I am WIPED from Space City Con this weekend. I’ve got a ton of material and I frankly don’t know how many columns it’s going to take to cover it all. I’ve got interviews with current and former TSR/Wizards of the Coast DUNGEONS & DRAGONS designers/editors Bruce Cordell, Robert Schwalb, Miranda Horner, Torah Cotrill, and Ari Marmell plus coverage of Dark Skull’s NEW GODS OF MANKIND, a new fantasy-steampunk game MANA PUNK, and...oh hell, I can’t even remember what all I got. Oh, and Nordling and I interviewed Jim Butcher about his books and his gaming. It’s going to take me a while to sort through all this.
So while I’m getting all FIVE AND A HALF HOURS of interviews transcribed and edited, I wanted to give you something to read. There’s a bit of news this week, but first I’d like to right a wrong. I promised Stephen J. Herron from Greymalkin Designs that I would review BROKEN ROOMS for...well, months. Between all the conventions and Kickstarters I had to cover, it kept getting put on the back burner. Fortunately, I finally was able to get some time and dive into this game before the convention.
BROKEN ROOMS is a very concept-oriented game. The setting is built around an event that happened on August 13, 2002, called the Divergence. Our one timeline to split into thirteen very different timelines. On that same day, about 2% of the population also had some sort of tragic event happen to them as well. These people are known as Nearsiders, and they have the ability to travel between these timelines. They do so by going to Broken Rooms, which are places (not necessarily rooms) where the barrier between the timelines is thin. However, the more time Nearsiders spend in alternate timelines, the more Distance they accumulate, which is a detachment from the rest of humanity due to their experiences. This detachment is also what powers their Meridians, special psychic powers that Nearsiders possess.
The game design, system, and concept remind me a lot of the glory days of White Wolf. The setting is very bleak (some of the timelines are INCREDIBLY dark) and works best for players who prefer a deep, emotionally analytical game. This is also a very mature game as at least one timeline isn’t very...kind to women let’s say. Everything is treated with a realism, however, regardless of how farfetched the idea behind the timeline is.
This book is 465 pages and there’s very little wasted space. Because the world is so tied to the setting, the vast majority of the book is devoted to exploring the world, how travel works between timelines, and the various timelines themselves. The game also makes damn sure you understand the setting concepts before they present a single game rule to you because the rules are that tied to the setting. The art also reminds me of White Wolf back in the 90s, black and white with great use of negative space. The individual pieces aren’t that impressive (mostly photography with filters applied), but overall it gives a great tone to the book. The first 175 pages or so are devoted to an overview of the setting and the game rules, while the rest of the book goes into even further detail on the different timelines be showing the in-world files from one of the setting’s secret organizations, giving you a great hand-out for players and really immerses you in the world. There’s also plenty of advice for gamemasters as well as an adventure.
There seems to be a movement in independent roleplaying games to base everything off the d12, and I have no idea where it started. It’s a good thing, though, as the d12 has always been one of my favorite dice and it’s so underutilized in mainstream games. But BROKEN ROOMS may be going a little overboard as the game system uses dice pool style tests with d12s. So be ready to raid your game store’s single die bin for d12s because you’re going to need quite a few of them (at least 5 for each player).
Character creation in this game is FAST. You’re spending most of your time creating a backstory for your character as there are at least three important events in your character’s life that must be set as they drastically affect your character. Every character had some kind of loss they experienced on August 13, 2002, be it literal (loss of a loved one or loss of a limb) or metaphorical (loss of a dream, loss of a marriage). You must also describe first time your character traveled to another timeline including which timeline it was (also typically during a stressful event), and finally the first time you were exposed to the greater world at large (usually getting recruited by one of the various factions in the game). You only have three attributes: Mind, Body, and Soul. The skill list is just 20 skills, which are broad enough that they cover pretty much everything. Instead of giving you more dice to roll, skill rankings actually lower your default target number (untrained, your target number is 10). So this cuts down greatly on the typical “rolling thunder” you get from dice pool based games.
Skill tests are rather normal for dice pool style games – you roll however many dice your attribute dictates against a target number determined by your skill (with modifiers). You count up the successes and you have to get a number of them equal to the difficulty of what you’re trying to do. The really interesting kink is Momentum Dice. If any two dice add up to exactly 13, you get 1 Momentum Roll. Roll an additional 2d12 and you can get a maximum of one more success. Oh, and it keeps going, so if those two dice also add up to exactly 13, you get another Momentum. And Momentum can be banked to be used for future tests as well. Banking Momentum is important because Momentum Points activate your Meridian powers – you have to pay one Momentum Point for each success you want to use on a Meridian Test after you roll.
This isn’t a perfect game, though. It’s not for everyone. If the setting doesn’t interest you, the game’s not going to work. This is not a light-hearted beer-and-pretzels game either, as the subject matter in a lot of the timelines is just too dark to be treated with levity. You’re also going to have to work at suspending disbelief because a couple of the timelines just seem odd. These timelines diverged just over a decade ago, but one has a failed alien invasion turned occupation, and another is a Dresden Files-esque “monsters are real” setting. It can be a little jarring as the setting typically does a good job of staying grounded otherwise. If you’re the type of person that requires trigger warnings, odds are this game is going to hit at least one of them for you.
If you’re the type of gamer who would’ve loved to have seen a White Wolf take on SLIDERS back in the 90s, this is the perfect game for you. It captures the bleakness and grey-and-grey morality the original World of Darkness systems had. Even when they get a bit off, the different timelines are really well done and any one of them would make an interesting campaign setting all on their own. Adding the ability to shift between them gives gamemasters the ability to completely alter the tone of a campaign, whether it’s to take a break or to breathe new life into a game that’s getting stale. The PDF version is available for $24.99, the hardcover for $49.99, and a bundle available for $62.99 from Drive Thru RPG.
And now, for the news...first off, I want to point something out. Literally DURING THE INTERVIEW I had with Bruce Cordell and Robert J. Schwalb, the new playtest packet for DUNGEONS & DRAGONS NEXT posted. Neither they nor anyone else I talked to from WotC this past weekend knew that the playtest packet was released nor what was specifically in it. So when the interview posts, please keep that in mind. I haven’t had a chance to get the new packet yet but I did play with some of the new rules when I played Next at the con (what we played was a Frankenstein hodgepodge of the last playtest packet and the in-house playtest rules). There is a new skill system and major changes across the board to pretty much every class so make sure to take a look at this if you’re participating in the playtest or if you’re interested in the new edition of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.
I reported a sort-of happy ending to the drama surrounding failed Kickstarter THE DOOM THAT CAME TO ATLANTIC CITY last week, but I have an even better ending now. Cryptozoic has licensed the game from designers Keith Baker and Lee Moyer and is slating it for release in 2014. On top of that, Cryptozoic is going to provide a copy of the game to every single person who backed the original Kickstarter at a level to receive one. Now, this is a HUGE and AWESOME thing because Cryptozoic is not bound in any way, shape, or form to do any such thing. The game was created by Keith Baker and Lee Moyer who licensed it to Erik Chevalier to publish and distribute and it was Chevalier who launched and was fully responsible for the Kickstarter. He’s the one who got the money and he’s the one who will be held accountable. After Chevalier’s company folded, the rights to the game reverted back to Baker and Moyer, who then licensed it to Cryptozoic.
Legally, Cryptozoic would be well within their rights to just take advantage of the publicity and just release the game. It would also be the most sound financial decision considering they did not get a single dime from the Kickstarter funds – all of that money went to Chevalier. Instead, the company is paying out of its own pocket to send copies of the completed games to people who have not given them any money whatsoever. This is both unheard of and an INCREDIBLE gesture of goodwill toward the gaming community. Cryptozoic, Keith Baker, and Lee Moyer deserve every ounce of respect for working this deal out to make sure the fans are taken care at their own cost.
Yes, I know, there was a lot more news than that this week, but I’ve got a lot of work to do for the post-convention report. I’ll be sure to keep you updated as I post the interviews, reviews, and other coverage. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter at @Abstruse if you want to see all the pictures from the con when I finally post them, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any tabletop gaming news you’ve got!