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RPG Moments of Awesome 8: The Traveller Map

17 Jun, 2020


Traveller is 43 years old. Over the decades, GDW, its successors, and its licensees have produced a metric fuckton of worlds, thousands upon thousands of strings of numbers denoting the characteristics of thousands of worlds. 

Traditionally, these were presented to gamers in the form of printed matter. We live in the modern world, however, where personal computers light enough to be moved by four burly men are inexpensive enough to be owned by landed gentry, where information may be conveyed across great distances at speeds of 1200 Baud or more. This presents an opportunity.

Joshua Bell’s Traveller Map is a searchable, scalable map providing decades of world data in convenient online form.

To quote

The Official Traveller Universe (OTU) is the primary setting for various editions of the Traveller game, controlled by Far Future Enterprises (FFE). This is the universe described by publications from GDW, FFE and Mongoose Publishing, and by past licensees such as Digest Group, FASA, Imperium Games and others, The setting includes the Third Imperium, Zhodani Consulate and Solomani Confederation, alien species such as the Aslan, K’kree, Vargr, Hivers and Droyne, and a history from the Ancients through the New Era. 
Under the FFE Fair Use Policy, the Traveller Map presents an interactive view into the OTU, making use of official data approved and provided by FFE — as well as apocryphal and unofficial data.

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RPG Moments of Awesome 7: SPI’s Universe’s Interstellar Display

16 Jun, 2020


SPI’s Universe was, as previously mentioned, a foray into science fiction roleplaying. Included in the box, the Interstellar Display, a poster-sized, astronomically accurate (by 1980s standards) map depicting all known stars within 30 light-years of Earth. Unlike Traveller’s star maps, the Interstellar Display took into account that space is three-dimensional, not a paper-map-friendly two dimensions. It was very eye-catching and it makes me sad nobody seems to have ever take a high-resolution scan of the whole thing. The best I have found is this scan of the box set at Wayne’s Books.

Two-dimensional displays of three-dimensional volumes quickly get cumbersome as the volume increases and the number of objects within that volume soars. 30 light years is a reasonable compromise between having enough star systems to be interesting and not having so many as to be unreadably busy. GDW’s 2300 AD opted for 50 light years, encompassing about five times the volume, and their map was pretty crowded.

The Universe map is long out of print but happily Atomic Rockets is happy to fulfill your star map needs. 

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RPG Moments of Awesome 6: M‑Space’s Conflict Pools

15 Jun, 2020


Clarence Redd’s 2016 M‑Space is an SF table-top role-playing game. It uses the D100-derived Mythras Imperative game engine, which is to say it is a close relative of RPGs like Runequest , Call of Cthulhu , and Future World.

M‑Space uses conflict pools. They are fairly abstract tools to resolved extended conflicts between two or more people. These can be used to determine the outcome of any on-going conflict. These need not be restricted to physical combat. The detail that caught my eye was players are not restricted to one conflict at a time. To quote:

Using Multiple Conflict Pools
In some situations, you may want to use two separate pool values. Often it will be the main Conflict Pool, plus a pool for physical injuries.
Example: At a court duel, with a small gathering of spectators, two pools are used: One for physical injuries and one for social damage. While lightsabers dazzle, the opponents take turns insulting each other. One person may win the physical battle, but the rival can win the hearts of the crowd – opening up a lot of interesting situations in the scenarios to follow.

I don’t know if M‑Space style pools or the idea of running parallel conflicts involving unrelated skillsets are original to M‑Space but that’s where I first encountered them. The idea described above intrigued me quite a bit, which is rarer now than it was when I began role-playing. 

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RPG Moments of Awesome 5: Jody Lee’s cover for Runequest, Third Edition

14 Jun, 2020


Unable to purchase Chaosium’s RuneQuest outright, Avalon Hill instead licensed rights to publish a new edition of the game. Unfortunately, for various reasons the hoped for sales synergy between Chaosium’s established product and Avalon Hill’s market presence failed to pan out. Nevertheless, nobody could deny Jody Lee’s art for the Deluxe Runequest box was exquisite looking. 

Jody Lee delivered arguably the best RPG cover of the era, using as her models Kate Elliott and Elliott’s husband. 

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Books Received, June 6 — June 12

13 Jun, 2020


In this exciting science-fiction technothriller, a top-notch pilot encounters a virtual disaster during the highest profile project of her career. Now she must unearth a crucial truth: was her discovery due to a betrayal, a business rival — or did she encounter something never before seen in the stars?

We are live, we are live, we are live …

Helen Vectorovich holds the unique distinction of failing at first contact — and she did it in virtual reality. 

Only the most elite teams of operators and navigators get to pilot in remote space-mining operations. And no one was better than Helen and her navigator, Ted. Together they secured a multibillion contract for establishing an interstellar gate to a distant star. But during a routine mission, what should have been an easy success turns deadly.

Helen is grounded in a desk job, yet trying to avoid treacherous politics. She has overeager junior pilots jockeying to take her place, jealous corporate rivals, and nasty rumors blaming her for the botched job and Ted’s death. Meanwhile, Helen’s amazing new discovery in space — the Scale — seems to be … evolving. 

When someone — or something — wants to terminate the project, Helen must find out why before it is too late. 

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RPG Moments of Awesome 4: Champions

13 Jun, 2020


George MacDonald and Steve Peterson’s 1981 Champions is Hero Games’ superhero rpg. I think I first encountered it with the second edition, which means I missed the heady days when one could put a multipower into an elemental control. I assure you that makes sense. I played Champions avidly across third, fourth, and fifth editions, ultimately moving on once its increasing complexity exceeded my capacity to keep the rules straight.

The aspect of Champions that endeared it to me wasn’t the moral certainty it offered that every possible problem can be solved with the right application of skin-tight garish clothes, bare fists, and laser vision, although that is comforting. Champions was the first system I encountered where character generation was fully points based, entirely under the player’s control. The only thing between player and a perfect character was flawless comprehension of the rules and an ability to convince the game master that the clearly abusive interpretation of the mechanics one proposed was reasonable. Although I am in no sense a control freak, I loath being in any was dependent on factors that are imponderable, unpredictable. random, and/or outside my command. The ability to craft characters precisely offered Champions and the Hero Games rules derived from it played into my preferences. 

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RPG Moments of Awesome 3: Heavy Gear

12 Jun, 2020


Dream Pod 9’s Heavy Gear RPG depicted the ongoing struggles between Terra Novan factions as that world recovered from an interregnum that followed Earth’s retreat from empire. These conflicts often focused on Gears, Landmate-like piloted mechas. I liked the game mechanics but being hooked on Masamune Shirow’s manga at the time, mostly used the rules to try to design Tachikomas with a system that was never intended for that purpose1.

The Heavy Gear product line cover designs were unusually eye-catching, unambiguously identifying the brand at a glance2. No customer ever had a problem picking out Heavy Gear products, regardless of where they were shelved. 

One day, I decided to test just how recognizable the Heavy Gear products were. I handed a copy to a customer and had him walk away from the store until I could no longer recognize the Heavy Gear rule book. 

The test failed because buildings and hills got in the way before resolution was a factor. 

1: I could have used it as an Appleseed RPG but that never occurred to me. 

2: And not in a I’d better make sure that’s not the first thing people see when they enter the store.”

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RPG Moments of Awesome 2: Vampire the Masquerade

11 Jun, 2020


Mark Rein*Hagen’s 1991’s Vampire the Masquerade offered players the opportunity to play lugubriously morose undead, cursed with eternal youth and abilities beyond those of mortal kind, generally with supernatural beauty tossed in there as well. The only distraction from their melancholy, endless backbiting politics. Basically, Drama Students: the RPG.

I could and have made fun of many aspects of the game, from the designer’s splat to the game mechanics, but VtM did one thing extremely well. VtM was in its self-conscious 1991 way a lot more inclusive than competing RPGs and it sold buckets loads to women. It was also pretty popular with the queer kids as well. 

This shouldn’t have been exceptional in 1991 and yet it was. Women make up half the population. Games unlikely to sell to women leave half the money on the table but until Vampire came along, the best one might encounter was games that weren’t actively hostile to women gamers. Others made it pretty clear they considered women second class or possibly mythical. White Wolf was a notable exception. 

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RPG Moments of Awesome 1: Ex Machina

10 Jun, 2020


And now for something more positive: ten awesome little moments in RPGs, beginning with a very self-serving one.

Bruce Baugh, Rebecca Borgstrom, Christian Gossett, Bradley Kayl and Michelle Lyons’ 2004 Ex Machina was a cyperpunk roleplaying game, published by Canadian game company Guardians of Order. It got a very favourable review from BoingBoing. It was also my first professional editing credit.

It only took me a quarter century of playing and selling RPGs to get into the design end of things.

It was a very educational experience for me:

Always back up your projects
: After a month of working on this, my computer suddenly died with my only copy of the file. As it happened, my brother was able to get it working again but since then I’ve been diligent about off-site backups. 

Reality is always worse than you think [1]: There were a couple of details I thought were implausibly dystopic that Michelle revealed were taken from real life.

Amazon does not care: This may be my only Amazon credit. They spelled my last name Micoll”. Never got it fixed.

Reality is always worse than you think [2]: Guardians of Order tossed a lot of work my way. At the time it was flattering. In retrospect it was more likely because I was available, enthusiastic, and gullible enough to accept payment terms that let them get six months of work out of me before owner Mark C. MacKinnon admitted they had no means to pay me. Since I declined work I could have been paid for to focus on GOO stuff I didn’t get paid for, I figure I got screwed two different ways.

But still! I have professional gaming credits and physical artifacts to which I can point!

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RPG WTF 10: The Great Return of 1996

9 Jun, 2020


One of the more horrifying aspects of modern publishing, at least if one is a publisher (or loves books as artifacts), is returns. For reasons going back to the magazine trade, items distributed to the conventional book trade are often returnable for credit against future orders. Generally speaking, for every book that goes home with a reader via conventional book stores1, two or three are returned2.

TSR – I know I said each company only gets one of these but this isn’t really about TSR – had a highly successful fantasy novel line. While TSR had a number of distributors selling directly to game stores, their connection to the conventional book store chains was Random House. The conventional book trade had a seemingly insatiable appetite for TSR’s extruded fantasy product, regardless of author or content. Books flowed out and didn’t come back, which for a company under increasing pressure from a number of directions was a godsend.

What was actually happening (at least in the book trade side of things) was that books and other products were flowing out, a significant fraction was not selling, but rather than being sent back to TSR, they were accumulating in Random House’s warehouses. Why this was happening is an interesting question. In any case, the situation was temporary. Ultimately, what happened was that towards the end of 1996, all of those unsold products were returned. Instead of being returned gradually over time, the books came back in a single, unexpected, fiscally-indigestible six-figure return. 

And that (aside from desperate flailing) was that for TSR as an independent company. Within the year, TSR would be a WOTC subsidiary.

1: Game distributors (like Lion Rampant) and comic distributors (Like Diamond) aren’t locked into this relic of magazine sales and don’t do returns. 

2: The marginal cost of printing another mass market paperback is so small it’s not worth sending the actual book back. Instead, the covers get ripped off, bundled and returned. The coverless book is destroyed and discarded. 

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