An Aetheric Guide For Christmas
Twelve Downloadable Games in 2005
By Matthew Pook & Mike Sugarbaker, with Allan Sugarbaker and Demian Katz
OgreCave.com brings you its annual "Twelve Games of" series with two aims in mind. The first is, of course, to present to you what we regard as some of the year's best games in certain categories. The second is to do what any good list should: serve as a reminder, not just of what we liked in 2005, but also what we would like to receive this Christmas. Thus each list sets out to satisfy almost everyone, whether he wants a little game, a big game, a card game, a miniatures game, a roleplaying game, or a board game. In turn, each of our preceding three lists has covered the gamut of game products. What then of our fourth and final list?
Christmas is mere days (or even hours) away, and there is almost no time to rush to your friendly local gaming store, or for an order to be placed and reach your doorstep. Never fear, the internet is your friend. The PDF format is the solution to the final desperate rush to find a game for that most difficult of persons, the gamer. Buy, download, print out or burn to a CD, and you have the perfect gift. In the world of the PDF product, there is something to satisfy every gamer.
The Mountain Witch
Timfire Publishing, $18
A band of ronin samurai, each with a dark secret, comes together to
assassinate the Mountain Witch, a mage of incredible power. Will they
learn to trust one another enough to accomplish the impossible, or
tear themselves apart? This one story drives the entirety of the
system of one of the most acclaimed RPGs of the year, indie or
otherwise. Some say it's Reservoir Dogs in mythic Japan; others say it
actually makes its players into better friends. The PDF version
doesn't come with nice little Dark Fate cards, but you can still print
them out. (And hey, who says PDF gifts have to make you look cheap?)
Executive Decision: A White-Knuckle Game Of Real-Time Political Crisis
Greg Stolze, $1000/free
Actually, you can now download this game for free, but originally the author did not release the game until he had raised $1000 to donate to charity (you should donate too, if you can). Think The West Wing without the walking and you have Executive Decision, a roleplaying game in which the President of the United States of America and his Cabinet debate and deal with a crisis as its events play out. It comes with five different situations to handle, each written by a different author, which can easily act as a model for more. This is a game for those that like to argue, and if one subject causes arguments, it is politics.
Truth & Justice
Atomic Sock Monkey, $25
In previous lists, we recommended Chad Underkoffler’s Dead Inside (still a great choice), but this year, he brought us Truth & Justice, his take on superhero RPGs. As much a soapbox for his view of superhero RPGs as it is a game itself, Truth & Justice's mechanics push the players to roleplay and uphold the ideals of the game's title. The system handles physical combat as well as social, enabling a character to take down the invulnerable brick with witty repartee when a blast of flame would not work. The game includes three very different and interesting settings, with modern rules that handle the genre in an old fashioned way.
Golden Age EPIC Adventure 1: The Forgotten War
Designed for both Traveller T20 and Classic Traveller, QLI/RPGRealms have been supporting the Traveller universe with a solid series of scenarios and supplements set in their house setting of 993 and in the Gateway Domain. Indeed, we recommended EPIC Adventure 1: Stoner Express in an earlier list, but this year saw the launch of a new series set in Traveller’s classic time frame of 1107 to 1116. Golden Age EPIC Adventure 1: The Forgotten War is the beginning of a new trilogy set in the Fifth Frontier War, with a merchant vessel called up to serve as a Naval auxiliary. What begins as a simple re-supply mission becomes fraught with danger when the crew encounter commerce raiders, assassination squads, pirates, and more in a thrilling adventure that lets the players take on the roles of both ship's crew and the marine detachment they are carrying.
Don't Walk in Winter Wood
A storytelling game of legends, folklore, old wives tales, and the dangers of things lurking beyond the tree line, Don't Walk in Winter Wood: A Game of Folkloric Fear is set in 18th century post-revolution America in a single village. It is beset by small inexplicable happenings, the cause and cure of which everyone is sure lies with something in the woods, and calls upon brave to souls to enter the forbidding forest to save their fellow villagers. Told in third rather than the first person, this game uses very simple mechanics that model how blows to both body and mind make this task more challenging for the villagers. This small game of the American Gothic variety is perfect for an evening of fear and disquiet.
Tainted Troves: A Collection of Cursed Items
Silverthorne Games, $5
Exactly what it claims to be, Tainted Troves is a d20 supplement that gathers over a hundred devious and deadly cursed items in one PDF, including all those in the SRD. Nasty mishaps abound with a dose of these "treasures", from a digit disaster with the Guillotine Ring, to more serious incidents with the Wand of Fiery Affliction and other devices. A range of unfortunate events can be initiated with the mystic maladies provided, and guidelines are provided for creating more twisted trinkets. Tainted Troves also introduces the Malign Artificer, a mage specialized in cursed items. Any gamemaster longing to torment some overly-rich characters should look into this one.
Forgotten Futures IX: My Own Invention
Marcus L. Rowland, $20
With Forgotten Futures, Marcus Rowland has been exploring science fiction works of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. He supports those works with settings that imagine a Solar System of the future as seen in the past, explore the "Ab-natural" world, and see numerous Londons fall to calamitous destruction. The ninth supplement for the game, available on CD, explores the world of the Victorian invention, with mad science, boffins, and rivalries galore. Included are rules for building automata, a thorough look at the genre, period articles discussing an array of inventions, and four very different settings. These in turn take you to a world dominated by Swiss clockwork and Babbage’s Difference Engine, involve in a race to the Moon, see you take a cruise into the past by ocean liner, and enlist in the "Queen's Own Aerial Hussars" to fight an incursion of vampires. Dare we say... huzzah!
Steve Jackson Games, $12.95
Written for GURPS Fourth Edition but compatible with Third Edition, GURPS Mysteries is really for any campaign under any system in which the GM plans to run a murder mystery. Taking the mystery away from the books, movies, and TV that we enjoy, this supplement takes the genre apart, analyzes what works for an RPG mystery, and then helps the GM put it all back together again and go on to create mystery adventures of his own. Embracing all genres and time periods, and taking in forensics, magic, and psychic abilities, GURPS Mysteries is surprisingly rules lite, and is also useful for players wanting their characters to be better investigators. Finally, the bibliography is extremely comprehensive. Short of going out and purchasing a writer's guide to the genre, there is no better book on the subject than GURPS Mysteries.
Sandbox Hill by Kyle M. Jones
Animalball Games, $4.95
While certainly not the first wargame designed for use with plastic army
men and toy cars, Sandbox Hill is, if nothing else, more violent than
most. Not only do you get to shoot at things with rubber bands, but you
also get to keep track of damage by snipping off limbs with scissors and
whacking vehicles with hammers! If you're looking for something light and
tongue-in-cheek that brings back the senseless destruction of youth, this
18-page PDF should be just the thing. Just don't forget to pick up some
eye protection while you're stocking up at the dollar store!
City of Brass
Maybe you've heard us quote Robin Laws about how the most successful
roleplaying game in history is Survivor. Is the archetypal
reality show really a LARP? This year, Clinton R. Nixon of
Donjon fame brought out a quaintly vicious little tabletop game
to help test the theory. The players are on an expedition to the City
of Brass in Darkest Africa, but only one of them will find it. Mix in
some interdependent stock characters and a little card-based resource
management, and you have a one-shot that's made for gamers and newbies
alike. Remember, it's all fun and games until someone gets eaten.
True20 Adventure Roleplaying
Green Ronin Publishing, $12
Descended from the superlative d20 System superhero RPG, Mutants & Masterminds, and first seen in Blue Rose (which we liked enough to slip into our Twelve Games Around The d20 list), True20 is the d20 System stripped bare of virtually all that is Dungeons & Dragons. The result is a rule set that is simple, generic, and flexible. Though written with fantasy games in mind, an appendix details how True20 can be used to run modern set games as well. All the GM has to do is add flavor and setting, from heroic fantasy through swashbuckling and action movie mayhem, to laser sword swinging space opera.
Temple of the Lost Gods
Steve Jackson Games, $10.95
This supplement - designed for GURPS, but for use with a variety of games and genres - marks Chad Underkoffler’s second appearance in our 2005 lists. Temple of the Lost Gods details a temple complex that can be used in a variety of ways. Want to strike at an outpost of heretics? Then run it as a dungeon bash in your fantasy campaign. Prevent the cultists from summoning something unnamable? Then run it as part of your 1920s Call of Cthulhu campaign. These are just two of the options suggested in this supplement that fully details the cosmology and pantheon of the Lost Gods, their temple complex, and how it might be used. Rich with ideas, this is a versatile resource to add to almost any game.
So there you have it: our "panic attack" list of twelve entertaining game downloads from 2005. But if you somehow still have time to get down to the store, you can check our other 2005 gift lists for suggestions of other products.