Monday, 27 July 2015

What is your favourite fantasy world?

Fantasy literature is bursting at the seams with incredible world-building, from the medieval trope definer that is Middle-Earth, to the satirical Discworld.

So which is your favourite fantasy world? Are you a Narnia fanatic, or maybe a Westeros fangirl? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Book review: Koko Takes a Holiday

Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea 
Titan Books
Buy: UK/ US

Set 500 years in the future, Koko Takes a Holiday is nothing short of a acid-fuelled rampage through the warped synapses of author Kieran Shea, who pulls no punches in delivering a fantastic cyberpunk action romp.

The titular Koko Marstellar is a war veteran who has made quite the career change to becoming the owner of a brothel on The Sixty Islands - an entertainment haven for pleasure seekers looking to indulge in simulated violence and debauchery. Koko appears to have a good life of it - a  retirement that consists of running a bar and getting her rocks off with one of the boywhores. But it all changes when the CPB (Custom Pleasure Bureau), led by her old military comrade Portia Delacompte, come a knockin' with orders to kill Koko. Deftly turning the invading security force into puddles of gore (don't for a second think that she's rusty when it comes to killing), Koko finds herself on the run from a collection of assassins hired to make sure she doesn't make it to the next day.

She manages to get herself on board the barges of the Second Free Zone, sources weapons and sets about trying to keep her head down while the assassins try to find her. While there, her path crosses with Flynn, a security officer who has been diagnosed with 'depressus', a syndrome that leads quite a high percentage of people on board to kill themselves. Oh, but they don't just off themselves - the ships actually host a televised event called the Embrace where large groups of sufferers take a happy pill before plummeting en masse to the Earth below. Flynn finds himself tangled with Koko's dilemma and aids her along the way.

The main hook of the story is that due to having her memory wiped through multiple rudimentary procedures, Portia has no idea why she gave the order to kill Koko - after all, they fought together and considered her a friend. It's a great story that unravels towards the end where the reader finally discovers why Portia ordered the hit and, well, it's pretty hard-reading.

Shea manages to create a uniquely bizarre universe in a relatively short space of time - one that's completely exaggerated and satirical of the media and human nature. Every now and again the book is punctuated with scripts from fictional advertisements in the Koko universe. While novel, the gimmick doesn't really work well and I found it pretty jarring.

The narrative floats between perspectives at breakneck pace, suiting the story well, weaving in snappy dialogue and colourful characters to create a book that feels like a punch to the gut - in a good way.

Koko Takes a Holiday is well worth your time, especially if you like your cyberpunk with more action than complex techno-babble. This is a universe that I can't wait to revisit in the sequel - Koko The Mighty, which is out soon.

Verdict: Read it

Saturday, 25 July 2015

A storm is coming: a TORG primer

Roleplaying fans on social media and around the RPG blogosphere have been buzzing about the return of the beloved TORG franchise with TORG: Eternity, published by German company Ulisses Spiele. 
No doubt this will be huge news at Gen Con, which kicks off July 30 and runs through to August 2, where we are expected to hear more details about the resurrected game, originally published by West End Games in 1990. 

It's telling how much love there is for TORG when you see fan messages like these: 

But for the uninitiated it may be difficult to see what's so special about the announcement of TORG: Eternity and why so many people are excited about it.

TORG was a relatively obscure game. Its name stems from the working title the designers had: 'The Other Roleplaying Game', and unable to come up with anything better, they went with it. But TORG made a name for itself by being a different beast from its predecessors, both mechanically and in its source material. 

The Story

Set in the 'near now', TORG's story revolves around an Earth that has been invaded by reality-altering High Lords, who have changed parts of the planet as a reflection of their own worlds. The players take on the roles of the amazingly named Storm Knights - rebels from Earth and invading dimensions - to stand against the High Lords. 

Each High Lord had in their possession an item known as a Darkness Device, intelligent machines created by an entity known as The Nameless One. These devices could rip holes in dimensions, creating portals to other worlds - hence how they could run rampant on Earth. They were also able to duplicate their own 'cosm' into the one they had just invaded, all the while reducing the target cosm's 'possibility energy' - an energy that helps heroes pull off amazing feats. The High Lords also gained the horrendously unfair advantage of being able to remake the physics of their target, making their invading forces much stronger that the defending one. 

One of the High Lords, known as the Gaunt Man, stumbled across Earth and found that the planet possessed a crazy amount of possibility energy. While he knew he wanted to invade Earth, he knew that, due to sheer amount of possibility energy, there would be an energy backlash if he were to open a portal and he would never be able to invade. Instead, he joined forces with other High Lords who simultaneously opened portals, spreading the energy backlash through multiple channels rather than just the one. This meant that they were able to storm Earth and alter different locations in accordance with their own cosms. So on Earth, you have dinosaurs attacking the United States, France turns back to the Middle Ages, and Egypt is attacked by futuristic soldiers. 

The Gameplay

TORG was a cinematic game, reflected by the mechanics. Characters had eight attributes that exponentially increased as their experience progressed. To perform actions, a d20 was rolled and compared to a difficulty number. If the player rolled a 10 or 20 then they would roll again, simulating the super awesome things that cinematic, larger-than-life heroes can do. The total would also be compared to a table, which would offer a bonus depending on the number rolled. There were also degrees of success that were determined by how far above the target you managed to roll. 

Players had possibility points they could spend on adding to a die total, cancelling damage, improve an ability or even warp reality. They would save up possibility points to learn new skills and 'level up' at the end of a game. 

In addition, a Drama Deck was used to shake things up during combat. The players would have their own cards and so would the GM. These could be played to add something new to the game, such as sub-plots, ability-enhancement and more possibility points. Using cards in conjunction with points allowed players to pull off amazing feats. 

Combat was simple enough, but did carry one strange flaw that will hopefully be rectified in the new edition. Basically, the attacker had a to-hit total, which was compared to the target's defence total. If they hit, their damage value was compared to the target's toughness to see how much damage they did. Seems fine, right?

Well, this is where the so-called 'Glass Ninja Syndrome' comes into play. In TORG, the to-hit and damage rolls were the same rolls. This meant that, while a target with a high dexterity would rarely be hit, when they were they received a whopping amount of damage. Hence, glass ninja. 

The Sourcebooks

West End Games released a range of sourcebooks over the years to expand TORG's setting. Some of these sourcebooks became a requirement for players who wanted to do certain things with their characters, like create their own magic spells, learn martial arts or gain some cool cyberpunk gear. 

There was noticeable power creep as a result of subsequent sourcebooks, turning players into alien gun-toting cybermancers, which, while cool, did warp the game a tad. 

The Future

TORG: Eternity is set to be released in 2016, headed up by Shane Hensley, creator of Savage Worlds and Deadlands. It's difficult to say whether there will be a complete rules overhaul, but it would make sense to streamline the bumpy mechanics and power creep while maintaining the great cinematic feel of the original.

Stay tuned for more information about the game coming out of Gen Con at the end of the month.

Follow me on Twitter @trollishdelver

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Book review: The Empress Game

The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason
Titan Books

Prepare to make Kayla Reunimon your next favourite warrior princess. The Empress Game by debut author Rhonda Mason is a blistering space opera chock full of political intrigue, back-stabbing conspiracy and good old-fashioned ass-kicking.

Kayla has been in hiding for five years, living as a 'pit whore', a type of planetary gladiator, while protecting her brother Corinth from the people who want them both dead. You see, Kayla is a princess from the planet Oroch located in the wonderfully named Wyrd Space. When the Sakien Empire's International Diplomatic Corps (IDC) pulled off a coup that destroyed her people and family, Kayla and Corinth escaped and went into hiding. In the years that passed, the warrior princess scratched a living from becoming a different kind of ruler - the ruler of the blood pit - adored by the fans she despised and forced to put on a show by her seedy manager under the moniker Shadow Panthe.

Her fighting prowess piques the interest of IDC agent Malkor, who deems her worthy to fight in the Empress Game - an event where princesses from across worlds come to battle one another in a bid to gain a seat at the Council of Seven - the rulers of the Sakien empire who have the casting vote over the most major political decisions of the empire. Kayla is brought on to take the place of princess Isonde to enable Isonde and her supporters to gain the seat on the council and cease the occupation of Oroch. All she has to do is beat hundreds of vicious combatants to get to the throne.

There's a lot at stake in The Empress Game. Not only is Kayla fighting for the freedom of her people under the guise of another princess, but one plot thread involved a manufactured nano-virus that is spreading between worlds, turning people into nasty lumps of black goop - a virus that the Orochians may have the antidote to. It's the continued stake-upping that makes The Empress Game such a thrilling read, as well as its fantastic characters and proficient world-building. While this is the first book of what will be a trilogy, Mason has deftly created a universe that feels complete and complex that feels like it's been built over a series of books, rather than during its debut.

I'm a huge fan of strong, independent heroines who don't take guff from anyone, and Kayla is definitely that. Add to that a healthy dose of political thriller, a love story and a fantastic supporting cast and you have an incredibly effective sci-fi epic.  I can't think of a reason why you shouldn't read this book. Just do it!

Verdict: Read it

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by Titan Books

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Spotlight on: Reaper Miniatures

It's telling that the latest Kickstarter from miniatures vanguard Reaper has raised over $1.5m from a $30,000 goal. It's also telling that the Bones 3 project is the fourth Kickstarter that the company has done and it is still gaining lucrative amounts of cash. So why the hell is Reaper so popular?

The Texas-based company was founded in 1992 in a garage in Fort Worth, initially selling a line of Second World War aircraft called Distinguished Flying Collectibles, and a range of fantasy-themed jewellery called Renaissance Dreams.  Soon, in 1993, they created the Dungeon Dweller line of 25mm fantasy models that formed the early backbone of their fantasy minis offering  - one that would eventually lead Reaper to become one of the most beloved companies in miniature manufacturing.

In 1996, Reaper would go on to launch the Dark Heaven line, becoming the best selling fantasy minis line in the world and becoming the company's core offering, with the current Dark Heaven Legends line passing a massive 3000 serial numbers.

New lines sprung up over the years, including Reaper's wildly popular Warlord skirmish game, Combat Assault Vehicle, Chronoscope, Legendary Encounters and more. It's easy to see why fans are so in love with Reaper - the sculpts are extraordinarily detailed (a far cry from the Dungeon Dwellers of 20 years ago) and just a joy to behold.

It's not just in-house IPs Reaper produces. Now, the manufacturer has its mitts on fan-favourite RPG licenses like Pathfinder, Savage Worlds and Numenera

Now, understand that Reaper makes premium minis, meaning that your wallet isn't going to have an easy time of it if you want to splurge on some some sets or blister packs. However, you're paying for quality and you're not going to find many more manufacturers making products like this.

By the way, I've not been paid or anything to write this post. I doubt Reaper will even see it - but I think it's important to support the companies who help make the roleplaying hobby that much more special, which is why I started this spotlight series.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Tabletop review: Coup

Since Game of Thrones is all the rage, political weaselings have become the thing that all the kids are into at the moment. Coup is just the game to settle that itch that we all have from time-to-time to solidly dick our friends over...all in good fun, of course.

Set in the same universe as Indie Boards and Cards' smash The Resistance,  Coup is a sci-fi themed card game where the ability to cleverly bluff can pay off greatly. Each player is dealt two cards face down. Each card represents a certain character, such as a duke, captain or assassin, who have their own special abilities that aid with the aforementioned dicking over. All cards are placed face down in front of the players throughout the duration of the game and the aim is to be the last one with a card left on the table. There are different ways that a player can lose their cards. They can be assassinated by an opposing assassin, called out on their bluff, wrongly calling someone else's bluff or have a coup committed against them.

As play continues, players will get money from the treasury, which can be spent on pulling off a Coup or assassinations. Players can take one coin by default per turn, or take a risk and announce they are taking foreign aid, which will allow them to take two coins, but be at the risk of being blocked by a duke. But, what if the other player who wants to block you doesn't even have a duke? This is the core of what makes Coup such a fantastic little game - you will always be skeptical and constantly second guessing your opponent. It's a beautiful slice of paranoia that keeps the game fresh every time you play.

Coup is the perfect palette cleanser between larger games, taking around five to ten minutes per game, but it's easy to get carried away and string together 10 or 20 games without growing bored. If you love fast and fiendish games, you should definitely check out Coup.

Verdict: Play it