Saturday, 8 February 2014

2013 Retrospective

As per usual, my 2013 Retrospective is late again, with better reason this time I believe. I've spent a bit more time considering the past year as well, and have broadened out my choices. Hopefully it'll be less hodgepodge this year than the previous!

Now, without further ado I present...

Jerreth Esq's Choice Selections of 2013

System of the Year:

The Cypher System (Numenera)

Strikes the perfect balance between more traditional RPGs like d20 or Pathfinder and more indie freeform RPGs, making it easy for either player to grasp the simple concepts and mechanics; design, develop, and customise their characters how they'd like. The system really places the power in the hands of the players by making all the dice rolls player driven, never keeping the game bogged down in adding mods or in the dark with hidden DCs. Intrusions are used by the GM to guide the developing story by rewarding players. The Strange, also looks the utilise the Cypher System, making the two cross-compatible. This post further details my impressions.

System Runner-up:

Fate Core Edition

When it comes to being able to make a easy characters and setting truly customisable, you can't get much better than Fate Core. Just the Core book alone is more than enough for the GM and players to collaboratively develop the setting and characters they want to play, whilst the additional core line books provide additional extras to make characters and settings pop. Also the Fate rules are so balanced and modular, there's no worries about breaking the system via this customability. I have yet to write a proper post of my impressions of the Fate Core line as a whole, other than briefly touching upon it in this post.

System Honourable Mention:

Star Wars RPG (FFG)

I'm willing to admit (again), I'm a huge Star Wars Fanboy, so I was really able to get behind this system/setting pairing early in the year. But now I've cooled a bit seeing how FFG is handling their Star Wars RPG line: some decent adventures, but some of the same old mechanics with the Age of Rebellion Beta and career splat-books makes me wonder if the publisher aren't breaking much from the mould of WotC's Star Wars line. Less rules minutiae and more new general mechanics I think is the order. You can read more about what I had to say in impressions Part 1 & Part 2.

Setting of the Year:


I love the setting of Numenera, possibly more than the system itself; it's blend of far future science-fantasy is a setting that has been little explored in RPGs, and I truly instills a sense of wonder in me. It doesn't have to conform to either fantasy or sci-fi tropes to explain-away anything; and that is liberating to players and GM. The are very few RPGs I've heard of let alone seen that have such a unique setting as Numenera. Again, this post further details my impressions.

Setting Runner-up:

The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild

I think represents the world and themes of Middle-Earth very well; though character creation and rules tend to be complex and at times confusing, the majority of all mechanics are based in the setting lore and not so generic as if you were trying to run The One Ring in a generic system like d20 or a basic Fate conversion. By far one of the nicest looking products I've come across this year, and have been gobbling up.

Setting Honourable Mention:

The Day After Ragnarok (FATE)

Kenneth Hite's pulpy, post-apocalyptic world is a mash-up that tickled my fancy so much when I was given a PDF with my Fate kickstarter bundle, I went I pre-ordered a print copy of it from Atomic Overmind Press (hopefully it'll arrive soon!). The setting itself is pretty unique, and the fact the team spent a bit of time making sure it can be inserted into a pre-existing Spirit of the Century game is also a huge plus in my book! The one thing worth mentioning aside from the broad but vague setting, is this book has random tables much more than any other Fate book I've seen. Finally, I'm still making slow progress on Strange Tales of the Century, but out of the two DAR seems a much better deal for perspective pulp GMs.

Adventure/Supplement of the Year:

The Devil's Spine (Numenera)

Whilst I may be beginning to sound like a broken record with my Numenera praise, The Devil's Spine is by far the best collection I had the fortune of reading over in 2013. Not only a collection of three adventures, each can be treated as treated as standalone or as part of a nonlinear mini-campaign, along with some additional material and setting that can easily be added to any existing campaign. The writing by Monte Cook is superb in every aspect, and it easily can be rated the top representation of the weird and wonderful world of Numenera.

Adventure/Supplement Runner-up:

Tales from the Wilderland (The One Ring)

If you're a fan on The One Ring RPG, and/or like stories set in Middle-Earth, then Tales from the Wilderland is worth checking out. A collection of seven adventures for ~$30 is an excellent deal I believe, especially if those stories can linked together to form a yearly campaign. Some might baulk at the linearity of some of the presented scenarios, but they all offer new themes and settings throughout the Wilderland that should keep your company interested and invested. If you're familiar with any other part of the line, you know Tales be nicely presented and art-filled.

Adventure/Supplement Honourable Mention:

Beyond the Rim (EotE)

Written by SWRPG legend Sterling Herhsey, I was totally into the hardcover mini-campaign that spans three episodes that touch upon a variety of planets, themes, etc. As to be expected it has a well-written, if a bit linear, overarching story. It would possibly be higher on my list if I hadn't come across something so jarring in the second act: (*Spoiler Alert*) I found the description of the "arboreal octopus" rather inconsistent with the image provided, not to mention this is Star Wars! Call it anything but what it is! Anything but would be better than "arboreal octopus", because I find that name so bad it is burned in my mind forever. It's early D&D monster bad!

Storytelling of the Year:

Fate Accelerated Edition (with Fortune Cookie Fate variant)

Although my variant was detailed in this first post of 2014, I got to actually ran it in late December, so I consider it a worthy contender for my retrospective. FAE showed its extreme flexibility that I was able to quickly and loosely throw together a theme (Benevolent Zodiac Delivery Force), my players were rapidly able to create characters within it, and we were quickly off enjoying ourselves in the fast-paced roleplaying that that group is wont to do, a while testing out my "Fortune Cookie" houserule idea. The fact that FAE was able easily support all of these without getting in the way cements it as a go-to system for those who want to focus on telling a good story above all else.

Storytelling Runner-up: 


I had the opportunity to play the innovative storytelling game Dread a few more times in 2013 and I absolutely love it. Dread has a amazing visceral resolution mechanic that you won't find in any other RPG, and the focus on character and the story are paramount in play. The one downside that might be seen is that Dread only really works for one-off sessions given its lethality, but this can be an oversight: who cares about growing characters when single sessions can be this intense! I'm willing to go far enough to suggest if you're a fan of the themes and setting of a horror scenario but not so much the system and mechanics, run it Dread and you will not be disappointed.

Storytelling Honourable Mention:

Hillfolk: DramaSystem 

First off, I want it known I placed Hillfolk in my third place Honourable Mention only because I have yet to actually run it. I read it and wrote my thoughts and impressions on this unique game back in November last year, so one can easily read my of it review if they wonder what it's all about, I highly recommend Hillfolk to players and GMs alike who place emphasis in their games on long-term narrative.

PDF of Year:

Vortex (Numenera)

Again with the Numenera praise! If The Devil's Spine is the must-have physical book, then Vortex is the must-have PDF. Around 18 pages Vortex is two-part sandbox adventure that showcases the truly weird and bizarre that the Ninth World has to offer players. The first in Monte Cook Games 'Glimers' PDF line and the GenCon 2013 launch scenario, I've had the chance to run Vortex a few times locally and at a convention, and always had a great time. The price of $5.99 might seem steep at first, but I think its worth every penny.

PDF Runner-up:

Dead Light (Call of Cthulhu)

Having backed the kickstarter for the upcoming revised 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu, I was pleasantly surprised when I recently received a download code for a free PDF copy of this scenario. Dead Light is a short adventure that can be easily inserted into an ongoing campaign puts the investigators in a survival-horror situation for a single night. The art and layout are good, if in the usual monochromatic pallet. Although written specifically for 7th edition, the scenario also contains a few pages dedicated to converting it for older editions, and allows Keepers who are on the fence on picking up the latest edition to see the changes made before they commit any money. This 36-page PDF is available to non-backers at $6.95 at the Chaosium webstore.

PDF Honourable Mention: 

In Strange Aeons - Lovecraftian Numenera

$2.99 at DriveThruRPG nets you 12 pages of Lovecraftian horribleness for Numenera: Monte talks a bit about the nature of cosmic horror and how it relates to the setting and themes of the Ninth World, and further supports this with a slew of new descriptors, NPC "skins", and several mind-bending mythos creatures of the known variety.

One possible oversight on behalf of the author was the yithians physically described are the commonly depicted of the "rugose cone" variety, with no mention of the Coleopterous race to be inhabited by them in the far future after mankind is gone. The far future and posthuman are subjective of course in the billion year history leading to the Ninth World, but it begs questions that further relate to the setting; did humankind die/leave Earth at one point for the Great Race to project themselves through time and space into the bodies of the "beetle folk" inhabiting one of the prior Eight Worlds, only for humankind to return; or is the possibility still yet in even farther into future that the doomed humans are finally extinct? Given the amount of consideration and writing I've given this already, we'll forgive Mr. Cook for keeping the page count lower by not opening that can of brainworms. GMs of course are welcome to take my musings for use in their games. :)

Nevertheless, I believe In Strange Aeons is a large boon for Numenera GMs that want to inject a little lovecraftian horror into their games.

Non-RPG Game of the Year:

Android: Netrunner

After playing Magic: The Gathering for many years, I eventually folded having growing tired of the various criticisms I had with it (like essentially paying to win). I was ready to swear off competitive card games, even after briefly dabbling in FFG's Star Wars LCG, when I was taken by Android: Netrunner. The details of such can be read here. Since then I've been collecting every Data Pack and Deluxe Expansion that has been released, and playing as much possible (which originally had been few a far between, but has been more frequent lately since a local meta meets every Tuesday at the boardgame cafe). I'm by far neither the best or worst player, but I enjoy the playing Netrunner without the frustration I felt in the past, because of the card format I know makes an equal playing field for everyone.

Non-RPG Game Runner-up:

Shadows Over Camelot

I really like this boardgame; I've stated before it has to be one of my top favourites. I've played it a few times now and it's still pretty fresh; last time we actually had a traitor in our midst, but still managed to win the day! I've also mentioned to my buddy who owns Shadows Over Camelot that there's an expansion called Merlin's Company that gives additional 7 knights and the wizard himself that now up to eight players can choose from, along with various additional cards and rules to add more depth to the game. I'm sure we'll be trying it out in in the future.

Non-RPG Game Honourable Mention:

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

X-Wing is another one of those games (of the miniatures variety this time) that I currently collect more of than get the chance to play. Like Netrunner, none of my close friends really own it or play, but I do have a friend who really enjoy playing it as much as I do, so we meet and play every few months. I hope play will be more frequent as our FLGS now has a league on Saturdays that I plan on regularly attending next week, because I sorely need practise. Plus all the future expansions FFG is teasing makes the fanboy part of me drool.

Notable Events of 2013

Here's a brief overview of some of the notable events I attended the past year, and how they're looking in 2014. Feel free to skip it.

Wow, its a lot to think that almost a year ago was GottaCon V, where I ran my first convention RPG session. The next GottaCon (Feb 28th to Mar 2nd) is coming up fast and though I plan on attending and need to sort that out soon, because of recent events I probably will not have the opportunity to run any RPG events as much as I'd like to. (I'd like to run my Fortune Cookie FAE at a public forum to really test it out, plus I think it'd be heaps fun. And I still have my idea for an updated Spirit of the Century or Cosmic Patrol game that has some props/swag made using the Pulp-O-Mizer! I'd also like to run Numenera and/or Star Wars: Edge of the Empire with prizes as little Star Wars Lego things.)

The beginning of June 2013 was the fourth Victoria Steam Exposition for us local steampunks, which me and the Missus' had loads of fun volunteering at. We're eager at this time when and where the next VSE will be held; perhaps I'll actually run a game-related event or two this year, steampunk-themed of course.

Later in the month was Free RPG Day, you can read my account of it here if you missed it, and don't forget the Free RPG Day of 2014 is on June 21st! We all await to see what's available for grabs this year!

Mid-July of last year I got the honour of attending the 13th Annual Froth Barrel Tourney held in Nanaimo. I really hope to attend this year, and am curious the theme and system they'll be using.

August was the Day of Gaming at UVic, I ran a session of Escape from Mos Shuuta from the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game for a full group that went well. I missed my chance to try out Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, but I got played a bit of Netrunner instead and met some people. Hope this event gets run again in this year.

October I took some time off and visited old friends on a gaming holiday, after the Missus and I participated in the fun but wet 3rd annual Tweed Ride Victoria. On the holiday I got the chance to really put Numenera through its paces, along with the chance to run the EotE Free RPG Day adventure Shadows of a Black Sun/Under a Black Sun for the first time. It's also worth note that around this time believe I started fully developing symptoms pertaining to my VHL complications that gradually increased over the next few months. I was planning on attending the No Hunger Games event the following weekend, but I not feeling well and work prevented me from doing so.

Mid-November was Concentric at UVic, where I ran Numenera (I still intend on getting together with my players and finishing the second part of the Vortex) and played a few RPGs like Dungeon World and my friend's Call of Cthulhu/Dread hack, and leaving with a couple door prizes. I attended the Day of Boardgamers IV at Interactivity Board Game Cafe the following weekend and much fun was had. Tentatively rumours have begun to circulate of another Day of Boardgamers.

And that's my recap of 2013! Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

Cheers to 2014! ;{١

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