I was shocked at the poll results. I was really expecting an old game like Star Frontiers to come in first, but also thought that a game like Catalyst's Introductory Box Set would do better due to the minis included.
Let's start with the basics. Paranoia has been around for decades. This edition was produced by West End Games in 1987. It is a revamp of the first edition rules, which strips out much of the game mechanics in favor of pop-the-clutch-and-go fun. What was "removed" often ended up as an optional rule, which in the spirit of the game, could be ignored, introduced or changed willy-nilly during play. Players who claim to know the rules are deemed traitors and kills. So, computer, have at it. Whatever makes your players happy. And Happiness is Mandatory!
What does the game include?
136 page "rule" book
16 page booklet describing the life of a troubleshooter
1 20 sided die for something or other
One box with colorful pictures
Not listed on the box are supplemental items such as character sheets, charts, (dis)loyal tests, vehicle control schematics, NPC charts and reports.
The rule book includes a mini adventure demo in the front and a longish scenario or module in the back. The artwork is wonderful, while not perfect or extraordinary, it captures the theme of the games mind-bending laughs with a touch of sarcastic paranoia. This edition was compatible with all first edition modules, which is nice.
Game play is quick. Each player is entitled to 6 clones, one at a time to represent the player's character. Unless the computer decides otherwise. As one character dies, another clone appears to take his or her place. Sometimes, they remember what happened to the last clone and sometimes they do not. Unless the computer is optimistic about the lethality. In which case, a second, third or 20th clone can be played at the same time as the other 1, 2, or 19. This will increase the likelihood that the player will turn on themselves, leaving other players bemused, horrified or shocked.
In one session, I had a player holding 20 character sheets like a hand of cards and when he dropped sheet, that clone died. The book is chocked full of insane tips for pushing the charac... er... playe... er... maybe character's? paranoia buttons. My personal favorite is reading room descriptions with a stryofoam cup over your mouth to simulate a broken speaker.
For a game that revolves around comedic death, the character creation process is robust. As are the choice of weapons and suggestions as to when to use them on your friends.. There seems to be a section on combat, but it is sort of optional. Except the coveted rear position, Troubleshooter. The motive and ability to bushwack other players is fun. Fun leads to happiness and Happiness is Mandatory!
The included 19 page module, "Into The Outdoors with Gun and Camera" is laugh out loud funny. It works in tandem with the rules, basically forcing the players and computer through most of the rules.
One issue I see with this set is the concept that the computer is ruthlessly hunting for "Traitors", a concept that was awesome and understandable in The Cold War, but perhaps won't play well with younger people today.
Title: Crash on Volturnus
Author: Mark Acres, Tom Moldvay with Doug Niles
Rule Set: Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn
Number of characters: 4-8
Crash on Volturnus is one of my favorite modules. The player start of as passengers on the Sierra Dawn, where they first encounter trouble en route to Volturnus. After an epic battle and escape, players move on to phase two, an incredible hex crawl on the planet of Volturnus culminating in a final(?) battle with the pirate forces on the planet. Aided by the local inhabitants of the planet, surely the players will win the day.
This module was released with the Alpha Dawn rules set and to my knowledge, was not released independently of that set. I received my set of Alpha Dawn rules peice meal and ended up with two copies of the module. The whole boxed set includes giant maps and wonderful counters, which makes SF-0 a snap to play.
Crash on Volturnus is the first module in the series and was followed up by SF-1 and SF-2. The other SF series modules are unrelated, but are valuable as they are set up for characters to continue their adventures in new settings. The series was also brought back to life by the Endless Quest book Villains of Volturnus in 1983. It was published in relatively short time frame making the series rock solid in game play and feel.
Having played SF-0 several times, there are few game breakers built in to the scenario. First, when the escape pod crashes, the characters only have time to get the survival packs. Several of my players started out with standard equipment packs and used the coveralls as a makeshift backpack tied across their chests before seating themselves. Since the equipment was attached to them, I couldn't justify taking it. The players also started with 4 medical kits, which made them neigh unstoppable in combat. They kept pulling back to heal. Of course, these were the same players who tied their equipment to their chests. I kept running them against random encounters to try to eat up resources, but that was unfulfilling. Eventually, I figured I'd let them run in god-mode and kill everything and everyone. Many of the challenges they faced were thinking scenarios and not fighting scenarios, so it really didn't change the outcome.
All and all, I found this one module to be the best of the best for Star Frontiers. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.
The whole shebang is available over on DriveThruRPG.
Title: Knight Hack
Author: Philip J. Viverito, (1st edition by The Jogglers, which also included Ed Backer, Richard Kohlbacher)
Rule Set: Hack Series
Setting: Western Europe, North Africa, The Near East and Eastern Europe 1000 AD to 1400 AD
Number of players: 2+
The original Hack series was born in 1991 and it was a reflection of the times. Knight Hack, Third Edition was born in the 21st century and is also a reflection of now. The game has a evolved so much, it is hard to see how 1st edition relates to third, except on first principles. This is a game for gamers, written and tested by gamers.
As the person responsible for supplying the art for original book, I have to say third edition is by far superior. Most of the clipart is gone, replaced by full color images of the game in actual play. The rules have been simplified with a new D-10 system, which reduces the rule length from 52 to just 19. This is accomplished by the removal of the concept of troop type and the premade Q.R.S. or Quck Reference Sheets for each era and type of army. The rules now have a proper table of contents and an index in addition to the required charts and 38 pages for the Q.R.S.
I hate to say it, but everything I knew about and all that I did for the first edition is gone. And the rules are better for it.
I've posted about my first Con in 1977. I still have the brochure. It was a formative time for me. I would have been all of 5 years old, and there I was watching WRG, Tractics and most importantly to me, D&D being played for the first time. It left quiet the impression.
Fast forward a few years and I was in to all of these Games Designer's Workshop and Task Force products. I had Robots, Striker, Traveler and Federation Space. I still have them.
At the end of the day, knew that something like Knight Hack would be made. My parents made sure that I knew enough about games, the importance of play and of inspiration to know that things change and usually for the better.
Tonight, I stumbled across one of my first coloring books: Camelot.
The copyright is 1967, by the Whitman Publishing Company. You know, parents who make something like this one of the first coloring books is instilling a love a play, games and history.
Drive Thru RPG carries the first edition rules here and Third Edition here.
Title: Knight Hack
Author: The Jogglers, Philip J. Viverito, Ed Backer, Richard Kohlbacher
Spearpoint Article: Lynne Viverito
Cover Art: Me
Rule Set: Hack Series
Setting: Europe, 1000 AD to 1250 AD
Number of players: 2+
And now for something completely biased.
Way back in the 1980s I was very privileged to belong to a gaming group called the Jogglers. I wasn't even an official member, I was more like a mascot and computer nerd. I can't tell you how many games I played between 1988 and 1992. I recall a couple of occasions where a local mall was rented out for play testing, but then turned into mini-conventions to play dozens of rule sets. The Joggler's love their games. When I wasn't play testing this or that, I was editing clip art for the book. My brush with fame came from being able to use this:
The layout of the book was exceptional for the time. We used a Thunderscan and Imagewriter II to process photos. Clipart from 3.5 floppies were the source of much of the line art. The text was written in MacWord, MacDraw and MacPaint were the tools for maps and diagrams.
Knight Hack was born a fast playing historical miniature game. Initially, each turn takes about 15 minutes. After a little play, adept players can get this down to just a few minutes or less. Whole games can be played out in as little as 2 hours. The rule set allows for 15 and 25 mm figures. It was game made by players for players.
So why do I give a game that I play-tested and contributed to only 3 stars? The game evolved and improved with age. Second edition obviously merits 4 stars and Third Edition receives 5.
Drive Thru RPG carries the first edition rules here and Third Edition here.
Title: A Brief Study of TSR Book Design
Author: Kevin Crawford
Rule Set: D&D
Number of characters: N/A
A Brief Study of TSR Book Design is one of those excellent finds for any game master or would be B/X author. In just 26 pages, Mr. Crawford covers the design element of decades of publications for Dungeons and Dragons books. He covers the ins and outs of fonts, margins and styles used in games from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Get your game on!
Mr. Crawford also gives sage advice on direct copying of styles for a variety of reasons such as technological updates, copyright issues and creativity. This is a surprising and useful find for the would be module author and at its price of free is unbeatable. Easily a five star rating.
My favorite campaign setting for D&D is the Greyhawk. I have the 1983 set and look to it for ideas for my current campaign. Nothing brings back memories like that old gazetteer of information.
Over the years, my campaign has set itself apart from the World of Greyhawk in many ways. However, the Isle of Dread is common to both. Someplace south of the Isle is a magical anomaly that provides transit between these worlds.
I would like to do a Glossography and Guide to my world, but I guess I need a name first. The little things.
Title: Ghost of Lion Castle
Author: Merle M. Rasmussen
Rule Set: D&D
Number of characters: 1 - Solo Play
This is an impressive and iconic module, meant for one player. Crammed into just 32 pages is a solo adventure complete with special solo rules and sample characters. Lion Castle is a wonderful starter scenario for groups or an introductory game for just one.
The five star rating is for the expansive and creative writing and world-building that appears in this module. Lion Castle gives the player the ability to try out new things in a limited setting. The module pulls no punches, this place will kill you more often than not. Fear not, this module is also there every time you wish to play. In fact, it is suggested that you note where your last character died so that the next one can acquire his equipment.
This is one flaw in the game/scenario. If you run a series of character’s through the Castle and noted where the prior characters fell, you can break the game with equipment and magic items in quantities not ordinarily allowed by the rules.
Title: White Plume Mountain
Author: Lawrence Schick
Rule Set: D&D
Number of characters: 4-10
White Plume Mountain is part of the Special series. It is meant for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and expects a large number of characters at relatively high level. Interestingly enough, the scenario spells out that many adventures into the dungeon will be required and may cause a rotation of adventurers through many sessions. That is a nice touch. I like the long term play and replay-ability.
This style of play is engrossing as early failures and setbacks to the player characters are muted by the ability to retreat to complete safety of the nearby town. This is very different than most dungeon crawls, where characters must horde limited resources. Instead, players find themselves on a quest to obtain 3 magical items: Wave, Blackrazor and Whelm, protected by powerful masters and inventive puzzles and challenges. Backtracking enables inspired progress, resupply and fairly realistic game play. This adventure takes the learning curve for games and makes it a positive. White Plume Mountain is more like The Moonshot than D-Day.
This module also features wonderful artwork. My personal favorite is the fighter on page 6. It isn’t the best, but captures the character's reaction so perfectly. The fighter’s “WTF” look is classic: “Who jumps platform to platform over hellishly hot mud? Everything in fighter school trained me not to do this.” The images for Blackrazor, the Mountain itself and Keraptis are iconic of classic Dungeons and Dragons.
This is one of my favorites, the star rating says it all. The Keep hovers on the edge of sandbox wilderness, one that is your to explore. The Keep is the perfect place to kick off an adventure, the players can obtain all they need to fully explore the environs.
As a carryover from B1, the advice sections are present and highly valuable. There are also handy details such as gossip and the willingness of the lord of the Keep to provide the player characters with man-at-arms and magical items.
Where this module shines is in the tactics provided for each group the characters encounter. Some of them are embryonic or silly, but in keeping with the intelligence level (or madness) of the inhabitants of the Caves of the Unknown.
One of the better things about this adventure is the player mapping is logically constrained, allowing them to make mistakes, but not so bad as to create a mapping nightmare like In Search of the Unknown.
Title: In Search of the Unknown
Author: Mike Carr
Rule Set: D&D
Number of characters: 3 to 6
In Search of the Unknown is a classic dungeon crawl, the true value of this module is in the open ended nature and guided tour aspect of the adventure. The DM is provided with rooms and descriptions but no monsters. The opening Notes for the Dungeon Master are masterful, great advice for every DM every when and where. The notes cover everything from background to hirelings. The last 7 pagers are for players, including henchmen, hirelings, sample characters and tips.
This is a rough module, no monsters are provided, nor are there any thematic clues as to what sort of beings should be found. This is great for someone who has a preset world, the module is ready to be plugged in. However, as a stand alone product the lack makes running the adventure cumbersome for the DM. Additionally, the upper level map is weird. It reminds me of Zork’s “you are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike”. Player mapping is often a disaster, thanks to the twists, turns and goofy angles scattered around the upper level.
Well, that day has come. I have completed all of the missions and tasks with my Titan in Destiny.
As of right now, I do not have PSN, House of Wolves, or the Dark Below. I do plan on adding the expansion packs but I am not sure when.
Destiny’s delineation between PvP and PvE is nice. I find PvP to be annoying and Destiny’s model allows me to safely ignore it. I hate being pwn’d by a 12 year old and Destiny lets me avoid it.
The style of stories shifts as the player progresses, and the planet system neatly ties them all together. The scenes on each world are really nice, except for The Moon. For whatever reason, the grey tones leave me with the impression that map is more open than it really is. So far, I have killed myself by driving off the map more times than I can count. I could use a few more Vex encounters, but hey, that is what expansion is for. I can’t wait for more Vex. The Legionnaires and their cohorts are interesting and present new challenges. I also love the fact that Venus is presented as a very 1940’s, swamp-like planet.
I’m torn. Destiny costs $50 bucks. I am fine with that, however to continue receiving new challenges, you need PSN, PSPlus and the expansion packs. That pushes the cost up to $135 for a year or $11.25 a month.
This is where I am torn. I am actually very happy to play a game for less than $12 a month. In addition to great new content and multiplayer, you are free to create 3 characters per profile on your PS4. All three of my kids, plus my wife and I can play this game. This is not true of most online games, normally we would need an account for each player.
As the father of three children, I have to say I find PS4’s limitation of 16 profiles to be spectacular. When I go to a hockey game or baseball game, all the tickets come in “4 Packs”, which sucks when you need 5. The pricing for the 5th ticket is pretty cheap, but the rigamarole of ordering is obnoxious. That doesn’t happen with 16 profiles, which is very generous.
I do find the PSN email requirements for children to be vexing (see what I did there?). I am not sure I want to arm my 10 year old with an email address. As a happy medium, I have created that email account, but did not give my child the password. Sony needs to step up and create a more protective model.
I believe that the main hurdles are not created by Bungie, but Sony. An internet connected device that requires a separate monthly purchase to connect to some types of data is stupid. I hate it on my phone and I hate it on my games. Of course, Bungie does charge for new content, but that is offered a la cart. I don’t have to do it and still be happy.
So to wrap up, the plus/minus list for Destiny:
1. Inventive Storylines.
2. Nice gameplay.
3. Multiple expansions.
4. PvP or PvE, your choice.
5. Bungie’s website.
1. Sony’s PSN and PSPlus system.
2. Only three classes.
3. Lack of a manual.
On the whole, I really enjoyed Destiny. I can’t say I have seen every detail and facet, but all and all it is very enjoyable.