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A Bitter Gambit
Publisher: Morningstar Productions
by Sean P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/24/2021 12:56:08

I am very glad I purchased A Bitter Gambit. It is ideal for RPG newcomers but requires a certain type of GM. However, I think the key to successfully running this game is having a group of like-minded gamers who implicitly trust their GM. That means this is an outstanding game for the right group of people. Those revelling in crunch and wargame tactics should probably avoid this rules-light exercise in narrative freedom.

The game mechanic is more like liar's poker than your typical RPG randomizer... and it is brilliant! The GM sets a target number (called the Trouble) and the players bid from their pool of tokens. There are suggested options (and these can easily be tweaked to further customize), but players who bid under the target number fail in the attempted feat or attack and, for an action risking physical injury, lose the difference in tokens as damage (TN-bid). Players who bid the target exactly succeed and keep their tokens. Players who bid over the target succeed and lose the difference in tokens (bid-TN). The game clearly explains that losing tokens for exceeding the target represents that even heroic characters have limits: " Even the greatest heroes eventually run out of steam if faced with a sea of troubles."

The author gives tips on managing the target number and maintaining tension. I don't know if Matt Moran was inspired by mathematical game theory for A Bitter Gambit but, like the soup commercial, "it's in there." The GM advice is outstanding. However, the GM's understanding of the target numbers in context of players' dwindling tokens is both the beauty and bane of A Bitter Gambit. It is also where the players must implicitly trust the GM.

Characters have three attributes: Might, Dash and Guile. Players distribute 33 tokens across the three attributes. Tokens for a given action come from the most appropriate pool.

Magic is freeform and — like all other actions — limited only by tokens and the taget number. Here's an excerpted magic example: ”I want to fireball these wretches. I bid 4.” “Yes, you burn your way through the Vakhadim, but their Trouble was 3, so the effort fatigues you 1 point.”

There are no spell lists, rules or any bookkeeping other than tokens. Though intended for "Conan-ish," pulpy, sword & sorcery, the above example shows how you could narratively change the power level. ”I want to break off a chunk of that mountain and drop it into the pass to block off the invading army. I bid 4.” “Yes, an avatar of Stormbabatuu could easily block the pass with a chunk of mountain, so the Trouble was 2. You managed to kill the leading edge of invaders, but your excess effort fatigues you 2 points.”

A Bitter Gambit offers seven archetypes. Each archetype has features that give bonus tokens for bidding. Players also have seven "moves" that effect the tokens for a given action. For example, a player may "Give It Everything!" and use 2 tokens from Guile or Dash to add 1 token to the current Might bid.

A Bitter Gambit suggest offering players a Gambit if they are in dire circumstances. A Gambit is a faustian bargain, the terms of which may or may not be revealed until later. The player wins the bid and "pays the bill." The payment might be tokens or it could be story elements, either tactical challenges, new adversaries or long term plot complications.

A Bitter Gambit is a very pithy four pages. I haven't played yet but see many ways to apply and explore the concepts. For example, the text suggests magic artefacts should be rare, but it doesn't give examples. Do you define magic items in terms of the token economy or more simply in narrative detail? Why bother with a wand of fireballs as an item when the token cost is already baked into the powers of the sorceror? The sorceror can cast fireballs. They player can decide if it requires a wand or not. However, the Selkie Skin could allow the wearer to become a seal once per day. Okay, you're a seal. Now what? Is Stormbringer a magic item or a character? In either case, I see Stormbringer introducing a host of Gambits. The point is that A Bitter Gambit provides a simple, powerful framework for addressing all of these.

I really like A Bitter Gambit. It is expanding my GM horizons. I really want to play this game. I give it 5 stars.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Bitter Gambit
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The Character Archaic FRP (Vol 1: The Primer)
Publisher: Precis Intermedia
by Sean P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/27/2021 10:44:30

I had hoped The Character Archaic was a distillation of the noted games from which the author claims inspiration with an addition of something original. Unfortunately, this game is merely derivative and unnecessarily crunchy.

First, the writing and layout are both clear. Thank you! That earns three stars in itself and sets this game apart from the masses. No amount of artwork and layout genius compensates for poor copy. Well done.

The Character Archaic (TCA) uses four primary character attributes: Prowess, Brawn, Insight and Wit. In terms of the classic six atributes, these are roughly: DEX, STR, INT, CHA. However, any time you go from the classic six to fewer, there is some overlap.

The primary attributes are fine, but TCA uses the term Compond Attributes for attribute modifiers. I think the term Compond Attributes is less clear than Skills, Talents of even Specialisms (though I loathe that particular term). Examples of Compond Attributes include three types. Here is a sampling: SIMPLE: vivacious +1, quick-witted +1 EXPLANATORY: more charming than a bar wench +1, can see well in the dark +2 SPECIFIC TO PRIMARY ATTRIBUTES: good lung capacity +1 (Brawn), cerebral +1 (Insight), worst aim in history -3 (Prowess)

Finally, TCA includes Special Attributes, "Special Attributes describe an unusual talent, power, or disadvantage." An example of a Special Attribute is the Dwarves cultural (not racial!) ability to See in Darkness.

Once you get past the overuse of "attribute," TCA generally uses a roll + modifiers versus a GM-assigned target number. All dice are d6, with the base roll being 2d6 (though TCA abbreviated 2D). Rolling high is good. A roll of twelve (boxcars) explodes as does a two (snake eyes).

TCA uses two types of health, wounds and stress, both with scales to penalize attribute rolls as your character becomes more injured. Both stress and wounds heal with time, but time frames leaning more toward reality than the insta-heal naps that power murder-hobo games. There are rules for first aid, potions and magical healing, though a magic system is not included in this volume.

The equipment and armor lists are very nice, but the section on Equipment is full on crunch for tracking encumbrance, armor per hit location, different protection based on the armor in each location, etc. Not for me, thank you.

As you might guess from the armor focus, combat is a ticky afair, too. In addition to the simple math (attacker's (Prowess Attribute+Compound Attribute) vs defender's (Prowess Attribute+Compound Attribute)), there are rules for grappling, charging, determing the impact of a missed ranged attack, parry, block, hide, hit locations, different damage effects by weapon type... Had enough? I have, so I'll not detail the several other rules for different types of damage. By this point, I know I have no interest in playing this game. I'd rather play something narrative and fun without the bookkeeping and tracking of rules.

In summary, The Character Archaic is a well written, clearly presented game full of crunch. It isn't Rolemaster-level crunch, but more old school than I care to play.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Character Archaic FRP (Vol 1: The Primer)
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Creator Reply:
Thanks for taking time to provide your feedback. The crunch level is between genreDiversion 3E and MasterBook, closer to the former with a damage system similar to the latter. Generally speaking, it is not all that crunchy. You have a basic mechanic and then a few options here and there for adding more detail to combat exchanges. There is a basic and an advanced method for applying damage for those who like simple and those who prefer being able to produce other effects (like damaging armor/weapons and knocking someone over or back), respectively.
Space Aces: TOS (The Original Sheets)
Publisher: T-Rex Games
by Sean P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/16/2020 04:46:19

I love this game. It packs a whole lot of space opera goodness into a very tight, rules-lite package. Even if you don't love its minimal rules, it is completely worth the download for the scenario generators.

The game looks nice at first impression, with a three column layout in landscape mode. A good use of B&W icons both evoke a space-pulpy feel and support the minimal design. However, though it looks great, some of the material is not in the order in which I would like to present it to players. It helps to read through the entire game to see how the pieces fit together (so grab the all-in-one PDF, for sure). In fact, though I like the overall look, I made my own documents for use at the table. Some reviewers might deduct stars for layout, but I entreat readers to put aside their graphic prejudices to give the game some serious consideration.

THE SYSTEM: Characters start with five stats, a wide open Skill of choice (think trope or archetype), and Style represented by player choice of three adjectives. The stats are Moxie, Smarts, Wiggles, Friends and Pockets. The resolution mechanic is to roll a d20 and a d6. The d20 is to roll over the GM's target number, add your most appropriate stat, and rolled with advantage if your Skill applies. The d6 is the Cost of the outcome, which can be have a cost, no cost or come with a benefit.

On a Fail, the player marks 1 Grit. Accumulate five Grit to turn any failed roll to standard success. A d20 roll of 1 is a Critical fail, and earns the character an Ailment. Ailments subtract from character rolls. Player Characters start with six hit points, called Gumption, which they regain with a long rest.

That's the gist of the game. I love that there's no mention of how to use Style. Is it a mechanic or just character flavor? If you need the rules to tell you how to use Style, then you should probably steer clear of this game. However, the system is the tip of the iceberg.

Space Aces comes with scenario generators. They are much like the old Madlibs where you fill in noun, verb or adjective. However, there is an Episode Guide that tells you on which tables to roll to fill in the blanks. Here is one result for The Setup:

Hired by [Explor-A-Corp (boldly go)] to [Escort] the / a / an [Artifact] to / at / in a [Asteroid] [Archive (contain info)] [Volatile] from [Law] [Sow Chaos].

You then fill in details by rolling similarly for The Scene (or a few scences!), The Snag and The Snafu. The tables do not yield smoothly flowing prose that you read aloud to the players. However, they get the creative juices flowing and ready for a one-shot right away**.

**Though the tables are great, I didn't see myself taking the time to roll the many dice to fill in all the blanks. Instead, I took the time to copy the tables into a spreadsheet and concatenate the rolls into a very fast Episode Guide. The results are now instant and inspiring.

Space Aces approaches dungeons, NPCs, monsters, items, giant mechs, giant monsters (e.g. Godzilla-ish), and hex crawls in similar Madlib+tables fashion. It's not a new concept, but the content is simple and evocative, which makes it brilliant.

Finally, not to be glossed over is the starship section. Whether The Enterprise, The Millenium Falcon or The Serenity, the ship is an integral part of any space opera. Space Aces again provides tables just dripping with flavor. The space combat mechanics, which I WILL gloss over, are again simple, but lend themselves to rollicking ship drama. If a group wants, the ship can become a major feature of the game — repairing, upgrading, trading up — whether Maguffin or an NPC (self-aware AI, anyone?).

I really like Space Aces. I think it is the right direction for rules-lite RPGs. How well do I like it? I just re-bought this PWYW title for $5. Kudos for a well-thought game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Space Aces: TOS (The Original Sheets)
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Creator Reply:
Thank you so much for that amazingly in-depth review! Concatenation got the mission generator is an incredible idea! I am in the process of making this a zine as well to make the info more easily accessible for players and GMs and add a few more fun bits and bobs. I’d love to get your input before it’s done. Shoot me a message on Twitter if you want @P0rthos47
Thank you so much for that amazingly in-depth review! Concatenation got the mission generator is an incredible idea! I am in the process of making this a zine as well to make the info more easily accessible for players and GMs and add a few more fun bits and bobs. I’d love to get your input before it’s done. Shoot me a message on Twitter if you want @P0rthos47
CASTLE OLDSKULL - Sword & Sorcery Book I
Publisher: Kent David Kelly
by Sean P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/29/2019 10:51:44

Read the DriveThru product description three times. If you think it a bit wordy and explicates the obvious, then stay away from the 345 page TLDR hell that is CASTLE OLDSKULL - Sword & Sorcery Book I. 163 pages in and it still hasn't finished the basics of character creation. Here is a clue from the foreword: "Castle Oldskull is not an upstart “me too” basic clone, merely repeating the rules without any original guidance or insight or innovative rules in play. It is both a new game system and an established resource for existing fantasy role-playing-games, with seven years of publishing and thirty-seven years of play behind it. It is enhanced with descriptive text, clarifications, comprehensiveness, modularity, design insight, freedom of choice, and flexibility. "

There may be some fresh idea needles in the logorrhea hay stack, but I couldn't bear the verbosity to look for them. A clutch of self-proclaimed grognards who revel in tedious detail might love this title, but with the many OSR clones all promising to honor the Gygax, don't you think a nice summary of what sets your system apart should be the lead story?

It is very clear that the author has has thought about roleplaying for decades. I am sure he has insight from which I would benefit. I submit that he would benefit from Googling "writing less is more" and whittling this overblown text into something readable. Here is a starter link: https://writingexplained.org/idiom-dictionary/less-is-more.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
CASTLE OLDSKULL - Sword & Sorcery Book I
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