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Category Archives: Obscure Games

Glorious Free Stuff

 

The last few days I somehow ended up delving into the free and pay what you want sections on rpgnow and drivethrurpg (what exactly is the difference between those two actually?). And there were some treasures to be found.

newsies-and-bootblacks-roleplaying-gameNewsies and Bootblacks

In which players play children having adventures in a world not unlike ours at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century.

230 pages, rather simple mechanics, and free. Link

 

 

 

 

 

quillQuill: a letter-writing roleplaying game for a single player

This one takes the whole play-by-mail idea to the top. You aren’t even supposed to have another player, you are just supposed to write letters and see how well you do with them.

Created by Trollish Delver, 16 pages, multiple supplements, can be had for free (well, Pay What You Want) on drivethrurpg

 

 

 

190792Romance of the Perilous Land

And another one from Trollish Delver. This one is basically a stripped down OSR system, with the Britain as the setting of choice. Magic is rare, as are monsters. If you were looking for a low-fantasy/chivalric RPG…

52 pages, for free on drivethrurpg

 

 

 

 

 

crusader-statesCrusader States – Hex Grid Map

Exactly what it says on the tin. A map of the crusader states circa 1135AD. And some additional color plates with the coats of arms of the states in question.

4 pages, but detailed map. Pay What You Want on drivethrurpg.

 

 

 

 

 

convictsConvicts & Cthulhu

Roleplaying cthulhoid horror in the Australian penal colonies of the 18th century. As if dealing with cthulhoid monstrosities is not bad enough, you gotta deal with Australian wildlife as well…

98 gorgeous pages by Cthulhu Reborn, either as Pay What You Want, or as a softcover book, drivethrurpg.

Bonus: a fillable pdf character sheet for the setting, for CoC 7th ed.

What I learned making a list of RPG companies

I put together a list of currently active RPG companies a while ago. The reason for that was mostly to check how the hobby actually looks like right now.

I don’t think I know even now. I have the feeling that some things still elude me, even though I found some crazy/interesting stuff while searching for new companies. But you know what? Despite all the doom and gloom the hobby is still freakishly wide and varied.

Sometimes I have to wonder about these companies. I mean, ok, we have a rather niche hobby, but some of these games should have been better known just for the concept alone. Instead quite a few seem to be one-man shops with 90s websites, and products that could only have been published back then. Some even still have websites that haven’t been updated in two decades.

Still, they soldier on, and that is admirable.

Some interesting things:

  • Judge’s Guild exists, again. This is which incarnation by now? In any case, they still have stuff from back in the day for sale
  • Flying Buffalo on the other hand STILL exists, and still sell Tunnels and Trolls, since 1975. I haven’t checked, but I think this would be the only company on the list that lasted in exactly the same configuration for such a long time (41 years!)
  • the runner-up would be Chaosium. But I am not quite sure how exactly they now are organized. There’s some shuffling-around with Moon Design Publications going on
  • the prize for the title with the most gratuitous fan-service/alliteration I would have to give to Tri Tac Games Beach Bunny Bimbos With Blasters
  • quite a few companies have stopped publishing RPGs over time. The one I noticed the most was FanPro, once the powerhouse of German RPG scene. By this point they are reduced to a one-author publishing house with attached 2nd hand bookstore
  • despite the proverbial antipathy of Christians towards RPGs there are two dedicated Christian publishing houses that have RPGs in their program. One has a German-language Narnia RPG, the other is the infamous DragonRaid, which was created as a non-satanic alternative to D&D. Yes, DragonRaid still is being published.
  • the most convoluted story I found so far is the one of Paradox, Cabinet, White Wolf, and Onyx Path. Swedish company Paradox Entertainment which published Kult and Mutant Chronicles was sold to the Hollywood-based Cabinet Entertainment, but there still is Paradox Interactive, which recently bought White Wolf. So now the website of White Wolf doesn’t have anything but some fluff on it, but Onyx Path which used to develop White Wolf stuff is now selling stuff. I assume there is some drama in the background that I am missing out on.

The unfortunate name of Hârn

I normally take pride in going against first impressions and looking at the core of things to see what these things actually are worth. A while ago I looked into Hârn as a system and saw a game world that might be a bit too detailed and low key for my tastes, but which had a lot of interesting ideas in it. I still wouldn’t play it. And considering that the only thing I ever heard about it in German RPG media were the reviews in some magazines I don’t think many other Germans would pick it up either. And that despite the fact that the only foreign language translations of the game were into German. The game world would fit quite nicely in that German style of low magic, quasi-historical worlddesign that seems to be so common in the German RPG mainstream.
It’s unfortunate, but hardly surprising with a name like that. The word Harn in German is a formal way to say “Urine”.
I guess not too many people would proudly admit to playing with Hârn products…

[Obscure Games] Over the Edge

Over the Edge (game)

Over the Edge (game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For Christmas my girlfriend gave me an Amazon giftcard. She only figured that out the day before Christmas, which makes this the first time in four years when I had her present earlier than she had mine. Now such a giftcard is a nice idea, normally, it just met two roadbumps: it was a giftcard for the American Amazon (which meant that the postage would cost A LOT of the amount from the card), and of course the fact that many things I wanted would not be delivered to me.

I live in Poland, and even if Amazon shops claim they deliver to Poland (which they do, because I checked it multiple times) I always got the message that one or another item could not be delivered to me because of my location. As my current wants were mostly concerned with roleplaying games, and there mostly with the OSR, this was a bit annoying. (Specifically I wanted to have a copy of the Fiend Folio, but it just did not seem possible to get it from any shop that delivered here).
In the end I went with some classics: Call of Cthulhu and Over the Edge.
Now, I have the rulebook for the first one in Germany. The only problem with it being: it’s in German. And while most of my players at least know some German we still are playing in English.
The second one is another interesting case. I once had a copy of that game. I know the game. I have been looking for that game for years, and then I finally got it after years, looked a bit into it and proposed it to some people. But all the players I had back then said: thanks, but no thanks.
So it went back on the shelf. And then disappeared.

No, I don’t know how. The same thing happened to a few other RPG books in my collection that I distinctively remember having, the other one of note being a book with CoC one-shots I was desperately looking for at one point. They just remain gone.
Hmm… an Over the Edge rulebook that just disappears? How fitting…
Over the Edge is a game with an interesting history. It came out of a project between game designers Mark Rein*Hagen and Jonathan Tweet. Both had worked on Ars Magica before, now they were working on another project. Mark’s variation of the project was what later became Vampire: The Masquerade, while Tweet’s became Over the Edge.

While not really that similar both use a dice pool mechanic, and both deal a lot with conspiracies and dark secrets.
Now I guess it won’t be necessary to write about Vampire: The Masquerade, anyone involved in roleplying has heard about that game before (my opinion of it just for completeness sake: neat mechanics and nice background, smothered to death by metaplot). Not so about Over the Edge. While it had some modicum of success, with an host of scenarios and supplements, and even a second edition, it never really went mainstream. Nowadays it’s mostly known as a good example/inspiration for indie rpgs.

So, what was so special about it?

2 things: the rules and the setting. Both made the game a bit of an acquired taste.

1. The Rules

The Over the Edge rules are so lightweight it is hard to go more light without playing freeform rpgs. Nevertheless they are functional and easy to grasp. Characters are defined by a variety of traits and flaws which one is encouraged to chose specifically for the character. And in game one can role on these attributes.  It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s a nightmare for every simulationist.

2. The setting

Al Amarja, the island that is the setting of the game, is heavily inspired by the Interzone in Burroughs novels. Actually Burroughs always comes up as an inspiration. As do David Lynch, Franz Kafka, a lot of other literature and movies in the same vein: Al Amarja is a hotbed of spionage, mystical activities, mad science, and political activism. And did I mention conspiracies? There are conspiracies. Lots and lots of conspiracies. Even the existance of the island has largely been hidden by that, the island being just south of Sicily (and with that rather close to the real life Interzone…).

Frankly it was the setting which attracted me to the system. It sounded like so much fun. Of course there is a problem with that on might find out when trying to run a game there: do you know how much stuff changed the last twenty years? One has to think very deeply about how these changes affected the setting before being able to run proper adventures there. Oh, I could tell the players: you cannot investigate on the internet, but how much sense would that make? Especially to people who use Wikipedia as a second brain.

There is another problem in that vein as well: the game was written from an American perspective, and it shows. So we have the assumption that everybody wants to have guns. Or that the university has greek fraternities. And a lot of other small but significant things. This of course is designed that way for a reason: Tweet was writing the game for Americans. It jst makes it rather grating for Europeans. Still, not too bad. Most of the stuff can be justified somehow.

Of course I read someone’s comment on a forum once who said he had made up Wikipedia pages for the island and the most important features there that were so good his players started to assume it actually was a real place they were going to. That actually sounds like awesome props for such a game. I think I will plan a one-shot in the game and not tell my players what sort of game it will be.

The Works of Shakespeare D20


What?

No, seriously. What?

I just found this on the webpage of my favorite Polish RPG store, but it’s not in stock anymore and the description doesn’t tell me anything, not even who the publisher is. Has anyone ever seen this book?
What is actually in there?

[Obscure Games] Nephilim

Nephilim (role-playing game)

Image via Wikipedia

So it was another day in the big city for me, and it must have been around 2000. The “big city” it was because it was the next town with Gaming Shops (in this case Bayreuth, where every summer people from all over the world gather to listen to Hitler’s favourite composer and/or show off that they can), and it must have been 2000 because that shop closed down when the Euro came. Not that this had anything to do with each other, but I remember the owner complaining that he had to change all the prices in the store to Euro, even though he only would be open for another month after the currency change.

Anyway, it was that store where I found this game. I hovered a bit between the German version and the English version, but then I took the English one, mostly as they threw in a few more books into the deal. That alone told me back than that the game might already be a lost cause. And it was, in a manner of speaking.

Technically the ‘obscure’ part in the title is rather debatable. Originally a French game with multiple editions, it was published by Chaosium in the Anglo-Saxon world. Going with all the clichees that one expects from the CoC-loving French (get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about Call of Cthulhu here) the game was based on Chaosium’s Basic Role-Playing system.

I never found anyone who ever played this game for real. Myself I thought about using it as a source book for a Call of Cthulhu campaign, but that never materialized, mostly because my tries to play CoC never turned out so successful.

Maybe I should try to find the French version as a reference, but the English version at least was rather heavy handed, and I doubt that style was something not present in the original game.
It was another one of these games which had a high concept but lacked in execution and desirability to play.
It even tried to show this with it’s tagline: Occult Roleplaying.
According to the story presented in the preface the authors were discussing a new game when they were approached by a gentleman who had heard them talking. He talked to them about occult topics, and allowed them to use his library of the occult for further research into these areas.
In other words: this is the game BADD was afraid of when they were talking about Satanism in D&D: a game which actually researched it’s occultism and put in all the real stuff. This is what Jack Chick was warning us about.

So, how does it hold up?

Well, all in all it’s a half-hearted Call of Cthulhu pastiche. And not only because the authors had the great idea to base the rules of their game on BRP. That one was more a stroke of genius/outright luck. CoC has a completely different status in France than in the rest of the world, and most players are at least familiar with the system.
The whole setting is also so close that one might easily use parts of Nephilim for a crossover campaign with Call of Cthulhu. Basically there is only one difference between both games: in Nephilim you play what you would fight in CoC.

I wonder why nobody ever pointed that out, especially with the extra creepy descriptions in Nephilim itself. The Nephilim, to go a bit into the background, are ancient spirits which once had a body but now are disembodied spirits who have to take over human hosts to stay in this world. They take over the bodies of their hosts completely and will try to get out of their own lives as soon as possible to be able to use the body in whatever way they need,  slowly transforming the body of their host into a form that matches their own spirit.

Does that sound creepy to you? It does to me.

What you are playing in this game is basically a psychic rapist, a changeling, a body-snatcher, taking the body of someone else and replacing the original conscious with something else. And that character has been doing that for a long time before.
There is a very interesting character generation system where one has to choose which previous lives one has lived. This is easily one of the coolest things about this game, one can choose multiple past lives and gain background and skills from that, of course against a price (I think it was essence power).

When incarnated into the new body there is an interesting system of different tribes and groups that can keep one interested in an intrigue game similar to the one in all the WoD games, there even are similar evil spirits (more evil than mindraping body-snatchers? Really?) just as in every single WoD game. And there is interesting informations on a magic system that is based on occult teachings (which amount to fancy descriptions for spells that do nothing in particular), there is indepth reearch into different areas of occultism (which of course was inspired either by the Nephilim or their antagonists), and there are lots of interesting conspiracies and mysteries to uncover (which at least in the English version seem to happen only within the United States).

And all the time while I’m reading this thing I have to think to myself: Jesus, this is a game about constant mindrape. Not only that, but there are mechanics in the game that cover how the soul of the host body actually reacts to the intrusion by the Nephilim.Which also keeps in line with the backgrounds of pretty much all the WoD games. Only that this one was more overt than anything Vampire ever signified about rape.

I never got up the will to use this game for real, mostly because I never could get the will up to play. It would make an awesome source for a really huge CoC campaign though. And not only that, it even would have the right stats, well, besides the sanity at least. This is a annoyingly well written game actually. I just wish it was less… rapey.

At least it’s not FATAL.

[Obscure Games] Macross II

Macross II: The Role-Playing Game, first publi...

Awesome, ain't it?

At the end of our last session we were discussing some of the more obscure games we had found over the time of our roleplaying career. Not that most of my players have that much of a clue about different systems. Poles are really fond of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. And I mean really fond: some will not even accept other roleplaying games (gry fabularne) as real roleplaying games, because they are not WFRP.

That’s… stupid, but at least my players don’t do this. They are playing Traveller and Das Schwarze Auge with me after all.

But anyway, this got me into thinking about some of the more obscure titles I encountered so far.
This one came to my mind pretty instantly: the Macross II Role-Playing Game. One of the treasures of my collection (it cost me 10 Marks when I bought it and it looked awesome!).

This game is pretty much one of the most pointless tie-in games I have ever come across. Frankly, I think even the Leverage Roleplaying Game has more of a point that this.

Why is that?

Well, for starters: have you ever heard about Macross II?

Have you even ever heard about Macross?

Superdimensional Fortress Macross was a hit anime series in the late 1970s. It became famous in the West after it was cannibalized into Robotech.
The original Macross took longer to be shown in the West. Now this is where the story gets a bit complicated: Macross was a hit in Japan. And of course people were longing for a sequel.

That they got with Macross II. Which was translated into other languages as well. After all, it was a potential hit series. Or so some thought.
Do you know the reason why most likely you have never heard about Macross II?

It bombed.

Not for any real reason either, most negative comments about this series over the last twenty years were more along the lines of “Well, it is a decent anime, but…” and the but included things like two much of the same story as the original series in too short a time and with nearly no connection to the original.

The interesting thing is that this fact did not kill the franchise. Other series were commissioned after this failure, conveniently shifting the series into non-canon and creating a new canon with all the other series coming afterwards.
By the way, for some really good and modern space epic have a look at the recent Macross Frontier series: awesome animation, interesting characters, and a good narrative.

This makes the Macross II RPG rather an oddity, and I knew that when I was buying it. The series never had appeared in Germany, not even SDF Macross (too militaristic for German TV and too complicated licensing issues for smaller publishers). I don’t know why anyone thought it was a good idea to even get this game into a German store, but there it was. Even then I knew it was a bad idea to buy a game that seemed interesting but already was heavily marked down. Finding players for this was going to be difficult.

So, what about this game? What can I say how this game actually played? I have to say: I don’t have a clue.
It’s RIFTS, so I guess you can take your experience with RIFTS and think about giant transformable robots and see how far you get. It seemed like a variation on the usual AD&D at the time, with a few nice parts like the hitpoints rules or the alternate alignment system. I created a few characters with the system in the book, but gave up even trying to understand mecha combat.

And then, after I had created a few characters and a few NPCs I stopped.
Here I hit a snag which comes up pretty often with games like this: I did not have any clue what I was supposed to play with these rules.

I could try to get my group to play it, yes, but what then? I never had seen a single episode of Macross, I did not know what to think of these descriptions of female battlesingers and transformable robots doing Megadamage ™. I tried to invent some ideas but I just was blocked: there was pretty much no background presented in the book itself at all. There were a few sentences on the situation on Earth, a few about the alien society (mostly defined by not having much of a society) and that was it. Character classes were a repetition of military types with one civilian (Investigative Reporter) thrown in (in other words: it copied the characters that showed up in the series 1 to 1), and most of the game was basically a flimsy reason to show lots and lots of gorgeous mecha drawings.
One might have thought they might rectify this with the supplements, but no. I got my hands on the first (and only) sourcebook for the game at one point and noticed: damn, that’s pretty much exactly the same stuff that already was in the mainbook. More mecha porn and some new military classes. What the fuck?
All in all this game was wonderful to look at, and nearly not playable.
Even after watching pretty much all of Macross I am not really sure what to do with this game. Replay the (shallow) storyline of Macross II? They give the stats for all the main characters, but I can’t think of any situation I would choose them over a self-created NPC. Play some skirmishes between aliens and mechas in outer space? Play some city battles? Why not just get out Battletech and do it properly?
Pretty game, awesome illustrations, yes, but not very much substance. Maybe usable for one or another science fiction campaign though. After all: everything’s better with giant robots. And those Zentraedi might be a bit far-fetched,  but maybe they’ll fit into my Traveller campaign somewhere.