If you read Scott’s tale about our introduction to Dungeon World then you probably have a good idea of where this review is going. Terrible Gamers loves Dungeon World. We love it so much we are bringing you our initial review before our play test is complete. Do not worry too much about that though because Terrible Gamers has played Dungeon World quite a bit over the last week. What we have not gotten to is, in our opinion, confined to small details that could not impact Terrible Gamers‘ overall perception of Dungeon World. For example, our play testers have not yet had the opportunity to take every character class found in Dungeon World’s core rules to level V. We find it highly unlikely that a Dungeon World Cleric plays differently enough at level V when compared to level II that Terrible Gamers would stop thinking that Dungeon World is awesome. Nonetheless it is worth noting that our review was compiled while our play test of Dungeon World is ongoing. If our opinion changes as a result, which we highly doubt it will, our readers will be the first to know. Terrible Gamers first heard about Dungeon World while talking with Eclipse Phase designer Brian Cross during Gen Con 2013. At the time we did not know what to think about Dungeon World. Brian informed us that the game had just won an ENnie award for best new rules, and was an indie “narrative” game with an “old school” feel. While we trusted Brian’s opinion on Dungeon World–the game was great–we had reservations about the games labels. Narrative RPGs conjure up in our mind game systems that buck the traditional relationship between GMs and players that Terrible Gamers is used to. Being old and set in our ways, our general fear was that a game like Dungeon World might rob the GM of his role as the arbitrator of the game’s story. Nothing scenes, at least on the surface, to be scarier for GM that a game in which they are not allowed to respond to the actions of player characters. Added to this concern was Terrible Gamers uncertainty about whether or not our players could handle an “old school” RPG experience. It has been quite a while since anyone at Terrible Gamers has played in an RPG where multiple hours have not gone into character creation and back story development for player characters days or weeks before a campaign begins. How then would our players react to a game in which half the party dies because the thief failed to properly disarm trap? As it turns out our fears about Dungeon World were completely unfounded. Dungeon World is an amazing game that somehow manages to both encourage player participation in storytelling and give GMs narrative flexibility when it comes to determining the fate of player characters. What is more, the game’s designers have made the catastrophic “old school” elements of Dungeon World feels like a natural extension of game play. To put this another way, when playing Dungeon World players do not seem to fear the inevitable (and it is inevitable) demise of their characters— they embrace it. Dungeon World So how does Terrible Gamers justify its use of the label “amazing” when referring to Dungeon World? It’s all in the mechanics! At its core Dungeon World is a game that seamlessly integrates “indie” narrative elements and the type of order that players expect in more traditional RPGs. Dungeon World game mechanics are built around something called “moves.” Each move available to Dungeon World players, whether it’s a basic move or a class move, references narrative actions that are taken by characters in nearly every conceivable role-playing game. Everything from attacking a monster to checking an area for traps is covered by a move in Dungeon World. While playing Dungeon World the players are encouraged to describe their actions in detail. The GM then decides whether or not any of the descriptions invoke a “move.” In practice this means that players do the types of things with their characters that they would do in other RPGs, but more descriptively. What is described simply as “searching a room” in Dungeons & Dragons becomes “flipping through the books, checking to see if any of the furniture is moveable, etc.” in Dungeon World. When the GM decides a player has “made a move” a dice roll is made to determine how that move worked out for the player. This roll is a simple 2d6 added to a character’s relevant attribute bonuses. There are three possible outcomes whenever a player throws the dice: a roll of six or less means a character has failed to complete a “move,” a roll between seven and nine means that any “complicated” success, anything over 10 indicates a character succeeds in exactly the manner described by the player. Dungeon World really shines when player dice rolls fall into one of the first two categories. Roles that indicate either failure or success with a complication operate as points of narrative entry for the GM. These are the moments when the GM gets to utilize his very own set of GM “moves” to describe the results of character actions in the game world. GM moves in the Dungeon World are a lot like player moves in that the moves encompass nearly everything a GM might do in a role-playing game. Dungeon World is different from those “other” role-playing games because Dungeon World moves give GMs infinitely more narrative control. For example, when the dashing hero rolls a six while trying to stave in the skull of the Orc King, Dungeon World allows the GM to describe that failure. It could be that the GM decides the dashing hero in failing to connect creates an opening for his opponent; perhaps it means the dashing hero loses the grip on his blade; or it could just as easily mean that the dashing hero’s attack pushes the Orc King straight into the party’s Wizard. The way in which Dungeon World’s game mechanics focus the gaming experience on the collective articulation of a story, while still providing the feeling that the character sheets matter, is really what makes Dungeon World great. To put this another way, Dungeon World’s “move” system empowers both players and Game Masters by giving everyone around the table a reason to participate in the fiction. At the same time Dungeon World asks players to “roll the dice” at moments when experienced gamers subconsciously reach for their dice. It is precisely this interplay of storytelling—everyone enjoying being “in character”—and unobtrusive rules—roll whenever something is in doubt—that makes Dungeon World an awesome game to play. First Time Role-Player (Or GM)? Try Dungeon World! In addition to being awesome, super fun, and cool, Dungeon World is also a great tool. For those interested in making the transition from other types of gaming to role-playing, or for role-players interested in running their first game as a GM, look no further than Dungeon World. Terrible Gamers found that Dungeon World has two things that make it the most well suited game (that we know of) for those just coming into the hobby (or GMing)—its simplicity and it “move” mechanics. The simplicity and elegance of Dungeon World cannot be overstated. As Terrible Gamers pointed out earlier, the game itself relies almost exclusively on rolls of 2D6 plus a static number. What happens as a result of such rolls, while infinitely varied, is mechanically confined to three possible outcomes. In other words, unlike a lot of games, Dungeon World does not have the multiple sets of mechanics (or charts) that intimidate new players. More importantly though, Dungeon World has what no other game has—GM “moves.” Like we discussed earlier Dungeon World provides GMs with a list of codified “moves” to use in particular situations just as it does for players driving characters. What makes these moves a wonderful tool is there completeness. The designers of Dungeon World have literally built a game that tells GMs—in a not heavy handed sort of way—that it is okay for GMs to do the things that GMs have always been doing. For example, Dungeon World explains to GMs that failing a roll does not always mean the same thing. In one context it might mean that a monster does damage to a player, while in another it means the player is given inaccurate information, and in still another it will mean that the players consume more of their resources. Terrible Gamers is not exaggerating when we say that Dungeon World covers almost everything with GM moves. Even the campaign “rules” for Dungeon World help those new to GMing keep track of where there story is going by making keeping track of the potential consequences of player actions on the overall world part of the game mechanics. Hell, there are even some pretty damn good—and simple—rules that help GMs build the game world. Conclusion: If we have not communicated it to you already Terrible Gamers is in love with Dungeon World. While it is not a game that we would use to replace other games in our repertoire—sometimes you really want a super tactical experience—it is a game that has been added to that repertoire. Dungeon World somehow manages to be a narrative game that empowers everyone at the table, while still providing the sense that you are participating in, not making up out whole cloth, a story. In other words, Dungeon World is able to have rules which both give the game sense of order and open up a game’s narrative possibilities. On top of all that, Dungeon World, really does provide a framework through which people can enter either role-playing or GMing which is not intimidating. In fact, Dungeon World provides a codification to “the stuff GMs do,” which helps GMs understand what is involved in GMing (and gives them permission to do it!) As it turns out, Scott had nothing to fear. Our only regret is that we did not take Brian Cross’s advice. We should have checked out Dungeon World at Gen Con instead of waiting. (c) Scott Mills & Terrible Gamers 20013
The first time I heard anything about Dungeon World was during Gen Con 2013. I was having a conversation with Brian Cross, a fellow UC Irvine PhD and one of the brilliant minds behind Eclipse Phase, about the resurgence of “old school” tabletop RPGs when he asked me, “have you heard of this new game Dungeon World? It just won the ENnie award for best new rules…”
Brian ended up telling me a lot about Dungeon World that afternoon. By the end of our conversation I knew that Dungeon World was a “narrative style game” built on the Apocalypse Engine. As Brian was telling it, the guys at Sage Kobold Productions had made a narrative indie game that also managed to capture the feel and brutality of 1st and 2nd generation role-playing games like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and AD&D 2nd Edition.
Brian’s description of Dungeon World intrigued me, but just a bit. Despite the fact that Brian and I, just moments ago, had been discussing our shared admiration for White Wolf’s Changeling: The Dreaming and the Wraith: The Oblivion–two games that failed in large part because of what they require of players–I was more than a little put off by Dungeon World‘s “narrative” label.
I cannot tell you why I had, and still have to some extent, an aversion to narrative style RPGs. Maybe it is because I have gotten old, and as a consequence have some pretty entrenched ideas about the roles of players and GMs in RPGs. To clarify, I always try to approach GMing games as an exercise in collaborative fiction. While I come to the table with world, story, plot, and NPCs I expect that the actions of my players will take these things in directions I would never think to take them on my own. It is just that I expect the GM to be the ultimate arbiter of the world. In other words, my expectation is that players tell the GM what their character say and try to do, while the GM (and the dice) decide how the world reacts. Narrative role-playing games, on the other hand, buck this convention in that they provide players with much more power over the “what happens” portion of the game.
Plus, I was not sure whether or not I was up for an “old school” RPG. Do not get me wrong, I have a lot of fond memories of playing the original Dungeons & Dragons, AD&D, and AD&D 2nd Edition dating back to when it first picked up the hobby 20 years ago. Back in those days, the life expectancy of a player character was short. Very short. Almost every encounter that involved combat was a matter of life and death.
I remember one campaign that was six months long. At its conclusion my third level fighter was the only character left alive, and he stumbled out of the evil mage’s tower bleeding out. He had to trade the magic item that had been the goal of the entire campaign to representatives of the Mages’ Guild in exchange for medical treatment. When the next campaign started a month after the first one had ended, our GM allowed me to use the same character. Somehow I managed to get the character killed in the first 15 minutes of the new campaign when I failed the last of three consecutively more difficult saving throws versus death.
While there is something redeemable about the style of play–it’s worth doing once just to have crazy stories about senseless character deaths–I just was not sure how well an “old school” game like Dungeon World would go over with the Terrible Gamers crew. Let’s face it, a lot has changed about role-playing games over the last 20 years. Nowadays, games are far more character driven. Many games have character creation systems that invest players in their characters by ensuring that each character has a well-developed back story before the game begins. Even games that don’t explicitly do this often have an involved (time-consuming) character generation process where players spend hours selecting from lists of feats, traits, abilities and equipment.
The end result is, of course, that players become very attached to their characters. They expect that their characters will feature prominently in the story from the beginning of the campaign to the end. This means that their characters will not die, or if they do, character death will have some profound purpose in the story. How then will players who are used to more “contemporary” play styles handle a game where their characters can die because the groups thief missed a single trap?
Because of this I left my conversation with Brian Cross, and Gen Con 2013, curious about Dungeon World, but without any real motivation to give it a shot. Since August two things changed my mind. First, I never really forgot about Dungeon World. Every time I found myself having a conversation with someone about tabletop role-playing’s palpable “retro” trend or that trends associated games– Castles & Crusades, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Adventures Dark & Deep, Mazes & Minotaurs, etc.– I would bring up Dungeon World.
These conversations came up often enough that I slowly began to question whether or not I was doing Terrible Gamers a disservice with my reluctance to run a game of Dungeon World. After all, as an editor here part of my job is trying out new games. In fact, since I am currently the only person at Terrible Gamers who GMs games my willingness, or lack thereof, to run sessions with specific titles has a direct impact on the quality of information Terrible Gamers is able to provide to our readers.
This thought–that running Dungeon World is something that Terrible Gamers ought to do–would probably have been enough to eventually get a game going. Fortunately for us, this process was accelerated when I stumbled on The Walking Eye podcast. It is not very often that I find a role-playing actual play podcast that is both good and covers more than a single game system. The Walking Eye has both of these things going for it, plus they have multiple episodes dedicated to Dungeon World.
Listening to The Walking Eye’s Dungeon World episodes is what gave me the motivation I needed to run a Terrible Gamers‘ Dungeon World “campaign” sooner rather than later. The men and women over at The Walking Eye waylaid many of my fears about Dungeon World. By listening to others play Dungeon World I realized that the games narrative elements expanded rather than diminished a GMs ability to work with players in articulating a fictional world. Most importantly, The Walking Eye’s experience with Dungeon World showed me how much fun players were having using the Dungeon World system. All of this, despite the fact that terrible “old school” things befell the player characters. I was sold.
Shortly after discovering The Walking Eye (about two weeks ago) I downloaded the Dungeon World core rules from drivethroughRPG. In less than a week I was ready to go, and last Friday, November 15, 2013, Terrible Gamers ran its first Dungeon World session! So in the next couple of days you can expect our preliminary review of Dungeon World based on our experiences during that session. Stay tuned.
Books 0 serves as an introduction to both the game mechanics and to the world of Shadows of Esteren. The game setting, as written, is not too different than it was described to Terrible Gamers by Clovis Fremont. Players are told that the driving forces behind Shadows of Esteren are the psychological struggles of player characters who find themselves in a dark foreboding world. Each character is pulled almost to (and sometimes just to) the point of mental collapse by competing interests, obligations, principles, and beliefs.
To mediate the internal struggles of the characters, Shadows of Estern offers a pretty simple system that starts with character creation . Character creation is linked to a semi-narrative ranking of how the character that a player is creating might go about solving everyday problems. Is the character imaginative? Does she empathize with the creatures and animals that she encounters? Is she dedicated to a set of beliefs or ideas? Or does she resort to violence when she does not get her way? The answers to these questions help to determine a character’s attributes.
Shadows of Esteren’s action resolution system is best described as a one dice system. Whenever a character attempts an action the player rolls one d10, the results of which are then added to a character’s attribute and/or skill scores. This sum is then compared to a number that corresponds with the difficulty of the task. Meeting or exceeding this difficulty score means that the character accomplishes what they had set out to do.
Book 0 of Shadows of Esteren also contains a set of three premade adventures and premade characters (should a group choose to use them) so that newly initiated players can jump right in. Terrible Gamers spent a lot of time reading through, though importantly not playing, these adventures. We like how the adventures give potential GMs all of the resources necessary to either present the story as it is written or to take the module “off of the tracks.” It is also nice to see that AGATE RPG (the French company behind Shadows of Esteren) includes recommendations to help the GM make the Shadows of Esteren adventure modules more immersive experiences.
These suggestions run the gamut from instructions on how to manage suspense to potential track selections for GMs who like to use music in their games. Terrible Gamers takes these recommendations to be in line with AGATE’s design philosophy. Shadows of Esteren is “built” to be more than just a game. It is a fantastic world that is built around a true multimedia experience. For instance, there is already a Shadows of Esteren musical score and plans for a novelization, as well as graphic novels.
While there is a lot to admire in Shadows of Esteren Book 0, both the game and the book are far from perfect. Terrible Gamers feels that Shadows of Esteren struggles at times with its own identity as a game. The game’s simple d10 game mechanic is a great example of this. While the mechanic is relatively easy to use–a single d10 roll is used for every task in the game–it fails at being “out of the way” enough to give the Shadows of Esteren a real narrative feel. This is because game, in addition to trying to be character driven, is also trying to capture the reality of life and death in a medieval setting.
Whenever the possibility exists for a character to meet with disaster, Shadows of Esteren checks to see whether or not that possibility transitions into actuality by requiring dice rolls. Even here, however, Shadows of Esteren does not quite capture the gritty grim dark feel of similar games (Warhammer Fantasy Role-play 1st and 2nd edition come to mind) already on the market. Maybe we are wrong, but we feel that one die roll game mechanics, at least ones that do not seamlessly tie in to the narrative structure of the game, make players feel more like victims of bad rolls than of the terrible reality of the game world.
Terrible Gamers noticed a number of other problems with Shadows of Esteren while reading through Book 0. The most glaring of these is the adventure modules. As we have already said, there are a lot of good things to say about Shadows of Esteren’s premade adventures. In fact, it is not the quality of the writing or the resources provided to potential GMs that are at issue. Instead, Shadows of Esteren’s game modules, at least those found in Book 0, suffered because they are far too complex for what they claim to be–a series of adventures suitable for novice GMs and players.
For example, Loch Varn, the very first adventure that appears in Shadows of Esteren Book 0, is supposed to be played as a series of disjointed out of sequence hallucinations and flashbacks scenes. It took Terrible Gamers a few read throughs of the module before we were fairly comfortable with how the story was supposed to play out. Even then, we are sure that, if we tried to run this module, things would not go as planned, and that there would be more than one instance where the GM would need to stop the action to be sure that the story was headed towards the “scripted” conclusion. Given this, we feel that the Loch Varen module is suitable only for experienced GMs. Players who are new to role-playing or GMing would be well advised, in the interests of both their sanity and enjoyment, to steer clear of this adventure.
We also are disapointed with Shadows of Esteren’s implementation of horror elements. Players are told that supernatural forces are at work in Esteren, and that these forces cause people to live in fear. Despite this, Shadows of Esteren explains that nobody knows the source or the motivations of the dark entities that prowl the night. This surprised Terrible Gamers because of the way that Shadows of Esteren’s design team tackled the struggle between three opposing understandings of the world present in their game.
It is one thing to want to leave the or elements of the game a mystery to the players, it is another thing entirely to suggest that, in this complex world with three well-defined ideologies, no one has come up with an explanation–right or wrong–for the ever present supernatural forces present in the world. We are really disappointed that Shadows of Esteren did not have competing, yet very detailed, explanations for the supernatural bits of the game.
Here is why: as examples the supernatural presence could be explained by those who follow the “old ways” as vengeful spirits of the land. Those tied to Esteren’s newest monotheistic faith could explain the paranormal as the presence of demons. And finally, those with a more scientific bent could explain the presence of the supernatural as illusion or as yet misunderstood natural phenomena. Nothing like this was present in Shadows of Esteren, and Terrible Gamers feels that the inclusion of competing explanations would actually add more of a sense of mystery and including no information at all.
Our last “criticisms” of Shadows of Esteren are minor, and in some ways it feels almost unfair to mention them at all. As we have mentioned Shadows of Esteren is being developed by a French design team and then translated into English. For the most part, the translation work is very good; however, there are some parts of the text that are a bit awkward. This awkwardness is not something that the detracts too much from the game, but it is noticeable enough to be worth a mention here. Terrible Gamers also gets the feel that Shadows of Esteren is a little cluttered at times with too many recommendations of “outside” materials related to the games genre.
Terrible Gamers does not want to give the impression that we do not like Shadows of Esteren. As we have said before, we really admire the intellectual scope of the game, and the passion with which the developers pursue the games core themes and concepts. It is also fair to say, that there is a lot of good stuff to be had in Shadows of Esteren Book 0. The game mechanics are simple and easy to learn, and a lot of thought and effort has been put in to giving players the resources needed to both play the game and to capture the “feel” of the game at each play session.
These things, however, need to be weighed against Shadows of Esteren’s negatives. As simple as the game mechanics are, they do not quite succeed at creating a game that is either gritty and realistic or narrative and character driven. In addition, players who are new to the role playing hobby need to be aware that the “introductory” adventures provided in Book 0 are overly complex, and probably difficult to run.
All of that being said, Shadows of Esteren must be doing something right. The game already has a large following and strong community in France and has gone through a number of successful kick starter campaigns aimed at launching the game in the English-speaking world. Not only that, but the genuine excitement and passion of both Shadows of Esteren’s designers and volunteers that Terrible Gamers witnessed during Gen Con 2013 cannot be dismissed.
So while, in our opinion, Shadows of Esteren is not quite “there” yet, Terrible Gamers thinks that this game has a lot of potential. We look forward to seeing the status of this game at next year’s Gen Con. You had better believe that the Shadows of Esteren booth will be one of Terrible Gamers first stops next year in Indianapolis.
Terrible Gamers first encountered Shadows of Esteren on the exhibitor floor during Gen Con 2013. At that time we were very excited about Shadows of Esteren. Our first look at the game happened by accident. While Daniel and I were walking the floor and trying to navigate our way to the Outbreak: Undead booth something remarkable caught our eye. We saw a number of gamers talking to some very excited volunteers. That is, of course, not to say that there weren’t a lot of excited gamers or excited volunteers at this year’s Gen Con, but rather we were surprised by the spirited nature of the conversations we were seeing. Not only did Shadows of Esteren’s volunteer staff seem universally committed to selling the game to new players, but it seemed to be working.
Here’s the thing the normally happens at Gen Con with new games and the volunteer staff. In most of the cases the Terrible Gamers witnessed, the volunteers for individual game properties only managed to hold the attention of two thirds of the convention attendees who stopped to see what the new game was all about. This did not seem to be the case with Shadows of Esteren. Every gamer we saw at the Shadows of Esteren booth seemed to genuinely intrigued by what they were hearing. Daniel and I decided then and there that Terrible Gamers had to find out why.
After our interview with Outbreak: Undead’s creator, Christopher de la Rosa, we made our way back to the Shadows of Esteren booth. We were greeted there by an Indiana University student who had eagerly volunteered his time to Shadows of Esteren. When we asked this volunteer about the game, he could barely contain himself and his enthusiasm. He explained to us how bored he and his players had become staples of tabletop RPGs like Paizo’s Pathfinder and Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition.
Apparently, Shadows of Esteren offered this volunteer something above and beyond what he was getting from his Pathfinder games. To find out what that was exactly, we were directed to speak with Clovis Fremont who is one of Shadows of Esteren’s designers, and the man that translated the game from its original French to English. We ended up talking to Clovis for well over an hour and a half, and by the end of that conversation Terrible Gamers was pretty damn excited about getting our hands on press copies of the game.
We learned a lot from our conversation with Clovis about Shadows of Esteren. The game was developed by a team of French gamers turned designers, none of whom so much as work a single day in an “creative” industry prior to work on Shadows of Esteren. Clovis, for example, is still pursuing his degree from a prestigious French translation school, and the game’s other designers, Terrible Gamers was led to believe, had very mundane day jobs.
Despite this, Shadows of Esteren seemed very well thought out both in its conception and its placement amongst other games already on the market. The game is set on the continent of Esteren, which loosely corresponds to Europe. Unlike Europe, the people who inhabit the continent the Esteren are cut off and isolated from the rest of their world. Shadows of Esteren puts a premium on this isolation by focusing the scope of the game on the emotional and mental lives of Esteren’s inhabitants. In fact, Terrible Gamers would go as far to say that Shadows of Esteren is trying to capture the feel of, as Karl Marx would say “the real lived life,” of those who found themselves in late feudal Europe.
If living in the late feudal period were not bad enough, Shadows of Esteren also adds the elements of supernatural horror. Clovis told Terrible Gamers that his game exists at the intersection of narrative indie games and traditional horror RPGs. The idea is that you have a system that focuses on the characters, and the internal conflict living in a horrific, disease ridden, death filled world–much like historical late medieval Europe–causes, while also having strong mechanics that allow the players to bring order to the narrative.
Terrible Gamers really likes the way that Shadows of Esteren’s designers embedded ideological and paradigmatic conflict within the game world. The continent of Esteren is split amongst the three kingdoms, each of which are the embodiment of competing metanarratives. One of the kingdoms is polytheistic and represents the “old way” of life for the people of Esteren. Another of the kingdoms is dominated by the politics of religion and a theocratic monotheistic church (similar to the medieval Catholic Church). Finally there is the state in which new scientific ideas from across a great span of mountains have taken hold.
We see, and totally dig, what Shadows of Esteren is trying to do here. Her designers have created the game world in which the European transition from the ancient Roman order to European feudalism and the transition from European feudalism to the Enlightenment exist simultaneously. In some ways Shadows of Esteren is the postmodernists’ wet dream. It is a game in which players are shown three incompatible, yet equally valid, ways of existing in and cognizing the world, which occupy the same historical place and time.
Terrible Gamers does not want the ambiguous on this point: Shadows of Esteren is a very smart game. We really appreciate when game designers and game manufacturers try to grapple with intellectual, emotional, and philosophical themes (we love you Eclipse Phase!). This is why Terrible Gamers was so excited to get our hands on the press copies of Shadows of Esteren that Clovis Fremont promised us during Gen Con. The only question that remained for us, was how well did the ideas behind Shadows of Esteren holdup when put to text and game mechanics?
Terrible Gamers had to wait two months before we finally got our hands on copies of Shadows of Esteren. During those two months we did a lot of things. We reviewed some stuff, published some interviews, and played some more stuff; however we never forgot about Shadows of Esteren. This meant that when we did finally receive our press copies, the excitement was palpable and the email chatter voluminous.
Stay tuned for our intial impressions of that content! Which you can now find HERE!
Terrible Gamers is working on a campaign setting for a future game we might run. As such we thought we would share our creative process with you. Somethings you should note about the setting:
- Set in the near future
- Fallout esque post-apocolyptic world will be our end result
- As believable as possible
Here it is in all of its unedited glory! You see it as we work on it! Feel free to share with us your thoughts, even if they are: you guys suck!
Conservative members of the United States congress try to defund key Democratic health care legislation in the US–the Affordable Care Act. With the threat of a partial government shutdown looming, the Democratic President and Democratically Controlled US Senate refuse to negotiate with Republicans, stating they “will not allow Republicans to extract a ransom from the American people by threatening government shutdowns.”
On the 1st of October the United States government shuts down. Millions of government employees are furloughed. Members of the United States armed forces are ordered to stay at their posts, and last minute legislation ensures that they, at least, will continue to receive paychecks.
October 1st – 15th
Through the first half of October both sides of the political battle over the American Affordable Care Act refuse to negotiate and the government remains in “partial shutdown” mode. The United States department of the treasury informs Congress that if no agreement is reached, and Congress fails to raise the federal debt ceiling by the 17th of October, the United States government will default.
Despite warnings from the Treasury Department and Economists, the Tea Party Republicans refuse to budge on their demand that any government funding include a defunding of the Affordable Care Act. on the 14th of October, conservative news organization Fox News begins pushing “The Debt Ceiling Doesn’t Matter!” talking points.
Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate come to a last minute compromise that will reopen government and increase the Federal Debt Ceiling until the middle of February. At first it looks like this will easily pass in the United States House of Representatives, but at the last minute the Tea Party faction of the Republican party blocks the legislation from coming to the floor for a vote.
The Treasury Department’s deadline for raising the debt ceiling passes. Markets around the world react strongly to the news that the United States may default. The Tokyo Exchange loses 22% of its value in less than half a day of trading. Regulators in Japan stop trading for the day when multiple pauses fail to arrest the market crash. In Europe the trading is furious, European markets lose in the range of 30% of their total value. When the stock exchange opens in New York, investors are already panicked. Trading is halted multiple times throughout the day before the markets close down 37%.
American President Obama gives his “Black Day” speech. The finger pointing begins, and the two sides are no closer to an agreement.
Stock trading is suspended again around the world. Chinese president Xi Jinping calls the American political system “broken” in an interview, and says the “American government is holding the world hostage.”
The Treasury Department announces suspension of Social Security payments. Despite its earlier dire warnings, there has yet to be a default. Fox News claims this is a vindication of Tea Party assertions that the Debt Ceiling “does not matter.”
Trading is resumed in Japan, and the Japanese markets see a modest 6% recovery. European regulators reopen trading and, after a seesaw day of trading, close up 3%.
American markets open encouraged, and stock values seem to be going up until just after 9am. At 9:10 the Treasury Department holds a press conference stating that, “at 8:46 this morning, the United States government defaulted on wide variety of bond debt…”
By the 31st of October no agreement has been reached in the United States Congress. Worldwide market values have dropped to less than 40% of their pre-Tea”castrophie” levels.
By the middle of the month unemployment worldwide is up 10%. Protests pop up in a number of American cities as many Americans begin to feel the weight of federal layoffs and the suspension of SSI payments.
Unemployment in the United States is over 25% for the first time since the Great Depression. A number of “Tea Party” Congressmen have their offices attack or vandalized. On the 4th a man is killed by police after firing an assault rifle at the Capitol Building in Washington DC.
On the 6th Capitol Police fire teargas and rubber bullets at a large group of protestors that have gathered illegal on the Washington Mall to protest the suspension of SSI payments. Many of the protestors were elderly and 7 are killed. Protests in a number of American cities turn violent. In Detroit 8 Police Officers and 38 protestors are killed.
On the 15th the first US Service member reports that his pay was not deposited in his account. This is the last straw for the Tea Party Republicans, and a “clean” funding bill and Debt Ceiling Increase passes both houses of Congress on the 16th, but the damage is already done.
The new year sees the Global Economic Crisis deepen. Most countries, including the United States, are now dealing with unemployment rates in the low 30s. The developing world, including China, is hit particularly hard.
Dealing with significant issues at home, president Obama begins the military drawback in Afghanistan. He promises all 60,000 US troops will be home by August.
The civil war in Syria continues unabated. At the end of the month, regime forces carry out massive chemical weapons strikes on rebel targets. The United States and European countries respond with sharp rhetoric, but are no longer in a position to act.
Quietly, the first cases of H1N5 appear in Hong Kong.
The Greek government collapses, and Golden Dawn–a fascist party–wins in a landslide. Leftists turn out in the streets and a week of running battles between Greek police, leftist protestors, and right wing paramilitaries consumes Athens.
When the dust settles 1,300 are dead. The new Greek government “suspends” the constitution and unilaterally withdraws from the Euro Zone. They also announce a halt to all immigration and declare their intention to expel all Turks, Eastern Europeans, and Africans from Greece.
Greek Marxists begin a low-grade insurgency against Golden Dawn.
Despite German attempts to stave off disaster, the Italian economy collapses completely. The Italian government in chaos, announces its intention to withdraw from the Euro Zone.
On the 7th of September the Greek premiere is assassinated. Red September takes responsibility.
Responding to civil unrest in Turkey, the radicalization of the ruling Islamic party, and the state of Greece, the Turkish Military takes control of Turkey.
In Argentina the economic crisis has had a profound effect. Half of the population is now out of work. The Government has been paralyzed since President de Kirchner has been in a coma since the end of 2013. The Vice President has been politically powerless to act, since he faces a series of corruption charges.
During the first week of August elements of the Argentinean military attempt to stage a coup. This fails, but a constitution crisis follows. By the end of the month a right wing coalition is in power.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin declares martial law. Two weeks later he dies after falling off a horse during a photo shoot. Russia explodes.
After an attack on the Greek military is blamed on Turks in Greece, the round up of Turkish citizens and the Turkish minority is intensified. Blurry cell phone videos appear reporting to show Golden Dawn paramilitaries executing over 300 Turks with machine guns.
In Turkey General Ilkar Basbug is released from prison. Assumes command of the Turkish armed forces. The Turkish military government issues a warning to Greece: the Turkish people will not tolerate the murder of Turkish citizens in Greece.
With the war in Syria worse than ever, the Israeli government takes note that the international community has failed to respond to renewed use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. Convinced that this means the West lacks the political will to challenge Iran on the nuclear issue, the Israeli government acts.
For the first time since the end of the Second World War, nuclear weapons are used in anger. Israel stuns the world by launching a nuclear strike on an Iranian nuclear facility deep in the desert. Iran responds immediately by launching ballistic missile strikes at Israel.
While the Israeli “Iron Dome” manages to intercept most incoming Iranian missiles, some make it through. Tel Aviv is hit with a radiological weapon and nerve gas. When casualties reach into the thousands, Israel responds by conducting a nuclear strike on Tehran.
Another report of the massacre of ethnic Turks leaves makes it out of Greece. The Turkish army responds by launching air strikes on Greek targets and immediately occupying Cyprus. Fighting begins on the ground in Thrace and quickly escalates. By the end of the month there is a full scale armed conflict between the two NATO allies.
In Iraq, the Shiite takes to the streets demanding action against both Israel and the United States. The American Embassy is attacked and the Iraqi armed forces fail to intervene. The entire embassy staff is taken prisoner and executed.
American president Obama condemns the violence against American diplomatic staff. His words vaguely disguise threat of military force against Iran, or any country that fails to live up to its international obligation to protect American citizens in the diplomatic corps.
The governments of Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia withdraw their ambassador to Israel. An emergency meeting of the Arab league is called.
No one knows who is in charge in Iran as news out of Tehran, or the remnants of the city, is limited. It is assumed that the government and military of Iran is in chaos, until Iranian military assets begin targeting oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. A press release is read over Iranian radio, claiming to be from the Iranian president declaring a “State of War” with Israel and a “blockade” of the Persian Gulf.
As markets open all over the world, the price of oil already elevated since the beginning of hostilities, skyrocket to over $700 a barrel. The already faltering world economy shutters.
Advanced American naval elements protecting the Persian Gulf combined with Nato Air assets in Europe and on the Arabian peninsula begin attacks on Iranian air, sea and land assets. The American president tells the nation that American military intervention is limited to denying the Iranian military the capacity to effect commerce in the Persian Gulf.
In response to NATO attack on Iran, the Iranian army crosses the Iraqi frontier. The Iraqi army does not resist. In fact many Iraqi units join with the Iranian army. In response, Saudi and American forces cross into Iraq and race for the Southern Oil Fields and Basra. NATO air power begins wide spread targeting of the Iranian military. The 3rd Iraq War has begun.
Turkish forces land on the Greek island of Crete and intense fighting continues. In Greece the Marxist insurgency begins coordinated operations with Turkey. In Turkey ethnic Armenians begin to protest the war. The Turkish military cracks down hard and Armenians, once again, take up arms. Armenia, though vastly outgunned, declares war on Turkey.
A story appears buried in the New York Times. H1N5 virus seems to have broken quarantine in Hong Kong. By mid-month the flu virus which kills 50% of those infected has appeared all over China, in London, Paris and Vancouver.
The WHO officially declares a H1N5 uncontrolled and issues a Pandemic Severity Index Rating of 5. Over 6 million people in China are now sick. In the United States many still with jobs start refusing to go to work after the first cases of H1N5 appear in San Francisco and quickly spread. Pharmacies are attacked by people looking for Tamiflu and Relenza. Rioting turns into general looting in a number of cities.
At the end of November the first cases of the illness appear in Argentina. At first the government tries to hide this from the Argentinean populace. When the news finally breaks, the government response is the invasion of the Falklands.
As the worldwide crisis escalates, and as a new war in Europe becomes a reality. European governments are in chaos. Neo-Nazi elements in Germany bomb Turkish restaurants and attack immigrants. The once dead Red Army Faction carries out a series of attacks against American military bases. By the end of the month 600 Germans and 75 Americans are dead.
In France, a general strike leads to the 4th Paris commune and the government collapses. The army takes control of the government and moves against the strikers. 4 days of street fighting lead to the collapse of the 4th Paris commune. The French military announces on November 27th, that: Henri, Comte de Paris, Duc de France has been rightfully restored to his throne. Long Live the King! Long Live Henri VII! Long Live France!
In Italy the power of the central government has broken down completely. While still in existence nominally, in reality political power in Italy has devolved back to almost pre-Italian regional governments.
The UK condemns Argentine aggression and Conservative PM David Cameron announces that the UK will retake the islands. Many experts question the power of UK to manage this, given the cut in the strength of the RN since the first Falkland war in the early 1980s. Secretly, David Cameron approaches the United States for help.
In a secret meeting during a conference of the American states. Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia have agreed to come to each other’s aid in case of American aggression.
In mid month the situation, which has been unstable in Russia for months comes to a head. Global oil prices mean many Russians cannot afford to heat their homes. As the death toll climbs, National Bolsheviks seize control of a number of government buildings in Moscow and St. Petersburg. To everyone’s surprise, after 3 days the Russian military backs the National Bolsheviks and the Slavic Nationalist Bolshevik Federation is formed. The effects are immediate as the Russian state begins re-nationalizing key government industries. Including oil and gas production.
By the beginning of the month H1N5 is everywhere. By some estimates nearly 30% of the world’s population is ill and 50% of those are expected to die. In some countries the number of sick is estimated to be closer to 45% of the population. Global healthcare systems are overwhelmed and unable to cope.
The world economy has ground to stand still. The effects of the American default and oil scarcity are now compounded by H1N5. Combat in Iraq continues and by the beginning of the month Iranian forces have been pushed back to the border.
The United States announces that, while not a belligerent in the British and Argentine conflict, US naval forces will accompany a British expedition to retake the island. Venezuela immediately announces an oil embargo against the United States.
In our last article related to Fantasy Flight Games’ new Star Wars RPG line–Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion–Terrible Gamers reviewed Star Wars Dice. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Fantasy Flight’s new Star Wars RPGs, both games are built around a core mechanic which utilizes Fantasy Flight’s proprietary Star Wars Dice. These dice consist of 3 unique sets of twelve sided dice, 2 unique sets of eight sided dice, and two unique sets of six sided dice. And while it is still possible for players to use standard gaming dice to play Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion it is difficult to do so. You can always check our review here to find out why.
Because of the difficulty involved in converting standard gaming dice to Star Wars Dice, Terrible Gamers believes that the vast majority of Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion players will purchase one of the two Star Wars Dice accessories sold by Fantasy Flight Games–the Star Wars Dice accessory or the Star Wars Dice iOS and Android App for mobile devices. We gave Fantasy Flight Games a pretty tough time in our review of their physical Star Wars Dice accessory. This is mostly because a single set of physical Star Wars Dice does not provide a single player with enough dice to make many basic Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion skill checks.
Our review of the physical Star Wars Dice did not make Fantasy Flight Games look very good. We think it is fair to assume that Fantasy Flight and Terrible Gamers aren’t on speaking terms at the moment (that’s what happens we people write real reviews) and we have resigned ourselves to the fact that we will not be getting any Christmas presents from Fantasy Flight this year. Terrible Gamers does want to make clear that our intention in writing our reviews is to inform gamers, not to make anyone person or organization look bad. Besides, I think Fantasy Flight Games will be marginally happier with this review, and we have made no secret of our opinion that the people at Fantasy Flight Games are some of the best in the industry.
What you will find in this article is our review of the second Star Wars Dice option available to Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion players–the Star Wars Dice App. As with our previous review of Star Wars Dice this review should not be understood as a review of the actual Star Wars Dice Mechanic. If you are curious as to how Terrible Gamers thinks the use of Star Wars Dice in Edge of The Empire or Age of Rebellion works out, you will have to wait for our full review of those titles; however, our opinion (so far) has not changed much since we wrote up our first impressions of the Star Wars RPG system (here).
Review: Star Wars Dice App
What You Need:
- iOS or Android mobile device.
What You Get:
- A mobile device capable of producing dice results need for Star Wars: Edge of The Empire, Star Wars: Age of Rebellion, and Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game
We want to start off by being upfront with our readers. We at Terrible Gamers are not huge fans of dice applications. As we have discussed many times, we are randomness snobs (this is why we like Lou Zocchi & GameScience dice as much as we do). And if there is one thing we are certain about, with some pretty rare exceptions like Random.org, “random” electronic die rollers and number generators are not random. Such things can have the appearance of randomness, but there is just something about knowing that a number is selected by an algorithm that really makes some of us at Terrible Gamers feel cheated. We recognize that this is crazy and many, if not most, gamers are not bothered by the not exactly random nature of die rolling software. For that reason, our reviews of dice applications never get marked down for “not being random,” unless they do not even give the appearance of randomness. Thankfully, Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Dice App for mobile platforms had no problem delivering the illusion of randomness.
In fact, Terrible Gamers finds Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Dice App to be pretty solid when it comes to giving players the feeling that they are actually rolling dice at a table. The three dimensional dice look just like the dice included in the physical Star Wars Dice package and the Star Wars Dice App’s die rolling animation, while fast, is believable.
Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Dice App has all of the same pros of its physical counterpart. Players who chose to download this app instead of forking over the $30 to $45 dollars that they would need to spend to get an adequate number of the physical dice, will probably be happy about their purchase. This is particularly the case if players of Edge of The Empire or Age of Rebellion also happen to be fans of Fantasy Flight’s new Star Wars miniatures game X-Wing as the Star Wars Dice App contains all of the dice needed to play either game line.
The application itself is presented well, looks good, and tries really hard to deliver to the user the feeling that she is actually rolling physical dice. We really have to give credit here to Fantasy Flight Games for making a pretty good looking product that really adds something to Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion game play. Having access to the Star Wars Dice while playing one of the Star Wars RPGs not only makes the lives of the Star Wars RPGs’ players and GMs easier, but it also makes skill checks and combat feel very smooth and continuous.
This is where Terrible Gamers feels that the people at Fantasy Flight Games really excel when it comes to game design. Fantasy Flight’s combination of mechanics and accessories, when used together, creates game experiences that capture the imagination of the players. A big part of this is the continuity that exists between all of the game elements–game mechanics, dice, visual aids, etc–which really work to get everyone at the table involved in constructing a narrative. So Terrible Gamers really does appreciate how hard the men and women over at Fantasy Flight work to bring us games that come pretty damn close to making us feel like we are participating in authentic Star Wars stories.
Do not let our appreciation of Fantasy Flight’s games, or our appreciation of what Fantasy Flight’s accessories add to their games, fool you. Even when we ignore the fact that dice rolling apps and programs do not give random results (we are joking), Terrible Gamers found flaws in the Star Wars Dice App.
While Terrible Gamers’ experience using the Star Wars Dice App was positive, we do have a number of minor complaints about the application’s interface. We do not like the Star Wars Dice App menu icons that much, as it took us quite awhile to feel certain about what we were selecting.
We feel similarly about managing the dice on the virtual tabletop. Adding dice is easy enough–users simply touch the icon of the particular die they want to add at the top of the screen. Unfortunately, removing dice once they are on the table is a little bit more complicated and requires app users to navigate through a menu. Subtracting the dice from the table could have been (and probably should have been) made just as easy as adding them.
Fantasy Flight Games also gave users of their Star Wars Dice App the ability to add standard gaming dice to the application’s virtual tabletop. This is a vast improvement over the physical Star Wars Dice accessory, in that Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion players using the app have access to all the dice they need to run either game; however, the standard gaming dice come with only one plain white skin. As we discuss further on, for the cost of the Star Wars Dice App ($4.99), Terrible Gamers feels that more skins for the traditional gaming dice sets should have been included.
Finally, Terrible Gamers is not quite satisfied with the way in which the Star Wars Dice App displays the results of die rolls. The Star Wars Dice App presents users with the graphic of the dice, and the raw scores displayed at the bottom left of the screen. We universally felt that the application would have been better had it provided users with the option of having the Star Wars Dice App present the tabulated results of rolls instead of the raw scores.
All of the interface issues we discussed are relatively minor, and do not detract too much from the product as a whole. Unfortunately, Terrible Gamers’ biggest issue with Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Dice App is not these minor interface quirks. Instead, we found that, while considerably better than its physical Star Wars Dice accessory counterpart, the Star Wars Dice App still is not a great value to consumers.
This is primarily because of the fact that a player who spends $4.99 on the Star Wars Dice App gets an attractive looking dice rolling application, which includes Fantasy Flight’s proprietary Star Wars Dice and nothing more. In truth, it would be more accurate to say that consumers are getting an attractive dice rolling application only if they stick to using the Star Wars Dice. Using this application for dice rolls with traditional gaming dice, as we have said, is possible, but the “look” of these additional dice is pretty plain.
When Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Dice App is compared with other available dice rolling apps for mobile platforms, the value of the Star Wars Dice App seems even more questionable. At $4.99 the Star Wars Dice App is as expensive as Gandreas Software‘s dice app–Dicenomicon. In fact, there are many dice apps available for both iOS and Android devices, which offer consumers more than the Star Wars Dice App, for significantly less money. For example, MachWerx‘s dice app, Mach Dice, sells for around $1.99 and gives users the ability to add their own tabletop images and custom dice–Terrible Gamers actually used Mach Dice to make our own Star Wars Dice.
There is even a free alternative to Star Wars Dice App specifically–Empire Dice. Empire Dice is a dice roll calculator designed for use with Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion. It does not show users the actual dice rolling–doing that would be a copyright violation–but it does calculate the results of each roll for the user. So instead of giving just the raw scores, like the Star Wars Dice App does, Empire Dice displays the result of a roll after all of the successes, failures, triumphs, despairs, advantages and threats have been calculated. We love this feature and are disappointed that something similar was not included in the Star Wars Dice App.
Overall Score: B
Terrible Gamers really struggled with assigning the Star Wars Dice App a score. Fantasy Flight Games really got a lot right with this app, and our experience with the Star Wars Dice App was far, far, far better than our experience with the physical Star Wars Dice accessory. And as we told you earlier, Fantasy Flight Games really has something special with the integration of their game mechanics and accessories for the Star Wars RPGs.
Our biggest problem with Star Wars Dice App was not the interface problems or questionable design choices that Terrible Gamers encountered. While these exist, we feel that they are relatively minor and do not have tremendous negative effect on the product as a whole. Instead, our biggest problem is about pricing. Fantasy Flight Games really is not providing consumers enough to justify the Star Wars Dice App price tag of $4.99.
And do not misunderstand us. Terrible Gamers thinks that Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars Dice App is a great application. It is even a great value when compared to its physical Star Wars Dice counterpart (we paradoxically prefer the physical version because of the whole randomness thing). Unfortunately, you really need to appreciate how wrong Fantasy Flight got the physical Star Wars Dice to appreciate the value of the Star Wars Dice App.
When we compare the value of the Star Wars Dice App only to other role playing tools and dice apps available on mobile platforms alone, Terrible Gamers feels that Fantasy Flight really overshot their price point. Nearly all of the Star Wars Dice App’s competition offers better all around role playing game tools for a fraction of the cost.
In our last article Terrible Gamers reviewed
In our last article related to Fantasy Flight Games’ new Star Wars role playing game line (which you can find here)–Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion–Terrible Gamers reviewed Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Dice accessory. For those of our readers who are unfamiliar with these new role playing titles, both Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion are built around Fantasy Flight’s proprietary dice system, which is composed of specialized six (d6), eight (d8), and twelve (d12) sided dice (check out this article to learn more). In that article, Terrible Gamers gave Fantasy Flight a pretty hard time for not including enough dice in Star Wars Dice for a single player to make many of the dice rolls he might encounter while playing either Edge of The Empire or Age of Rebellion.
Our Star Wars Dice review was so harsh, Terrible Gamers fully expects that Fantasy Flight Games will not be sending us any review copies for Christmas; however, we are hopeful that our review of the
Our last piece game Fantasy Flight Games a pretty hard time about their Star Wars Dice accessory.
The reasons for Terrible Gamers low score (C-) are pretty detailed and we suggest readers check out that review.
This is because, while it is possible to run a game of either Edge of The Empire or Age of Rebellion without using one of Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Dice accessories, it is difficult to do so. This leaves players of either game with two options: purchase the Star Wars Dice ($14.95) or purchase Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Dice App for the iOS or Android ($4.99). As we pointed out in our previous review (here), players opting for the Star Wars Dice accessory would quickly discover that they need to purchase Star Wars Dice sets to have enough dice to make many of the skill checks encountered while playing either Star Wars RPG.
Terrible Gamers thinks that the only way to be fair to Fantasy Flight Games is to keep our readers informed about all the options available to potential players of the new Star Wars RPGs. For that reason we decided to go ahead and publish our review of the Star Wars Dice App for mobile platforms ahead of schedule.
What you will find in this article is a review of the Star Wars Dice App for iOS and Android only. If you want to whether or not we like, or dislike, how Fantasy Flight’s proprietary Star Wars Dice mechanic actually plays, you will have to wait for our review of Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion (our opinion has not change
Given the negative character of our last review, it would be fair to assume that Terrible Gamers and Fantasy Flight Games are not on speaking terms (no review copies for us!).
To be fair to both our readers and to Fantasy Flight Games, we decided that the best course of action would be to review all the Star Wars Dice products available to players who want to maximize their Edge of The Empire or Age of Rebellion experience.
If you have been following us on Twitter (you should be), you know that Terrible Gamers has finally gotten together a play test of Fantasy Flight Games’ new Star Wars RPGs–Age of Rebellion and Edge of The Empire (we actually did something!) And if you were paying attention to our first impressions of the Star Wars RPG system (here), you know that both of Fantasy Flight’s new games are built around a proprietary dice system composed of specialized six (d6), eight (d8), and twelve (d12) sided dice. So while players do not technically have to use these specialized dice to play either Edge of The Empire or Age of Rebellion–you could check a conversion chart for 4 to 6 dice every time you roll–those who want the full Star Wars RPG experience probably will.
Unfortunately, this means many Star Wars RPG players will need to spend more money than the $59.99 they plopped down for either Edge of The Empire’s or Age of Rebellion’s core rulebooks. This is because Star Wars Dice are not included with the purchase of either game. This leaves players three options for playing the Star Wars RPGs: using a conversion chart with “regular” dice, purchasing Star Wars Dice separately ($14.95 on Fantasy Flight’s website), or downloading Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars: Dice App for iOS and Android devices ($4.99 in the iTunes App Store). Terrible Gamers thinks that the vast majority of Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion players will opt for one of the two Star Wars Dice products offered by Fantasy Flight Games.
In light of these facts, we at Terrible Gamers thinks that Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Dice deserve review of their own. What you will find in the article that follows is a review of Star Wars Dice only. We are not going to comment on the merits of the dice system itself (we are saving that for our full review of Fantasy Flight’s new Star Wars RPG system, although you can find our initial take here). So if you want to know whether or not Terrible Gamers likes the way that Fantasy Flight’s new proprietary Star Wars Dice System plays, then you are out of luck for the moment; however, if you want to know what we think of the Star Wars Dice themselves, or you are interested in our opinion of Fantasy Flight’s business practices when it comes to Star Wars Dice, then read on.
Star Wars Dice:
What you get:
- 4 reversible “destiny point” markers
- 3 green d8 “ability” dice
- 3 purple d8 “difficulty” dice
- 2 yellow d12 “proficiency”
- 2 blue d6 “boost” dice
- 2 black d6 “setback” dice
- 1 red d12 “challenge” die
- 1 white d12 “force” die
Star Wars Dice contains almost (more on that later) everything you need to play Edge of The Empire or Age of Rebellion. During our early play tests of both games, Terrible Gamers has been using two sets of Star Wars Dice. The first set we acquired at the same time we got our hands on the Age of Rebellion BETA during Gen Con 2013 (you can download the Age of Rebellion BETA for $29.95 on Fantasy Flight’s website–here). After attempting to play through a mock combat encounter, we quickly realized that one set of Star Wars Dice was just not enough. After taking a quick trip to a local San Diego games retailer–Game Empire (we support local retailers when we can afford to)–and spending $14.95 in the process we were set and ready to go.
What players get with their purchase of each Star Wars Dice package is a set of “destiny point” tokens and the different types of specialized dice used while playing both Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion. Players do not get all of the dice they need to play these games, which is an important consideration, and you do not get enough of what is included to assemble all of the dice pools players will encounter during their Star Wars adventures. More on this later.
As we told you earlier each Star Wars Dice package includes 4 reversible “destiny point” tokens, which are used to keep an accurate account of “destiny point” usage while playing the Star Wars RPGs. “Destiny Points” are a very important aspect of game play in both Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion, and are used by both players and GMs to do things like augment skill checks and nudge the narrative direction of the story. When players and GMs can use these points is dependent on whether or not Destiny is currently favoring the light or dark side of the force–players can use light side destiny points and GMs dark side destiny points. And since destiny points do not go away when used, they merely change sides, the ebb and flow of Destiny around the table is central to both Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion.
Because “destiny points” are so important to the actual playing of either of Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars RPGs, Terrible Gamers is glad that “destiny point” tokens were included in Star Wars Dice. The tokens do help keep track of how “destiny points” are spent, and limit the problem we have encountered while playing other games where GM and player records of things like “action points” or “fate points” do not match. Unfortunately, we were not impressed with the quality of the actually tokens provided for a number of reasons
The 4 reversible tokens are printed on cheap and flimsy cardboard stock and need to be punched out by the players themselves. The art work representing both the light and dark side of the force was uninspired and heavily pixilated. In fact, when it came to the dark side portion of the tokens on one of our token sets, the dark side image was misprinted and barely made it onto the right edge of the token. To make matters worse, the “destiny point” tokens are very small–about what we would expect to find in a “toy money” set we bought at a $1 store. Terrible Gamers ended up losing 2 of them in as many play test sessions and abandoned them entirely.
Rather than go into detail about each die, or set of dice, included in the Star Wars Dice package we decided to review the dice as a set. As we pointed out earlier, the Star Wars Dice used in Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion have been built specifically for use with Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars dice pool mechanics. This means that none of the included dice (d6, d8, and d12) have the standard numbered layout that most gamers are familiar with. Instead, each die has a set of faces that vary by the set function of that die. These include symbols that represent the force, success, failure, triumph, despair, advantage, and threat.
Terrible Gamers thinks that the new die faces are intuitive and easy to read once a player is familiar with Fantasy Flight’s central Star Wars dice pool mechanic. We are also impressed with the quality of the dice, particularly given the state of the “destiny point” tokens . The dice appear to be made of high quality plastic, and the color scheme makes each set of dice stand apart easily. This is very important when dealing with dice pool systems that use more than one type of dice to represent different things. In addition, each specialized die faced was well machined and inked–there was absolutely no fading on any of the Star Wars Dice we used. And the dice held up well after spending nearly a month in a dice bag with at least 50 other dice. And most important for Terrible Gamers is the fact that the dice roll well, despite their rounded corners (why isn’t everyone using Lou Zocchi’s precision dice yet? You can buy some of those here!)
The pros of buying Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Dice are pretty straight forward. Even though it is possible to run either Edge of The Empire or Age of Rebellion with a standard set of numbered gaming dice, it is difficult to do so. The chart provided by Fantasy Flight in each of the core rulebooks is difficult to use and time consuming. This is because the chart does not appear on the character sheets (that would would have been great) and every roll needs to be compared with a chart. In fact, when Terrible Gamers tried using the chart, we had to keep track of the resulting scores on paper to be sure we were getting it right.
Adding to the difficulty is the fact that each d8, d12, or d6 represents something different in Star Wars RPG skill checks. That means that players need to be particularly vigilant when rolling their own dice just so that which die is supposed to represent which element of a roll–ability, proficiency, difficulty, challenge, boost, or threat–does not become confused.
These two problems are completely absent when using Star Wars Dice to run your Edge of The Empire or Age of Rebellion campaign. What is more, the dice that players receive in each package of Star Wars Dice are pretty high quality. Using them to play either game really speeds up the system and adds to emersion. And if you are anything like us and carry your dice to random places other gamers hang out, Star Wars Dice are great conversation starters!
If you did not guess already, our opinion of the “destiny point” tokens is much more guarded. In fact, it would be more appropriate to say that Terrible Gamers thinka these tokens suck. They are printed on cheap cardboard, and easily lost or damaged. We applaud Fantasy Flight for including something given how “destiny points” are featured prominently in the Star Wars RPG game mechanics, but we think they could of done better. We have stopped using the tokens from Star Wars Dice altogether in favor of GameScience d3s and it would be very easy for players to use anything else they had on hand–quarters, poker chips, other dice, etc.
Our biggest complaint (and it is a big one) about Star Wars Dice is this: a single set of Star Wars Dice is not enough to run a game of either Edge of the Empire or Age of Rebellion. And we aren’t just saying that a single set of dice is not enough for everyone at the table–though this is true as well. Rather we mean to tell you that a single set of Star Wars Dice do not provide enough dice for a single player to build all of the dice pools that she will encounter during her first Star Wars adventure.
Let us give you a few examples of how Fantasy Flight’s failure to provide adequate “stuff” can affect players and GMs. First let’s look at the “destiny point” tokens.
Okay, complaining about the “destiny point” tokens feels a bit like the Woody Allen Joke from Annie Hall. Nonetheless Terrible Gamers thinks that this is a problem indicative of the entire Star Wars Dice set.
Two older women are leaving a restaurant and are complaining about the food. Finally one says, “that was the worst food I have ever eaten!” To which her friend replies, “I agree! And what was with the small portions?”
At the beginning of every game session of Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion players determine the total number of “destiny points” for that day’s session by having all of the players roll a force die (d12). Players then count the number of pips, and the force alignment of each pip, which tells them how many “destiny points” there will be, and what alignment those “destiny points” will have during play. The maximum total of force pips that appear on each specialized Star Wars Dice d12 is 2. This means that a game consisting of two players and a GM can easily end up with a “destiny point” total of 4.
Since Star Wars Dice only provide four “destiny point” tokens per package, a single set of dice is only adequate for Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion games with 3 players counting the GM. If a game were to have 4 players–3 players and a GM–generating 5 or 6 starting “destiny points” at the start of play would be common. This leaves the players short on tokens.
Worse than this is the fact that each package of Star Wars Dice gives a player fewer dice than are necessary to roll many basic skill and combat checks in either Star Wars RPG. If a character has a primary attribute score of 4, which is easy to accomplish during character creation, she may need 4 green “ability” dice for a basic skill check. Fantasy Flight only includes 3 green “ability” dice in each Star Wars Dice package. This problem repeats itself with the 3 purple “difficult” dice included with Star Wars Dice. Any skill or combat check whose difficult falls in the top two difficulty tiers of the game–daunting or formidable–can require 4 or more difficulty dice. If a character has skill over with a score over 3 they need 3 yellow proficiency dice to make rolls using that skill. Star Wars Dice provide 2 yellow proficiency dice per package. Many uses of the specialized boost and threat d6s mentioned in both Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion require 3 of either die. Star Wars Dice provides 2 boost and 2 threat dice per package.
You get the picture. Star Wars Dice lacks the number of dice needed to make basic rolls for every set of dice that appear in the game. And it gets worse.
At the cost of $14.95, Terrible Gamers expected Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Dice to include at least one of every type of dice needed to run a game of Edge of The Empire or Age of Rebellion. This is even more important with games built on IPs of great cultural significance like Star Wars. Such games often attract new players to the role playing hobby–new players who do not have their own set of gaming dice. Unfortunately, Fantasy Flight Games failed to deliver in this regard by choosing not to provide standard ten sided dice, which are used to determine the results of critical hits, duty checks, and obligation checks.
Overall Score: C-
Terrible Gamers overall score for Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Dice should not be read as a critique of the actual dice pool systems used in either Edge of The Empire or Age of Rebellion. As we said earlier in this review, we are holding our final thoughts on that for our review of the game system itself–we confess our opinion of the Star Wars RPGs has changed little since we published our initial thoughts about the system (here). Neither should our score in this review be taken to be an assault on the “quality” of what each package of Star Wars Dice provides. While we feel that “destiny point” tokens in each Star Wars Dice package are pretty terrible, the dice themselves are not.
In fact, while we would prefer everyone to work with GameScience and Lou Zocchi to make precision dice (are you listening game makers!), we actually like the specialized Star Wars Dice a lot. They are well made, look nice, and really add to our sense of emersion playing the game! We cannot imagine playing either Edge of The Empire or Age of Rebellion without using these dice. However, where Star Wars Dice succeed is also where their failure begins.
Our overall score is primarily the result of the fact that, even at the additional cost to the player of $14.95, Star Wars Dice do not provide players with enough dice to play either of the Star Wars RPGs. And it is not just a case of there being “not enough dice to go around.” The Star Wars Dice package does not include enough dice to assemble basic dice pools for individual players. We also find it difficult to accept that an almost essential product for a game built on an IP as important as Star Wars does not actually contain everything you need to play the game. Any new players enticed to give role playing a go based on excitement for Star Wars will be extremely disappointed when their Edge of The Empire rulebook and their Star Wars Dice arrive. This is because Star Wars Dice do not include one die that is essential to running either Star Wars RPG–the d10.
Players not new to our hobby will also be disappointed by the fact that running either of Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars RPGs requires at a minimum 2 d10s and at least 1 set of Star Wars Dice. If players want to have enough dice, without having to reroll the ones they have, to make basic skill checks they will need two sets Star Wars Dice. In fact, Terrible Gamers suspects that 3 sets of Star Wars Dice is the magic number players will need to have enough dice to cover every possible roll they will be asked to make while playing either Edge of The Empire or Age of Rebellion.
As we said earlier, to be fair to Fantasy Flight Games, we should point out that it is possible to play their Star Wars RPGs without buying any Star Wars Dice. A chart that allows you to convert standard numerical six, eight, and twelve sided dice results into Star Wars Dice results is included in both Edge of The Empire and Age of Rebellion. However, these charts are extremely inconvenient to actual play and do not appear on the parts of the book most likely to be easily accessible to all of the players sitting at the table–their character sheets. What is more, using the charts and standard gaming dice, inserts a level of confusion that really hampers game play.
Terrible Gamers really cannot shake the feeling that something is wrong in Denmark. While we think that Fantasy Flight Games is one of the best game makers in the entire gaming industryt, when we find products like Star Wars Dice we feel like we are being used. Maybe we are wrong, but the fact that Fantasy Flight chose not to include enough of any of the dice you might need for a single Star Wars RPG dice pool with their Star Wars Dice accessory seems to indicate that the entire product was designed around not giving players enough. That way Fantasy Flight can maximize profit by double and triple dipping each of their fans who just want to have enough dice to play Star Wars: Edge of The Empire or Star Wars: Age of Rebellion.
Overall Score: C-
A note from Terrible Gamers: we’ve included links to the respective products actual websites in this article. If you want to purchase any of the products we mention here, we ask that you consider doing so through one of the following links. Doing so helps Terrible Gamers stay up, and keeps the content coming. Thanks!
(c) Terrible Gamers & Scott Mills 2013
About a week ago Adam floated the idea of doing an interview of Clint Vanderlinden–the actor who played Rhubarb the centaur in the gaming themed movie Unicorn City. Terrible Gamers was thrilled at the prospects of this, and what you see here is the result. Unfortunately, due to our utter inability to edit video, this interview took awhile to compile, but now that it’s here we hope you enjoy it. It’s pretty awesome.
Oh, and before I forget, we are adding Unicorn City, to our Amazon store. Any proceeds we get from purchases of the film we are going to reinvest in Clint Vanderlinden’s charitable business Karma Incarnate, which we suggest people check out!
A few days ago Terrible Gamers published an updated review of the free to download Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition rules. Our updated review was based on our extensive play test of Tunnels & Trolls as a GM led role playing game. We also let our readers know that, because one single person was kind enough to donate money to Terrible Gamers, we were able to purchase a copy of the most up-to-date version of the Tunnels & Trolls rule set–v7.5 (available for $15 from DriveThruRpg). After downloading and quickly reading through the Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 rules Terrible Gamers decided to update our original review once again.
The reasons for this decision are pretty straight forward. Even during our first review of Tunnels & Trolls we made it clear that we prefer to do reviews of games based on the latest available rules. Having our reviews reflect current published game mechanics is most useful to our readers, and provides the fairest possible accounting of any game system. Indeed, in most situations we would not have bothered with a review that solely looked at a game’s outdated rules. We made an exception in the case of Tunnels & Trolls because Flying Buffalo, the game’s publisher, has released the Tunnels & Trolls 5e rules to the public. And as we said in our other reviews, Flying Buffalo’s reasoning–5th Edition is a legitimate fee alternative to the v7.5 rules for those who are new to Tunnels & Trolls–was quite sound.
Because of this an updated review of Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 was a foregone conclusion; however, it only took Terrible Gamers a few minutes to realize that we needed a quick turn around on that update. As it turns out Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 addresses most of the concerns we noted in our original review. We encourage our readers to go back and read the original review (here) and the updated review (here), particularly if they find themselves wanting insight into our original grades.
What you need:
- Tunnels & Trolls v7.5
- Pencil or Pen (we prefer pencil)
- Paper and/or Graph Paper
- At least 1 six sided die (D6). We used 8 of gamescience’s D6s (the best dice in the world)
- Smartphone or Calculator (less important if you are playing the game with a GM)
- Homemade Dice Rolling Box (you can use the table just as well)
Character Creation/Attributes: 5th Edition
Original Scores: C+
The Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 character generation process is just as easy and straightforward as it was in Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition. If you recall, Terrible Gamers felt that the 5th Edition method of generating primary attribute scores had a decidedly “old school” feel. In the older version of the game, you simply roll 3 six sided dice (3D6) for each of the character’s 7 attributes–Strength (ST), Intelligence (IQ), Luck (LK), Constitution (CON), Dexterity (DEX), Charisma (CHR), and Speed (SPD). These attributes represent the basis of a character’s talents and abilities.
Terrible Gamers had mixed feelings about generating attributes this way. Since the Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition rules only allow one 3D6 roll for each attribute score, the result is often pretty skewed characters that can quickly brutalize the players, particularly when the players are using Tunnels & Trolls Solo Adventures. Our original scoring of the Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition character generation (C+) was largely based on this.
Terrible Gamers felt that players who were more comfortable with modern role playing game systems, like Dungeons & Dragons 4e, expect character generation systems to result in characters that were more even and balanced than what we were seeing with Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition; however, we also recognized that the Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition character generation system had some distinct advantages, like speed and character diversity, which we highlighted in our first updated review of the game.
Character Creation/Attributes: v7.5
New Score: A-
The character generation process of Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 is a marked “improvement”–there is value in the original system–over Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition. Specifically attribute generation has been modified in v7.5 to be much more in-line with other more “modern” role playing game rule sets. For example, v7.5 offers players and GMs three ways to generate characters, which completely replace the rules found in T&T 5e.
The first method suggested in the v7.5 rules is a modification of the original attribute “roll” system. Instead of having a player roll 3D6 per attribute, as with T&T 5e rules, v7.5 has characters roll 4D6, players keeping the highest 3 dice rolls. This method ensures that players are much more likely to have balanced characters attributes. This makes it nearly impossible to see the characters with multiple attribute scores below 9 that Terrible Gamers routinely encountered when play testing T&T 5e.
Example: Ginell is generating a character for Tunnels & Trolls v7.5. To get her attribute score for Strength she rolls 4 six sided dice whose scores are 6, 3, 3, and 1. She then keeps the highest 3 scores and adds them together, leaving her with a Strength of 12.
The second method of rolling for attribute using v7.5 rules is nearly identical to the types of rules a player would find in modern fantasy role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. Like the first method, the players’ 2nd option generates attribute scores by rolling of 4D6 and keeping the three highest scores. What distinguishes the second method from the first is that the 2nd option allows players to “bank” the attribute scores and then assign those scores to whichever character attribute the player chooses. This allows the players substantially more control over shaping their character. A player can decide where there character will be the strongest using this method, which gives them greater freedom to pick their character class.
Example: Steve is generating a character for Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 using the second character generation method. Like Ginell, Steve will roll 4D6 once for each attribute, keeping the score of the highest 3 dice. Instead of immediately assigning those scores to an attribute, Steve banks them by writing them down on a sheet of paper. Steve scores are 16, 16, 13, 11, 10, and 8. Steve then has the opportunity to chose which score he wants to assign to each individual attribute.
Finally Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 gives players and GMs a “point buy” option for character generation. This too is very similar to a number of modern games. Essentially the GM, or player if she is running a Solo Adventure, decides that each player gets a set number “points” to generate their character attributes (T&T v7.5 provides a convenient chart to help players determine how many points to use). Each point is then assigned to an attribute on a 1 for 1 basis. Even more so than the second method, the point buy system ensures that characters will have evenly powered and balanced characters. It also allows players to have total control over class choice and character disposition.
Example: Scott is generating a T&T v7.5 character using the point buy method. His GM has given him 100 points to work with. Scott decides that he wants to make a magic user. Therefore Scott, assigning his points on a 1 on 1 basis, decides that his character attributes will be as follows: STR 10, CON 10, DEX, 14, SPD 10, INT 18, WIZ 16, LK 14, CHR 8 (for a total of 100).
Races, Starting Wealth, Character Classes/v7.5
If you remember our original review of T&T 5th Edition then you know that character wealth in T&T 5e is generated by a die roll (3D6 x10). The wealth generation system for starting characters in Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 is exactly the same. In both cases Terrible Gamers feels that starting characters off with wealth based on random chance, particularly when the costs of starting equipment is so high, detracts from the game. Certainly, we understand that getting new equipment for characters is one of the things that role playing game players look forward to as their characters advance, but when a character with a starting wealth of 40 gold pieces (g.p.) cannot afford a weapon we think this detracts from player enjoyment .
Rule of Three: An interesting mechanic was added to Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 that reduces the likely hood that a character will end up with the lowest possible attribute score or starting wealth. Indeed, it also greatly increases the likelihood of higher scores for starting characters all around! Essentially, every time natural triples are rolled (1,1,1 or 2, 2, 2, or 3,3,3, or 4, 4, 4, or 5, 5, 5, or 6, 6, 6) a player can roll the dice again, adding her original score to the total of the new roll. She repeat this, potentially infinitely, until she no longer roll natural triples.
Example: if Ginell is rolling for her starting wealth (3D6 x 10) and her first roll is triple 1s (1, 1, 1) and her second roll is 2, 3, 3 she takes her original total (3), adds that to her second total (8), then multiplies the sum (11) by ten to arrive at her starting wealth (110 g.p.).
One nice thing about Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 is the equipment list. It is significantly more comprehensive than the one Flying Buffalo made available for T&T 5th Edition. While this does slightly increase the time the character creation process takes–there was more things for us to chose from for our characters–the overall benefit to the game far outweighs any negative from the few minutes extra it takes to make characters.
We also liked the expansion of character classes in v7.5. While T&T 5th Edition alluded to 4 character classes, only two–the warrior and the wizard–are actually available with the free download. v7.5 offers 6 different character classes to choose from; that is if a character’s attributes meets the character class’s minimum stat requirement.
- Citizen: This character class is supposed to represent your average person in Trollworld (the Tunnels & Trolls campaign setting). While the Citizen is mostly reserved for GM’s to populate their worlds, players looking for a challenge can play this class.
- Rogue: Not your typical fantasy role playing game “thief.” “Rogue” stands for Rogue wizard, someone who uses magic and is not part of the Wizard’s Guild. They are not quite as adept at magic as the Wizard.
- Warrior: Your typical role playing fighter class. A Warrior gets bonuses to his combat abilities.
- Wizard: Men and Women trained by the Wizard’s Guild to use magic. Wizards are the default magic using character class.
- Specialist: This is a catch all character class used to make characters that might resemble character classes from other games. Think longbow wielding Elven ranger.
- Paragon: A very rare character class whose minimum attribute requirements make it very difficult to attain. Paragons are a mixture between Warriors and Wizards.
Once a player has determined his character’s attribute scores, starting wealth, and character class he is free to choose a “race” for his character. Race (renamed “Kindred”) in v7.5 works much like it did in Tunnels & Trolls 5e. Instead of the attribute modification you might find in a game like Dungeons & Dragons 4e, Tunnels & Trolls makes use of what it class the Peters-MacAllistor Chart. Essentially, Tunnels & Trolls requires players to pick a character race from a chart, then multiply their current attribute score by the racial modifier listed for each attribute.
In T&T 5th Edition this meant that a player sometimes had to multiply their attribute score by a fraction. While v7.5 retains racial modifiers that are not whole numbers, Terrible Gamers is happy to report that these are now listed as decimals. This makes these calculations much more calculator friendly for players like us who need to think for awhile about the proper procedure for doing multiplication with fractions.
Having to do mathematics like this at all was something that Terrible Gamers was divided on (pun intended). On the one hand we think that Tunnels & Trolls would be a great game to help teach simple arithmetic to children. The fact that Tunnels & Trolls is really the only tabletop role playing game that provides strong support to Solo Adventures (see the original review to learn more) helps it’s case in this regard; however, for adult gamers the extra math tends to add unneeded complexity to character creation, and actually works against one of Tunnels & Trolls‘ chief advantages over other games–speed. If the Flying Buffalo’s intended audience is the latter, it would be better if they could derive (another pun) a racial system for characters that works by adding and subtracting a static set of whole numbers.
Game Mechanics & Combat/T&T 5th Edition & v7.5
Original Score: B-
New Score: B
One of Terrible Gamers favorite parts about both Tunnels & Trolls rule sets are the skill challenge mechanics. Unlike most other table top role playing games, there are no real “skills” sy in either T&T 5th Edition or v7.5. Instead players are asked to make saving throws of varied difficulties against one of their attribute scores. For instance, a character who is trying to run away from a pack of goblins might be asked to perform a series of saving throws against her Speed. Another character who trying to explain to the local noble why exactly he had absconded with the noble’s daughter might be asked to make a saving throw against his Charisma.
The only significant difference that we found between Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition and Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 when it came to how skill checks were handled was v7.5′s addition of “talents.” These are attached to attributes and represent things that a character is particularly skilled at. Talents add a bit of depth to skill mechanics and help flesh out characters in interesting ways without harming the original mechanics simplicity.
We will not go into great detail about the mechanics themselves (check on the other two reviews). What we will say is that Terrible Gamers really appreciated how intuitive these mechanics were for both the players and the GM. This, above all else, said to us that Ken St. Andre and company at Flying Buffalo really accomplished what they set out to do. They have made a game whose core mechanics are easy to grasp–even for those with little to no role playing experience.
Combat is similarly simple and easy to learn. It requires players to roll a number of D6s equal to that players total “weapons” dice. The total number is then added to a charater’s total personal and weapon bonuses (called “adds”). The player’s new total number is then compared to what the GM has rolled (using the same process) for the opponent. The side with the highest roll has scored a “hit,” and damage is calculated by finding the difference between the two scores. Any damage dealt is then mitigated by armor (similar to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay) and subtracted directly from that characters Constitution score. There are no hit points or wound levels in Tunnels & Trolls. A character’s Constitution score, or a monsters Monster Rating (MR), act as the sole representation of a character’s health.
Example: Steve’s character is involved in a bar fight. Steve decides that he is going to use his short sword to attack his opponent. The short sword has a “dice rating” of 3 and an “add” bonus of 2. Steve has a personal “add” bonus of 12. So Steve rolls his weapon’s dice rating (3D6) scoring a 6, 5, and a 3. Steve then adds his dice total (14) to the his total weapon and personal “adds” (14) giving him a score of 28. The GM rolling for Steve’s opponent got a score of 20. Steve and the GM’s “to hit” numbers are compared. Because Steve’s 28 is higher than the GM’s 20, Steve wins. This means that Steve has hit his opponent and deals 8 points of damage. That 8 points is subtracted from the armor level of Steve’s opponent, which is 2, leaving 6 damage. The GM then subtracts 6 points from the bartough’s Constitution score. In this case the bartough’s Constitution score drops from 10 to 4. 4 more points of damage will knock the barthough out of the fight.
While the combat system, like the rest of v7.5, is quick and easy to learn, the system has significant drawbacks. While playing Solo Adventures it is not uncommon for a player to find that she is in a combat encounter where her character will die before a single die is rolled. For example, when Terrible Gamers was play testing the Tunnels & Trolls Solo Adventure Goblin Lake (free when you download T&T 5th Edition) we found ourselves in a combat where our plucky goblin character, who had a maximum total “to hit” of around 23, was facing down a monster whose minimum “to hit” score was over 50. Since our goblin had a Constitution of 7 we knew our character was dead as soon as we read the stats.
Similarly Tunnels & Trolls handles grouped combat by having the player(s) or GM calculate an entire groups “to hit” score as if that group were a single creature. When running Solo adventures this means that groups of creatures a character might be able to handle easily on a 1v1 basis become quite deadly. So deadly in some cases that, as in our Goblin Lake example, a character is dead without needing to roll a single die.
This problem, in both versions of Tunnels & Trolls, is mitigated somewhat in games that are run by GMs. Players are aided in this context by two factors. First the player group rolls their “to hit” scores as a single entity. Second, if the players lose to the monsters they are fighting, Tunnels & Trolls allows the damage dealt to the group to be distributed as players see fit. In this way, Warriors with higher constitution scores than their more fragile companions can soak up more of the damage.
Terrible Gamers thinks that while the original issue–having characters who are literally killed before dice are rolled–is mitigated by group play, Tunnels & Trolls combat is not for everyone. One of the effects of having players combine all of their combat actions together is that Tunnels & Trolls’ combat does not deliver a very tactical feel. More than that, there is a pronounced lack in Tunnels & Trolls of the sense that players’ characters are contributing individually to combat, which can harm player enjoyment. We like those moments in games when a thief sneaks up behind a monster and takes it out unawares or when the fighter scores a critical success and cleaves his opponent in two. Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition and Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 just don’t have that.
Finally our original opinion of the ranged combat system present in Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition stands. The ranged system utilizes the saving throw mechanic we discussed early to determine whether or not a character hits her target. This system advantages those shooting at opponents from afar by making it impossible for the target of a ranged attack to “fight back.” We love it! This makes Tunnels & Trolls’ ranged combat more realistic than what you might find in a different game. It really isn’t a good idea to go for your sword when 10 crossbows are pointed at you!
Magic System: T&T 5th Edition & v7.5
Old Score: N/A
New Score: A-
The magic systems in T&T 5th Edition and v7.5, like their combat systems, are nearly identical. In both games magic casting is done through the use of a “spell point” system where players have access to a list of spells that their characters can “cast” with the expenditure of “magic points.” In T&T 5th Edition these magic points consisted of a characters Strength attribute score. When a character casts a spell, she temporarily reduces her Strength score by that spells casting cost. Terrible Gamers really liked this. Besides having a slight preference for “magic point” systems over “spells per day” systems (Dungeons & Dragons 4e), we really liked the idea that a Wizard casting magic was slowly reducing her strength.
We were slightly disappointed that Flying Buffalo has altered this mechanic in Tunnels & Trolls v7.5. The newer version uses a new attribute–Wizardry–instead of Strength as the source of a characters “magic points.” Despite our disappointment, the Wizardry attribute does work better mechanically in that it is also used to determine a Wizard’s magical strength and the difficulty of spells cast on specific characters. So Terrible Gamers certainly did not hold this change against Tunnels & Trolls v7.5.
Finally we cannot leave the magic portion of this review without commenting the names of spells in Tunnels & Trolls. There is a level of comedic irreverence built in to the magic system that Terrible Gamers appreciates very, very, very much! You cannot lose with a magic system that contains a set of spells like: “Take That You Fiend!,” “Oh-Go-Away,” “Little Feets,” “Whammy,” and “Slush Yuck!
Character Advancement: v7.5
Original Score: B
New Score: A
In Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 the odd, yet workable, character advancement scheme of T&T 5th Edition was done away with completely. Instead of allowing characters to increase certain sets of attributes by numbers arrived at by modifying a character’s newest level, v7.5 uses a pretty simple experience point “buy.” Players can now raise their attribute scores whenever they like by spending their accumulated experience. To determine how much experience (adventure points) raising an attribute by 1 costs, you multiply an attributes current score by 10.
Example: Ginell has 400 adventure points to spend on increasing her Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 character’s attributes. Ginell wants to raise her character’s Constitution score–her lowest at 8. To calculate how much of her adventure points it will cost to raise her characters Constitution score from 8 to 9, Ginell multiplies the current score (8) by 10. Ginell spends the 80 adventure point cost–raising her character’s constitution score to 9– leaving her character with 320 adventure points.
Conclusion & Final Score:
Original Score: B-
New Score: A-
Overall Value: A
There are a couple things readers should keep in mind when reading our updated review of Tunnels & Trolls v7.5. First, while our review does cover the most current and up-to-date version of Tunnels & Trolls, our review’s publication comes about one month before Flying Buffalo’s Rick Loomis and Steven Crompton (you can see part of our interview with Steven here) have told Terrible Gamers that the newest version of Tunnels & Trolls will be released–the kickstarter funded Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. This means that our current review will only accomplish what it set out to do–to be an accurate accounting of our opinions regarding Tunnels & Trolls–for the briefest of periods. When Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls is released, we promise to revisit the Tunnels & Trolls system. How long this will take Terrible Gamers is uncertain. We are not a website, as of yet, with a readership that is large enough to regularly inspire the game industry to send us review copies–and we understand. An outfit like Flying Buffalo, for whom Tunnels & Trolls is a labor of love, is no profit magnet like Wizards of the Coast. They cannot hope to give away copies of their products to everyone with a website and still be profitable.
This is the point where Terrible Gamers becomes about as entertaining as PBS or NPR during pledge week. The people who drive the content of this website, including our single donor who made this review possible (thank you!), are really our readers. We cannot dowhat it is we do without those of you who read our articles, join our community, or support our cause. As much as Terrible Gamers would like to bring you new content (and if it were up to Scott multiple articles a day) it is just not possible with the income we generate at the site ($15!) or our contributors generate at their day jobs. So, if you do want to support the site financially (believe us when we say we appreciate that you are here at all), there are two ways to can do so. First is to make your Amazon purchases by going through our Amazon store (you can click all the way through to Amazon) or through one of the links on our site. When you take the time to do this Terrible Gamers sees 4% to 6% of the total purchase cost. If you are feeling extra generous there is also the “donate” button at the bottom of the page.
Terrible Gamers also feels that it is important that you read the review in its entirety, not merely our concluding statements. In the case of our Tunnels & Trolls reviews this means reading our two other reviews (here & here) in addition to this one. A system like Tunnels & Trolls is very difficult to summarize in a few paragraphes. Tunnels & Trolls has many features–some of them you might like and some you might hate–so it really is worth getting the details.
With that nonsense out of the way, we will try our best to give you a quickly digestible version of our findings. From our first play tests of Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition to our recent encounter with Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 we noted that both games present a simple, easy to learn, and easy to play game system that requires very little investment of either time or money (v7.5 is a $15 download from DriveThruRpg and T&T 5e is available for free).
As in T&T 5th Edition, character creation in v7.5 is fast and easy. While the older version of the game, which relied on straight 3D6 rolls for attribute generation, tended to brutalize the players by creating large disparities between characters, v7.5 really brought Tunnels & Trolls in line with the character creation in more “modern” games, while still retaining Tunnels & Trolls “old school” feel. To do this Flying Buffalo provides three methods for making Tunnels & Trolls characters (all of which we discussed in great detail). These included rolling 4D6 per attribute (keeping the highest 3), rolling 4D6 eight times (keeping the highest 3) then assigning those scores to the attributes of a player’s choice, and a “point buy” creation system.
Tunnels & Trolls v7.5′s skill system remained largely unchanged from that of T&T 5th Edition. Skill challenges are resolved by the use of a saving throw against an attribute suitable to the task. Talents made an appearance in v7.5 which augment the Tunnels & Trolls’ saving throw mechanic, adding depth to the system and greater dimension to characters, without detracting from the overall simplicity of the game. We find v7.5′s method of arbitrating character actions to be very intuitive and think that it adds to the games ease and speed of play.
The combat system in v7.5 was more of a mixed bag. We like the ranged combat system, which we think accurately advantages ranged over melee combat. The melee combat system, while simple to use, suffers from that simplicity. While playing Tunnels & Trolls Solo Adventures it is not uncommon to find characters in combat encounters that they cannot possibly win, or worse yet, lose without even needing to roll a die. Combat in GM run games is a little better, but the combination of an entire group of players actions into a single roll of the dice really removes any sense of tactics or individual character contribution.
Magic in v7.5 is awesome. Terrible Gamers prefers “magic point” systems to “spells per day” systems when it comes to most role playing games (not every game can be Mage: The Ascension) and we felt that v7.5′s mechanics were sound. We also really have a strong affection for the irreverent, comical, and sometimes satirical spell names found in Tunnels & Trolls.
Finally, Terrible Gamers thinks that the changes made to the Tunnels & Trolls’ character advancement scheme in v7.5 were a vast improvement to the rather odd rules found in Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition. The rules that had players multiplying, dividing and adding their new character level to certain attributes were replaced by a simple “experience buy” system where players spend their experience to raise attribute scores in increments of 1.
At just $15 dollars Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 provides a whole lot of bang for your gaming buck. After purchasing our copy at DriveThruRpg we were more than pleased when we discovered that our download contained 9 pdf files. These were:
- Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 Rule Book–over 175 pages of content, including everything you need to play any of the published Tunnels & Trolls adventures (besides the adventures themselves).
- Tunnels & Trolls: Codex Incantatem–51 pages of Tunnels & Trolls spells.
- Tunnels & Trolls: Hot Pursuit–a complete GM adventure for Tunnels & Trolls
- Tunnels & Trolls: Monsters & Magic–a 21 page Tunnels & Trolls bestiary
- Tunnels & Trolls: Monstrum Codex–an addition 41 page Tunnels & Trolls bestiary
- Tunnels & Trolls: Strange Destinies–a complete Solo Adventure for Tunnels & Trolls
- Tunnels & Trolls: Character Sheet
- A full color map of Trollworld
- 84 full color character and creature tokens
While we won’t take the time to review each of these fully, we will tell you that taken as a whole, the Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 PDF package provides more than someone might need to get started running games in Trollworld. In addition to 2 complete adventures, it seems to Terrible Gamers that this download contains every non-adventure Tunnels & Trolls supplement available.
v7.5 is a game that excels at what it was designed to be: an easy to learn alternative to more complex role playing game systems, which is suitable to even the most inexperienced group of players. Flying Buffalo deserves a tremendous amount of praise for being true to the original vision of game creator Ken St. Andre and for being willing to do what no other role playing game does–provide significant and continued support for solo, “choose your own adventure” style, game play. We whole heartedly recommend this game to anyone who has been looking for a light role playing game system as a beginning player, or to anyone who has always wondered what it would be like to have a single player tabletop role playing game experience.
We also encourage any gamers out there who already know and play multiple RPG systems to give Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 a shot. Terrible Gamers really likes Tunnels & Trolls v7.5. In fact, we like it so much that we decided as a group that v7.5 is going to be a game that we include regularly in our gaming rotation; that being said Tunnels & Trolls is not for everyone. As we noted in our multiple reviews (here & here) Tunnels & Trolls is not without its flaws.
We must admit that the “old school” feel of Tunnels & Trolls can be off putting in certain contexts. The ease at which characters can find themselves dead, particularly in the Solo Adventures, is something that reduced our “fun” level during a number of game sessions. Additionally, gamers for whom combat systems are an important considerations when making game choices need to think seriously before they pick up v7.5. We found our enjoyment of v7.5 combat is sometimes hurt by balance issues (magic items are still broken), the unimportance of tactics, and the lack of a sense of individual player contribution to combat outcomes.
Terrible Gamers does not want to leave this review on a negative note. While the game does have some flaws, and all games do, we really feel that Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 deserved its score of A-. There is no greater endorsement that Terrible Gamers can give to any role playing game than this: we leave this set of Tunnels & Trolls reviews (here & here), for now (Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls ships in October 2013), with a game that we have adopted for use in some of our personal gaming sessions.
I was pretty excited about taking a look at Firefly: The Role-Playing Game (Firefly: RPG) after our Gen Con interview with Christi Cardenas and Tony Lee (the details of which you can find here). Not only was I genuinely intrigued by what I was hearing about Margaret Weis’s design philosophy when it came to building a game for a product license as huge as Firefly, but the people at Margaret Weis Productions were the first to treat me like an honest-to-god journalist.
This meant that Christi and Tony were actually enthusiastic when it came to talking to me and did not shy away from any of the strange questions I was asking about what impact they felt that their new Firefly: RPG would have on the broader gaming community. It also meant that at the end of our conversation, without me even asking, Daniel (Terrible Gamers Business Editor) and I were given both physical and electronic copies of the Firefly: The Role-Playing Game Gen Con 2013 Preview.
And while Terrible Gamers as a whole has not had time to do the play test that would be necessary for us to give you a complete review, I did have the opportunity to read through the book multiple times. So while you are reading this article please keep in mind that this is not a review. They are my initial impressions of a preview of a the new Firefly: RPG ,which were not derived from actual game play. You may take from this that my overall impression of the game was bad, that is not the case. And this caveat–think this is impression of the new Firefly: RPG Preview and not a review while reading it–applies to my thoughts both good and bad.
With that out of the way, let us get to it!
Firefly: The Role-Playing Game Gen Con 2013
The new Firefly: RPG looks to be an interesting game. If you who have played a game in Margaret Weis’s first pass at making a role playing game in the Firefly universe–Serenity: The Role-Playing Game–the Firefly: RPG will probably be familiar. The game itself uses the Cortex Plus rule system developed by Margaret Weis Productions and was originally used in the Serenity: RPG. For those of you who were like me and were only passively aware (or weren’t aware at all) that there was a Serenity: RPG, the Cortex Plus system seems to be exactly as it was described to Terrible Gamers by Tony Lee. It is a system that is best summed up as “narration with structure.”
To really get a grasp on this you have to understand that both the Cortex Plus system and the both of the Firefly: RPGs began as a labor of love. Margaret Weis was so impressed by Joss Whedon’s television show Firefly and his follow up film Serenity that she embraced the idea of creating a game system that would allow Firefly fans to continue having adventures in the ‘verse despite the fact that the television series had come to a premature end. This meant creating a game that not only captured the ethos and episodic narrative structure of the Firefly television series, but also appealed to all of Firefly‘s fan base, including those who had little to no experience with role playing games. Since large portion of Firefly’s fans are women, this also meant (as we discussed in our introductory article) actually thinking about building game whose mechanics appealed to a potential player base often neglected by other games.
To do this Margaret designed a system that attempts to maximize a player’s ability to guide the narrative direction of a game–individual game sessions are called “episodes”–with the Gamemaster. For instance, during game play the player characters are often awarded with “plot points,” which they can spend on things like creating temporary assets to help the character. A good example might be a character walking into a bar and finding herself surrounded by people looking for a fight, only to spend a “plot point” to remember that she is a well known bar fighting bad ass in this part of town, and is thus intimidating as hell to her would be assailants.
Any character action that involves some level of uncertainty, like in most games, requires a dice roll. The player or Gamemaster assembles a dice pool of some combination of D4s, D6s, D8s, or D12s and attempts to “raise the stakes” by matching the sum of the two highest dice scores with a predetermined difficulty level. For example, if a player rolled three dice whose scores were 2, 4, and 7 the two highest (4 and 7) would be added together and the total (11) compared with a number (maybe 10) representing the difficulty. Match or roll over the difficulty the character succeeds. Roll under the difficulty means the character fails. Succeeding at a skill roll means that you were successful at what you were trying to do. Succeeding by a lot means that you get awarded things like the “big damn hero die,” which characters can bank to use later. Failing these skill checks can mean anything from a player gaining “complications” to being “knocked out” of a scene.
Successes, failures, and die rolls in general all come with the potential for inserting narrative bits to the game. Players and the Gamemaster can chose to cash in their banked complications and advantages, plots can twist with each new “complication” earned by the players, and plot points can be spent to stay in the scene even if you have been knocked out. For example, even if a character is successful at any given task, a roll of a 1 on any of the dice in the dice pool automatically generates a “complication.” This could mean that a character can successfully punch out the ex-Alliance soldier who was talking shit about her units performance during the war, but since since the player rolled a 1 on one of the dice, she has just knocked out the son of the planetary governer.
I do really like how the mechanics in the Firefly: RPG add to player participation and create narrative opportunities for everyone sitting at the gaming table. As I said when giving my initial impressions of Fantasy Flight Games’ new Star Wars: RPGs I really value this in a game. So I think that the Firefly: RPG should really be commended for this. What I am unsure about is how the Firefly: RPG’s mechanics would play out in a game. I am a bit concerned, as I am with many games that focus heavily on narrative fiction and only provide light rules to moderate that fiction (Apocalypse World comes to mind), that the player/GM interaction can become difficult to manage. This is particularly the case with players who are new to the hobby. Allowing your players to dictate with impunity what happens in a game’s story can quickly overwhelm new GMs.
I also really appreciated how the Firefly: RPG Preview dealt with character creation. Character’s are largely built around a set of “distinctions” that really give starting characters a lot of depth. These distinctions typically expanded on someone’s past or career and have tangible in-game effects, which require players to be constantly inhabiting their characters. Most impressive though is the fact that the Firefly: RPG contains full character and ship creation rules in addition to a list of template characters. What is more, the list of template characters is quite impressive.
There are 19 unique character templates, including templates representing the characters from Firefly, for players who want to jump right in and start playing. Including the character creation rules and a multitude of templates allows players to get a lot of mileage out of the Firefly: RPG Preview. This is unlike any other RPG Preview/Beginner’s product I have encountered. Most other games only include around 6 template characters and give absolutely no indication of how a player might go about designing their own unique character for a game–I’m looking at you Star Wars: Edge of The Empire Beginners Box. Compared to the Firefly: RPG Preview every other game preview sucks in this regard.
Finally, on a more personal note, I must confess that I found the game terminology confusing from time-to-time. I suspect that this is due to the fact that I have been role playing for many years, and I am used to more standard gaming conventions when it comes to describing game mechanics. So it is entirely possible that the excessive television terminology I found burdensome–plot points, big damn hero dice, etc–would be more natural for others.
Outside of the presentation of the Cortex Plus system, the Firefly: Role-Playing Game Gen Con 2013 Preview contained a number of other resources for new players. These included a description of the Firefly ‘Verse, a synopsis of the events from the Firefly television show, the first 2 adventures from the Firefly: RPG’s adventure series Echoes of War, and a guide to role playing games for new players.
While I did not need a refresher on the Firefly universe or the television series, I think these are great resources to have. While the Firefly: RPG is intentionally aimed at people who are already Firefly fans, I do think there is something compelling about Joss Whedon’s setting that is attractive to people who haven’t seen an episode of Firefly. Having the universe explained does a great job of selling the setting to those people.
I was impressed with the inclusion of the synopsis of the television series because I think it could serve as a great resource for new role players and GMs who have picked up the Firefly: RPG and have made it through included adventures. This helps to eliminate, at least in a small way, one of the biggest barriers to new GMs–writers block. It did, however, cross my mind that new players might actually try to play “episodes” from the television series, which the Firefly: RPG actually encouraged.
I do not think this is a very good idea at all, particularly if the players in such a game were avid Firefly fans. My experience is that such adventures rarely end well, particularly when something happens that disrupts people’s understanding of a story’s cannon. Imagine, for example, playing in a Star Wars: RPG where the players accidentally kill Luke Skywalker on Tattooine, blow up the Millennium Falcon, or a player in control of Luke Skywalker decides that he does, in fact, want to rule the Galaxy side-by-side with his dad. This is just bad, trust me. I’ve seen people nearly come to blows when things like this happen in a game.
Finally I had very mixed feelings about the two published adventures from Echoes of War–Wedding Planners and Shooting Fish. Both of the scenarios were very well written, and while I don’t usually run “canned” scenarios myself, I would not have a problem running these; however both suffered from a pretty big issue. While the scenario authors do encourage players to bring in their own “crew” to the scenarios if they wish, the stories were written and designed around the characters from the Firefly television series (see my comments above for why this can be very, very bad).
First Impressions: Conclusion
So now is the time where I sum it all up for you. Do I think that Margaret Weis Productions succeeded in making a game that has the episodic narrative feel of Joss Whedon’s Firefly? Does the game appeal to the broad audience it was aimed at? It is almost impossible for me to tell without actually running the game myself.
What I found in the Firefly: The Role-Playing Game Gen Con 2013 book was encouraging. I am always happy when games try to find mechanics that allow for a more participatory experience for players. I was also happy to see a number of resources that are actually useful to people picking up role playing games for the first time, or trying to play in the Firefly universe for the first time.
My complaints about the system are not really complaints as much as they are uncertainties. There is something about the Cortex Plus system that makes it read just a little too freeform. I have concerns about whether or not the new role players that the Firefly: RPG hopes to attract, particularly the new GMs, could become overwhelmed by the narrative freedom. I also worried that the published adventures reliance on the actual Firefly television show characters might have unintended consequences by reducing the “fun” factor for some fans.
For a more definitive accounting of Firefly: The Role-Playing Game you will just have to wait until Terrible Gamers actually gets a chance to play the game. When that happens you can expect a very detailed review of the game to show up here! Until then, if you are feeling generous, you can help us out by making purchases through our Amazon store (come on you were going to buy stuff from them anyway, right?) And if you are feeling extra generous you can always click on the donate button!
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(c) Scott Mills 2013