addendum as PWYW (even Free). The printed versions are even pay what you want, and come as really nice 6×9 digest sized soft covers.
The last title is probably the biggest release of the year. I haven’t had a chance to take it to table yet, but it’s something we’ve anticipated for years now.
The guys at DwD Studios, who’ve made a few of my favorite games this decade, originally started out as a Star Frontiers fan magazine. They decided ages ago to set out to write their own game. BareBones Fantasy was my introduction to them, and I that’s when I first heard of FrontierSpace — that their d00Lite System was more of a sideshow giving us a taste of things to come.
FrontierSpace finally launched this year, with both a Player’s and Referee’s Handbook. This was not only a culmination years of work, but also an extensive play test supported by one of the best gaming communities out there.
And the results paid off: two books, full sized and full of everything needed to run adventures in the frontiers past corporate controlled space. It’s not “lite” like their previous games, but the rules are only slightly beefier. Instead — vehicles, weapons, cybernetics, alien life forms, robots, adventure generation, it’s all here. It’s all flexible. It’s all pretty damn good. Every year spent waiting for this game was worth the payoff.
Since this is the only game I list that doesn’t have a free version out there, I highly recommend checking out Stargazer’s Articles reviewing (and actually playing) FS.
What Stood out to You?
What am I missing out on? Feel free to tell me about what RPG finds stood out to you this year.