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Quill: A Letter-Writing Roleplaying Game for a Single Player
Publisher: Trollish Delver Games
by Tim S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/20/2016 20:32:24

Originally posted at The Savage AfterWorld:


Sometimes in an RPG, your character's ability to swing a sword or pick a lock don't matter. In the world of Quill: A Letter-Writing RPG for a Single Player by Scott Malthouse, it all comes down to your PC's penmanship and eloquence.


In Quill, you take on the persona of a letter-writer who is trying to create the best missive to impress the letter's recipient. Do well, and the letter-reader might be impressed enough to reward you. Perform poorly, and the punishment could be dire. Everything that happens to your character comes down to your ability to write convincingly and with heart. (Although your real-life ability to write well is secondary to the gameplay, which will become clear during this review.)


In this unusually-styled RPG, you have six character classes to choose from that reflect professions with a literate background: Monk, Poet, Aristocrat, Courtier. Knight, and Scholar. Each class has three attributes reflecting their respective competence with the written word: Penmanship (how clean it looks); Heart (how heartfelt it sounds); and Language (how well it reads). Each attribute is rated Poor, Average, and Good, which reflects how many dice you roll when that attribute comes into play (1, 2, or 3 dice, respectively). So the Knight would write heartfelt letters (Heart: Good) but he would use commoner's slang when writing (Language: Poor). The Poet's turn of phrasing would be amazing (Language: Good), but his scribbles would be illegible (Penmanship: Poor). Finally, you can choose one of three skills (Inspiration (Language), Illumination (Penmanship), and Augmentation (Heart)) that reflect a one-time-use extra die roll when writing your letter.


Once you've determined your class, attributes, and personal skill, it's time to sit down and write to your letter which will consist of five paragraphs. To start, grab at least three 6-sided dice and choose one of the four scenarios in the rulebook. Each scenario gives you a profile of the recipient of your letter, and the subject you are writing to them about. For example, one scenario has you writing to the king informing him of your suspicions that someone in his court is a spy. Each scenario also gives you the Rules of Correspondence with special circumstances specific to the scenario that will give you a bonus or penalty if applicable. Finally, each scenario has an Ink Pot, a list of words -- both Superior and Inferior -- that you can use to increase your score. Roll well, and you may use one of the Superior Words in your letter, thus impressing the reader. Roll poorly, and you're stuck with phrasing that's a bit more gauche.


All Attributes and Skill checks allow you to roll as many dice as their value allows. If you roll a 5 or 6 on any of the dice, the check is successful. And that's the basis of the game.


To play, you begin writing your letter keeping in mind the information you're trying to impart as well as the profile of the eventual reader. Within each of the five graphs, you'll want to try to insert one of the Superior Words. When you reach that turn of phrase, you'll make a Language skill check. Succeed, gain a point and use one of the Superior Words in the Ink Pot. Fail the check, and blunder your way with one of the crummier words. Further checks are required anytime you want to try to impress the reader with Flourishes (fancy adjectives/adverbs scattered throughout) or by your Penmanship (make a check at the end of each paragraph to see if you're able to maintain your legibility). As you build your letter, you'll make checks versus your Heart, Language, and Penmanship scores, gaining points as you high the high points of your missive, and suffering penalties as you fumble your way through the low points. At the end of the letter, you'll total up your total score, then refer to the scenario's "Consequences" section to see how the reader reacted to your letter.


So how does it play? Admittedly, most of the game is an exercise in narrative prompt writing with a scoring system tacked on. Whether you do well or poorly comes down to a roll of the dice rather than any real ability of the player to write well. (However, most RPG results comes down to a roll of the dice anyway even if the player can't swing a sword or pick a lock, so it's not a fair comparison.) Overall, I really like the concept of the game as it's a different kind of role-playing. As I sat down as a Monk tasked to inform a close family friend of the death of his son, I found myself pondering the best way to approach the subject. I mulled over the most tactful and somber way to let him know...when it struck me that none of this was real. It was a role-playing exercise that had drawn me in and THAT is the mark of a good game.


That said, I think I'd like to find some time to noodle around with the mechanics and add some new challenges to the game. For example, having to deliver some unpleasant bit of information in your letter may start the player off with a starting negative score that must be overcome during play. Or perhaps a scenario could come with some hidden background text that, if mentioned in the letter, would add to or remove from the player's score. For example, after the game ends and the letter is written, the player would turn to another page with more background info on the letter reader. Perhaps any mention of the letter reader's parents at any point -- whom he hadn't spoken to in years due to a bitter fight -- might give a penalty to the letter's effectiveness. Or mentioning gold or riches to a reader who is secretly a covetous miser would give the writer a bonus.


I would also like to see the game expanded to have some scenarios that are a bit more fantastical in a future supplement. Perhaps there could be a scenario where a knight is about to embark on a rescue quest who needs to secure a powerful magical talisman from a cranky magic-user. Can he sway the arch-mage to surrender his cherished magic item? Or perhaps a monk could try to convince a known rogue to join his crusade against a tyrannical overlord. Heck, how about a series of letters to 4 different recipients where the player is trying to recruit the various members of a dungeon-exploration party? The success of each letter would bring a new member into the party, resulting in a more successful quest. And if everyone turns you down due to your lousy written missives, the player could end up dying alone in the depths of an arch-lich's catacombs!


In summary, I found Quill to be an unusually effective role-playing exercise as I found myself immersed in the scenarios I played, even if I found the mechanics of resolution a bit too random and not contingent upon the letter being written. I think the game could be tightened up a bit with some minor tweaks and additions to the gameplay, but that's just some personal preference sneaking in. I can see myself cobbling together a few scenarios of my own to share with the Quill-playing public in the future!


Quill: A Letter-Writing RPG for a Single Player is available as a Pay What You Want item (so you can try before you buy, if you wish), and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. Sniderman says "Grab your Quill and begin writing."



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Quill: A Letter-Writing Roleplaying Game for a Single Player
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The GameMaster's Apprentice: Base Deck
Publisher: Larcenous Designs, LLC
by Tim S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/19/2015 13:49:12

I'm a sucker for any product that claims to make a GM's life easier at the gaming table. Adventure creators, GM emulators, story prompts -- I really enjoy having something at-hand to help me through those unexpected "curves" your players toss at you.


"Oh, so you want to enter that room I never wrote up to follow that NPC I never fleshed out? Ohhhhh-kay...."


So I'm very pleased to have discovered The Gamemaster's Apprentice by Nathan Rockwood. This incredibly useful deck of 60 double-backed cards (120 card faces) gives the GM a TON of useful prompts, randomizers, seeds, and details for nearly any gaming occasion I can think of. It can also be used as a GM emulator for solo gaming. The deck is also system and genre-neutral, so you can use it with pretty much any game I can imagine.


Each card offers the GM 14 different "tools" at the table, with each card providing a randomly created element or prompt. If the GM is stuck, he pulls a card and runs with the result on the card. Just LOOK at the sheer number of tools found in the GM's Apprentice:



  1. Difficulty Generator: Here, the numbers 1 through 10 randomly appear. Distributed through a bell curve with 5-7 appearing most often as an "average", you can randomly determine how easy (1-4), average (5-7), or difficult (8-10) a given task is.

  2. Likely Odds: Need a yes/no answer to a situation? First determine the likelihood of a positive outcome, then pull a card to see if they succeeded or not.

  3. Dice: Each polyhedral dice is here, with an even distribution of outcomes across the 120 faces. (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20, d%). Don't have your dice on hand? Grab a card and find the result instead.

  4. Norse Runes: The runes correspond to a handy chart provided in the deck's instructions (provided as a free download). These symbolic prompts are meant to fuel your imagination as needed.

  5. Elemental Symbols: The symbols for air, earth, fire, and water can be literal prompts or suggestive for the situation.

  6. Random Event Generator: Each line here has a verb-adjective-noun layout. Pull three cards (one for each word) or just read the prompts as written for a random situation prompt!

  7. Sensory Prompts: Need to give the players something they can see, hear, smell, or feel in a scene? A random card draw give you some sensory clues for the players to act upon.

  8. Tag Symbol: The tags are used for another set of randomizers that correspond to a previously designed list of possible events or encounters, or just for symbolic interpretation.

  9. Scatter Die: Need to quickly determine a random direction? Check out the scatter die icon to see which way the path goes, the wind is blowing, or where that grenade landed!

  10. Possessions: What's in the NPC's pockets? The handy list gives the GM a way to determine a list of random objects.

  11. Names: What is the name of this random NPC? Pull a card an give him/her a quick moniker on the spot.

  12. Catalysts: These story prompts push the situation in unexpected directions when needed.

  13. Location: Where are they? Where do they need to go? Where is the Macguffin to be found? Each card has a unique location to explore.

  14. Virtue and Vice: What's so good/bad about a certain person? What habits do they have. Pull a card and give them some quick quirks.


As you can see, the many uses of these cards is staggering. You can create an NPC on the spot. You can use the deck as a game engine. You can flesh out a random scene or event. Story ideas and seeds can be created with just a few draws of the deck. I'm just beginning to discover the uses this deck has, and it has gone into my travelling game kit. I got the print version of the cards, and they're very good, high-quality. Sniderman says check it out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The GameMaster's Apprentice: Base Deck
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All For Me Grog
Publisher: Mount Zion Press
by Tim S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/15/2015 07:52:37

All For Me Grog is an RPG of piratical adventures on the high seas by Ryan Shelton of Mount Zion Press, and it's become one of my recent favorite games -- not just because of the theme and genre, but because of the incredibly simple system that powers this game. (And the other things it can do -- more on that later...) AFMG is less-concerned with reality, taking its cue instead from the swashbuckling, high-adventure pirate movies you'd see in a Saturday matinee, i.e., Treasure Island, Captain Blood, and (sigh, OK) Pirates of the Caribbean. The rules (only 32 tightly-constructed pages) is sprinkled with quotes from various buccaneer tales as well as plenty of illustrations straight from Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates. Just a quick thumb-through is enough to get your timbers a'shiverin'.


Characters in All For Me Grog have three primary attributes: Bloode, Skull, and Grog (effectively representing your physical, mental, and spiritual aspects, respectively). You have 9 points to divvy up amongst the three. Your character also starts with 9 points of Salt, which is more than just "hit points," but rather an overall score of "well-being." You can lose Salt when injured, sure, but you can also lose Salt in a battle of wits, if you fail at a task, or any number of downfalls. (But you regain Salt fairly quickly depending on how it was lost.) Finally, each character starts with 15 more points to split amongst a handful of Vocations (a general description of what you know or skills you have) as well as 3 final points to apply to any Embellishments (items you possess or secrets you know). So your new seadog (my ship's doctor, for example) could look something like this:


Sawbones McGuirk
Attributes
Bloode: 3
Skull: 4
Grog: 2
Salt: 9


Vocations
Doctor: 5
Swordsman: 3
Negotiator: 3
Lockpick: 2
Marksman: 2


Embellishments
Doctor's Bag: 2
Superstitions: 1


As for the game's resolution system, it's very simple. Anytime there's a risk or challenge involved -- whether swordfighting, lockpicking, moving stealthily past the city guards, etc. -- you need to roll as many dice as you have for the appropriate attribute plus any appropriate vocation. For example, for ol' Sawbones above, if he was trying to open a locked cell door, he'd roll 4 dice (Skull) plus 2 dice (Lockpick) for total of 6 dice. If he was trying to stop someone from bleeding to death from a gunshot wound during a pitched sea battle, he'd roll 2 dice (Grog, due to the pressure of the situation) plus 5 (Doctor) plus ANOTHER 2 for his ever-present doctor's bag, for a total of 9 dice. (You can never roll more dice than your current Salt level though, so the more you fail, the fewer dice you may have in your pool.)


What are you rolling against? Well, this is where it gets simple: you only need three "successes" to pass a task, and you're only concerned with dice that come up EVEN (in other words, a 50-50 shot on each die). So, if three dice comes up with even numbers, you succeed. The more dice in your pool, the better your odds. You can use six-siders, four-siders, anything with same number of odd/even sides. Personally, I like to use toy pirate coins (or "doubloons") for a heads=success; tails=failure randomizer.


There's much more to the AFMG system, but since the rules are fairly brief, I don't want to spoil the entire system in this review. There are rules for using Panache (like bennie points allowing you to reroll or change a scene for a more positive outcome) as well as contested risks, assists, healing, mass assaults, and ship-to-ship combat. (It's a pirate game, of COURSE there'll be broadside cannonfire!) Several tables in the back help you name and outfit your newly minted ne'er-do-well, plus some pre-created pirate NPCs, samples of treasure to be dug up, and names for your home ship.


And if you don't want to play pirates? The system is easily re-skinable! Wanna play a pulp '20s adventurer game? Rename the attributes something like Guts, Brains, and Moxie. Superheroes would use Power, Intelligence, and Reputation. Add some appropriate Vocations and Embellishments, and you're off and rolling. The flexibility is very appealing to me.


AFMG is a rules-light, but incredibly evocative RPG of pirate adventure. Plus the resolution system is incredibly simple and encourages players to roleplay a situation so that they can add more dice to that ever-important dice pool.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
All For Me Grog
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The Covetous Poet's Adventure Creator and Solo GM Guidebook
Publisher: Covetous Poet Publishing
by Tim S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/15/2015 07:48:49

I love writing adventures but I'll admit that sometimes it sucks waiting for inspiration to strike. (And when it does, there's never a piece of paper around to jot down that inspirational nugget of a concept.) That's why I'm THRILLED with The Covetous Poet's Adventure Creator and Solo GM Guidebook. This amazing guide basically inspires you with adventure concepts you may not have otherwise considered as well as walks you through designing and writing an entire three-act scenario, each broken into multiple scenes to challenge your PCs. There have been other "GM workbooks" released before, but this particular product has really struck a chord with me, and I'm getting a ton of use out of it in the short time I've had it. (The book can also be used as a "solo GM" supplement, much like the Mythic GM Emulator, but for purposes of this review, I'm just going to focus on the Adventure Creator side of the book.)


The Guidebook uses that old standby -- the series of random tables -- to generate inspirational "prompts" to guide you as you create. Using the sheets provided, you roll on a series of "Story Charts", fill in the blanks, then use your imagination to connect the dots and see where the plot leads you. The sheer number of results that could come up are astounding, as most of the tables use a d1000. (There aren't actually 1000 entries, but there are literally hundreds and hundreds of plot twists, places, things, and actions that could arise.) Frank Lee, the book's author and creator, has provided tables for fantasy adventure creation, sci fi adventure creation, and horror adventure creation. According to the Kickstarter page that launched this book, a superhero set of tables is in the works.


Frank encourages the adventure designer to work in a three-act format, guiding you through this process. After initially fleshing out the overarching theme and behind-the-scenes machinations of your Big Bad, as well as the series of events that bring the PCs into the scenario, you begin to work on the three acts of your adventure. In Act 1, the PCs begin poking around, meeting NPCs and generally determining the course of the adventure. In Act 2, challenges begin to surface and the PCs begin to assemble the pieces of the puzzle. In Act 3, the PCs reach the goal of the adventure and solve the mystery, fight the good fight, or otherwise reach the end of the game. (I'm super-simplifying the system for purposes of the review, but it really does work well.) If you don't want to create an adventure in three acts, the Guidebook explains how to create a One or Two Act adventure (for convention games or one-nighters), a Modular Act adventure (one part of a bigger multi-scenario picture, i.e., an adventure path), and a TV adventure (four scenes, one after the next, leading the PCs down the path, and everything's wrapped up nice and neat at the end -- or as I call it, "the railroad".).


At my blog The Savage AfterWorld, I used The Covetous Poet's Adventure Creator and Solo GM Guidebook to create a Cryptworld adventure from scratch, posting the rolls and worksheets, and letting readers follow along and watch as a scenario took shape into a fully formed adventure : http://savageafterworld.blogspot.co-
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Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Covetous Poet's Adventure Creator and Solo GM Guidebook
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Toypocalypse
Publisher: Top Rope Games
by Tim S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/15/2015 07:42:44

It's been 10 years since "The Great Dawning." For reasons unexplained, all of humanity has vanished, leaving behind a slowly decaying civilization. Also as-of-yet unexplained: the toys of the world -- mere children's playthings -- have become sentient and are now the masters of the planet. But playtime is over in this post-apocalyptic nightmare as the larger, stronger toys now rule with an oppressive iron fist. They force others to work in the stuffing mines, or to scavenge for batteries and needles and thread for power and upkeep. Those toys who escape subjugation must find his place in this lonely abandoned world -- the world of Toypocalypse.


Toypocalypse by Top Rope Games was written by Trevor Christensen as part of the 2011 24 Hour RPG contest. The game is super-tight, coming in at just 16 pages. But within those pages is a fascinating setting and an interesting dice mechanic. Let's take each in turn...


The Setting: As explained above, humanity is gone and sentient toys are now picking up the pieces of the world. The stronger powerful toys have stepped in as despicable tyrants whose word is law. The weaker playthings are enslaved and/or exploited. Those who escape are left to wander the wastelands, subjected to feral animal attacks or marauding bandits. It's an interesting juxtaposism of childhood joy and soul-crushing tyranny -- Toy Story meets Lord of the Flies meets The Road Warrior. (Visually, I see a world much like the movie 9.)


Players can choose any toy they want to play. Want to play a stuffed teddy bear? How about a battery-operated robot? Or a little green army man? Or a muscled action figure? Or even a Magic 8-Ball? Any toy can be fleshed out as a playable PC in this game, and the rules encourage this. The characters must also choose the toy's starting Condition (new-in-box, threadbare, corroded, etc.); Facets (broken, loved, discarded, assembly required, etc.); Movement (walks, rolls, hops, etc.); and Cognizance (sight, hearing, temperature sense). The player will also need to determine how the toy "fits" into this new world by deciding upon their social role (leader, schemer, mentor, zealot, etc.) as well as their public and private goals. Finally, there is a pool of pneuma (soul strength) and morale (conscious strength). When either of these is depleted, the toy is forever broken -- either physically or emotionally/mentally.


The Mechanics: Each toy has four attributes: Will (toughness/determination); Cognition (perception/aptitude); Versatility (dexterity/cunning); and Intensity (heart/soul). Rather than scores, each attribute is assigned a dice type. And each dice type represents how good a PC is in that attribute. Normal attributes are assigned 1d12 with no bonuses (so they can generate a random scale of 1-12 on a "Normal" roll); followed by Good (1d10 + 2 = a scale of 3-12); Great (1d8 + 4 = a scale of 5-12); and Superior (1d6 + 6 = a scale of 7-12). As you can see, the better your attribute, the higher your typical roll will be with that attribute. During play, an action attempt will be assigned a Target Number of 7 (average); 9 (Difficult); or 11 (Very Difficult). The player rolls the appropriate dice and must hit/exceed the target number to succeed.


Example: Mighty Man the action figure is trying to lift a car battery off of his pinned comrade. His Intensity is Superior, so he gets to roll a d6, adding 6 to the roll. The ref assigns a target number of 11 to succeed, so Mighty Man will roll between a 7 and 12 for the attempt -- a roughly 33% chance at succeeding in lifting the battery. (Better than My Little Unicorn who has a Normal Intensity who just gets to roll 1d12 for the attempt, so he'll roll a 1 to 12 -- only a 16% chance of success.) There are also rules for contested rolls and bonuses/penalties, but this is the gist of the roll mechanic.


And recall the toy's Facets, Condition, Movement, and Cognizance from earlier? A player can "invoke" these once during a play session. If they can roleplay how this comes into play, the ref can give them a +2 to a roll.


Example: Mighty Man is also "Cracked". The player explains that, as he tries to lift the battery, he curses the cracked hinge in his shoulder joint -- a permanent reminder of the rough playtimes he used to enjoy with his previous owner prior to The Great Dawning. The ref gives the player a +2 for the roleplaying and has him mark that facet as being "invoked" for this session. The player now will roll a 9 to 12 -- a 50-50 shot.


Toypocalypse has a separately available campaign setting supplement titled Toypocalypse Falls that was born of a successful Kickstarter campaign. The supplement describes a town where the hydroelectric dam still provides electrical power -- an abundance of riches! Rival factions vie for control over the resource, with Centaur Alpha trying to retain his position as de facto leader. The wise and secluded Librarians make plans in the shadows, while The Cult of Lilly Ann worship at the feet of the last surviving human. Add in several plot hooks and a full adventure (Tomb of the Purple Crayon), and you have enough inspiration for many evenings of Rise Of The Toys adventure!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Toypocalypse
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Quick Covers- Vol.5: Future Tech
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Tim S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/10/2012 14:31:54

Loved the look of this so much, I purchased it for use as the cover to my own RPG supplement. Fantastic work!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Quick Covers- Vol.5: Future Tech
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