SnarfQuest online

I’m not sure how I missed this, but thought I’d pass it along to anyone else who has fond memories of reading monthly installments of Larry Elmore’s SnarfQuest in Dragon Magazine during the 1980s.

You can find them online here (or just click on the comic’s image to the right to jump to the page). Unfortunately only the first five strips are up, but hopefully they’ll be adding more as time goes on.

Using a wiki to manage your campaign video

I’ve been experimenting with Obsidian Portal for managing an PbF game and really like the site although I do find it a lot more work than a notebook for my face-to-face games. This seminar is a good introduction explanation of how and why you might want to use a wiki though and I thought I’d pass it along. It’s from this year’s GenCon.

Wiki! The Key to Managing Your Campaign – GenCon 2011 from Obsidian Portal on Vimeo.

My oldest son has begun making his own RPG

He and his friend were busy today designing their own RPG – it involves defeating the denizens of 15 evil temples. They’ve been borrowing ideas from the original Red Box D&D set, and taking inspiration from the 4th edition D&D Monster Manual, but the game appears to be a pretty original design. It’s fun to watch them working out both the story and the rules. Perhaps the most interesting observation I’ve made is that they’re more concerned with how the map looks (they’re using one of my Paizo flip maps to draw it) and the appearance of the character sheet than anything else. My son is hard at work creating a character sheet on the PC while his friend is drawing the map.

All of this leads me to wonder if it’s time to try and organize a formal “RPG session” with them with me running some sort of scenario for them. While this might seem like a “no brainer” I’m cautious because they’re both very involved in their own creative process with their project and adding an adult to the whole operation, and especially someone else’s ruleset, may stifle that creativity. So for now I watch and contemplate the future.

Review – Trail of Cthulhu

Lately I’ve been reading and reviewing a number of supplements and adventures for the Trail of Cthulhu RPG, and it finally dawned on me that I have never gotten around to writing a review of the actual game. So rather than continuing to put the metaphorical cart before the horse, I’ve sat down and written a full review of Trail of Cthulhu (ToC).

Trail of Cthulhu is a game written by Kenneth Hite, and published by Pelgrane Press. It uses Robin D. Laws’ GUMSHOE system for its underlying engine (i.e., the mechanics the game is built upon), which had previously been used in Pelgrane Press’s Fear Itself and The Esoterrorists RPGs. The GUMSHOE system is specifically designed to create stories focusing on investigative mysteries and thus is perfectly suited for exploring the setting based upon the writings of H.P. Lovecraft (HPL) and his emulators. ToC retails for $39.95 for the hard cover version and $19.95 for the PDF version. I am reviewing the hard cover book.

Just in case you’re not familiar with the Cthulhu Mythos…

The Cthulhu Mythos milieu focuses on mankind’s interactions – whether they be ordinary citizens, dark sorcerers, or insane cultists – with primordial alien races, dark gods, and other ancient beings that we were not meant to know. As such it’s generally a very dark and grim setting, where insanity, death, or worse await those who delve too far into the details of the Mythos. The basic idea both in HPL’s writings and in the game itself is ignorance is bliss and knowing too much can shatter a person’s mind. As such, the setting is one where PCs’ lives can be very short indeed, especially if one sticks to the tone established in the majority of Lovecraft’s stories (Robert Howard’s stories tend to have more of a pulp-tone, in which investigators fight the horrors using weapons).

A bit of nomenclature: Keeping true to its Call of Cthulhu roots, player characters (PCs) are known as Investigators in the game and the Gamemaster (GM) is known as “The Keeper.” I’ll be using these terms extensively in the review below.

Like most of my reviews, I will start with how the publisher describes the product:

Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning standalone GUMSHOE system game under license to Chaosium, set in the 1930s, now in its third print run, and produced in five languages. It supports both Pulp (for Indiana Jones, Robert E. Howard, thrilling locations sorts of games) and Purist styles of play (for intellectual horror and cosmic dread). HP Lovecraft’s work combined both, sometimes in the same story.

It includes a new take on the creatures, cults and gods of the Lovecraft’s literature, and addresses their use in gaming. It adds new player backgrounds, and bulk out the GUMSHOE system to give intensive support for sanity, incorporating into the rule set the PCs desire to explore at the risk of going mad.

Trail of Cthulhu won two Ennie awards for Best Rules and Best Writing, as well as receiving an honourable mention for Product of the Year.

The Physical Product

This book is beautiful looking, with a tight binding and an attractive, very evocative, color cover. Its 248 pages are printed on high quality paper with a gray-scale interior, although page headers, dividers, frames, and markers are done is a brassy-brown tone which adds a nice antique effect that fits the material well.

The book’s layout is done in a narrow, three-column form which looks attractive but tends to make the pages feel really dense. It also creates some rather cramped lines at times, something that’s exacerbated by a few editing/layout gaffs that lead to spots where words have no real space between them (this is particularly problematic with the italics) or where bullet points aren’t indented causing them to blend into the text above and below the list. This is evident particularly in the tables and sidebars. Similarly, while the book’s editing is good, it could have used another couple passes of a careful proofreader since there are missing words and other typos still evident. All of these criticisms are minor points though since they are hardly common nor problematic, and taken as a whole, the book is very well edited and laid out.

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