Barbaric! – Review

Barbaric! is the latest release from Stellagama Publishing and builds on their Sword of Cepheus 2D6 role playing game. A few weeks ago the author Omer Golan-Joel invited people over on MeWe to participate in the playtest, to which I jumped at the chance to take part in. The playtest went through around four updates in a matter of a few weeks before final release. The book contains 57 pages and is available on Drivethru RPG for $2.99 (normally $3.99) in PDF format and $5.99 for a print on demand book; it is also available from Lulu.com for $5.99.

The book is a set of fantasy gaming rules using the 2D6 mechanic for resolving dice rolls, based around the Cepheus Engine SRD. As mentioned earlier, it builds on the Sword of Cepheus (SoC) gaming rule set and on first impression, it appears that the rules are a reduced subset of the SoC rules in a similar approach to Stellagama Publishing’s Cepheus Light / Cepheus faster Than Light / Cepheus Atom / Cepheus Quantum SFRPG rules. Instead of simply taking the SoC rules and using exactly the same ‘generic’ approach, the author has styled a background which is akin to the Conan / Red Sonja / The Sword and the Sorcerer films ie. high adventure, pulp stories, plenty of action fighting fantastic beasts and evil sorcerers.

The book starts with a single-page introductory background and dives into the basic rules and character generation process. Chargen is a pretty easy and the six steps are described in a half a page, though all the elements to fully create a character require five pages. You also have the choice of playing a non-human, each of which have advantageous abilities. Traits are also included; you get to pick one over a two-page list, for example ‘Berserker’ where you have advantageous DM’s in combat, ‘Passing without a Trace’ where you can’t be tracked or ‘Thief’ where you have an improved chance of stealing items. Traits allow you to roll three dice instead of two and pick the two highest scores in a difficulty check.

Combat Moves are described in a couple of pages; this is where if you have a particularly high combat skill level, you can pick a specialism in a Combat Move. For example, if you have Combat-2 you can pick from ‘Archery’, ‘Armoured Combat’, ‘Polearms’, ‘Single Weapon’, ‘Throwing Weapon’, ‘Two-Handed Weapon’ or ‘Weapon and Shield’ all of which offer advantageous DM’s in combat. A number of Combat Moves are covered up to level 5 skill.

In keeping with the ‘heroic’ style of play, Barbaric! gives each player a number of ‘Hero Points’ which can be used to reroll certain dice throws, in order to get a better result. Hero Points can be earned by exceeding skill or characteristic scores by a certain number which when earned, feed back in to the group Hero Point pool. Its a nice system and reminds me of the (going old school here) Warhammer Fantasy Role Play ‘fate Points’ system where you could ‘dodge’ a catastrophic situation by expending a fate point. Barbaric!’s similar system is a little more freely available to use and can be replenished a lot faster. This helps to emphasise the fantastic actions and feats that players are more likely to attempt and succeed at.

Equipment is described over four pages, in keeping with a quick set up for play, armour is limited to four items and there are only 13 choices of weapons, three of which are variations of unarmed weapons (see the Critical Hits below). There is a bit of white space left at the bottom of the page, personally I think there could have been scope to include a few more weapons (I always like lots to choose from). However, its only now that I have spotted an omission which I should have picked up in the playtest. Polearms are mentioned as a speciality as a Combat Move (skill level 2) but there aren’t any Halbards, Pikes, Scythes or Poleaxes (to mention a few) listed in the weapons table, only variations of spears. Perhaps these could be included in the next update Omer? General equipment is covered pretty comprehensively with a full range of kit to choose from.

Combat is pretty detailed spread over five pages, which I think is fair as fighting of some such or another is going to be a big part of any Barbaric! game. There is a nice clear process to follow and if you are unfortunate enough to suffer a damaging blow, there are three tables of Critical Hits according to what type of damage received ie. slashing, crushing or piercing. Again reflecting the Conan-esq style of play, there are some pretty gruesome wounds described; ‘Eye Removed’, ‘Lung Pierced’ or ‘Shoulder Crushed’ sound positively lovely. The next three pages cover Exploration, travelling, underground movement and survival.

Sorcery! is the next major section, describing the Barbaric! magic system. The system follows the Sword of Cepheus ‘magic is bloody dangerous’ format in that casting any spell, involves an element of risk. Spells require a successful dice roll to cast, influenced by a number of factors which can increase or decrease the chance of success. If the spell goes wrong, you roll on the ‘Spellcasting Mishaps’ D66 table. Some of the effects can be reversed, some involve unwanted visitors – just hope you don’t roll a 66 though…! The range of spells is good, with a D66 table listing them if you also wanted to randomise them. All the usual suspects are here with attack, curing, control and defense spells available.

Page 40 dips into who are you going fight; the Monsters! section introduces your potential opponents by looking at how they may react to you. The ‘Monster Format’ describes how to read a creatures statistics and what special abilities they may have. The author has provided plenty of sword fodder sorry I mean challenging opponents (!) with creatures ranging from all sorts of lizards, undead, goo, Dinosaurs, mammals and insects for a referee to throw at the players. The sixth page following this section lists a number of common NPCs that the party may encounter such as soldiers, nobles, merchants or peasants.

The final section in the book is what most adventurers crave – Treasure! There is quite a bit of detail dedicated to this section, with tables to determine size of hoard, potion, spell book, armour, weapon or ‘misc’ items. The latter is presented with a D66 list with everything (barring a magical kitchen sink) including wands, weapons, armour, brooms (!), rings and just about anything else that can be enchanted.

Print on Demand Book

I took the opportunity to pick up a copy of the print on demand (PoD) version of the book on release, when it was initially made available through Drivethru RPG. Ten out of ten for the turnaround from Lightning Source in Milton Keynes; average delivery time for my previous PoD orders has been eight days, Barbaric! arrived in five which is excellent. It is presented in A5 format with a glossy black front and back cover. Where there is an illustration on the other side of the page, there is a slight impression left in the background of the page you are looking at (see example below). To be honest, this is no different to any other PoD book I’ve ordered from DTRPG and doesn’t really detract from the overall enjoyment of the book. Its a handy format book to carry with you if you are heading to friends for an evenings play. Besides being available on DTRPG, a print version is also available on Lulu.com, via this link.

That zombie is trying to break through the back of the page if you look hard enough…!

The book is well laid out with easy-to-read text and only a faint broadsword watermark in the background to each page. There are a number of monochrome illustrations dotted throughout the book, including some really nice full page scenes.

Two games of finest quality, side-by-side for size comparison.

In some ways, Barbaric! reminds me a bit of Baz Steven’s ‘The King of Dungeons’, though the latter has a more specific and defined background to support its premise. This isn’t to detract anything from Barbaric!, KoD may offer a more in depth style of gameplay which supports longer term campaigns, Barbaric! fits quite neatly into the short session format with a quicker character generation process and simpler gameplay style. There isn’t as much developed background in Barbaric! as KoD, but the text keeps this running theme of high adventure. Barbaric! is ideal if you want to play adventures similar to the Conan films; one shot nightly games or something played out over a few sessions where the emphasis is on fun and adventure (and large amounts of beer and pizza!) I would highly recommend Barbaric! if you are looking for a hack ‘n slash style game that you can easy jump into for some quick start adventuring. I would like to thank the author Omer Golan-Joel for kindly sending me a final version of Barbaric! to review.

Posted in Cepheus Engine, Stellagama Publishing, Sword of Cepheus | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Rider – Review

First off, some birthday congratulations are in order; the 27th of February is the 10th birthday of Independence Games (formerly Gypsy Knights Games), owned by John Watts. My very best wishes to you John and the team at Independence Games, here’s to many more years publishing!

To celebrate, all orders on the Independence Games webstore of $5 or more will be discounted 35% at the checkout, which includes PDFs of the Clement and Earth Sectors, Action Movie Physics and Rider! This discount is available until the end of the day (Eastern Time) on the 1st of March. The Independence Games website and store can be found here.

Talking of Rider, the Cepheus Engine rules set is steadily expanding the settings that it is available for, showing the versatility of the basic mechanics. To emphasise this, I’m going to take a look at an unfamiliar RPG setting; the Old West. Back in the eighties when I used to buy White Dwarf magazine and pour over the game listings, I used to notice but not take any notice of a TSR game called ‘Boot Hill’. Apparently this Old West RPG was quite popular but that’s as much as I know about it. So when John Watts forwarded me a copy of Independence Games’ latest product ‘Rider’, I thought this was going to be an interesting experience stepping into an unfamiliar game setting.

Rider is quite a hefty book, being 356 pages in length. It is available from DriveThru RPG for $19.99 and is also available in print format for $59.99 (which includes the PDF). Its a complete set of rules and setting for playing games set in the Old West period of American history, the height of which could be considered as the nineteenth century (some scholars consider the specific timeline to be 1803 to 1959). This is the period of European expansion across North America; the age of gun slingers, sheriffs, wagon trains and Native Americans. There is a huge amount of scope for adventures, so what does Rider give you to achieve this?

The book is broken down into the following sections; these aren’t the exact headings (there are 23 in total), but these are how I would relate them:-

The Basics and Skills

Generating Characters

Equipment

Illegal Activities

Combat

Animals

Situations and Interactions

Refereeing the Game and Adventures

The Basics and Skills (pages 13 to 36)

The book starts with an introduction to roleplaying and general concepts of how to play the game. Of course, with this being Cepheus Engine-based, the core mechanic is rolling for a result on 2D6. What are the common themes in playing the Old West? Eight are listed in a table, which includes for example, exploration, frontier settlements, drifting or espionage. The skills section looks at how skill checks work and the types available – a full description is provided along with what variations are encompassed in the general heading. Most of the skills are immediately recognisable as they are pretty generic coming from Cepheus Engine, but there are appropriate specifics listed. Notable ones include: ‘Draw’ – the ability to unholster a firearm quickly or ‘Heavy Weapons’ which has specialties listed ‘Cannon’ and ’Gatling Gun’.

Generating Characters (pages 37 to 167)

This section, under a number of headings actually takes up one third of the book. Characteristics are based on Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education and Charisma. An additional attribute is introduced; Reputation (REP). This is a measure of how recognisable the character is – which depending on the situation can have a positive or detrimental effect. The character generation process follows a similar format as other Cepheus Engine games where you have a backstory, career, aging process, injuries and life events. If your character comes from a wealthy enough background, they can attempt to go to college on a roll of EDU 8+. Again, the process for advancing through your career is the same as Cepheus Engine where terms are for years in length and you have the same process for survival (and mishap), commission, advancement, skills and rank/benefits.

So what sort of careers can you play? First off you are provided with some descriptions before the actual character generation section. You have the choice of: Bounty Hunter, Buffalo Hunter, Clergy, Con Artist, Cowboy, Craftsperson, Doctor, Gambler, Gunslinger, Homesteader, Law Enforcement, Mountain Man, Native American Warrior, Outlaw, Politician, Prisoner, Prospector, Railroad Worker, Soiled Dove, Soldier, Stagecoacher, Trailblazer and Vagabond. Some careers have variations, for example a Soldier can be from the Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery or Support. There is also a useful system for increasing characteristics and skills through earning adventure points and success points.

Equipment (pages 168 to 208)

Here you are presented with a selection of equipment from the Old West; for the purposes of Tech Level this corresponds to TL4. The range of kit available starts from basic melee weapons through to ranged weapons such as the pistol, rifles, shotguns and heavy weapons. There are some really nice illustrations and I never knew there were so many variations of the Colt revolver! Heavy weapons are limited to the 12-pounder cannon and the Gatling Gun. Equipment continues with lists and descriptions for accessories, clothing and transport – this being the Old West means horses! Various breeds with respective characteristics are provided, rounded off with a few other domestic animals.

Illegal Activities (pages 209 to 226)

Gambling (pages 209 to 222) has always played a big part in many Old West scenes, so how do you translate this into an RPG? I’ve never been someone who has played (or liked to play) card games so it was useful to see an extensive section describing the background to how specific games developed and how you would actually play, eg. Poker. However, there is a difference in you (as a real person) and your character (as someone who has a good gambling skill) so the author provides some useful tools (including how to cheat!) in how to play gambling games through a set of dice rolls linked to skills.

There are a couple if pages looking at what drugs and alcohol was available in late 19th century and how this could impair a character. The section is rounded off with a more detailed look at the Reputation (REP) score if a character and how this fluctuate according to what actions they take, for example surviving a famous shootout or robbing a bank.

Combat (pages 227 to 265)

It’s pretty inevitable that your characters are going to get into a bar room brawl or shootout at some stage in a Rider adventure, after all the Old West was a pretty lawless place. This is addressed in quite a bit of detail in the ‘Personal Combat’ section, which includes a section on the use of the ‘Draw’ skill for shootouts. Vehicle combat and chases are described as well, though due to the tech level vehicles are limited to stagecoaches, wagons and stream locomotives.

Animals (pages 266 to 278)

This provides statistics for the common animals that you would find in the late nineteenth century. The same Cepheus Engine format is used, so there is potential for the animal statistics to be used in other games; for example full descriptions include Buffalo, Mountain Lions and Grizzly Bears.

Situations and Interactions (pages 279 to 330)

Now that you have your ‘characters and combat’, it’s now time to set the game up. ‘Situations and Tasks’ explores some of the Old West situations that can form the basis of a game. Three specific situations are described in not just a description, but with some useful game stats: Cattle Drive, Bank Robbery and Train Robbery. ‘Social Interactions’ describes a number of encounter tables and how to deal with things such as legal or patron encounters. ‘Towns’ looks at frontier settlements and those of a larger size and background (in the section ’Commonly Found Buildings’) is provided to give the referee a starting point to create the setting.

‘Non-player Characters’ provides the referee with several tables to generate NPCs, based around the same careers that are available to players.

Refereeing the Game (pages 330 to 345)

The final section of the book provides the referee with some very useful tools with which to put together a game; this will be especially useful for those who aren’t that experienced in running a role-playing adventure. This very much helps with the preparation of a game and making sure it runs as smoothly as possible. The book finishes with the final section ‘Adventures’ which builds on this and looks at the different types of concepts behind games and how they are structured. A character sheet on page 345 finishes the book, with a useful index at the back.

Conclusion

Though the Old West isn’t a setting that has ever really piqued my interest, I wanted to keep an open mind when I received my review copy and I must say, I did enjoy reading Rider. Being based on Cepheus Engine, its a game system that is familiar and the book is easy to read, with a clear layout throughout. If anything, this makes the game very easy to adapt and link into other settings; a number of sci-fi films and TV programmes frequently use or dip into the Old West setting. For example the film ‘John Carter of Mars’, some ‘Firefly’ episodes use a frontier Old West-like setting, even Star Trek ends up on worlds which are like the 1880’s. Adventures could dip in and out either through being set on a low-tech world, or inter-dimensional travel for a change in pace from ray-guns and aliens.

There is a *huge* amount of reference material in old films and series from the 1930’s through to the 1970’s, when ‘cowboy’ films popularity started to tail off. There probably wasn’t many weeks going by when there wasn’t an Old West film being broadcast on one of the TV channels, at least here in the UK in the 1970’s and 80’s. I also remember my grandad having loads of novels set in the Old West when I used to visit my grandparents house. If you’re looking for ideas for adventures, there is plenty of reference material out there.

If your intention is to use Rider as a standalone product then you won’t be disappointed, it’s well written, has plenty of source material and character development for referees to draw upon. There is lots of colour artwork provided by a number of artists. Its an excellent ‘toolkit’ to create games from, though there isn’t any specific location setting included in the book. If I had a criticism, I would have liked to see the adventures section developed a bit more with some actual scenarios, for example perhaps in the style of the ‘21 Plots…’ books. Hopefully this is an area that Independence Games will be able to address in the future, as there is plenty of scope for developing the game setting and Rider certainly deserves this.

Overall a very enjoyable book and game setting to review and definitely well worth checking out. I would like to thank John Watts for kindly sending me a copy of Rider to review.

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Cepheus Journal Issue 004 Out Now

Very nicely dropping in just in time for the weekend is the latest (#004) issue of the Cepheus Journal. Featuring a whopping 56 pages of content, it includes features and adventures such as:-

Starship Damage

PLA Heavy Armoured Infantry Squad for Modern War

Altair Subsector (for Cepheus Engine or Stellagama Publishing’s Near Stars)

Dr Syn, or, the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh

40 Eridani in 2021

Archbishop’s Gambit

Escape from Qasim’s Teeth

Helzr’s Recovery Salvage and Repossession Services Part 2

The issue can be picked up from:-

Cepheus Journal Issue 004 download

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