Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mythic Fantasy Role-Playing Game 2.6 Review



DISCLOSURE STATEMENT

MYFAROG 2.6 as well as several of its supporting products were given to me by Varg as review copies. Varg also provided me with the older 2nd edition book through a mutual contact, Ian Christiansen, who I was playing regular games with at the time. Earlier this year, Varg promoted the group I admin for known as the Tabletop RPG One Shot Group through his YouTube Channel "ThuleanPerspective."

What follows will be an honest look at the Mythic Fantasy Role-Playing Game grounded in the experience of somebody who has played the system at length and can speak to both the mechanics and the setting in action.

Many of the reviews that have been written for the older editions of MYFAROG have been less concerned with the game material and more concerned with its creator, Varg Vikernes. This has created a very distorted view of the game and proliferated a great deal of misinformation surrounding it (not to mention a general toxicity on the subject). It is my aim with this detailed review to give potentially interested parties a substantial look at what the system does, how it does it, and what it is like to adventure in the land of Thule.

For further inquiries, I can be reached at sr2joker@gmail.com

 REVIEW CONTENTS

I:   PRODUCT QUALITY / VALUE
II:  GAME SYSTEM
 -On Dice and Basic Mechanics
 -On Modularity
 -On Combat
 -On Defense, Armor, and Shields
 -On Lethality
 -On Skills
 -On Magic
 -On Races, Classes, and Progression
III:  SETTING
 -On Readability
 -On Monsters
 -On The Game World in 2.6
 -On Kingdoms and Factions
 -On Holidays and Festivals
 -On the Gods and the Planes
IV: USEFUL LINKS

I. PRODUCT QUALITY / VALUE

2.6 comes in a standard 8.5 x 11 paperback format with a glued binding. The contents of the book hearken back to an older style of RPG product with dense 2 column text, a black/white/gray color scheme, and a minimalist approach to art (little to none).

The cost of the volume has been kept low despite the significant addition of new material, giving you what you need to play the game for 11.69 USD (priced on Amazon).

At first glance, the format can be a little off-putting, making the reader feel overwhelmed by the density of information. However, Varg successfully integrates call out boxes and supplemental material about the game's setting, Thule, keeping the reader engaged while building up the Mythos which is expanded upon later in the book.

The format and production value is very similar to Chris Gonnerman's Basic Fantasy Roleplaying Game which is the gold-standard in a hobby that has else become malaised in cash grabs. 

You don't get all the bells and whistles that comes with a triple-A book, but MYFAROG places function over form and to that end, content to cost, you would be hard pressed to find many modern RPGs that can contend.

II. GAME SYSTEM

On Dice and Basic Mechanics

MYFAROG uses a 3d6 dice system where the value of a roll is modified based on conditions/variables and then compared to a Degree of Difficulty (DD). This is very similar to the DC mechanic of the d20 system. Similarly, the game draws upon classic conventions such as Ability Scores (basically the same as D&D), Hit Points/Health, Classes, Talents, Skills, and Experience Levels.

On Modularity

The game is designed to be quite customizable, offering many of the mechanics as optional rules and allowing even the more basic facets to be stripped away with ease. The result is a game with a varying degree of complexity based on how much simulation the group strives to achieve.

On Combat

MYFAROG is a game about detail; for better and for worse. The rules for combat aren't easily codified, with special exceptions and situational benefits applying to almost every weapon, piece of armor, and combative tactic. The result is thus: (1) combat in MYFAROG is very specialized, with no two combatants feeling the same, (2) combat is very realistic, taking into account a wide variety of factors other modern RPGs shy away from, (3) combat requires tactics and teamwork to excel at, and (4) combat requires the players to know how their own equipment functions within the context of the rules.

This is going to either illicit cheers or groans depending on the RPG school to which you subscribe.

People who want very light and narrative combat, non-lethal combat, or wish-fulfillment combat are going to have to dumb some stuff down to get what they want (I don't mean this in a derogatory way, rather a pragmatic one; the more you strip from the optional rules, the quicker it becomes). However, if your ideal style of combat is something like what is found in FATE or FAE, MYFAROG probably isn't going to do it for you. Running it bare bones, with only the essentials, the game is somewhere between a suped-up classic D&D (moldvay or mentzer) and d20; being quite a bit more crunchy than a story game. If your group is extremely casual; meaning that the GM is the only person at your table that has read the rules, MYFAROG might come as a challenge. That isn't to say the game can't work out for these folks, but that the Myth Master (GM) needs to take the appropriate measure of prep to know what those players wont. If this is the case, be a badass and get your GM some smokes and a beer.

Personally, I am a fan of complex rule systems and I enjoy more lethal styles of games. MYFAROG weds this perfectly. Let me give you an illustration of what I am talking about; something to showcase how the complexity looks in actual play:

(the following is roughly based on an experience from a game I played in earlier this year)

Imagine an evil and hungry mist which spreads out across the land and brings with it monsters and environmental phenomenon. Now imagine you are part of a band of brothers and sisters, honorable, strong, virtuous; standing together against the evil that the miasma brings. You wait on the edge of a field, pulse racing, forehead damp, knuckles white, as you see the line of fog drift closer, and closer. From behind it you hear the snarls and gurgling of something abominable. One of your comrades shouts out, "EtunahaimaR!," and your warrior instinct takes hold. You race to your battle formation, the shield wall, and lock together shoulder to shoulder, those equipped to take the brunt of the attack standing forward, as the others nervously wait behind with long reaching weapons capable of striking down over their friendly ranks. As the monstrous figures pierce the veil, the warriors keenly assess their opponents' armaments, looking to exploit their weapons' strengths; looking for soft flesh, clumsy tools, and tactical weaknesses. A hundred different possibilities unfold before your eyes; a story told by instinct and training: (1) you see a shield overtaken by the brute force of a battleaxe, (2) one of your clansmen pushing between the trees--desperately trying to defend himself with his sword-scythe but being cut down as his weapon clumsily hooks against the brush, (3) two men dropping their guards and running for a rock formation as they are crushed by a hurled boulder, etc.

With every combat engagement there are serious tactical choices to be made in MYFAROG. Classes, weapons, and armor are all treated very differently, each possessing DYNAMIC strengths and weaknesses. Because the game embraces exceptions, every element becomes crucial to success. In a lot of RPGs, the "mist" situation would have been 'atmospheric' but largely played out as a generic combat encounter; threat would have been identified, party would have attacked threat, threat or party would have perished. Tactics might have been employed, but they would have been basic and abstract; something along the lines of melee characters run in while ranged characters shoot from the back. In most games things are fixed; a bow is a bow and an axe is an axe--difference being mostly defined by damage and weight. In MYFROG everything changes based on the environment and the situation. The "mist" example defined the engagement in a few ways: (1) vision was impaired and the party was afraid, which lead to them using a battle formation to boost morale and defenses against the unknown, (2) the content of the battle formation was dictated by the weapons used by the party and their orientation to the woods, (3) most of the members of the formation had weapons that performed better against certain types of targets which lead to extra consideration, (4) some members of the party needed to find cover but lacked the ability to do so expeditiously without dropping their guards, (5) some members of the party had weapons too unwieldy to use properly in tight corridors or cramped conditions and therefore were disadvantage by the woods, and (6) some party members broke formation at risk of losing the psychological advantages of being protected by their clansmen and risked succumbing to fear.

In my opinion, this is what makes MYFAROG stand out beyond the rank and file. Combat becomes something much more inspirational than the generic experience; it is a tooth and nail struggle to save yourself and your clansmen. It is role-playing at its best, where every decision you make carries a consequence and you succeed or fail by your own mettle and the twist of fate. I have played in 20-30 sessions of MYFAROG and I am incapable of telling you what a generic combat looks like because the combat has never been generic. 

On Defense, Armor, and Shields

While far from perfect (realistic simulation of combat is difficult to capture), MYFAROG does an admirable job of handling defense, paying attention to aspects of combat that often get overlooked or ignored in other games. Here are a few interesting things to note: (1) defense in MYFAROG is divided into melee and missile values, (2) these values take several components into account including dodging, shields, weapons, combat prowess, and special conditions, (3) defensive value is different than armor which reduces damage on contact rather than seeking to avoid it, and (4) MYFAROG uses resistances to negate certain types of damage.

The result is stark when compared to the traditional AC mechanic prevalent in other systems. The amount of options available between the different shields, weapons, and armor is absolutely staggering, which in practice, results in a very uniquely crafted character. This does put a greater responsibility on the player to think about their choices when equipping themselves, but I tend to look at this as more of a privilege than a punishment.

When you survey how modern RPGs handle the disadvantages of different armor types, you typically run the gambit from moderate setback to complete avoidance; it not being unheard of in some systems for a man in plate armor to swim like Michael Phelps. Varg took a more realistic approach with this game; an approach when combined with encumbrance, makes your decision a potentially lethal one.

Getting down to the brass tacks, taking hits in this game feels like a hybrid of other systems incorporating damage reduction AND damage avoidance. It's major contribution is the acknowledgement of the degree to which offensive prowess also increases defense. Ultimately, it benefits and suffers from the same complexity mentioned in the combat section above; which is to say, depending on your preferences for ease of use. For those interested in realistic and brutal combat, MYFAROG delivers in spades.

On Lethality

This is one of those porridge issues with RPGs; too hot, too cold, or just right --so I won't bother trying to sway the souls of men on what is better, just relate how lethal MYFAROG actually is. If you (1) use the morality mechanic which causes characters to perform non-optimally when they fail a check to stand steadfast in the face of a scary opponent, (2) use stamina rules which causes characters to tire over time when they perform strenuous actions, (3) use the falling mechanic which causes characters to trip/fall when they fail checks to gracefully navigate during movements on the battlefield, and (4) use the cut and shock mechanic which causes weapons to inflict bleeding wounds and concussive traumas, then you can be assured that the reaper is waiting around virtually every corner to mow you down with extreme prejudice. If you run without these rules, MYFAROG is moderately lethal, as it is possible for you to die when you are outnumbered at level 1 (which is undesirable for some people), but not very dangerous for a group to handle level appropriate threats with an honest effort of strategy.

The real lethal aspect of MYFAROG comes in resource management and cut and shock. If you use stamina and burn through it without trying to reserve your characters energy, you will get so tired you can no longer effectively fight and then be slain (this can happen sooner than you think). If an opponent greatly outmatches your defensive value with their offensive value, their blows can cause tremendous harm through cut and shock; in some instances killing you instantly with one masterful stroke.

Older editions of the game were even worse in this regard which has led to 2.6 dialing back damage on hits. Now, while it is possible to die from a single strike, it is far less likely unless you are fighting an opponent much more powerful than you. This makes 2.6 a vast improvement over previous editions; more has been taken out of the hands of luck and put in the hands of the players and their strategy.

If you like the old school lethality of RPGs, like what you would find in basic D&D, then MYFAROG will be a perfect fit. If you want a more modern story game experience, you will have to strip down the previously mentioned mechanics to get it--but it is still achievable. If you are from the camp that doesn't want death to be a looming threat during the game, MYFAROG is probably not for you.

On Skills

2.6 has revamped the skill and talent system (as well as the damage system), reducing their respective power levels and putting protections in place to stop the dramatic creep we saw in older editions of the game. In 2.0, a 5th level character was wielding a similar power to that of a high expert / low masters character in BECMI D&D (perhaps even beyond that). To put that in 5E perspective for the wider audience, we are talking about an end game character.

One of my biggest criticisms of the older game was the damage this power creep inflicted upon campaigns. As dodging, melee, and missile skills became bloated, the PCs became untouchable machines of death.

The 2.6 fix makes this the most definitive version of the game. Period.

That's all well and good for those of us already playing it, but how does the skill system stack up compared to other fantasy systems on the market? Very well, actually, and if you specifically look at the more survival oriented skills, I would say MYFAROG is knocking it out of the park (us damn yanks and our baseball).

Before I get into some specific examples, I would like to explain the general mechanic of the skill system: (1) skills have a governing ability score which modifies them, (2) skills are modified to a great degree by your class role and to a lesser degree by your training, (3) skills have a penalty that is specific to each skill when you use them untrained, (4) skills fall into basic categories (for example, movement skills) which are effected differently by equipment and statuses, and (5) total skill modifier is used to perform a skill check against a chosen, preset, or randomly generated degree of difficulty.

In use, the skill system is very easy to grasp and successfully differentiates player characters by their aptitudes. It is also defined in such a way that characters can have vastly different skill levels between each other, rather than the proficiency concession we see in 5th edition D&D.

Keeping this in mind, let's look at survival skills. Growing up in the gorgeous wilderness of the Midwest (United States), I have had the honor of spending my life hunting, fishing, and foraging. To me these activities are more than a hobby; they are sacred and spiritual. My family takes entire trips to forage mushrooms, and I go on yearly hunts with my cousins and uncles to harvest white-tailed deer and waterfowl.

The ability to find food and catch prey strikes me as a keystone to survival and I have always tried to incorporate these activities into my fantasy games. Between the tracking, navigation, and foraging skills and the tables used to generate weather, temperature, and random encounters, the wilderness of MYFAROG jumps to life and pits man against nature.

Tracking isn't a quick roll to find food, it is the start of an epic adventure that can make a man out of a boy and a wise-man out of a fool.


(the following is an example of just such a story that focused on survival and the hunt)




And that is what it's all about! MYFAROG takes things that are often categorized as mundane and turns them into tools to tell stories. Varg takes great pains to provide substance and depth to this skill system; each individual entry having its own tables of modifiers and variables that bring realism to the front of the experience.

Sometimes it can be difficult to assemble all the relevant modifiers, but quick and good rather than slow and perfect delivers an amazing effect in this system.

For example, it is easy for a Game Master to adjudicate a tracking roll by looking at the terrain, assessing the weather, taking into account the size and number of the creatures being tracked, and adding any extra circumstances (such as the creature bleeding, making beds, disturbing brush, etc), but he not need be burdened with that detail if he not want to. Picking out a couple elements provides a convincing enough atmosphere and your players will love you for it regardless.

I am a fan of the depth though and part of the fun for me is trying to use the detail to my advantage. Just like with the combat example, the system naturally provides a need for making tactical decisions. For instance, imagine you are tracking a deer that has a light wound and is leaving a blood trail. You are minutes behind your prey but you are dangerously low on stamina, fatigued, can tell that the wind is changing, and that the rain is coming. If you push forward, you might catch the deer at a great cost, but if you wait out the storm, it will probably be lost to other predators. What do you do?

On Magic

One of the brilliant fixtures of the game's setting is a division between the traditional path of life and the religious path (called Seidr and Asatru respectively). Player Characters exclusively fall into one of these two camps which dictates their holidays, rituals, and the form in which they can garner magical effects.

Those who follow the Seidr or traditional lifestyle believe that the gods are powerful spirits to be manipulated for their own gain. Controlling these spirts, these individuals are able to use sorcery.

Those who follow the Asatru or religious lifestyle worship the gods and petition them for favors, boons, and gifts. These individuals have the gods cast spells on their behalf.

Mechanically the two are very similar, though sorcerers will always have more spell options and be able to access the power more quickly. The currency between the two differs from stamina to favor points, but either can achieve a high level of competency in their specific craft.

So how deadly is magic in MYFAROG? I would put it close to the sword and sorcery end of the spectrum, where being a magic-user is a big deal, difficult to accomplish, and powerful in effect. There are a lot of limiting factors that make magic hard to do well (requirements of being in a certain location, at a certain time of day, with certain items, etc). Casting also takes a great degree of specialization and dedication, forgoing talents and ability score raises to become truly proficient.

Because of this, magic is likely going to be underwhelming at the beginning of a MYFAROG campaign, though, in the right hands, it will quickly become a force of destruction, salvation, and awe.

The magic system incorporates a lot of the old school d&d fare while the aesthetic has been re-skinned for a European Mythology. In addition to the more basic stuff, Varg has brought in some well evolved concepts which go beyond resolution mechanics to create entire adventures within themselves. Take for instance the spell 'Trojan Horse', which with proper preparation and world lore, allows a party to gain access to the planes of various gods (each plane having its own special criteria for successfully using the spell). Gaining the knowledge and preparing for such a journey could easily constitute an entire story arc, full of trials and tribulations that will test not only the sorcerer's magic, but the sorcerer's mind and will.

On Races, Classes, and Progression

Players in MYFAROG create characters from the land of Thule. Except for the Wood Elves, who in the tradition of some old school RPGs are both a class and a race, the players are able to choose from the following options: (1) the Natives who are the most common of the races and were brought here by their deities in ancient times, (2) the Elf-Born who are the product of Native men having offspring with Elven Women (who in Thule are the spirits of the honorable dead), (3) the God-fathered and Goddess-born who are proliferated as their names imply, and (4) the Fairlings who are an ancient people that predated the arrival of the natives.

So what does race dictate in MYFAROG? Firstly, it effects how your characters will interact with the world and what their origin will be. It can also give them bonuses to their starting ability scores and increase some of their toughness/resistances (this is true of gender as well). In the case of Woof Elves, it also dictates their class.

The Wood Elves were forced out of their homeland of Haflon and now seek refuge in Thule. Exceptionally intelligent and willful Wood Elves are able to cast some of the spells available to the sorcerer class with none of the armor or weapon restrictions. They also use wands instead of staves to channel the spirits.

In addition to the Wood Elves, the following classes are available at creation: (1) Bachante/Maenad who are the religious magic-users found in Asatru society, (2) Berserk/Valkyrie who draw upon the totemic power of animals, solicit gifts from their gods, and are proficient in a particular form of combat, (3) Civilians who specialize in a narrow band of skills, (4) Rangers who are masters of nature and are competent fighters in any situation, (5) Sorcerers who are the magic-users found in Seidr society, (6) Stalkers who are masters of scouting and navigation, (7) Tricksters who are adept at sneaking, mechanical skill, and skulduggery, and (8) Warriors who are masters of combat.

Character progression in MYFAROG is simple but has much more to it than the older D&D style games (like classic and its clones). Each class gets certain features that unlock at level increments of 5 (some classes skip one of the increments or more). This means that players aren't going to have a lot of features for their classes but it also means that the features they will have will be defining. On attaining new even levels, characters can train in a skill or take an ability score increase of +1. On odd levels, they can choose to obtain a new talent. Sorcerers have the option of replacing their reward with a new spell.

So how effective is the class system? If you look at it on a continuum of complexity, ranging somewhere between the simplicity of a classic D&D (almost no change to characters over time) and the complexity of a point buy game (systems like World of Darkness where characters change almost every session), MYFAROG ranks somewhere in the middle, fighting like a watered down 3.5 D&D. It isn't good or bad, but will definitely inform your taste on what type of progression system you are looking for.

As for me, I took right to MYFAROG and think it has enough customization to make the game interesting, but not so much that I can't follow what the other characters are doing with their talents and abilities. I call that a success.


III. THE SETTING

On Readability

The first time I read MYFAROG (I started at 2.0), I remember thinking that it was going to be a slog getting through the density of the rules. How absolutely wrong I was. I quickly was struck with awe by how fully satisfying Thule was. Varg's game successfully weds its mechanics and its setting in a way that enhances both and never detracts from either; this to me has always been and still is the hallmark of a compelling RPG.

Thule feels old, pure, and sacred. When unto this comes the darkness, players will feel legitimately compelled to fight for their families, their clans, and their people. This is a setting that oozes honor and virtue; a setting that provides the material to build heroes and legends.

With a Nordic backdrop, Varg brings together the style and trappings of many ancient European cultures; blasted with fantasy and enriched by old world mythology.

On Monsters

Perhaps the most striking world building in the game is the lore and ecology of the monsters; best example being my favorite assholes the Ettins--monstrous and hungering abominations that came from a cast down god and now drain upon the world like unchecked parasites. They are accompanied by an environmental phenomenon called EtunahaimaR that brings with it the delightfully unexpected feel of "Roadside Picnic" by the Strugatsky brothers. Within these diabolical zones of mist, the normal laws of reality are perverted, giving way to strange effects and destructive energies. I can tell you from first hand experiences, going out into that hell is exactly like the trials of Redrick Schuhart. "Make it back alive, a success; make it back with the swag, a miracle."

The game is good at providing bad ass European monster archetypes; another example being the Hulda, which is something of a female undead with the powers of a siren and a vampire. She is capable of luring human prey with magic away from the safety of villages or camps to feed upon them and if she does so enough, slaying male victims and turning females ones into mirrored abominations. It is even possible for a female PC to become a Hulda.

Which brings me to what I love about monsters in MYFAROG; the interactivity. They aren't simply boogeymen that show up and get beaten on like a pinata; they are challenges to be overcome with knowledge and adventure--mysteries to be solved. Moral Crises to be won. And when they are the mundane creatures of Thule, they behave as you'd expect creatures to behave, consistently adding to the realism of the world that we weigh against the supernatural.

If you are skeptical of MYFAROG and have little desire to play it, I still highly recommend its monster supplement which contains the same information at a cheaper price. It can easily be used to enhance any fantasy game (or RPG game at all for that matter).

On The Game World in 2.6

Varg has dramatically improved the setting, adding in tons of additional context with cultural quotes, expanding the monster section, providing examples of faction NPCs, and giving working stats for the gods. Where MYFAROG was strong in past editions, it is now noteworthy.

So what does all this praise mean for you the player should you purchase and play MYFAROG 2.6?

It means you will participate in a game with heroic values, against monstrous odds and unfathomable monsters, interacting with diverse factions and with the gods, while contributing to a story that will be all your own.

The core book will be there with you every step of the way while you flesh out your own MYFAROG world. When I play a game, I like to feel the intricacy of the setting; that there are moving parts and that the world is evolving with or without my interaction. One of the ways I firmly believe you accomplish this is with factions and MYFAROG has done them right.

On Kingdoms and Factions

Your first encounter with the people of Thule will inevitably be through your tribe. Each region has a series of settlements that are bound together under a ruling authority which holds a council known as "the thing." This authority makes and defends the laws and serves justice. Within each tribe or clan, people are ranked based on their statuses, ranging from exiles to noblemen. In most cases, mobility up and down the social structure is possible and encouraged.

Beyond these 'nations,' players will also find political factions bound together towards some kind of ideological or material end. This can be as noble as unification (or perhaps misguided) and as radical as racial purification (even as despicable as genocide). Some of these factions worship monsters in ways that would make Lovecraft blush.

And then there are the external threats to Thule. The orc like Arbis provide an excellent foil to the honorable natives, introducing destructive elements to their culture as well as barbarism and acts of lawlessness. Varg borrowed heavily from Tolkien's orcs and the game is all the better for it. There isn't much in RPGs that can compare to the combative visceralaity of taking a pirate ship from a band of blood thirsty savages. Amid the lethal feeling of the system and the summoning of such powerful archetypes, I can't resist but feel like Robert E Howard's Conan, and that is high praise.

On Holidays and Festivals

One of the most charming and original facets of MYFAROG is its attention to ritual and observance. The book comes with a detailed list of holidays and festivals for both the Seidr and Asatru lifestyles, teeming with potential plot hooks and adventure ideas that offer to seamlessly integrate game-play into the established setting.

Earlier in this review I provided a link to a liveplay session ran by Ian Christiansen in which I played a young native man participating in a ritual hunt. This scenario, in its entirety, came from the Holiday section of the book and was titled "Winter's Solstice" (a similar tradition exists for religious cultures as well though we used the traditional version).

The text provided a scenario, a timeline for when it needed to be completed, how it needed to be completed, and the imagery and mythology to make it meaningful. In a few minutes of reading, Ian was able to provide a thrilling story of man versus nature and of a boy coming to age.

And there are many other unique scenarios provided that could be adapted just as quickly and to as great of an effect. Some of them are so far reaching that they could encompass an entire campaign worth of play.

This is setting material that isn't fluff; something that is becoming increasingly rare in this day and age.

On The Gods and the Planes

Despite having names that are murder on my lazy American tongue, MYFAROG presents a compelling cast of powerful and intriguing mythological figures (or spirits if you swing traditionalist). Each has their own unique spell list, portfolio (to speak in RPG terms), and domain. There is an origin story that explains how things have come to be and external motivation significant enough to push the characters toward action (the Ettins and Arbis are great examples).

2.6 has brought a lot of additional information with it, chief being the addition of stats for the gods and their favored weapons. I sense some people are probably uncomfortable with the prospect of stating out gods, but I simply point to the old 'Appendix N' literature of D&D to show how common heroic entanglement with deities is.

The question really becomes, does MYFAROG give the gods the respect they deserve?

I think the answer has to be in the affirmative. These are bad ass and supremely powerful beings that will mess you up if you pick a fight them, which puts the holy terror in any mortal that encroaches upon their domains.

And MYFAROG does provide an avenue to do just that with spells like 'Trojan Horse' and in some cases, the possibility of locating physical gateways.

Everything about this is framed around the idea of an epic quest. Visitations to Gemahlewa or Alinnoss are possible for powerful enough parties who set their minds to it, but they are character changing events, likely to transform the game in a way where things will never be the same again. This is awesome and even people that despise the idea of a 'god-killer' should be thrilled at the prospect of exploring such fantastical realms outside of our own.

But you need not go far to experience deity in MYFAROG. From the moment you step foot in Thule, the morals, the holidays, the rituals, and even some of the very people you interact with will be of the divine. This isn't a game where only clerics worship the gods; if you are from an Astatru society, everything you view and do is tinted by their existence. This is powerful and makes deity real and present; not some far away beings that you pray to from time to time. Their impact is known immediately.

If you are a gamer that is big on Mythology and pantheons, I can't more highly recommend this book. Varg brings it.

IV: USEFUL LINKS

Buy MYFAROG 2.6:

Varg's YouTube Channel:

The OSG:

MYFAROG Gamer's Group:



Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Tales of the Scarecrow, An Interesting Risk/Reward Mechanic



Recently I got to play LotFP's module, Tales of the Scarecrow, and it made me realize I am a gambler at heart: riverboats, Kentucky fried chicken beards, little black bow-ties, stupid booties, and the whole hammed up shebang. Turns out I like taking risks. It's not just the thrill, but the aesthetic, the foolishness, and the down right humor that ensues when it blows up in my face.

Raggi facilitates the hell out of this, especially in this particular module, which offers the players a dangerous gambit. A meta-gambit!

In the opening of a corn field there is a cabin. Inside the cabin, there is a bunch of Sam Raimi shit going on, but probably not in the way you are expecting. There are some dead bodies and a starving cannibal, but the place is overall welcoming, at least in a creepy Mr. Rogers sort of way. What really catches your attention though are two strange books, a harpsichord, and a magic sword. One of these artifacts, a book titled 'Tales of the Scarecrow,' sets into motion the showpiece of the module: the great gambling fiasco.

"Klaatu Barada Nikto!"

When a character opens up that musty old book, and open the book they shall, the DM steps outside of the game and starts a player dialogue. He, she, or they solicits stories from their table: stories about a scarecrow that gets up to no good with various super natural powers and malevolence, stories that range in spirit from Stephen King to Rob Zombie, and perhaps most of all, stories that put the party in some degree of danger. The choice is ultimately the players on how dark and perilous they make their stories, but the DM has crafty tools to make them greedy. The best is a competitive aspect built in to the exercise, where the best story submitted by a player gets chosen to become the game's reality, and that player gets a large experience reward for writing it; that is, IF THEIR CHARACTER CAN SURVIVE.

You see, the DM informs the players that the more dangerous their story paints the scarecrow, the more likely they are to win, but the more dangerous that the scarecrow story is that wins, the more likely the party is to die. Stories are submitted and chosen privately, so right away, the exercise turns into Star Trek holodeck poker; hilarious attempts at bluffing, super philosophies involving Machiavelli and Sun Tzu, and ultimately, the Riker: soulful staring with the intent to fuck over the party!

What are you willing to do to get that bonus experience? It is a delicate balance between being sadistic enough to submit a winning story, but not being so sadistic you create a no win scenario, ala the Kobayashi Maru.

I tied my Kentucky fried bow-tie tight and went full hilt. I figured, win the experience, then win the right to keep it. This resulted in creating a scarecrow who could animate the corn field, turn into a 100 foot tall giant, and throw lightning bolts by controlling the weather. This was the equivalent to pushing all my chips to black 20 and telling the house, "Fuck it, let's ride."

The wheel spins and sometimes you get lucky. Despite the heinous monster I created, a monster that won the contest, we lived to fight another day, and I got that sweet, sweet, high.

Looking back at it, Raggi nailed this particular idea in the best of ways. It was an 'innovative' exercise for me, because it did something out of the norm, though I am begrudged to use the word 'innovative' because it seems to imply some sort of arrogance or general BSery. It was collaborative storytelling, but it was fresh and it had a very fun, very palatable mechanic that made us all scheme and throw smoke. It was some damn good gaming.

If you haven't checked out Tales of the Scarecrow, head over to your favorite pdf delivery system or the lamentations store and check it out. It is lean, mean, and well worth your time and money. I highly recommend it.





Sunday, March 27, 2016

Alpha Blue, My RPG Sleaze Satisfier



While the rest of the community flocked to FFG's Star Wars line, I decided to walk behind the movie store partition that smelt like urine and shame, to take a look at some of the good stuff. The naughty stuff.

Enter Alpha Blue and its high octane, sleazy adventure: Girls Gone Rogue.

Zardoz mankinis, space pistols that look like they were made by ACME, fishbowl helmets, psychic orgasm machines, mind condoms,  kinky pleasure bots, and space station brothels that are so vulgar and hedonistic Mos Eisley would blush. Venger Satanis doesn't fuck around and I dare say he has outdone himself with this one.

Ian Christiansen, my resident RPG drug dealer, set me up with some of that Alpha Blue jenk and I got hooked. Four games later, my mind is racing with ideas of running my own sleazy campaigns. Green alien women, metallic bras, and neon drinks. Oh my!

There are a couple of things that make Venger's game excellent, and I don't think I would be doing them justice unless I addressed each in kind. So to kick off my drunken reflection, lets start with something near and dear to my humble lizard brain; the system and the dice!

Alpha Blue uses a d6 system where a result of one through three is some kind of failure and four through six is some kind of success. The better suited you are to a task, the more d6s you get to roll to determine your result (you take the highest value). In combat, damage dice explode on 6s, which leads to some pretty compelling upsets. Just ask Ian, who's NPC got Bob Barkered by laser nunchuks, Happy Gilmore Style. The aggressor in question got like 6 or 7 explosions in a single damage roll.

This roll structure plays well off of the character creation which is set up to make you spectacular, deviantly kinky, and all shades of fucked up. At a glance, the options might seem to be sparse, but the special table, mutation table, and alien table add a deceptively high level of diversity and customization. We are talking Tim Burton levels of depravity and strangeness, like space dwarf assassins made out of gelatin. This gives the GM a good range of characteristics to judge your task competencies upon. Since Venger emphasized ease of use with random tables and a well laid out process, you can pump characters out amazingly fast.

And those characters will be memorable! Alpha Blue draws upon a vast data receptacle of sleazy sicfi knowledge to help you blend your character into the setting. My most recent character, who took part it Girls Gone Rogue, came onto the scene wearing leather that looked like it belonged to a He-Man cosplayer that was a little bit too much into BDSM and the color orange. Add that to the fact I was a dwarf and was carrying a Chewbacca rip-off bowcaster, and the picture really starts to come together.

This leads into one of the funnier parts of Alpha Blue, which are the fetish and sexual fantasy tables, possessing such gems as characters who get off to "clowns, carnivals, and circuses" or "Humanoid Furniture." This fostered some funny events in  our games, and believe it or not, even helped my last character avoid catching a maliciously engineered STD whose purpose was to shanghai us into service, like Snake Plissken in Escape From New York.

Now that I think of it, most of the tables created by Venger are grade A bad ass. Take one of my personal favorites, the "look what fell out of the time warp" table, whose results contain hilarious and bizarre shit like: a giant plastic donut, Don Knotts and Tim Conway, the Harlem Globe Trotters, the Kool-aid Man, and the Flying Dutchman. And don't even get me started on some of the more perverse tables, like "walking in on people" or "venereal diseases". Something juvenile in me can't help but grin when I read the name of a drug titled, "Thunderfuck Uranus."

The game has its eccentricities, but believe me when I testify, it adds to the charm. I recently heard the game got pulled from OBS stores while it was under review, which really rubbed me the wrong way. If you aren't familiar with the controversy, you can put your mind at ease. Cooler heads prevailed and the game has been white listed, supposedly giving it some kind of amnesty from more attempts at censorship by the angry puritan types.

Unfortunately, I dealt with my fair share of schmucks over the issue. Ian Christiansen and I admin a large Facebook group based around gaming online and general RPG discussion. When the subject of Alpha Blue made its rounds to our little slice of paradise, it was met by the types of 'liberal bigotry' I use to write off as Fox boogeyman stories. But of course, it is real, and it is as non-negotiable as ever. This is the camp that are fans of "thought crime" and think that it is morally punishable (you may know them as SJWs). Well, as is usually the case in our group, we dolled out warnings for the bullshit and handled our business accordingly. We got called rape apologists a few times, but that is pretty much par for the course when you are dealing with people who covet drama like water in a desert.

This tangent of course brings me to another point: Alpha Blue is honest about its sleaziness and it stays trues to its vision. Is it dirty, perverted, and deviant? Yep. Does the game include a villainous device called a rape machine? An entire paragraph. Don't I find this morally reprehensible? No and people who don't like it can go fuck themselves for trying to impose their wills on me. In general, the world could do with a little less judgmental attitude.

The bottom line is, despite what the naysayers may lead you to believe, Alpha Blue is good fun. The games I got to play in were action packed romps through hilarious satire, sexy throwbacks, and legitimately compelling science fantasy/fiction. Ian Christiansen, our Game Master, did a great job bringing Venger's vision to life. I can't wait to GM it myself next week.

If you read this and fist pumped, "preach it brother man preach it," you should check the game out. I highly recommend it!












Thursday, March 24, 2016

Why Lamentations of the Flame Princess Made Me Love the OSR



I haven't been at this gig for long, and truth be told, my fancies have changed dramatically in a short amount of time. My initial interest was in new school games: 4th edition d&d, 5th edition d&d, fate, cortex, cortex +, storyteller, and a slew of hipper indie games like stalker, fiasco, and the like. Save for a few outliers, like Palladium (I blame the esoteric sorcerers of the OSG for that nugget), I would have considered myself a heavily story oriented gamer.

Like any ailment untimely thrust upon the innocent, its grasp weakened and I eventually healed. I had fun tinkering with the concepts and participating in the ad nausea armchair philosophy surrounding it, but as I opened myself up to different styles of gaming, I began to realize there was something beautiful in the simplicity and honesty of the old school. It was brutal, it was fun, and it promised to slay pretentiousness. Now, in a lot of ways, I would describe it as bullshit light.

My first jaunt into the OSR or old school gaming was through Lamentations of the Flame Princess. From my early days of Youtube, I remember a deeply disturbed sorcerer named Tim Haper (love you Tim), who preached about a weird fantasy game full of maiming traps, sadistic dungeons, and the glory one can only feel when they realize 4th level is the end game. At the time I gawked at it, but the idea stayed with me. Maybe it was the crazy metal image that the name invoked; I don't really know.

Jumping forward a couple of years later, the Flame Princess decided it was time to blow up, triggered by a post Ian Christiansen made on the One Shot Group. I remembered Tim's passion for it and knew right away I needed to get a piece of the action. I downloaded the free artless rules and rolled up my first character, the specialist.

I was shocked at how simple character creation was. There wasn't any Frankenstein's monster bullshit going on here. It was pure archetype baby! Races were straight up classes and the mechanics pretty much limited you to a single style of play based on your choice. Of course, I had my reserves about what this would mean in practice, but I was more than willing to give it a shot.

Character creation really enlightened me to something about LotFP; you don't need to stew and fuss over a character concept or backstory to play an RPG. You can very easily, and to great effect, grab a character, jump into the game, and let the circumstances and your actions paint a vivid picture for you. And now, I attack you with my first major heresy: I prefer quick character creation with less backstory.

Alright guys and gals, before you start collecting wood for the pyre, I want you to hear me out. What playing old school games has taught me is that it is what you do that defines a character. When everything about the game is lethal, sadistic, and out to get you, the story writes itself and characteristics and psychology arise from simply making choices and putting yourself in danger. What is more compelling? Telling somebody your character concept is based around self sacrifice and talking about the stuff he saw as a child, or jumping in front of a spike trap to save the party's wizard, taking an 80 mph missile of conical doom square to the chest? I think we both know the answer.

And that is another thing LotFP turned me onto; lethality. I think it is easy to fall into a pit trap in story based games, at least for me it was, where it is hard to kill a player because they feel entitled to an outcome or are invested to the point it would cause drama. Which leads me to heresy number 2: character death is hilarious, and when done in epic ways that show a character's personality or faults, easily makes for the best moment of any session.

In the last game of LotFP I played in, we went to a wizard tower where one of the characters freed 'an entity' from a circle made of salt. The rest of the party pretty much wrote it off as a demon or other sinister force, but he was certain he could make a deal with it. They hashed out a contract, he broke the containment ring, and immediately was destroyed with world shattering magic that chopped him up 10,000 times finer than any cuisine art could have dreamed. I laughed myself silly, and his frustration made it even funnier. When we all stopped to think about it, OF COURSE he should have been murdered for trying it. OF COURSE!

And that is perfect in my mind. His character, who was a grave robbing thief, meddled with something he couldn't understand because he was greedy. It ended up biting him in the ass, which is poetic justice if you ask me.

Which brings me to my next point about the old school feel: dungeons are unapologetic for what they are and what they deliver. They aren't stupid or silly, nor are they loot receptacles to be plundered at your leisure. They are dangerous as all fuck, and when you find one, you know going down into their depths is like looking a hungry Cerberus in its salivating mouth.

When it comes to LotFP, its dungeon modules are hands down the best I have ever seen. You are surrounded by context, everything can be interacted with, the components of the dungeon have real purposes, and there is logical consistency that makes you feel like this could actually be a place in the world. To state it simply, they bleed atmosphere. These dungeons accomplish a tremendous amount and they tend to do it in a way that is highly usable.

A lot of the adventure modules or dungeons I have been accustomed to, mostly from the newer stuff, are utter trash comparatively. They spend so much time bogging you down with fluff and crap about the writer's precious NPCs and meta plot, that there is no substantive meat to use when it comes time to run the game. It is more like, here is some story themed crap to texture onto your adventure. You would have been equally as well off creating your own plans from the ground up, and if you would have went that route, you would have known it better because it would have been your own brain child.

There is none of that with Lamentations (mostly). You can give a module a once through and be ready to run a memorable session that will feel like it was prepped for. That is the quintessential point of modules. How have these other mooks gotten is so wrong?

Which brings me to my third heretical jab: old school is function over form. It feels like Raggi really gets the concept of creating 'content that is usable' and 'that works in practice'. The books Zak S. have done for him take this to the highest conceptual level, being works that are devoid of even the faintest hint of filler or uselessness. I can honestly say, I felt like I learned more useful things from Zak's A Red and Pleasant Land and Vornheim than I did reading dozens and dozens of books from the new school.

Here is a classic example of what I am talking about: person A on a forum says, "I just got the new popular story game book. Good layout, good ideas, and good fluff." This always makes me cringe a little. Fluff is simply filler, but certain individuals have cast some kind of dark magic ritual to associate it with being setting essential. Here is what I say to that; check out a Zak S. product, where setting information is usable directly from the book and relevant to every session. It is designed to be mechanically and atmospherically applicable and literally begs to be used, and guess what guys? That's why it isn't fluff. It has a fucken use. Go figure. That makes it a far cry from the arcane babble that passes as setting information (fluff) in a lot of products. The favorite hobby of the duke's third son who lives in the Outlands has little baring on my game, and if it did, I could have riffed it up myself. No paid consultation required!

Something else about the old school feel I really love is its seeming lack of pretension when it comes to why we play games. The style asks, why not for entertainment? I don't think there is anything wrong with people who play games for other reasons, but it can become exceptionally annoying when somebody tries to talk down to your pastime like blondie did to Ben Affleck in Good Will Hunting. Remember that scene at the 'not your typical' Harvard Bar? It kind of makes you want to smack the intellectual smugness off their face. Which brings me to my final heresy of the day: old school games don't shame the shit out of you for playing them the way you want.

Of course, this goes further than just the material. I find it is true of the community as well. I felt like I use to spend more time bullshitting about philosophy of gaming than I did actually playing games. It wasn't good feeling philosophy either; closer to an unsettling passive aggressive slap fight. If I need Hellenistic dialogues to tell me why I should or shouldn't say yes to a player's in game requests, I am cashing out! Fuck me ;)

In closing, I plan on picking up some more OSR titles soon: a whole heap of LotFP books I dont have, Dark Albion, Dungeon Crawl Classics, White Star, and Zak's book coming out titled Maze of the Blue Medusa.

I would love to hear recommendations on what else I should get. If you suffered to this point, you probably have a good idea of my tastes!