Review: King of Sartar: Revised and Annotated Edition 4/5 stars

King of Sartar: Revised and Annotated Edition
King of Sartar: Revised and Annotated Edition by Greg Stafford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up a hardback copy at Dragonmeet 2016, naturally getting Jeff to sign it (hopefully one day I’ll get to add Greg’s autograph too!) having recently fallen in love with Glorantha through both reading around the setting and the fantastic games run there by our GM. For those that don’t know Glorantha it is a mythical world created by Greg Stafford and the setting for a number of roleplaying games over the years.

King of Sartar is a fascinating experiment. It isn’t a novel, rather it is a collection of writings from Glorantha – I say from rather than about, as the writings are presented as source materials about the place by its own people, a bit like the source materials that historians in the ‘real world’ might sift through. There are inconsistencies, gaps, and questions left unanswered. In places its deliberately dry, in others it sparkles. As a piece of creative writing, it’s a remarkable work. As a book to simply read through for fun, it hits a different spot than a standard work of literature, its more of an experience than a story. It’s full of the myths and histories of the peoples of Glorantha from creation to the ‘present day’. Unlike many fantasy works, the conflicts aren’t presented as black and white, good and evil, instead we hear from the viewpoints of different factions, making a much more nuanced and satisfying picture, although of course the tendency is still to regard the Lunars as the enemy with the general bias towards the Orlanthi people.

Personally I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and will certainly return to it for the background it gives to this imaginary world. Hopefully, it will also inform future gaming there too.

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Review: The Alchemist’s Revenge

The Alchemist’s Revenge
The Alchemist’s Revenge by Peter Cakebread
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Disclaimer: I was given a complementary copy of the kindle edition for review purposes.)

As a long time roleplayer (of the Dungeons & Dragons variety rather than computer gaming) I was brought up with the understanding that all good quests begin with a group of adventurers being approached by a stranger in a pub with the offer of a reward in return for their service. The Alchemist’s Apprentice begins in a similar fashion with William Pilling coming upon Belinda Stobbard, wife of the late Sir Francis Stobbard, who is in ‘The Throttled Pig’ seeking help. In exchange for coin would he drive a cart and escort her on a journey north? As with all good quests, nothing is quite as it seems, and complications are a plenty. As you might have worked out from the names, this is not set in your traditional quasi-medieval setting for fantasy quests; instead it is set in England during the civil war.It is the story of the coming together of a disparate bunch of characters on a journey to discover the fate of a casualty in the strife, exploring on the way their different motives and beliefs.

The Alchemist’s Revenge is a highly enjoyable romp of a book. It was a quick read, and, to use the oft used cliche but here appropriate, ‘un-put-downable’. The story was fun in its own right, if not overly complex or literary, but the real hero of the piece is without a doubt the setting which I found to be rich in shade and detail. Alongside the basic twists and turns of the plot, you have the additional tension introduced by the various layers of factions and faiths of that time. There are the Royalists and Parliamentarians, the political factions, and the religious divide of Catholic and Protestant. Each of these have their extremists too, driven by their beliefs to desperate measures. Then you have the likes of The Diggers, people seeking a new way of life, tired by the strife that their world has become stuck in. Not all are driven by doctrine and philosophy though, as always there are those whose motivation is greed and wealth. What a wonderful backdrop this setting provides! I can’t help but wonder why more have not exploited it.

This rich context is not enough to satisfy Cakebread, however. Applying a dash of the fantastical he whips up an alternative take on real life. No longer are the combatants armed with merely swords and blackpowder weapons, but the Royalists call upon the power of their philosophers’ stones to summon elementals and other magick, and the Parliamentarians harness the discoveries of science and engineering to devise clockwork automata and warmachines. With these dreadful weapons unleashed against each other the country stands reeling from the bloodshed and in an uneasy state of stalemate. There is so much to intrigue and spark the imagination and plenty hinted at and laid down for future volumes of ‘Companie of Relutant Heroes’ series to explore. I for one will look forward to these works as I can’t help but feel this book only scratches the surface of Peter Cakebread’s creation.

Of course, if like me you are a keen roleplayer, you will be pleased to discover at the back of the book that it is based upon another work by Peter Cakebread along with Ken Walton, the roleplaying game ‘Clockwork and Chivalry’ (C&C). I wish I had read the book before first playing the game as it brilliantly brings it to life. Having read the book I am now better able to grock the setting and what it is capable of. I would recommend it to any players of C&C. Equally, if you can’t wait for the next book, grab some dice and a copy of C&C and make up your own tales in this wonderfully original world.

I’ve awarded this 4 out of 5 stars. If I could I’d have given it 4.5. In the copy I was sent there were a few little typos, and the basic plot is of itself not highly original nor demanding, but the delightful setting by far compensates for this. Wonderful!

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The IT Crowd

Much to my surprise, today’s sermon prep has led me to this episode on the IT Crowd on Youtube, where ultimately Jen is saved through the power of roleplaying games! Posted here simply because I enjoyed it last time I saw it and want to be able to find it again when I want to watch it properly later…

(can’t embed it to watch here)

So what’s the sermon about? What does this video have to do with it (am I simply wasting time when I should be working!)? You’ll have to come along on Sunday morning to find out, but it’s something to do with the question ‘who is in the in-crowd?’

Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a truly fantastic book – brilliant characters, quirky ideas, the mystique of old book shops and the skies the limit thinking of modern technologies. I’ve devoured this book in just a few days and loved every moment of it, it ticks every box for my tastes, and manages to create an ending that does, I believe, do justice to the various plots. Thoroughly enjoyed the references to childhood reading and long weekends roleplaying; something tells me the author and I shared similar pasts! A must read.

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tremulus rpg & The Game of Whit’s sneak preview

I’ve backed the Kickstarter for the Tremulus, a Lovecraftian horror rpg. Based on the Apocolypse World rpg engine, and influenced by FATE and Fiasco, this looks just down my street. Can’t wait to receive it and be able to give it a whirl.

The tremulus Kickstarter can be found here.

In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying the sneak previews on the Game of Whit’s blog here: A Game of Whit’s: tremulus, especially their online game, a bit like a choose your own adventure book, with readers voting on the next step. Beautifully written. Go read and vote.

Review: King Arthur Pendragon

King Arthur Pendragon (Pendragon 5th Edition)King Arthur Pendragon by Greg Stafford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just realised that I had failed to add this classic to my bookshelf. It is without doubt my favourite rpg. Full stop (or for my American friends, ‘Period’).

At its heart is a simple rpg system. Roll a d20, aim to roll under or equal to a target number (your skill etc.). If you manage this you succeed. If you roll equal to your score, that is a critical success. If the roll is opposed (eg. in situations where two characters are competing against each other) the higher succeeding roll wins (unless one is a critical, ie. exactly equal to the target number) as this is a higher rated success.

What makes this game so special, however, is the way it marries the system to the genre the game is set in: Arthurian legend (primarily Marlory’s take on it). Its introduction of Character Traits and Passions brings personality to the fore and reinforces and encourages playing in a style that accords with the source material. Love, honour, glory and even fits of madness are the heart of the game, rather than combat or spell lists.

The Fifth edition is more streamlined than the somewhat bloated fourth edition, and along with the Great Pendragon Campaign provides in my humble opinion, a perfect example of great game design.

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Review: The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game: Volume One: Your Story

The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game: Volume One: Your StoryThe Dresden Files Roleplaying Game: Volume One: Your Story by Leonard Balsera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought this on the back of Evil Hat’s first outing with FATE, The Spirit of the Century, as part of a burgeoning love affair with the FATE rpg (roleplaying game).

For those who don’t know what an rpg is, its a game of collaborative story telling. One player comes up with the story and describes what is happening (often called the Games Master or GM for short). The other players design characters who will feature as the heroes in that setting. They get to describe what their characters do in response to the scene that the GM sets. The GM then, using his imagination and the rules in the game, determines what the outcomes are, and so it goes.

This particular rpg is based upon the urban fantasy series of novels called The Dresden Files – modern pulp if you like with a cast of vampires, werewoves and other fantasy tropes set in modern times. The books are a fun read, if not overly demanding on the little grey brain cells, but as a gamer, to me they instantly called out to be used as an rpg setting – hence this gem!

FATE is the rpg system used behind this book. At its heart it is a very simple game, but with layers of complexity that can be added to it, building up the crunch level as desired. Its a large book, not so much because of the complexity of the game, but because it is bursting with full-colour pictures and written illustrations of how the rules work. In places it seems a little disorganised, but this is inevitable with such a large work. Personally I love it. It’s use of FATE’s Aspects – simple phrases used to describe the character – really lends itself to this particular genre.

I suspect I’ll not use it for playing within the world of the Dresden Files all that much – to be honest vampires and werewolves aren’t particularly my thing – but will certainly adapt it for use in other urban fantasy settings. Already I have used it to run ‘Day After Ragnorak’ games, and have campaigns based on ‘War of the Flowers’ and the Fables series in mind.

A great game. Recommended!

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