The Force Awakens: A Star Wars Mirror Universe

Well, it’s been awhile and needed to sit down and write about something this weekend, and since it’s on my mind this week, I’ll go ahead and talk about the new Star WarsThe Force Awakens has had a good reception, and it was great seeing it over the holiday with my family.  Since then, seen it two more times with friends, so have a little bit of perspective on it by now.  For those who haven’t seen it yet, spoilers ahead, so stop reading!

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Retro Reviews: Glorantha, Introduction to the Hero Wars

Glorantha, Introduction to the Hero Wars is one of the first supplements to be written for Hero Wars line by Issaries, Inc.  It’s the 253-page crash course for Greg Stafford’s fascinating and complex game world – one that has existed since 1978 in various incarnations, but most famously through Chaosium’s (and later Avalon Hill’s) RuneQuest.  In that respect, Glorantha, Introduction to the Hero Wars has a lot to live up to, and the fact that it is the core world for the Hero Wars line adds more pressure to deliver the goods.  For those new to Glorantha, the Issaries supplement is the only in-print, all-inclusive guidebook to the key game world for Hero Wars.  For RuneQuest alumni, the closest out-of-print comparison is the 8th boxed set by Chaosium and Avalon Hill for RuneQuest 3rd edition: Glorantha: Genertela, Crucible of the Hero Wars.

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Funcom’s Trying Something New with The Secret World

Well, it’s been a few months since The Secret World (TSW) launched, and of the new games arriving – Guild Wars 2, Mists of Pandaria – this is the one I find myself returning to.  A big part of the reason is the setting – there’s simply no other game quite like it.

The Setting

The Secret World is set in the modern day, but with one critical difference – the stuff of dreams, nightmares and mythology have begun manifesting in the waking world.  Zombies, Lovecraftian horrors, ghosts, the wendigo and sasquatch of indian legend, Slavic vampires and more have made their way into our countrysides and cities, all with the seeming intent of destroying our world.  There’s a hint at some kind of power behind this invasion, and player characters begin their creation by being “selected” somehow by a mysterious force, (imparted by magical “bees”) that imbue them with extraordinary powers.

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Retro Reviews: Escape From Innsmouth

Escape From InnsmouthOccasionally, I will be posting old reviews I did for The Gamer (print only) magazine back in the 1990s, and consolidating them here.  You can also find these reviews on rpg.net.

Another in the line of Lovecraft Country supplements, Escape From Innsmouth details the decaying seacoast town infamous for its ‘fishy’ inhabitants.  The cover–a young man hiding behind a wall as the shadows of strange, webbed things pass by in the night–is excellent, and joins the fine art Chaosium is doing for the Call of Cthulhu game these days.  The interior pencils are nearly as good, and the layout in general is sharp.  At 157 pages, the treatment of the town is an exhaustive one, although not altogether satisfying.

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What Other Games Can Learn from The Secret World’s In-Game Research

So The Secret World (TSW) went ahead and implemented something that, upon consideration, seems a no-brainer—they added an in-game web browser.  Hit the “B” button and you’re taken to Google, and from there, you have access to the entire internet from within the game.  In makes complete sense for an MMO set in the modern day, especially given the need to research clues and solve things like Morse Code puzzles.  Sure, we could do all that in an outside browser as well, but having the browser right there not only keeps the player in the game, but also makes for a more immersive experience.  In several quests, it’s actually necessary to browse out to a website created by the TSW developers to solve the puzzle.  Given the number of times I’ve popped out of other games to look up information in the browser, I’m wondering why more games haven’t attempted to present their lore in-house.

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Retro Reviews: Shadows on the Borderland

Shadows on the BorderlandOccasionally, I will be posting old reviews I did for The Gamer (print only) magazine back in the 1990s, and consolidating them here.  You can also find these reviews on rpg.net.

You can tell when a designer truly cares about the material he’s writing, not just by the amount of detail included, but by a sense that he has been to the place he’s describing, that he’s spoken to the people who live there. From the understated front cover, which illustrates the discovery of a skull-decorated temple (and a fresher specimen in the foreground) to the deranged wallmarkings drawn into the margins of the reference section, the authors have crammed this brooding, 104-page supplement with enough adventure to keep players engaged for a good long while.

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The Secret World and Level-Free Systems

In 1978, just about 11 years after TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons burst onto the scene, a company called Chaoisum introduced a new game: RuneQuest.  While there were many, many differences between RuneQuest and D&D, the one people point to most frequently is RuneQuest’s percentile-based skill system, and the fact there were no character “levels.”  In RuneQuest, rather than templated character classes (“fighter,” “cleric,” “thief,” etc.) with pre-defined abilities, you placed points into skills, and as you used them, each skill had the possibility to improve.  So a character might have especially good skills in longsword and shield if they were a fighter-type, or magical spells if they were a mage.  Even more of a shock, your “hit points” almost never increased.  Your ability to defend (parry or dodge or block with a shield), could become very high, but your base health stayed pretty much the same throughout your character’s life.  A lowbie character with a very lucky roll could defeat a high powered one who made a very bad roll—something unheard of in the D&D world.

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