Schlagwort-Archive: Rezension

[Rezension] Herbstlande

Die Herbstlande fielen mir auf, weil das Buch ein so wunderschönes Titelbild hat. Als der Herr Low mir dann noch sagte, dass es darin um märchenhafte Fantasy geht, habe ich es quasi sofort gekauft.

An guten Stellen kommt es an Ronja Räubertochter, Alice im Wunderland, die Geschichten von Michael Ende oder Andersens Märchen heran, mit einer unglaublich leichten, aber doch kraftvollen Sprache und einer fantastischen Welt mit fremdartigen, feenhaften Regeln, die so gar nichts mit der typischen Fantasy zu tun hat. Obwohl es in dem Buch um schwere Kost geht (um Abhängigkeit, Schwäche und Selbsterkenntnis), die mich teilweise sogar arg mitgenommen hat, lässt es sich unglaublich angenehm lesen. Ich kann daher sehr gut verstehen, warum diverse Fantasyautoren sich bereiterklärt haben, an einer Anthologie zu anderen Ereignissen aus den Herbstlanden mitzuarbeiten.

Leider verliert es an einigen Stellen im Oktober diese Leichtigkeit, wirkt regelrecht gequält. Die Rettung von der Gegenspielerin des Oktobers fühlt sich falsch an, als ob jemand anderes tut, was die Heldin tun sollte, und auch das Schicksal der Gegenspielerin fühlte sich überstürzt an. Als ob jemand diesen Teil in die Geschichte hineingezwungen hätte, obwohl er nicht mehr ganz passte. In diesem Kapitel wird der Heldin vieles von außen zugetragen, was von innen kommen sollte. Auch die Sprache wirkt in diesem Bereich eher staksig, verglichen mit dem Rest der Geschichte. Meine zweite Enttäuschung war das Ende, wo die Heldin ihre Veränderung erzählt anstatt sie zu zeigen: Hier etwas mutiger gekürzt und die Geschichte hätte profitiert.

Dennoch, ich habe dieses Buch mit Genuss gelesen. Die Schwachstellen dieses Buches liegen immer noch auf dem Niveau guter Fantasyliteratur, einzig im Vergleich zu den noch besseren Passagen des Buches fällt die Fallhöhe auf: Sie sind nicht schlecht, man merkt nur am sonstigen Niveau der Erzählung, dass sie noch besser sein könnten.

Wem die Monster und NSC in meinem Blog gefallen haben, dürfte auch dieses Buch mögen. Ich kann es daher guten Gewissens zum Kauf empfehlen. Es gibt noch einen Zusatzband, das Reisejournal, den man für die Geschichte aber nicht braucht. Ich überlege, ihn mir noch nachträglich zu kaufen, da er angeblich noch mehr Überraschungen aus den Herbstlanden enthält.

[Rezension] Sternmetall

Dieses Jahr habe ich auf dem Weg zur Feencon die Anthologie Sternmetall – Bulgarische Phantastik aus dem Verlag Torsten Low gelesen. Mein Eindruck von diesem Buch ist etwas zwiegespalten.

Einerseits waren es nicht die klassischen Fantasythemen, sondern leicht ungewöhnliche Ideen, auch der Schreibstil war in Ordnung. Ich konnte das Buch während der Bahnfahrt gut weglesen. Besonders die Geschichte Sternmetall, die auch der Anthologie ihren Namen gab, wartete mit einer fremdartigen und doch vorstellbaren Welt auf.

Andererseits fehlte allen Geschichten das gewissen Etwas. Sie fühlten sich nicht wirklich wie Geschichten an, sondern mehr wie eine Aneinanderreihung von Ereignissen. Auch dies wird in Sternmetall am deutlichsten, wo die Hauptfigur im Grunde nichts tut, außer zweimal (davon einmal auf Aufforderung) zu singen.

Insgesamt bleiben alle Figuren eher blaß, es gibt keine Konflikte oder Unsicherheiten, an denen sie wachsen oder sich verändern könnten. Besonders in der ersten Geschichte wird dies deutlich, wo die „unerwartete Wendung“ im Nachhinein als für die Hauptfigur äußerst konfliktreich beschrieben wird, nur in der Geschichte selbst nichts davon durchkam, weil der Autor sich zu sehr auf die (von mir als erste Lösung ins Auge gefasst und daher erwartete) „unerwartete Wendung“ fixiert hatte.

Man kann dieses Buch lesen, es ist OK, aber es hat mich nicht mitgerissen und daher kann ich es nicht guten Gewissens zum Kauf empfehlen.

Rezension: Sam Hamilton und der Silberstaub des Glücks

Ich hatte mir das Buch „Sam Hamilton und der Silberstaub des Glücks“ aus dem örtlichen Bücherschrank mitgenommen, weil ich etwas entspannendes für die Wartezeiten zum Lesen brauchte.

Zunächst einmal ein ganz großes Lob an die Autorin: Sie schreibt sehr angenehm und flüssig. Beschreibungen wirken wie aus einem Guss, Dialoge klingen natürlich. Damit hebt sie sich wohltuend von anderen (Jugend-)Fantasy-Büchern ab, deren verquaste Dialoge und weitschweifigen Beschreibungen mir das Lesen teilweise richtig verleiden.

Auch positiv anzumerken: Die Autorin läuft nicht stumpf an Fantasyklischees entlang, sondern bringt eigene Idee ein, ohne dabei bloß anders um der Andersartigkeit willen zu sein. Eine Bürokratie, die das Glück nach rechtlichen Gesichtspunkten zuteilt, per Marienkäfer zustellt und dabei unter der Fachaufsicht für Naturgesetze und Wahrscheinlichkeiten steht? Geheimagenten, die im Auftrag des Glücks das Unglück beobachten und bekämpfen? Unglücksraben, die tatsächlich zugeteiltes Unglück verteilen? Großartig!

Leider hat die Geschichte selbst einige Schwächen:

Sie soll angeblich in den USA spielen, fühlt sich dabei aber unglaublich deutsch an. Vornamen, Verhalten, Angewohnheiten, Bezüge, Popkultur, alles deutsch. Abgesehen von englischen Nachnamen und dem Hinweis auf bekannte amerikanische Städte könnte das Buch problemlos in Europa spielen, der Held von Hamburg nach Kückenshagen anstatt von New York nach Pinewood gezogen sein, das Kasino in Monte Carlo statt Las Vegas stehen. (Das hätte zudem den großen Vorteil, dass die Krähen dann im vorpommerschen Krähenbeer-Kiefernwald aufgetaucht wären, ein wunderbares Wortspiel).

Die Wirkung des Glücks ist widersprüchlich. Es soll laut Erklärung süchtig machen, wenn man es für eigennützige Zwecke einsetzt, aber von der Beschreibung her macht es nur süchtig, wenn man es einsetzt, um Geld zu kommen. Anderer eigennütziger Einsatz hat diese Auswirkungen nicht, während selbst uneigennützige Versuche, Geld zu erhalten, diese Auswirkung haben. Das Glück wird teilweise auch äußerst sinnlos eingesetzt, etwa um einen Fahrkartenschalter auf einem Bahnhof zu finden, während es in anderen Situationen, in denen es nützlich wäre (etwa, wenn sie die Hilfe eines Schaffners oder Polizisten bräuchten), komplett vergessen wird.

Dazu kommt eine seltsame Kombination von losen und offenen Enden. Es wäre z.B. sehr passend, wenn Tante Amanda erst durch Jaques so abergläubisch geworden wäre – stattdessen bleibt dies einfach eine seltsame Marotte, die nicht weiter erklärt wird. Ähnliches gilt für Lisas Koffer, über den zunächst großes Aufhebens gemacht wird, bloß um ihn dann zusammen mit allem anderen Gepäck im Zug zurückzulassen. Es wäre schöner gewesen, wenn sie den Koffer eingesetzt hätten, um irgendwas zu erreichen oder er sie in Schwierigkeiten gebracht hätte.

An einigen Stellen wirkte das Buch unangenehm aus der Zeit gefallen, obwohl es erst vor 14 Jahren (2003) erschien: Das liegt aber einfach daran, dass allgegenwärtiges Internet für uns heute selbstverständlich ist, während es 2003 mit DSL gerade richtig in Fahrt kam.

Dennoch, trotz aller dieser Schwächen hatte ich beim Buch nie das Gefühl, es liefe einfach Fantasyklischees um ihrer Selbst willen ab. Es könnte an einigen Stellen noch stimmiger verlaufen, die Charaktere weniger durch Klischees definieren, die Moral weniger dick aufzeigen. Allerdings sollte man bedenken, dass ich das Buch als Erwachsener lese und die Zielgruppe 10- bis 14jährige sind – da unterscheiden sich Erfahrungshorizont und Anspruch doch enorm.

Ich würde mir wünschen, dass Gunhild Eggenwirth an ihrer Fertigkeit für Plots und Charakterisierung feilt und weitere Geschichten schreibt, denn es hat viel Spaß gemacht, das Buch zu lesen. Ich glaube, sie wäre in der Lage, Geschichten zu schreiben, die sowohl Erwachsene unterhalten als auch Kinder ansprechen.

[Review] Minds Eye Theatre: Werewolf the Apocalypse

Minds Eye Theatre is the LARP version of the various rules for White Wolf’s World of Darkness setting. As I have little knowledge about LARP and do not particularly like it, I will mostly voice my opinion on how useful this book is for traditional pen-and-paper games instead.

I should mention that this book was a gift from Teylen, an avid World of Darkness fan and good friend. Otherwise, I have little connection to the WoD and rather play OSR games. Thus, I will not review the game in regard to WoD canon, but rather how well it stands on its own, and how it compares to the Vampire rules and the Gamma Slice I reviewed some time ago.

a wolf shaped tribal mask as cover picture.

Design and Organization

Generally, not much changed compared to Vampire: the Masquerade. There are 800 pages with dense writing and a couple full page pictures of werewolves that are probably meant to symbolize the different tribes (at least the symbols align with the symbols shown in the tribe chapter). The layout is not fanciful, but mostly well done. I would welcome markings on the outer margins to quickly find the beginnings of chapters, generally reading the book is easy, but finding something is difficult. Also, in some cases the book refers to terms that are only explained later without linking to them.

The short stories between the chapters are less coherent than the ones in Vampire. Where Vampire offers one character that leads you through the different steps of playing a Vampire, Werewolf constantly changes characters and mainly concentrates on beating stuff up. They do not help me at all in playing a werewolf, unless this is meant to be a tabletop skirmish game.

Background

Whereas Vampire played simply in a slightly more gothic version of our own world, the world of Werewolf is a dystopian post-apocalyptic version of our world. Just a couple years ago, the werwolves fought a host of invading Wyrm forces (the Wyrm is the main antagonist in Werwolf) to a standstill, hardly keeping any of their Caerns (sacred wolf’s den) intact.

Recently, they defeated several of their enemies though and even managed to find a way to create new Caerns. If they manage to keep them intact for a couple years, the damage will be healed. Of course, the Wyrm sends his forces to destroy them, and several other supernatural creatures are keen on using them for their own purpose as well.

The metaphysical background for the Werewolf worlds are three spirits: The Wyrm (destroyer), the Weaver (keeper), and Gaia (creator). Originally, all three of them kept each other in balance, but the Wyrm got caught in the Weaver’s net, and now everything is going down the drain because the balance shattered. Also, humanity used the chance to break free from the weaver, which somehow results in the world becoming more and more attuned to the weaver. That, again, prevents the werewolves from keeping humans developing technology (as Gaia commanded them), which in turn means that the werewolves cannot do their job anymore.

Except for the Red Talons (one of the werewolf tribes), nobody seems to mind though, and I absolutely do not understand why. Werewolfs were created to keep humanity in check, but mostly ignore them (and occassionally defend them against the Wyrm). Some werewolves even manage to live and work in cities, even though that should (by the rules) drive any human in their vicinity insane within less than two hours. In Vampire, I had a reason why my character tried to remain humane (and how he did so), but there is no such reason for Werewolves whatsoever. This makes Werewolves a much more monstrous game than Vampire in my opinion: In vampire you mourn for your lost humanity, whereas in Werewolf you simply do what needs to be done, in this case commiting as much genocide as you can with your limited ressources.

Shapechanger Society

Even though the game is called Werewolf, there are plenty other Fera (animals that can change into human form) around. They mostly get along, and are mechanically similar to werewolves. The biggest exception are the were-spiders, which are working for the Weaver instead of Gaia.

The organization of shaperchangers is much more convulated than that of Vampires. For Vampire, you decide for one of two sects and a clan. For Werewolves, you have the Garou nation (a confederacy of all werewolfs and some Fera), and a couple unaffiliated Fera. Within the Garou nation, there are two parties: The Confederacy of Stars (Progressive Shapechanger Party) and the Gaia Nation (Conservative Shapechanger Party). All tribes (and some Fera) belong to one of the two parties. Then you have tribes, a bunch of wolves who consider themselves related by blood and share certain characteristics. Within each tribe (and most Fera), you also find three camps (usually sages, rogues and fighters). On the last political level, werewolves belong to septs (villages) and packs. On a mythical level, they also have to choose an Auspice, which influences their abilities.

Even though there seems to be way more options compared to Vampire (which only had clans and sects), I feel much more shoehorned in creating my character. The games uses many of those units, but they seem incoherent and convuluted.

Rules

Werwolf brings a whole bunch of new rules along, but keeps the basis rules from Vampire with just a few cosmetic changes (supernatural beings are now allowed to use smartphones to call people and to send text messages, for example). You still play rock-paper-scissors to figure out who won, with skills acting as tie-breakers.

The rather simply Humanity and Blood mechanic of Vampire has been increased to a combination of Gnosis, Rage, Seethe, Harano and Wyrm Taint. All of those are gained and lost differently, and used for different purposes. Where in Vampire you may fall to the Beast that lurks within, in Werewolf you can fall victim to the Curse, into Frenzy or into Despair.

As additional social rules, there are Challenges, which regulate strife between werewolfs, and Moots, which solve political problems. This all on top of the system for Renown and Favours that were already introduced with Vampire.

Now, the news rules are not necessarily bad. Often, they are used for excellent effect, for example the combination of totem, sept and auspices is just great. It is just the sheer amount of different stats that are overwhelming.

Summary

After reading VtM, I had an idea how to play Vampire – after reading Werewolf, I was completely at a loss. After reading Vampire, I understood why the Vampires do what they do and why they are organized the way they are organized. With Werewolf, everything seems to be slightly out of touch, as if somehow artifically imprinted an external frame onto the setting. Vampire: the Masquerade could get away with medicore rules because of its immense flavour and evocative setting. With Werewolf, the setting seems just as mediocre as the rules.

I do not like Werewolf: the Apocalypse, it lacks everything that I liked about Vampire. I can only imagine using Werewolf as an inspiration for a setting of my own, but could not imagine playing it as written.

[Review] Yoon-Suin – The Purple Land

The Purple Land offers a setting inspired by the Indian subcontinent for OSR style games, including a description, plenty random tables and in-game essays. It was published by Noisms Games and is available as PDF and as print on demand.

The book starts with a 20 page in-game essay about the setting, described by a local scribe who found the journal of an Arabian traveller who deceased recently. For the most part, the text offers good in-game information that can easily be given to players as setting background, and focusses on adventure related topic. Occasionally, the text started rambling though and in those cases the flowery writing style jarred on my nerves. The bestiary suffered from this problem as well, where I suspect that plenty monsters with strange sounding names are just carbon copies of standard monsters. Otherwise, the book uses rather concise English.

There are also some problems with the layout. There is nothing wrong with a sparse layout and the book uses it to great effect, but some tables break wrongly or are difficult to read, and the bestiary could be better arranged as well. There are several other slips of the pen, as well.

On the other hand, I do like the pictures—they have their own style and are well drawn. It is just a pity they were not used as part of the layout.

The content is a treasure trove, offering methods to create almost all information about the setting one might need. There are plenty, extensive and useful tables for almost all kind of NPC, location or relation one might need in a typical campaign. Regardless whether one needs some bandits or a fishing village, an insane cult or a disciplined mercenary company, a cities form of government or the content of a caravan, the book has it—including adventure hooks.

The entire setting consists of eight regions, with obviously different styles, and random tables specifically adapted to that styles. Furthermore, there are about fifteen sample hexes for each region, ready for immediate use.

Beside these basics, the setting also offers some nice additions. I specifically like the rules with mishaps for figuring out a magical item’s properties through trial and error, and simple bulk trading rules.

Therefore, I can only recommend the book to everyone who wants one extensive and still rather traditional OSR style setting. Despite the book’s rather substandard design, it offers an excellent toolkit and will greatly help everyone who either wants to fill his campaign world with life.

[Review] The Chthonic Codex

The Cthonic Codex offers you to play in the Valley of Fire, where several great school of magicians compete with each other and send their apprentices on adventurous tasks. It was written for the 5MORE rules from the Adventure Fantasy Game, but brings also along compatibility information for OSR games. It was released by Lost Pages.

As the name cthonic codex implies, the setting takes place underground, in a series of canyons and tunnels beneath the Valley of Fire. Central are the five great schools of magic vying for power, but the two lesser schools, remnants of the squid empire, dragons and some other groups are involved as well.

The art in the book strikes me first. It is bizarre, sometimes eerie, but I find it very inspirational and the cover picture is just beautiful – definitely one of the most beautiful cover pictures for Roleplaying Games I have seen. (You can find very good photos of them on the publishers homepage: What’s in a boxed set: the picture post.)

As with Into the Odd, which is also distributed by Lost Pages, the layout is really horrible. Different fonts change seemingly without rhyme or reason, for example, within the monster manual all rules text is written in cursive to distinguish it from the monster’s in-world description – most likely because the different font meant to achieve this was not different enough. It does not help either that the “creature compendium” is listed as first book, even though it is difficult to understand without some setting information from “mysteries & mystagogues”, listed as the third book.

Furthermore, illustrations are merely used to adorn the book instead of a tool. For example, the very nifty setting and map creation rules are a description of how to draw something, completely in text. The box only contains the final result, but no sketches of how to get there – luckily, Harald already created illustrations for the different steps: Chthonic Codex: Chthonotron in action.

Once one gets through this mess, the setting begins to shine though. The magic, be it spells, fetishes, idols or even cantrips, comes with a different air, powerful but with caveats. Laws of magic influence the world, with the cause always remaining completely arbitrary for the characters. All in all, the magic in this setting feels somehow magical without going completely bizarre (even though sometimes it skirts weirdness).

Other than more traditional settings, you cannot use the Chthonic Codex out of the box. It requires some time and effort to familiarize yourself with the mindset and the rules, as it only highlights the important points and leaves it to the reader to draw the connections. That makes it very easy to customize the world to your needs (as Harald did in his Sylvan Realm), but of course also means you have to conjure your NPC from thin air.

Basically, this setting offers you a good approach to magic, turns academical disputes, higher education and university politics into adventurous stuff, and countless of inspiration to be included into any setting. While I would probably not use it as my main setting (except perhaps for a mini campaign), I will definitely sprinkle content from the codex into my other games.

[Review] Into the Odd

Into the Odd belongs to the games inspired by the hexploration gameplay that was re-popularized by the OSR. It does not try to emulate older versions of D&D, as many other OSR inspired games do, but follows its own way alltogether.

Within its 48 pages, the game offers a complete set of rules, an adventure, and a setting. The brevity demands a price though: The layout could do better. Page layout constantly changes depending on how much has to be squashed in, the illustrations are a hotchpotch of drawings, public domain pictures and photos. While this is not a problem when reading the book for the first time, it makes it difficult to find specific rules later.

The rules themselves fare much better though: They are concise yet flexible. For my taste they are slightly to light for long-term play, as I prefer a little more detail, but I could fully imagine to use them for one-shots or even mini-campaigns. Compared to games like The Black Hack, with their beautifully designed single resolution mechanism, Into the Odd feels a little rustic. Nonetheless, usability was definitely a key impetus during game design.

A great example for this is character creation: You randomly determine the value of your attributes, but the higher your values are, the worse your starting package (equipment, money, and other boons).

During game, all actions are resolved by either attacks (if you try to harm someone with a weapon) or by saves (everything else). An attack always hits, damage depends on weapon, circumstances and armour. Thus, even a character with low attributes can contribute fully on the majority of all actions. For a save, you need to roll below an attribute with a d20. These rules work on all scales, from individuals to structures, and organizations.

For magic and setting, Into the Odd follows the path of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or the works from Zak Smith (Vornheim, Read & Pleasant Land, Maze of the Blue Medusa). As those, it attempts to make magic less mechanical and more occult without laying it completely into the referee’s hand, and adding a level of weirdness to the setting.

Even though one only finds the most bare-bone description of the setting, it draws on so immensely powerful concepts and clichés that you immediately know what it is speaking about. Instead of your typical pseudo-medieval fantasy world, it implies a clearly industrialized setting with the urban metropolis of Bastion as its centre. Rural areas are dangerous and often abandoned, but home to ancient (and valuable) arcana. Bastion is already difficult to understand, but the farther you leave civilization behind, the less binding natural laws are – till they completely lose any meaning in the Far North, which is only implied in the book but described in further detail on the author’s blog.

Despite its accessibility and its author’s ongoing work, it lacks from support though. It is to different from standard D&D to easily integrate existing adventures or other gaming materials, those can be only used as inspirations. Thus, it cannot draw on the plethora of materials the OSR offers. It is a great game in its own right, but it lacks the weight of several decades of RPG to fight its way to the top, and for this reason alone it will never become my most commonly used game. On the other hand, it is to similar to those games to be considered fully unique.

Still, if you want to give your campaign a twist or are generally interested in nifty rules, you should at least check the Into the Odd blog out. I definitely do not regret that I bought it, and it will definitely be my first choice if I ever run a game in the universe of the Thief computer game series.

[Rezension] Die Dunklen Zeiten – Imperien in Trümmern

Die Dunklen Zeiten enthält eine Beschreibung Aventuriens zur Zeit der Priesterkönige und des Bosparanischen Reichs, also der dekadenten und finsteren Vergangenheit. Angeblich soll die Box sich auch gut eignen, um eine entsprechende Zukunft für Aventurien zu gestalten, falls die Helden in der Quanionsqueste scheitern und so das Zeitalter der Orks einläuten. Wie immer geht es mir vor allem darum, wie nützlich diese Box für Leute ist, die normalerweise kein DSA spielen.

Die Box enthält Regionalbeschreibungen für das Bosparanische Reich und das Diamantene Sultanat, einen Band mit Regelergänzungen, einen Band mit mehreren Kurz-Abenteuern, ein Heft mit Kurzgeschichten und Karten diverser größerer Städte sowie eine Weltkarte. Vom Material alles auf gutem Niveau, stabiles Papier und vernünftige Bindung, schicke Bilder. Das Layout ist zwar größtenteils leserlich, aber trotzdem eher misslungen: Mehrmals scheinen Texte im Nichts zu enden, weil ein kaum abgesetzter Infokasten eingefügt wurde.

IMG_00000002

Die Karten kann man seinen Spielern direkt zeigen, weil sie die Welt so darstellen, wie sie ihren Charakteren geläufig sein dürfte. Beim Versuch, sie stimmungsvoll zu gestalten, erhielten einige Karten allerdings eine schlecht lesbare Schrift. Ihrer angeblich inner-derischen Herkunft gemäß enthalten sie auch vor allem friedliche Orte, keine bekannten Abenteuerstätten, die sofort zu Erkundung aufrufen.

Die Kurzgeschichten … na ja. Zwei gefallen mir, weil sie nicht nur gut geschrieben sind und Stimmung vermitteln, sondern zudem abenteuertaugliche Probleme aufwerfen. Die restlichen kann man sich geben, muss man aber nicht.

Das Regelbuch interessiert mich nicht weiter, da ich die DSA-4.1-Regeln nicht benutze. Die Liste der aventurischen Götter und der typischen aventurischen Namen lässt sich natürlich auch mit anderen Regeln verwenden, ebenso die Beschreibungen der Magier als Flair in der eigenen Kampagne unterbringen.

Abenteuer

Der Band »Helden der Geschichte« enthält mehrere Abenteuer und eine dreiteilige Minikampagne namens »Aufstieg und Fall«.

Das erster Abenteuer, »Im Schatten der Aeterni«, beginnt mit wandernden Helden, die in eine Situation à la »Plötzlich Prinzessin« geraten. Anschließend folgen ein Haufen Probleme, die gelöst werden müssen. Es handelt sich durchweg um Probleme, die im Rahmen der Ausgangslage nachvollziehbar klingen, allerdings fehlen bezifferte Schwierigkeiten, stattdessen gibt es mögliche Auflösungen. Auf dem Höhepunkt ihrer Macht werden sie dann nach Bosparan eingeladen und gleich auf ihren Rang als Fußabtreter zurechtgestutzt: Der Türsteher von Bosparan lässt sie nicht rein, anschließend folgt eine Reihe von nervigen Schnitzeljagden, um die Helden auch spüren zu lassen, wie unwichtig sie sind.

Den Abschluss bildet ein Railroad übelster Sorte, in der Handlungen der Helden keinerlei Auswirkungen auf den Ausgang der Geschichte haben. Sie enden so oder so in Khunchom, dem Schauplatz von »Diamanten und Despoten.«

Da das Ende des letzten Abenteuers noch nicht deutlich genug gemacht hat, was für Bauern die Helden doch eigentlich sind, dürfen sie jetzt noch einmal eine Stufe tiefer anfangen. Ansonsten ähnlich zur Schnitzeljagd zuvor, plus nachdrückliche Ermunterung zu einem Dämonenpakt (als Einleitung zum dritten Teil der Minikampagne). Zum Abschluss immerhin ein fulminanter Kampf, bei dem der Meister ermuntert wird, es so richtig krachen zu lassen.

Im Abschluss sollen sich die Helden schließlich am Verursacher ihres Exils rächen, von dem sie vor dem Abenteuer allerdings nie gehört hatten. Er taucht in der ganzen Kampagne nur als Endgegner auf, vorher tut er nichts, wobei die Helden ihn bemerken könnten. Immerhin akzeptieren die Autoren, dass viele Helden überhaupt keinen Grund haben dürften, sich zu rächen – und bieten daher einen Haufen Tipps, wie der Meister die Gruppe doch noch Richtung Abenteuer schubsen könnte. Es folgen einige Lösungsmöglichkeiten, aber wieder keine bezifferbaren Schwierigkeiten.

Ja, was soll ich sagen. Dieses Abenteuer entspricht so ziemlich allen Vorurteilen, die ich gegenüber DSA hege. Die Aufgaben im ersten Teil können als Inspiration für Domänenspiel dienen, sonst gibt es wenig Gutes mitzuteilen. Selbst für illusionistische Runden dürften einige der Übergänge hart und erzwungen wirken, ansonsten eignet es sich für diesen Spielstil ideal.

Weiter geht es mit der »Geburt der Mitternacht«. Kurz, hierbei handelt es sich um einen Ideensteinbruch mit Plotskizzen, aber kein ausgearbeitetes Abenteuer. Es gibt dafür ein Monster, noch ein Monster, einen Verräter, einen weiteren Verräter und einen unerwarteten Twist! Hui! Einige der Skizzen ließen sich als Grundlagen für eine Sandbox nutzen.

Der Titel des nächsten Beitrags lautet »Dein Leben für den Schwarm«. Eher eine Meisterfigur mit einem Ziel und einem Verhältnis zu anderen Figuren als ein vollständig ausgearbeitetes Abenteuer. Aufgrund des Aufbaus lässt es sich problemlos in jede beliebige Fantasy-Welt übertragen und ideal in einer Sandbox einsetzen, es bietet auch diverse Möglichkeiten, die Gruppe in das Problem zu verwickeln.

»Hornbrüder« stellt wieder ein Meisterstück der DSA-Abenteuerkunst dar, wer illusionistischen Spielstil mag, wird dieses Abenteuer lieben. Gute Geschichte, faszinierende Meisterfiguren, fantastische Situationen. Vorausgesetzt natürlich, man kommt mit den sexuellen Konnotationen klar – mir wäre das unangenehm. Aufgrund der stark mythischen und archetypischen Inhalte sollte sich das Abenteuer auch als Hero Quest auf Glorantha anbieten.

Zu guter Letzt folgt mit »Unter Wudu« noch ein klassischer Dungeon, der nur so vor Sword-&-Sorcery-Motiven strotzt. Trotz des starken DSA-Flairs sollte man es problemlos in andere Welten übertragen können, da es fast nur auf aventurisierten Klischees basiert.

Regionalbeschreibungen

Das Diamantene Sultanat liest sich dröge, wie ein Reiseführer oder Lexikoneintrag, der wahllos Geschehnisse von den mesopotamischen Stadtstaaten bis zu den indischen Moguln aneinanderklatscht. Für meinen Geschmack besteht ein Missverhältnis zwischen offenen Problemen, die nach Helden rufen, und den bereits vollbrachten Heldentaten, von denen das Buch berichtet. Zwar bleibt der Norden Aventuriens unerforscht, die im modernen Aventurien legendären Ost- und Südkontinente hingegen regelmäßig angesteuert.

Zudem bietet keines der beschriebenen Reiche die versprochenen Trümmer eines Imperiums: Es handelt sich ausnahmslos um stabile Großreiche, mit Elem steht eins sogar auf dem Höhepunkt seiner Macht. Alhania, Kemi und das Diamantene Sultanat könnten ebenso im modernen Aventurien angesiedelt sein, dermaßen bieder und bodenständig wirken sie. Einzig Elem versprüht etwa Sword&Sorcery-Dekadenz und schert damit aus dem üblichen Einerlei aus. Die Wudu hingegen enttäuschen … noch ein einheitliches Reich, bestehend aus einem abgedroschenen Klischee.

Der Schreibstil aus dem Diamantenen Sultanat wird auch für Bosporan beibehalten, auch hier findet sich ein buntes Durcheinander aus mehreren Tausend Jahren westeuropäischer Geschichte.

Anders als beim Diamantenen Sultanat gibt mir Bosparan aber wirklich das Gefühl, ein Reich im Niedergang zu sehen. Zumindest, wenn ich mir die Beschreibung der Grenzregionen durchlese, denn die wirken arg gebeutelt. Das Verhältnis der vollbrachten zu offenen Heldentaten scheint mir ebenfalls ausgewogener.

Mich stört ein wenig, dass viele Gefahren dieser Zeit denen des modernen Aventuriens entsprechen. Besonders offensichtlich ist dies bei Andergast und Nostria, die sich scheinbar seit Menschengedenken nicht verändert haben. Abenteuer und Regionalbeschreibung scheinen einander teilweise zu widersprechen, was aber daran liegen mag, dass hier vierhundert Jahre in eine Box gepresst wurden.

Fazit

Insgesamt finde ich die Box »Die Dunklen Zeiten – Imperien in Trümmern« enttäuschend. Sie enthält zwar einige gute Ideen, die aber vom Metaplot gefesselt werden. Sie lebt stark davon, dass der Leser die ganzen Anspielungen zum modernen Aventurien erkennt. Auf sich allein gestellt verlieren sie einen Gutteil ihrer Wirkung.

Insgesamt atmet sie den typischen DSA-Geist, wer DSA mag, wird also auch diese Box mögen. Wer sich ein DSA mit ein paar mehr weißen Flecken wünscht, wird sie vermutlich sogar lieben.

Für meine Zwecke eignet sie sich hingegen nicht. Zu weitschweifig. Zu kleinteilig. Man könnte es als Steinbruch für ein postapokalyptisches Aventurien benutzen, insbesondere die vielfältigen Götterkulte. Insgesamt bieten die Schwarzen Lande aber meines Empfindens nach ein besseres Fundament für eine solche Kampagne.

[Review] Mind Eye’s Theatre: Werewolf The Apocalypse Gamma Slice

Recently, I reviewed Mind Eye’s Theatre: Vampire the Masquerade. Now, I was made aware that By Night Studio are writing a second Mind Eye’s Theatre rule set: Werewolf The Apocalypse. I was curious how the rules evolved compared to Vampire and, because the playtest version is freely available, I decided to download and review it.

Tribes

The tribes are a mixed bag: Some are much more interesting than the clans in Vampire, others are even more boring. Whereas the clans were based on occupations, the tribes are based on political stances. On the one hand, that is more interesting, on the other, it is always a bit dangerous to connect a population with a single political stance.

Both the Black Furies and the Gets of Fenris are truly monstrous, but they recently had to choose between adaptation and extinction. Even though they chose adaptation, not all members agreed and tensions remain high between traditionalists and modernizers. I find them thrilling and horribly disturbing at the same time.

On the other hand, you have the Bone Gnawers and the Children of Gaia, flawless Goody Two-Shoes. They definitely need some flaws and plenty internal strife to become interesting, just as the Black Furies and the Gets of Fenris needed some humanity to become playable.

The Red Talons are their evil twin, trying to wipe out humanity, and as uniformly infernal as the other two are divine. I see no way to make them an interesting tribe, they would work much better as a group that draws fanatics from all tribes (similar to the Sabbat in Vampire: the Masquerade).

The Fianna seem rather superfluous, they only stand out due to their connection with the fae and that tie was severed. What remains are basically Silver Fangs: a tragic formerly noble group. Just that the Silver Fangs caused their own demise while the Fianna suffer an external curse.

All in all, the werewolf tribes could greatly profit from stronger ties with each other. I would encourage to add a small side box with a short phrase stating the tribe’s standing with other tribes. (The vampire clans suffer from a similar problem.)

Character Creation

Werewolves are created almost exactly like vampires, most differences are purely cosmetic: Rank replaces generation, tribe replaces clan, and so on. In addition, werewolves must choose an Auspice (class) and a Breed (human, wolf or mongrel). Also, werewolves can form packs which offer them additional totem bonuses.

Strangely, despite the additional choices, I feel more shoehorned than I felt when reading the Vampire rules.

Gifts

Just as vampires have supernatural disciplines, werewolves have supernatural gifts. The descriptions suffer from the same weaknesses as those from Vampire: the Masquerade, lack of an overview in technical language and rules hidden in prose. In most cases, they are mechanical identical to vampire disciplines, just with a new air.

Merits & Flaws

Those are mostly rewritten merits and flaws from Vampire: the Masquerade. I fail to see how Spirit Magnet is a merit, as it seems to do as much harm as it does good. Also, why is Amnesia a flaw? Just like Fallen Hero and Haunted, it offers free XP without mechanical repercussions (and even forces the storyteller to pay you attention).

Weaver Ineptitude is completely open to storyteller interpretation, leaving you at the mercy of the storyteller’s whim. Can you even pass automated platform doors for public transports with this flaw? I would greatly prefer if that was more quantified, like “whenever you tie a test in [list of technical skills], you are considered to have lost the test instead. You can spend willpower to retest as usual.” Having to face dramatic consequences is usually much more fun than simply being banned from doing something.

Except for the mentioned merits and flaws, they seem well-balanced though.

Core Rules

They are identical to those from Vampire: the Masquerade, including the Pierce the Heart combat manoeuvre. They did not even add werewolf specific conflict rules.

Rage and Gnosis

Rage has two effects: First of all, it controls how much in control the werewolf is. In this regard, it is similar to a vampire’s Humanity. On the other hand, it also increases a werewolf’s prowess. That is actually quite nifty, as that turns rage into a mixed blessing: Player will want rage, but have to careful that it does not spiral out of control. This addresses my main complaint with the Humanity concept.

Gnosis equates to blood points from Vampire: the Masquerade. It is used to power merits and gifts and can be lost and gained under specific circumstances.

Quests

Those are side-adventures in the Umbra (the spirit realm), which shift some of the responsibility for preparing and running a scenario from the storyteller to players. Any interaction with the Umbra is resolved with quests.

Equipment and Fetishes

A building kit for mundane and magical enhanced gear. One can add qualities to any tool required to create, from a beautiful brooch to a lighting throwing trident.

Conclusion

By and large, the Werewolf: the Apocalypse rules built upon the rules of Vampire: the Masquerade and improve them. I can imagine using the Quest rules for quickly preparing a side-adventure in my pen-and-paper campaigns.

[Review] Mind’s Eye Theatre: Vampire The Masquerade

By Night Studios wrote a new set of LARP rules for Vampire: the Masquerade. While I am usually interested in neither LARP nor playing vampires, a good friend of mine (Teylen) is—and she claims this book would make excellent pen and paper rule for contemporary dark fantasy as well. She was kind enough to lend me one of her copies.

I never played Vampire: the Masquerade or Mind’s Eye Theatre. That means I lack many of the implicit rules and conventions that were ingrained in active fans over the years, while I harbour some prejudices against Vampire: the Masquerade and Mind’s Eye Theatre in particular.

Design and Organization

Enough about me, more about the book. First of all, that book is quite a doorstopper: over 500 letter sized pages of mostly pure text, a few figures showing postures expressing certain rules being in effect, and a couple colourful full-page pictures. The layout is not fanciful, but mostly well done. I would welcome markings on the outer margins to quickly find the beginnings of chapters, generally reading the book is easy, but finding something is difficult. The book could definitely be better organised, at several it it mentions rules terms or concepts that had not been explained yet (some core concepts are only explained at p290)—one has to use the index if one stumbles over such an entry.

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The full-sized colour pictures are probably meant to portray the different vampire clans (which seem superficially similar to classes in traditional fantasy games), but I find it difficult to discern which picture depicts which clan. Even though there is a symbol (probably representing that clan) above every picture, I cannot find the symbols anywhere in the clan descriptions. All pictures are drawn in photo-realistic style, but vary in quality. Knowing that the book was crowd funded, I assume those are LARP characters of fans who paid a premium for their book. (By Night Studios offers some free Vampire: the Masquerade wallpapers in the same style.)

One is greeted by a short-story, describing the Release Party (vampire confirmation) of Sophie, a newly embraced (transformed) vampire. Sophie will accompany one through the whole book, learning about vampire law and lore as one does. Even though I loath the writing style, the story is rather good at creating context for rules and setting alike.

Next, a short overview of vampire history, broadly painting the ancient past and becoming more detailed as time moves on. Well done, creating background without overburdening me. (That is done in later chapters, when it is repeated with much more details. Thrice.) Just the last twenty years or so greatly confuse me: According to the description, the Camarilla (a lawful evil vampire empire?) mostly vanquished any opposition and just fielded a powerful standing army, and … does nothing with it. Not even when greatly provoked by an enfeebled opponent. As someone not involved in the game, this confuses me, but I assume those changes were applied to acknowledge changes in player’s preferences without annulling years of previous Vampire Chronicles.

Sects

Sects seem to constitute the first pillar of Vampire: the Masquerade. There are four sects: Camarilla, Sabbat, Anarchs, and Independents. On the first glance, the Camarilla seems to represent a kind of feudal state with more or less autonomous princes ruling their respective principalities; while the Sabbat resembles a strictly hierarchical Doomsday Cult with a fascist ideology; and the Anarchs appear basically as a rebellious youth movement within the Camarilla. The Independent clans seem to mainly exist to allow players some leeway from the sects, as I find few differences between independent and affiliated clans otherwise. The balance of power between the sects remains a mystery to me.

Clans

Clans, the second pillar, are very similar to classes in other role playing games as they define basic qualities and weaknesses any member possesses. While player choose a clan, the character does not have this choice: One always belongs to the same clan as the sire (vampire who turned one into a vampire). Generally, the clans are very good matches for roles one might want to play in a contemporary vampire based urban fantasy game (with, of course, a few exceptions). While I do appreciate this part of the clans, the description themselves are a mixed bag. Some clans are highly specialized, others more flexible. Some clans immediately invoke plots and ploys, while others are as inspiring to read as watching the paint dry. Also, clans seem to be either sworn enemies, staunch allies, or completely indifferent. I would prefer some indications in regard to their non-extreme relations with other vampire groups.

Oddity: According to the introduction story, vampire that fail the vampire confirmation are killed immediately. Yet, there is a “clan” called Caitiffs that is made up solely of those vampires and they are not killed on sight.

Generations

Onward to the third pillar, generations. Those are a measurement of power: The primal vampire (generation 0) is also the most powerful one, the further removed from this source, the less powerful the vampire. If one somehow succeeds in diablerie (devours another vampires “heart”), one draws nearer the primal vampire and thus increases in power as one decreases in generations. A vampire to far removed from the primal vampire basically remains a human with some vampiric traits. One cannot exceed generation 6 according to the rules, standard player vampires start in generation 11.

Skills

The baseline for all skills seems to be “what we could do when we played Vampire: the Masquerade for the first time back in the late 1980s and early 1990s”. Otherwise, I cannot explain why everyone easily handles a car at 100 km/h, while using a smartphone or a ticket machine requires computer skills.

Why do low generation vampires have problems adapting to computers, but not problems adopting to modern science (which greatly depends on computers)? We learn Newton’s Mechanics, the epitome of 17th century scientific progress, in Secondary School nowadays—does that mean each modern human is skilled in Science: Physics?

The peculiarities do not end here though. If one improves driving, one does not only learn to drive better, but also to drive more kinds of vehicles. If one wants to become a pharmacist on the other hand, according to Fields of Study on p92, one needs to buy ranks in Science: Biology and Science: Chemistry, instead of simply studying pharmacy or biochemistry.

The oddity seems to run along a fault line of how frequently the skill is used in a chronicle: Frequently used skills like lore and driving are written according to the demands of the game, while rarely used skills like Academics, Science and Performance are more convoluted, as if tacked on as an afterthought. It might have been useful to limit the available disciplines for this skills to four or five broad categories; if one wants to purchase more than one rank one has to specialise, ranks above the first only apply to that specialisation.

Resources

I like the way how they handle resources, they found a way to deny a player access to their resources without invalidating the purchased resource ranks: If a player loses access to a resource, it is “automatically” restored after a certain amount of time (or rather, the player does not have to pay for regaining access after that period).

Disciplines and Techniques

Disciplines and techniques are supernatural powers that allow vampires for example to turn into a wolf or mesmerise a mortal. While inspiringly written, also very difficult to understand as many rules are hidden in prose. I would also welcome an overview of all disciplines with a short (technical) description and page references.

Merits and Flaws

Merits and Flaws are a mixed bag. Most work rather well, offering a choice between a one-time boon at the cost of permanent penalties, but some (e.g. Notorious or Thirst for Innocence) are extremely vague and depend solely on the storyteller’s memory. I am not quite sure how well Derangements work during play, I am a bit suspicious they might be either disruptive or purposeless.

The Rules

The rules itself are rather slim: You play rock-paper-scissors against either the storyteller or another player. If you win, you succeed. If you lose, you fail. If you tie, the involved characters compare their pools. Under certain circumstances (i.e. high discrepancy in power or use of willpower), the loser may ask for a rematch. At the table, one could easily replace “rock-paper-scissors” by rolling a d3 each, but there are also specific props for LARP (Teylen introduces three of them in her [German] article on rock-paper-scissors in role-playing games).

The rules assume small conflicts, with probably not more than four or five participants in any given conflict. That is probably owed to the higher interaction between players on a LARP, that require less input from a storyteller compared to pen-and-paper games. The Mass Combat rules allow to scale conflicts to an appropriate level for the average pen-and-paper group, even though the system probably begin to fall apart if any party outnumbers the other by 4 to 1 or higher.

Beside conflicts, Feeding (with the danger of blood bonds) and Humanity are key mechanics in Vampire: the Masquerade. Feeding is rather simple, you need to obtain a certain amount of blood points each period. The rules encourage to feed between sessions, and concentrates on handling this abstractly. Feeding should be only included within a session if it could result in dramatic tension like establishing a blood bond (more or less a total addiction to another vampire). The rules support this playing style well, by giving rules to measure feeding abstractly and quickly.

Humanity

Humanity is meant to be the core mechanic for Vampire: the Masquerade. It basically measures how much you, as a human player, control your character and how much the beast, the monster within every vampire, dominates you. Those rules are horribly broken, as the authors themselves state: If used as written, most characters would permanently turn into a raging monster after a single adventure. And, indeed, if you do anything but working as home office accountant and meeting your vampire pals after work to lament the tragedy of your existence, that is most likely going to happen. (Which confirms one of my prejudices against Vampire: the Masquerade). As written, the rules are a pure method of punishment for characters that behave adventurously and require ever vigilant storytellers to be enforced. They are meant to display a constant struggle between beast and human, but they are unable to invoke this kind of feeling in a player. I am rather certain that even the Dark Power checks from Ravenloft do a better job in this regard, as they offer short-term advantages for the price of long-term costs.

Status and influence

There are also rules for status and influence, which allow you to gain mechanical benefits for achieving a specific status or being well connected to a group. They seem a good match for LARP games and most can probably be transferred to pen-and-paper games as well.

GM Advise

Strangely enough, I agree with most of the GM advise as well—despite the comparison with Shakespeare’s plays. They stress how important player agency is for a game and give excellent advise how to include other player into a player’s goals instead of solving them solely between storyteller and player. My opinions on metagaming greatly differs, but otherwise I could find common grounds with a storyteller following these guidelines.

Last but not least, the book offers rules for couple non-vampires to integrated as antagonists, enemies and allies under control of the storyteller, including rules how to adapt them. That is more of a construction set than a selection of ready to use characters.

Conclusion

There is much I dislike about this book: It is horribly organized, one needs to read the whole book in one go to get a grasp on the concept. Information is often scattered over several chapters, requiring one to slug through repetitions to find the passage one is looking for. All this is made worse by the fact that many parts are written as prose instead of technical instructions. Finally, with over 500 letter sized pages it is rather unwieldy.

Yet, Vampire: the Masquerade offers immense flavour and an alluring setting. After reading this book, I understand why it attracted such a large crowd. Rules and storyteller advise are sound, both obviously deeply rooted in gaming practice and an eye for what works and what does not work. I might even try some of the mechanics in my own games.

Even though I will never understand what exactly makes playing a vampire appealing—it seems to be very similar to working as an official in administration or management—I could imagine playing in the World of Darkness with the rules presented in this book.